I've been reading some books lately. And in one way or another, sexuality is at the core of each.
In "Little Bee", a sexual encounter, is at the crux of every plot twist in the novel, and in most every case, these events lead the characters down a path toward tragedy - a rape and murder of a Nigerian girl, an offer of sex to get out of an immigrant prison, an adulterous affair that leads a couple to vacation in a Nigerian beach resort in an attempt to recover their marriage.
In "A Thousand Splendid Sons", the story is about two Afghanistan women who are each forced into a marriage with the same pretty despicable man. One is forced into marriage at like age 14, the other is added as a second wife much later but is also young when it happens, 16? The man is at first enamored, but quickly becomes abusive.
Finally, "House of Cards" is a memoir by Dave Dickerson who is this brilliant wordsmith who lands a job at Halmark. He's a great writer and the book is brutally honest - he exposes everything there is about himself. He's young, in his late 20's, but despite his natural intelligence and his obvious passion and skill, he lacks maturity and depth. He's self absorbed throughout which is what, in my opinion, causes him to sabotage a relationship with his fiance. I care about these kinds of things. At the first hint that his relationship might fracture, I google'd him hoping to see him happily married with a woman that from his accounts sounded perfect for him. But, no such luck. He blows it. He thinks he ends it because of her problems and their broken sex life, but the reality is that he seems to actually devolve as the book progresses.
His book ends when he quits Hallmark to pursue a PhD at a college in Florida. Let me quote him:
"I pulled out early the next morning with Dwight Yoakam in my car's CD player, and when I hit the highway, I felt like I was flying. The Life of Dave, 2.0, was going to start today. I planned the whole thing in an invisible chart on my windscreen. I would become a cultural studies scholar, specializing in something cool. Figure that out later. I would learn how to teach, and maybe I'd even like it. I would live in warm weather again, and I'd have a lot of free time. No more nine-to-fiving! Who cares about an eighty percent pay cut if you're getting years of your life back?
I would go to parties. Maybe drink. I'd have a favorite alcohol, even, and feel cool ordering it. I'd smoke a little pot without any fear at all. And there would be girls. Beautiful girls. Don't they sometimes sleep with their TAs? College! Why does anyone ever leave?"
And that basically sums him up by the end of it. He was raised an Evangelical Christian in Tucson. Has some very good reasons for leaving that church. He becomes a Catholic, for some really, truly profound reasons, not least of which it's the church his fiance belongs to. By the end of it, he leaves his faith completely and becomes an atheist.
I admit I'm being judgmental and maybe harsh and there are some poignant moments in the book that I want to blog about later (maybe). Let me find another person to kind of second my point of view. Here's one from an amazon review of the book :
This is a well-written, cleverly observed, and very funny book. I also found it mildly disturbing, because I think Dickerson sometimes reveals more about himself than he realizes. It's still not clear to me, for instance, that he understands how deep the divide was between his own 'romantic' but essentially self-centered fantasies about his relationship and his fiancee's actual needs and desires. And it takes the poor guy forever to figure out that some of his perfectly innocent habits are annoying the crap out of his patient but uncommunicative coworkers. At many points in the book, I felt simultaneously sympathetic and incredibly irritated with him.
From this thought, I want to pivot to this book I read some time back about Flow.
He has a section on sex that's worth quoting in detail:
At first it is very easy to obtain pleasure from sex, and even to enjoy it. Any fool can fall in love when young. The first date, the first kiss, the first intercourse all present heady new challenges that keep the young person in flow for weeks on end. But for many this ecstatic state occurs only once; after the 'first love' all later relationships are no longer as exciting. It is especially difficult to keep enjoying sex with the same partner over a period of years. It is probably true that humans, like the majority of mammalian species, are not monogamous by nature. It is impossible for partners not to grow bored unless they work to discover new challenges in each other's company, and learn appropriate skills for enriching the relationship. Initially physical challenges alone are enough to sustain flow, but unless romance and genuine care also develop, the relationship will grow stale.
How to keep love fresh? The answer is the same as it is for any other activity. To be enjoyable, a relationship must become more complex. To become more complex, the partners must discover new potentialities in themselves and in each other. To discover these, they must invest attention in each other - so that they can learn what thoughts and feelings, what dreams reside in their partner's mind. This in itself is a never-ending process, a lifetime's task. After one begins to really know another person, then many joint adventures become possible: traveling together, reading the same books, raising children, making and realizing plans all become more enjoyable and more meaningful. The specific details are unimportant. Each person must find out which ones are relevant to his or her own situation. What is important is the general principal: that sexuality, like any other aspect of life, can be made enjoyable if we are willing to take control of it, and cultivate it in the direction of greater complexity."
I think this is where some critics of my faith miss the boat when they claim that our church is too restrictive and that we place too many boundaries.
What our church does do is raise the bar for those who seek to join. I mean, it's a journey, nobody expects perfection. We're only asked to constantly strive for this growth and though it's not stated in this exact way, we are striving to find this kind of growing complexity. And it's within marriage, within a family that this possibility for real growth is most profound. This complete devotion to your spouse is a challenge, but it's also worth it. And those who don't strive for it, will have no idea what they're missing.