Having it Both Ways


Photo by kathryn “Eating cake” (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Perhaps it doesn’t puzzle me that we don’t like to talk about this. Remember when you were a kid and someone said, “you can’t eat your cake and have it too.” That almost seemed to be a dare to try to do both. Usually, this ended with you full of cake and wanting more and frustrated that your share is gone. Sometimes you end up filching someone else’s cake. And making yourself sick. And so the spiral goes.

So perhaps I don’t wonder why there isn’t more of a conversation about our highly sexualized and violent culture when we rail against sexual assault, threatening atmospheres, and gun violence. We really like our sex and our violence. Except when we don’t. Except when it hurts us or someone we love.

This is not an argument that those who are victims of these acts ever in the least deserve it. And I applaud those who have had the courage to say #MeToo, to testify against sexual offenders, to press for better work environments, and reasonable measures to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm.

But I wonder if we will make real progress as long as we celebrate a culture of “friends with benefits,” casual hookups, marketing that makes both women and men consciously obsessed with the appearance of their bodies? Will we make any progress until we understand how the use of pornography re-wires the brain, and undermines real relationships?

Will we make any progress as long as television and movies give us the vicarious thrill of the kill multiple times in an evening, even if most of us never go beyond that point? And how do violent video games rewire the brain? Nearly all the best selling video games, sold in large measure to young men, major in violence. I won’t make the argument that these videos cause violence, but I can’t help but believe that they are an ingredient in the toxic stew of our violent culture.

I suspect that steamy and casual sex is easier to write than a restrained relationship where love grows and deepens to real intimacy. I imagine that violence rivets the attention much more easily than non-violent means of seeking justice and resolving conflict. It’s faster, easier.

And I can’t help but wonder if it fosters the notion that it may be faster and easier in real life.

It also wouldn’t surprise me that some would label me hopelessly naive or prudish or an anachronism. Fair enough. But I would ask in reply, how do you explain why more young people have died of gun violence than in our overseas conflicts in recent years? How do you explain the pervasiveness of the revelations of sexual misconduct of all forms (yes, some may that more people feel empowered to speak out about it)? Why do universities wring their hands about campus sexual assault, much of it by acquaintances, and struggle to find ways to overcome “the walk of shame”?

There is an old saying that if you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. I’d propose that when it comes to both sexuality and violence, two very potent forces, we cannot sow to the wind and reap a peaceful summer day at the beach. We want to, and often our media in its various forms prospers on our belief that we can have it both ways.

But I find myself wondering if we can…


It Could Have Been Any of Us

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It could have been any of us. A son. A daughter. Ourselves. The killings took place in a night club frequented by LGBTQ persons. But it could equally be a military base, an elementary school, a coffee shop, a shopping mall, or a church. I know one young man who went to the Pulse when living in Orlando. I actually checked his Facebook page to see that he was safe, in case he was back visiting friends.

I’ve had several reactions as I’ve heard the news stories. Mostly there is incredible sadness for these young adults whose lives were brutally and efficiently cut short. I work with collegians around this age, people in the midst of sorting out life, purpose, vocation, sexuality and so much more. I grieve that 49 of them will never get the chance and pray that those wounded, some seriously, will. I grieve for families who lost those they love so suddenly and irrevocably.

I’m also angry. No matter our views on sexuality, I would hope we can stand together and say this kind of violence, or any form violence against LGBTQ people can never be justified, any more than can the violence against the Charleston Nine or the children at Sandy Hook. It disturbs me that there are those in our country who can’t seem to see this, just as it disturbs me that there is a sub-culture that tolerates or even glorifies male sexual violence against women.

While I don’t want to ban all guns (and I really mean that!), I’m deeply troubled that we protect the sales of assault weapons whose only purpose is to efficiently kill many people. The killer legally obtained his weapon. I cannot see any justification for a private citizen to own such a weapon and I wonder if those who buy them stop and think about the moral bridge they have crossed. It would be a start to make such weapons illegal and compensate those who obtained their weapons legally. I wonder about a country where we cannot have a rational discussion of this idea. Some cite apocalyptic scenarios. All I can say is that Big Brother always has bigger and better weapons.

I do think we need to take the measure of ISIS. That doesn’t mean to fear them but to understand them, and how they differ from other Muslims in their assertion that they are a caliphate, the true and only successors to Muhammad, and justified in the use of violence against all infidels, including other Muslims. We need to understand the use of digital media to spread ideas that radicalize young people around the world. And the world community must go beyond understanding to concerted resistance, naming this for the evil that it is. This group won’t go away by trying to “make nice” with them. I also realize that while some will be called to resist them with the gun, for others, theirs will be the resistance of the cross, possibly ending in martyrdom. In the end, I wonder which of these will triumph.

Should we also grieve for the young man who perpetrated this act? It seems so many of these incidents involve young men, whether it is mass violence, or the mayhem on the streets of our cities. I wonder about a society where so many young men resort to violence, whether video, sexual, or armed. Why do so many feel the need to assert their manhood in these terms?

Those are my rambling thoughts, expressions of the lament of my heart that cries yet again, “how long?”