Sex Culture, Christians, and a Call for a New Conversation

THE WRONG CONVERSATION
Recent discussions sparked by John Crist’s public confession have led me into a strange land, one where I spend a lot of time thinking about the generational differences of sexual behavior, beliefs, and norms. What I’m realizing, now more than ever, is that the western evangelical Church (the Christian subculture I am a part of) is woefully ignorant about what is actually happening in the sexual culture of today’s teens and young adults. This is especially apparent when sexual sin and misconduct within the Church become the topic of public debate.

Photo by Alejandra Quiroz on Unsplash

After the story of John Crist broke, many prominent Christian voices asked, not for the first time, how we can best address and care for those who “fall” into temptation, commit “sexual sin,” and experience “moral failure.” Usually, by the time the Church starts to engage in a conversation publicly, individual churches are already engaging in similar conversations. Individual churches are talking about sexual temptation, sin, and moral failure – from the pulpit, in our small groups, at youth group. There’s no shortage of books, studies, or sermons on sex, sexual sin, and how to avoid it. Our problem isn’t that we’re not having the conversation – our problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation.

Most people who are familiar with the sexual culture of today were not surprised by John Crist’s confession, his behavior, or the behavior of the women who willingly engaged in sexual activity with him. (For the purposes of this post, I am only referring to Crist’s confessed behavior and not the allegations made against him.) Crist’s behavior is well within the norm of sexual behavior today. He is not unique, unusual, or an outlier among single Christian men. His actions are, sadly, typical. And that is why the Church’s conversation about sexual sin and moral failures misses the mark: it assumes a collective moral standard, namely that sexual activity (intercourse, oral sex, sexting, etc.) outside of marriage is wrong, is a sin in the eyes of God. But what if there is no collective moral standard?

If that’s the case, and I humbly suggest it is, then we need to stop, back up, and begin a new conversation. A conversation about what we really believe about sex. Not just what we say we believe but what we actually do, how we act, how we live, how we treat ourselves and other people with our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.

This post is just my small way of opening up that new conversation. Of bringing to light what hides in the shadows. I know this post is ridiculously long but only because there is a TON of information, provided not only by me but by unnamed collaborators who also believe it’s important for you to read this. You may think you can’t afford to spend time reading it, but we think you can’t afford not to.

An Unlikely Divide
I think it’s safe to assume that most church leadership is over the age of 35, consisting largely of Baby Boomers and to a lesser degree, GenXers like me (there are simply fewer Xers in the world). Admittedly, we’re not exactly poster children for sexual restraint. Boomers led the free-love sexual revolution, and Xers carried on the practice, albeit minus the free-love ideology. At first glance, one might think that makes Boomers and Xers less likely to experience a wide ideological gap between them and the next generations. However, in some ways, I think it has blinded them.

Personally, I viewed my pre-Jesus self and my generation as widely accepting of sexual activity outside of marriage. The generations that came after us, Millennials and iGens (or GenZ), didn’t seem all that different. As a result, I assumed that I understood, at least on a basic level, the sexual landscape of younger generations. I was wrong.

Entering the Christian subculture as a young adult blinded me in other ways. For example, when I became a believer, I came to understand that sex outside of marriage was wrong. Not just because someone said so, but because I experienced its emotional and spiritual consequences. I was, as we say in Christian circles, convicted. Therefore, I assumed that most other people must experience these same consequences, and if they just took a moment to examine themselves, they would ultimately experience the same conviction. Again, I was wrong.


GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES
So what’s so different about this generation of teens and young adults? I mean sex is sex, right? Ummm sure…but sex culture changes. And wow, how things have changed. Over the years, I have had the privilege of getting to know some of these teens and young adults. What a gift they are! And how honored I am that they have given me a glimpse of what it’s like inside their universe, including the sexual atmosphere of their generation. In turn, I’ve shared with them about the sexual behaviors, beliefs, and norms of my generation. It has been more than an education – it has been a re-education – for all of us.

Look, for some of you, this next section may be a little uncomfortable, shocking, even painful. The truth hurts sometimes. But it’s necessary. However unlikely the sexual culture generation gap may be, it’s real. And it’s significant. And until we understand the differences, we, the Church, can’t have an honest or effective conversation about the issues of sex and morality.

A few notes before you continue:
1. My “Back in My Day” personal experiences and observations below are that of a white, female teenager from a non-religious, non-traditional, non-affluent family, growing up in a predominantly white, affluent, New England suburb in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
2. Those of younger generations from whom I’ve learned are mostly, but not exclusively, Christian females growing up in families of varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds in New England.
3. I can only address the differences between Christian and non-religious sex culture (if and when such differences exist) when commenting on current culture; this is because I was not familiar with the Christian subculture as a teen or young adult. 
4. What follows is explicit because it has to be. Proceed at your own risk. 

{ 1 } The Bases
I start with The Bases because this is often a teen/tween’s first introduction to the sexual norms and expectations of their day. They are a crude and immature measurement of sexual behavior, because they are created by and for immature individuals. 

Back in My Day:

  • 1st Kissing
  • 2nd Male touching a female’s breasts
  • 3rd Male touching a female’s vaginal area
  • Home/4th Sexual intercourse
  • Of note:
    • Oral sex, anal sex, and females touching males were not included in The Bases. They were not exactly anomalies, but they were not the norm.
    • Language surrounding The Bases was primarily about how far males advanced with females. One commonly asked males, “How far did you get with her?” and one commonly asked females, “How far did you let him go with you?”
    • Heterosexual sex was considered the cultural norm and the bases reflected this.

Today:

  • 1st Kissing and any above the belt touching by/of either person
  • 2nd One person touching the genitals of the other person
  • 3rd Oral sex performed by/for either person
  • Home/4th Sexual intercourse
  • Grand Slam/5th Anal Sex
  • Of note:
    • Oral sex is on The Bases and expected before sexual intercourse.
    • Anal sex makes a bonus appearance. Perhaps not quite a norm but more normalized than generations prior.
    • Both males and females touching each other are included and assumed in The Bases.
    • Sexual relations can include a variety of gender combinations.

{ 2 } Oral Sex

Back in My Day:

  • As seen above, oral sex was far enough outside the norm that it was not even on The Bases.
  • My peers and I did not talk openly about oral sex often. It seemed there was still something a bit taboo about it.
  • Personally, I believed that oral sex was far more intimate than intercourse. When I told someone of today’s generation that, while I was sexually active before marriage, I had never performed oral sex on any of those partners, they were jaw-drop stunned.

Today:

  • Unquestionably considered the norm
  • Males expect oral sex very early in a relationship. So much so that males (Christian and non-Christian) are known to ask for oral sex moments after a first kiss. Imagine a man, on a first date, after some kissing, unzipping his pants and pointing to his penis while looking at his date with expectant demand. This is the real world.
  • Within Christian teen culture, oral sex is viewed as the way to have sex without “losing your virginity.”

{ 3 } Photos and Videos of a Sexual Nature, Sexting

Back in My Day:

  • Any personal photos or videos of a sexual nature were considered borderline pornography. (Pornography was not widely accepted nor easily available.)
  • People who participated in sexual or nude photos/videos could face ostracization by their peers, and painful, demeaning labels.
  • Of note:
    • At that time, photos and videos were much more difficult to obtain. One had to take a photo on a camera with film; bring the film to a developer (ensuring that at least one person would see the photos); then pay for and pick up the photos when they were completed.
    • Personal video cameras were rare.
    • Videos and photos existed in hardcopy and, if lying around, could be found by anyone.

Today:

  • Sexting, digital photos and videos of a sexual nature sent to others via text and phone apps, are the norm. These photos and videos can range from flirty to suggestive to nudes to recorded masturbation.
  • Photographing and recording sexual activity between two or more people is also more common.
  • It is not uncommon for individuals to send nude photos of themselves to one another before ever meeting in person.
  • Of note:
    • Sexting, short for “sex texting”, is a direct result of advances in handheld digital technology such as the camera phone.
    • The social lives of most tweens and teens today are inextricably linked to handheld digital technology. So it makes sense that all of their social interests, including their sexual interests, would find expression in digital technology.
    • One young individual points to a “culture of secrecy” that has developed around sexting, which may help fuel its prevalence. Secret messaging apps, photo hiding apps, and apps like Snapchat with disappearing messages, allow teens to not only avoid getting caught by attentive parents, but also to experience the thrill of “getting away” with something.
    • While some parents are ignorant of what their children may be doing on their phones, many are not. However, even the most conscientious parent will have a difficult time keeping up with the technological savvy of today’s teen. For this reason, more restrictions are rarely successful in curbing such behavior. Various sources agree that open communication about sexting is the key to parents even having an opportunity to address these issues with their children.

{ 4 } Online Dating and Hook-Up Apps

Back in My Day:

  • We had no internet.
  • Personal ads for relationships existed but they cost money and were inconvenient; few people used them.

Today:

  • A plethora of apps range from things like Christian Mingle to Tinder.
  • Hook-up apps are used to find a sexual partner, often for just one encounter.
  • Before agreeing to meet in person, people often exchange nude photos to determine whether or not they want to have sex with that person. (Apparently on hook-up apps penis size really does matter – too big or too small can both be deal breakers.)
  • Of note:
    • One night stands via online dating and hook-up apps are not just for the younger generations. This practice is seeping into older generations. I was recently told about a divorced middle-aged man looking for a new, long-term relationship who was shocked by how many women his age were only interested in one night stands.

{ 5 } Sex, Love & Exclusivity

Back in My Day:

  • While sex outside of marriage was morally acceptable, sex was still considered a big deal.
  • Sexual intercourse, even outside of marriage, was expected to take place within a loving relationship.
  • Teachers and other adults warned us about the emotional consequences of sexual intercourse, and urged us to only have sex within a mutually loving relationship.
  • Exclusivity – only engaging in sexual activity with one partner over a period of mutually agreed upon time – was expected. People who did not honor exclusivity often faced negative social consequences from their peers such as anger, rejection, demeaning labels, etc.

Today:

  • The prevailing cultural message is that sex is not a big deal.
  • Sex has, in many ways, been reduced to a simple exchange of services.
  • One does not have to be “in love” or even in a romantic relationship with another person to engage in sexual activity with them.
  • Exclusivity is not expected. People may have multiple sexual partners in one day, or at one party, without facing negative social consequences from their peers.
  • Of note
    • While sex is, in theory, reduced to an exchange of services, many individuals still experience emotional consequences when engaging in sexual activity with others.
    • Individuals of the Christian subculture appear to be more likely to save sex for a loving relationship and to expect exclusivity, even if they aren’t waiting for marriage.

{ 6 } Virginity, and When to Lose It

Back in My Day:

  • Expectations: While people were generally not expected to remain virgins until they were married, when and how one lost one’s virginity mattered.
  • In practice: Most of my peers did not wait until marriage to lose their virginity.
  • A female losing her virginity was significant. She often wanted to wait for the “right person” which usually implied being “in love” with that person.
  • When a female lost her virginity, especially if she lost it earlier than many of her peers, her peers would consider it news and spread said news among their social circles.
  • Males were expected to lose their virginity as teens and when they did, it was often seen by their peers as an accomplishment. Conversely, if a male remained a virgin longer than most of his peers, he could be labled as weak, unmanly, defective, or gay.

Today:

  • Expectations:
    • Secular culture: people are not expected to remain virgins until marriage.
    • Christian subculture: individuals are taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and not part of God’s best plan for humanity, because it has signficiant physical, emotional, social, and spiritual consequences.
  • In Practice:
    • In both secular and Christian culture, the majority of people do not wait until marriage to have sex.
  • Many individuals now see losing their virginity in terms of “I just want to get it over with”, and it is spoken about very cavalierly both before and after. Some individuals schedule their first act of sexual intercourse with a friend or acquaintance as if it were as simple as meeting for a cup of coffee.
  • Though they do not always, Christians who have sex before marriage seem more inclined to wait for the “right person”, someone they love, and/or the person they want to eventually marry.
  • Of note:
    • A variety of surveys and polls have confirmed that there is very little difference between the sexual practices of Christians and non-Christians today.
    • One can’t ignore the fact that men and women are getting married later and later in life. In 1960 the median age at first marriage was 23 for men and 20 for women; but by 2018 the median age at first marriage had increased to 30 for men and 28 for women! Those who are saving sex for marriage are waiting a long time.

{ 7 } Reputations

Back in My Day:

  • The number of sexual partners one had mattered. The more partners you had the more your reputation diminished. Women were generally expected to have fewer than men. (Where all my math people at?)
  • “Slut-shaming” was so common and accepted that the term “slut-shaming” did not even exist.
  • Females who had engaged in sexual activity early and/or with multiple partners were particularly vulnerable to being judged, picked on, ostracized, and labeled.
  • A teenage female I knew was institutionalized for having sex with, what was considered at the time, too many partners.
  • Males were rarely slut-shamed in the same way that women were.
  • However, males known to have many sexual partners outside of committed relationships, or who did not honor exclusivity when in a relationship, or who dumped females shortly after having sex, were often accused of “using women” and might be called a “male slut”, “man whore,” or “womanizer”.

Today:

  • The number of sexual partners one has does not have the same effect on a person’s reputation as it once did. This will differ in the Christian subculture; to what degree can depend on that person’s family and individual church.
  • “Slut-shaming” is no longer considered acceptable.
  • Of note:
    • This change is due not only to the normalization of sexual activity outside of marriage, but also to the growing awareness of and refusal to perpetuate gender bias in all areas, including sexuality. For example, why would a woman who has five partners be a slut and a man who has five partners be a stud? People today are pushing back against these stereotypes.
    • You can see the cultural shift in reputations related to sex if you watch old episodes of Friends where the characters ask one another how many partners they’ve each had. Rachel and Monica, both in their mid-twenties, each only report a handful of partners. They are reluctant to share and express their fear of being judged or shamed. Compare that to shows today in which even prostitution by teens and young adults is being normalized as “sex work” when that money helps pay the bills.

{ 8 } Contraception

Back in My Day:

  • We had condoms, birth control and surgical abortion readily available.
  • The rise of AIDS factored significantly in our decisions about whether or not to use condoms.

Today:

  • In addition to condoms, birth control, and surgical abortion, young women today have access to chemical abortions (the abortion pill RU-486) and Plan B, often called the “morning after pill”, which can prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after sex.

MALE/FEMALE DIFFERENCES
There is just so much here to talk about, I honestly think I could devote an entire post to it, so I’ll just point out a couple things:

  • If nothing else, women appear to have more agency, and equality today. For example, Back in My Day, The Bases gave women little agency as they all measured when something was done to her. Today, The Bases more clearly indicate that she is an active participant who both acts and is acted upon. Additionally, there is less of a double-standard when it comes to sexual activity and one’s reputation.
  • The converse of this is that the pressure has increased for women to engage in sex with a partner before they are ready. Because more women are willing to have sex outside of marriage or meaningful relationships, men have more options and less incentive to wait for a woman who isn’t ready or is waiting for marriage.

DIFFERENCES IN CHRISTIAN CULTURE
Again, too much to cover so I’ll just point out a couple things:

  • Not so different after all:
    • The majority of unmarried evangelical Christians engage in premarital sex. As mentioned previously, study after study has shown very little difference between the sexual behavior of evangelical Christians and their non-religious peers.
    • Christians use dating and hook-up apps to arrange sexual encounters.
    • Christians, especially teens and young adults, sext. A lot. They sext their partners, peers, friends, and acquaintances.
  • Within their culture, Christian women are still more likely than non-religious women to face a double-standard when it comes to sex. For example:
    • Christian women who have sex young, outside of marriage, or with multiple partners, are more likely to face judgement by their peers than young Christian men who engage in the same behavior.
    • Young Christian women are also more likely to face pressure, judgement, and even punishment from Christian authority figures (parents, teachers, pastors) for “inappropriate behavior” (ranging from clothing choices to hand-holding to sex) than are young Christian men who engage in similar behavior.
    • At the same time, Christians who don’t engage in premarital sex are often viewed as odd or unusual by many of their peers. It is a no-win situation, especially for girls.
  • In recent years, many young adult Christians have shared how the evangelical Christian purity teachings of the late 20th and early 21st century (sometimes called the “sex prosperity gospel”) negatively impacted their view of sex, themselves, Christianity, and God. There were many things wrong with this teaching, which focused heavily on works and shame, running contrary to and often entirely missing the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you care about teens and young adults at all, I recommend you find out more about this.

WHY IT MATTERS FOR THE CHURCH
Well, if you’re still with me, I’m impressed. That was a lot of information. Even if you don’t read another word, I will feel that I’ve accomplished my main goal today – which is to inform people of the gap that exists between generations when it comes to sexuality.

For those of you who want to stick around, I just have a few more things to say about why this matters.

This is the New Norm
Like I said before, John Crist’s confession did not surprise me at all. I am (reluctantly) aware of (too many) young men who practice this same behavior – many of whom receive positions, awards, and honors for their Christian “leadership” and “integrity”.

As I read the original article by Charismanews.com, I noticed that several of the young women interviewed (and even the author) did not seem overly concerned about Crist’s choice to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. Rather the emotional energy seemed focused on the fact that he was in relationships with multiple women at once. Indeed, it seemed that some of the women would have been fine with Crist engaging in sexual activity (sexting, sex, etc.) outside of marriage just so long as he was doing those things with them, and only them. (This was not true of all women interviewed, and again does not pertain to the allegations of sexual harassment.)

Most single Christian teens and young adults aren’t getting caught up in the moment and “going too far”. They aren’t battling their urges and giving into temptation once in a while. They are consistently engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. It is the norm.

That said, this doesn’t mean all single Christians are participating in sexual activity outside of marriage. Some are waiting for marriage. Some are participating in certain kinds of sexual activities and abstaining from others. Some who previously engaged in sexual activity felt it was a mistake and are now practicing abstinence.

This also doesn’t mean that all sexually active single Christians believe sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable or without consequence. Some believe it’s wrong but have a difficult time waiting. Some wonder if biblical teachings about sex are still relevant today. Some think it’s ok to have sex with a person they love or intend to marry. Some don’t know what to think.

So even though we acknowledge that sexual activity outside of marriage may be typical for single teens and young adults, we don’t want to assume we can predict the behavior of every teen, young adult, or single Christian. And we don’t want to assume that people who engage in sexual activity outside of marriage have no concern for the morality or consequences of sex. It’s likely that they are thinking about it. They do care. But they are also trying to navigate a highly sexualized culture at a time in life when their brains and bodies are screaming for sex. It’s tough to think straight when your brain is sloshing around in a soup of testosterone.

I guess the bottom line is that issues surrounding sex and healthy sexuality are extremely complex.

The Church is Having the Wrong Conversation
And yet, the Church’s response to Crist’s confession has been overly simplistic, focusing on “moral failings”, “warnings for leaders”, and “sexual addiction” (which may be a valid issue but doesn’t excuse bad behavior). As mentioned previously, the problem is that most of these articles, and many of the conversations we’re having in our local churches, assume a collective moral standard that sexual activity (sexting, oral sex, intercourse) outside of marriage is a sin. Yet, if the majority of single Christians do not adhere to this moral standard, if they aren’t convinced that sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, if sex outside of marriage has become the norm, then there is no “failure” to speak of and the entire conversation is built on sinking sand.

It’s time for a new conversation.

A New Conversation
So what does a new conversation look like? I think it looks like starting over. I think it looks like clearing all the cards off the table and taking a brutally honest look at our cultural landscape. I think it looks like asking questions. Listening to the answers. And giving everyone an equal voice.

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

Maybe we could start with questions like: “When you were growing up, what were you taught about modesty? Dating? Sex? How does that affect how you see yourself? How you see others? How you see God?”

I can’t be the only one who wants to know more about how decades of shame-inducing purity teaching has shaped generations. I mean seriously….Do you know that some girls have been told that once they have sex they’re like a dirty sock and no one wants a dirty sock? Or they’re a stick of gum and after sex it’s like they’ve been chewed up and spit out and no one wants used gum? Where’s the hope in that? Where’s the gospel in that? I don’t remember Jesus telling the adulterous woman that she was a dirty sock or chewed up gum.

I want to know our mistakes so we can learn from them. Are there things the Church is doing today that might be harmful? What can we do better? And, perhaps above all, are we fostering a gospel-centered culture? Even a gospel-centered sexual culture? Those are the conversations I want to have. Those are the conversations we need to have.


WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? 
I wish I could offer you more direction but I’m no expert and I’m new at this, too. My gifting is more in the realm of prophet which means I’m pretty good at “speaking truth” about a problem but not so fond of creating a five-point plan to address the problem. That said, I really don’t want to leave you feeling discouraged or frustrated. So with the help of some friends, I am offering a few ideas about how we can move this new conversation forward.

  1. Learn. Read a book or some articles about cultural trends in sexuality, the effects of purity teaching, the impact of digital media on relationships and mental health, and how these things are shaping lives. Here are just a few suggestions:
    1. Sexting the Night Away, youth and youth ministers respond to the prevalence of sexting among teens
    2. Sex and the iWorld, by Dale S. Kuehne
    3. Pure, by Linda Kay Klein
    4. Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot, by Mo Isom
  2. Consider those in your life with whom you could have open, honest conversations about these issues. There is great value in talking with people who are different than you and who don’t necessarily agree with you. In these conversations, remember to listen well, build relationships, and be respectful of one another, even when you disagree.
  3. Whether you’re a leader, parent, volunteer, young adult, or teenager, think and pray about how you can encourage your church leadership to have more informed and honest dialogue about sexuality.
  4. I invite you to add your own ideas in the comments section. For those who would rather not respond publicly, I’ve created an online form where you can respond anonymously with your story, feedback, and ideas. I’d love to hear from you.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Well, it’s FINALLY time to wrap up this beast of a post, which is unlike anything I’ve ever written before. Thank you to my collaborators, editors, and readers for taking this wild ride with me.

I hope and pray that in some small way our time here together will help spark a new conversation. One that looks like more than just starting over and talking openly.

What else does it look like? I think it looks like judgment-free space and building trust, freedom to ask hard questions, and courage to give honest answers. I think it looks like disrupting false peace, like flipping tables in the marketplace of our own ideas, so in the face of reality we can know true peace. I think it looks like the gospel. I think it looks like drawing a line in the sand and refusing to throw the first stone, or the second, or any stone at all. I think it looks like remembering the Bible is a love story to redeem and not condemn. I think it looks like hope. I think it looks like Jesus.

© Nichole Q Perreault

The Ruins of a Faith Built on Ideas*

I close my eyes and see my feet on stone, the landscape around me rocky, colorless, empty. Where is my love for You, Lord? I catch a glimpse. So thin, so fragile, this gold-leaf love. Floating away on a zephyr created by my own reaching hands. I cannot grasp it. Cannot feel it. This precious, flimsy love. I’m so hollow, I have become a question.

With eyes still closed, I explore this vision. Words of revelation come to me:

I am standing in the ruins of a faith built on ideas.

A faith built not on God, but on ideas of God.

I thought I knew Him, this God of Jacob. I was not a foolish girl. I had heard He was a God who could not be bought, a lion who would not be tamed. But I didn’t know Him until He dragged me into the wilderness and refused to answer when I called.

He tore down mountain after mountain, rearranging hills and valleys until the landscape was unrecognizable. Both my physical family, after the loss of my brother, and my spiritual family, after a challenging season, were shattered. And the greatest sting was not experiencing God’s absence. The greatest sting was knowing that the all-powerful God of the universe was right there, witnessing everything, and doing nothing to stop it.

I think I understand the disciples better now. How they might have felt as they watched Jesus submit to death on a cross. As they pried His bloody hands from the nails and carried His lifeless body to the tomb. As they laid him there and said good-bye, turned their backs and walked away. And He, their Messiah, their conquering King, Israel’s Salvation and Deliverer, did absolutely nothing to stop it. (Matthew 27:57-60)

They thought they knew Him, this son of David. Thought they’d built their faith on Him. But they’d built their faith on ideas of Him instead.

We, too, can build our faith on ideas of God. Like the disciples, we can fashion scripture into formulas and platitudes that fit our own understanding, if that helps us sleep better at night. Like the disciples, we can lean on teaching that reduces our walk to a step-by-step method for successful living, if that helps us feel more in control.

Or we can persevere like David, wide-eyed, wide-hearted, refusing anything but the true, untamed heart of God. We can hold on fiercely to God like Jacob, wrestling with Him in the midst of our trials, until we get to the good stuff…the real stuff…blessings that change us, alter our journey, even if that means we walk with a limp. We can reject platitudes and shallow teaching like Job, and brave the whirlwind of God’s mighty presence, that we might also say, “

I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand – from my own eyes and ears!” (Job 42:5 MSG)

I stand in the ruins of a faith built on ideas. But beneath my feet lies the Foundation that will not be shaken, the Promise that will not be removed.

Like the disciples, I carved myself a God of my own design. But now, as the dust settles and rumbling quiets, I see Him and I hear Him saying “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you.” (Isaiah 54:11)

I am so empty I have become a question. But like the vacant tomb, I am a question of freedom and of hope. A witness to the Truth. And I, like Mary Magdalene battle-worn and broken, run crying in the streets, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:16-18)

© Nichole Q Perreault

*The above post was written for Wintonbury Church as part of the Stations of the Cross 2019 booklet.
**Digital photographs of original charcoal drawings by Kate Tortland. These two drawings are part of her 14-piece Stations of the Cross collection which depicts Jesus’ journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to His resurrection. The collection is on display each year for Good Friday at Wintonbury Church; and an accompanying booklet with photos of the artwork, scripture, and meditations written by church members is provided for guests.

You Are Enough (God Says So)

I’ve seen this quote popping up in my feed a lot lately and I’m not feeling it.

A few years ago, I probably would have adored this quote. But now….not so much.

Here’s why: Much about the way this is worded implies that “she” (a symbolic “she” with which all Christian women are invited to identify) “she” is not lovable, is not worthy of forgiveness, and is not good enough to be a child of God. And people…especially women…often accept that as truth.

There was a time when I would have agreed with this quote and not without good reason. God created us, loves us, and forgives us because of who He is. There is nothing we can do to secure our right to exist, earn His love, or deserve His forgiveness. We are a people who found ourselves separated from God by our sin and without any means to close that distance between us, except for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Everything we are and have is because of Him. That is true.

Along the way, however, that truth often becomes twisted:
‘I can’t earn God’s love’  becomes  ‘I’m unlovable.’
‘I am a sinner saved by grace’  turns into  ‘I’m not good enough.’
‘I can’t earn love or forgiveness’  becomes  ‘I am not worthy of love or forgiveness.’

See how that works? Take the truth, twist it just a little, and you’ve got yourself a powerful lie. Typical, and oh so very destructive. That’s how the enemy rolls.

Over the last several months, God’s been speaking to me a lot on this subject. Here’s what I believe He has to say:
You are enough.
You are good.
You are worthy.
You belong here.

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Before We Speak

This started out as one thing and became another. I anticipate follow up posts but I never really know what God has planned for my writing. 

I have spent the last several decades as part of America’s evangelical Christian subculture. It’s nice here. The people are nice. The message is nice. The coffee is nice. We keep it neat and tidy – from the clothes we deem acceptable, to the music we say we listen to, to the shows we admit we watch, to the language we use to whitewash our sin. Stop by and if you don’t look too closely you’ll see that everything is really, really nice.

It’s like nice is our unspoken brand. We mean well. We think if we make everything nice we’ll be able to convince everyone that Jesus is nice and if we convince everyone that Jesus is nice, then maybe they’ll choose to follow Jesus. And we really, truly do want everyone to know Jesus like we know Jesus.

But Jesus was more than nice. Jesus was Real. Jesus was kind and compassionate and brave but he was also sad and angry and afraid. He was quiet and he was loud. He fasted and he feasted. He laughed and he wept. He was the Prince of Peace and he flipped tables.

People, can we please start being more than just “nice”? Can we be Real, too?

I know a lot of you are going to say YES! but have you considered what it means to be really Real? I don’t just mean honest about our feelings Real. I mean:

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The Truth About Parenting Children into Adulthood (reluctantly posted by a blogger who doesn’t blog about parenting)

I almost never blog about parenting.

Why not?

Mostly because I have no idea what I’m doing. Parenting is an experiment. Every time. One in which the test subjects, conditions, and variables are always changing. The moment I think I’ve done something right is usually the moment just before the moment I find out whatever I thought I did right was actually so wrong it will require years of therapy to undo the damage. Why would I document that online?

Funny thing: while people often congratulate me for raising two great young women, they rarely ask me for parenting advice. That ought to tell you something. Sure, their mouths say “Wow, you must have done something right,” but what’s really going through their minds is “How did this woman get so lucky?” And I’m thinking, I know, right?! 

Second, I don’t blog about parenting because I like my kids, and more importantly, I want them to like me (or at least still visit me on holidays). Sharing their trials and tribulations with the world on a public blog doesn’t seem like the best way to engender familial affection.

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Yes, God Will Let You Down

The song starts off well-enough:

…let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my song”

Photo by Hugo Kerr on Unsplash

The achingly beautiful melody sucks me in and I sing along. Until the chorus hits me. Like a brick.

“You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down”

Wait. What?

“You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down”

Excuse me…um…can we talk about this for a minute?

One night, while enduring said chorus from a church lobby, a young woman said to me, “What about all those people in there who feel like God has let them down?” I responded with something equivalent to, “Preach it, sister.”

Then, because it was, after all, a worship song, we had to suffer through about 5,763 more rounds of the chorus….which was long enough for me to compose most of this blog post in my head.

It starts off like this: The song is crap.

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Repentance

There is more to say than sorry
More to do than turn around
There is you and me
Face to face
Where the light leaves shadows
Across our cheekbones
A deceptive mirror
My right eye in the darkness
Your left
We see
We see so differently
Blinded both by darkness
And by light
We stumble
We stumble all the same
Oh there is more to say than sorry
More to do than turn around

Grief at the Sidewalk’s End

I wrote the following poem as part of a poetry group assignment. It was my first time attending and I was quite nervous, but everyone was lovely (and talented!). The prompt was titled “Borrowed” and we were to use a line from another poem as part of our poem. I must admit, when I started with Shel Silverstein’s ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’, I did not expect to go in this direction – it’s a bit dark for Shel Silverstein hahahaha. But isn’t that the point of the sidewalk’s end? Anything can happen. Oh wait…that’s another Silverstein poem…

Grief at the Sidewalk’s End
A poem beginning with a line from Shel Silverstein’s ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
A darkened river wends
  Undaunted

There is a look as he turns his head
Squints toward truth, but we pretend
  Fainthearted

There is a dread and its claws ascend
Gut, chest, throat, soul-flesh rends
  Departed

There is a time when the sunlight bends
Her warm, blood-red amends
  Unwanted

There is a hand where his hand had been
Too slight to comprehend
  Truth haunts me

There is a pit where my dreams descend
Hope, joy, and light offend
  The darkness

There is Peace to my soul, attends
Understanding transcends
  The Cross bones

I’ve stood at the place where the sidewalk ends
Where breath suspends

© Nichole Q. Perreault

 

Unexpected Gifts

Sometimes, I read old blog entries and I’m like, “Wow, did I really write that?” It’s weird to hear a message from your five-years-ago-self. Super weird. But this came up in my Facebook memories today. And, I say this with as much surprise as you might: it’s good. Like really good. Hahahahaha. Merry Christmas my friends!

Lightning Bug

Photo by claritaPhoto by clarita

Do you remember that Christmas present you always wanted but never got? I found mine while reverently flipping through the Sears Wish Book, eyes wide, excitement bubbling through my veins. I circled the picture over and over, practically cutting a hole through the paper with the tip of my pen. Then, when I showed my parents, they promptly informed me that a Barbie Dream House was not in the budget nor would it fit in our two bedroom apartment. Even after a letter to Santa and some earnest prayers, come Christmas day, among all the presents under the tree, there was no Barbie Dream House. So goes life. Sometimes, we ask for one thing and get another.

Most of the time, such disappointments are small and quickly forgotten. But at other times, they hurt. Imagine the child who wants a set of paints or a guitar but…

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Part 2: I Hate God | An Ugly Truth

Photo by Unsplash | Public Domain CC0Photo by Unsplash | Public Domain CC0

I figured that some day I would write a follow-up to I Hate God | An Ugly Truth – you know, something to resolve the tension, whenever God revealed it to me. But, well, I’m beginning to think I may need more than one follow-up. Maybe a Part II and a Part III? So for now, here’s Part II:

Have you ever hated someone you love? Been so angry with them that you seethe with rage? No? Are you sure?

What about your spouse after a terrible fight? A boyfriend or girlfriend? A friend? No?

Well, what about your parents? Surely, there’s a time in your life that you can remember hating your parents. When you stormed into your bedroom, slammed the door, threw yourself face down onto your bed and screamed into the pillow, “I hate them! I hate them! I hate them!”

That’s what’s happening with God and me. I’m angry – albeit rip-roaring angry – like a child toward her parents.

It’s not that I don’t love Him. Though what is my love compared to His? Like a child, my love is a selfish love.

I love Him simply because He first loved me. First – as in once upon a time I was just an idea in His mind, a thought, a dream. I love Him because He is my Creator, because I need Him, because without Him I am nothing.

He is the artist that sketches and sculpts me. The One who’s coloring me in. I love. And I love Him. But it’s a pale, thin love. Like gold leaf, precious but weak.

So when I say I hate God, it’s not because I don’t love Him. And I don’t think it’s heresy either. It’s not false to confess that I hate God for what He’s allowed. It’s just the truth about my feelings. If anything, it’s an indictment against me, not God. An indictment against my frail, transparent, brittle love.

I take comfort in remembering that God is bigger – so much bigger – than my hatred. His love conquered the rebellion of the world on the cross. Surely, He can conquer me.

And that’s really what my hatred is about. It’s a war between the Lord and me. It’s the remnant of the most epic battle of all time: the battle between the Creator of the Universe and anything and anyone that opposes Him, the battle between good and evil. And every day, that battle rages in the universe, the world, between nations, between people, in my heart, my soul and in every single cell and atom of my body.

We are on the battlefield. And we are the battlefield.

My hatred for God may make you uncomfortable. Heck, it makes me uncomfortable. But war wounds a person. And some wounds fester. This place I’m in – of admitting to you and to me and to God that I hate Him – it’s the best thing I’ve done in years. Because I have finally opened a deadly, poisonous wound. Actually, I should say that I have finally let God open that wound, because He is the one who revealed the hatred. He is the one who exposed the condition of my heart. He’s known all along. I needed Him to show me.

And when I finally gave in to the fear and the denial and the rage, when I finally wailed and railed and beat my fists against His chest, He stood there. Steady. Unchanging. Unmovable. My hatred can’t move the unmovable Rock. My emotions, no matter how overwhelming, can’t shake the unshakable God.

Because He is Real. He is Reality itself.

And His love is Real. It isn’t pale or thin or fragile. His love, like Him, is solid, unshakable, unmovable.

If I want to enter into the Real, into the Reality that is His love, then I need to go through the painful process of letting God make me real. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I’ve found myself worn and tattered and ugly and lacking. But I am becoming real. And someday, my love, like His, will be real too.

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

Read Part 3: I Hate God | An Ugly Truth