You can blame Wynton Marsalis for this one. Right here, at the beginning, I should say I’m going to talk about sex, so you can click away now if that news makes you queasy.
For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to write about sex. I want to write and talk about sex the same way I want to write and talk about race and diversity in the North American church. I want to create a safe place to discuss a sometimes difficult topic, and I want to be a voice from the Church that celebrates sex and makes it beautiful again and recognizes we are sexual beings and that God created sex for us to enjoy.
I want the Church to talk more about all these things.
That’s a tall order in this world of ours. I don’t have very many people in my life who talk freely about sex. In the media, it seems everything is about the act of sex. As they say, “Sex sells.” I turn on the radio or the television or my laptop computer and it seems as if a good portion of the population is trying to “get some” from anyone who is willing, and sometimes from those who aren’t.
One recent Friday night, H and I went with some of our friends to hear Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Have you heard of them? I grew up listening to jazz. My dad had a stack of albums and a hi-fi stereo system in the dining room of our little house on a cul-de-sac in our New Jersey neighborhood. Some days, my dad would pull an album from the stack, slide the paper sleeve from the album jacket, and gently remove the album from the sleeve. He’d blow across the vinyl surface to remove any dust and then, holding the album between his hands with his fingers extended, my dad would lower the album onto the turntable, move the arm over to the vinyl, and rest the needle into the groove at the very edge of that black, vinyl disc. I met Nancy Wilson in that dining room. I would listen to the music, right there in the dining room, and Nancy’s smooth vocals filled the room and danced across my imagination.
I love jazz. It is a feast for the senses.
Wynton Marsalis is a genius when it comes to jazz. He’s probably a genius about a few other things, too. He and his band featured the music of Duke Ellington, and they played for about two hours Friday night. In between songs, Wynton filled us in on some of the history of jazz, with deep insights that gave the music even more weight and beauty than it had when we first walked into the theater and took our seats.
Near the end of the concert, in a voice that would have caused you to miss it except for the profundity of the words, Wynton said, “When pornography replaces romance, it’s hard to be sensual.” He was talking about the music, and about the way music can help create a mood. He went on to say, “Sensuality used to be the language of musicians. I don’t know what happened. We will return. But not this week.”
It’s difficult to watch a television show or listen to popular music or log on to the Internet without seeing images or hearing words that diminish the beauty of sex. Sometimes it seems as if it’s all been reduced to nothing but a minor league game, including frequent turnovers and trades and substitutions, with the goal being simply to score.
In the bible, Paul reminds us marriage is a mystery, and that it is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church. This is so much more than simply a physical act. It is an intimate and sacred exchange, designed to serve as a covenant between the people involved. We are found naked and wonderfully unashamed, and we taste and smell and hear and see and touch the beauty of love as a sensual and holy act. Not a performance or a skill to perfect. It is the consummation of a covenantal relationship, and it is as unique as the two individuals involved.
It takes time to figure out what that means, and it takes trust to give and receive, and the trust is strengthened in the giving and receiving, and in the passage of time. It is the building of a relationship, and it is sensual and beautiful and holy and sacred. When we let cheap images of sex take the place of romance and sensuality, we short-change ourselves. Because those images become our standard for sexuality, and what God has created and ordained for us is so much more beautiful and sensual and fulfilling than anything you can find on television or in the movies or on the radio or the Internet. It is about giving and not just getting. It is about mutuality and it is about being deeply known and feeling unspeakably safe in that.
I want to talk about these things. I want the Church to talk about these things. And I am grateful for people in the Body of Christ who step across this threshold and who have the conversations we’ve been tiptoeing around for far too long. Do you know people who do a good job of celebrating sex as the gift God intended? Would you share some resources in the comments? If you were going to host a bible study about sex, where would you begin?
For Your Consideration: Craig and Jen Ferguson’s book, Pure Eyes Clean Heart is an account of their journey through pornography addiction. The book is available at Amazon and CBD, as well as in bookstores.