Thursday, December 15, 2016

Proverbs 7 The Fable of the Faithless Woman

In Proverbs 7, Solomon embarks on an extended fable of a young man being sexually enticed by a "loose woman," who stands as a counter-symbol against "Wisdom."

In this chapter the Bible continues the personification of Wisdom as a woman, though this time, it is specified as a "sister": "Say to wisdom, you are my sister, and call insight your intimate friend; to preserve you from the loose woman, from the adventuress with her smooth words" (7:4-5).

Often we have a habit in everyday speech of associating sexual experience with "knowledge" or even "wisdom," such as when we say someone has a lot of carnal knowledge or someone's got "wisdom beyond their years" because they started having sex at a young age.

Here, however, wisdom is cast as antithetical to sexual adventure. Yet the loose woman, lacking as she is in wisdom, does not present herself as unwise, as in transparently naive or stupid. Rather, she is wily and falsely wise, or disordered in her use of knowledge. Solomon says that he looked through the lattice of window to see "a young man without sense, passing along the street near the corner, taking the road to her house, in the twilight, in the evening, in the time of night and darkness" (7:7-9).

With this framework, we are set up to read the young man as someone who is largely to blame for his sexual ruin, because he is violating many of the ideas that have preceded in Proverbs 1-6. He has not the sense to understand that he cannot trust himself in vulnerable contexts. It is the fool who thinks he can wander close to a lusty woman's home when it is dark outside. The temptation is too grave.

Yet much of the sexual fall results from the loose woman's own carefully selected words. She misrepresents herself consciously because she is "dressed as a harlot, wily of heart" (7:10). After grabbing the boy and kissing him, she states, "I had to offer sacrifices and today I have paid my vows, so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly" (7:14-15). Why this line about the loose woman claiming that she has partaken dutifully in her vows and rites?

It would seem that Solomon includes the line about the loose woman's ruse of holiness because he wants the vulnerable to understand that seducers often misrepresent themselves as pious, thereby taking their victims off guard. The woman appeals to the young man's love of sensual pleasures and fineries, as she mentions her perfume and the Egyptian linen of her bed. Also, she mentions that her husband is away on business, having taken a bag of money with him.

The man cannot resist her talk and her ruses, so "all at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught." (7:22-23).

For the ex-gay Christian the fable resonates even without the heterosexual dynamic of the older woman seducing a young, innocent man. The underlying problem of sexual vulnerability is that those with the intent to despoil others sexually have usually had a great deal of practice and often embark with a careful strategy. Only arrogance can lead someone to believe that they can stand alone, dancing with sin, without getting dirty.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Proverbs 6: To Strive in Work and Love

In Proverbs 6, there is a sudden emphasis on "slacking," or doing things with a noticeable lack of effort. This arrives first in some verses in which Solomon warns people about getting into financial vows they know they cannot fulfill. If you jump into a deal and now find yourself on the hook for something you can't pay, Solomon's advice is to "go humble yourself, and plead with your neighbor."

While these opening verses would seem to be merely about managing one's finances shrewdly, Solomon inserts a line telling the reader "don't give sleep to your eyes or slumber to your eyelids; escape like a gazelle from a hunter, like a bird from a fowler's trap."

The problem with disadvantageous deals stems, arguably, from people lacking the initiative and drive to explore all options and engage in the necessary due diligence prior to signing an agreement. The admonition about not sleeping then affords a transition from the discussion of poor financial deals to other problems that arise from lack of energy: laziness, malice, and then the seven things the Lord hates: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers. Some of these issues seem not to be directly connected to laziness, but they are in one sense. It is often a desire to get easy rewards without making the necessary sacrifices, which lead to these forms of vice.

The malicious man "winking his eyes, signaling with his feet," seems to want to cut corners and get deals through improper corruption. But the link to the rest of the chapter is that hard work, if done earnestly, will allow someone to prosper without cheating. And often the due diligence necessary to reap the fruits of hard work is itself more work we like to avoid: balancing one's checkbooks, doing research on what the better deal is, haggling, bargaining, etc.

Many of the other vices are also indirectly connected to idleness, which is the twin evil of laziness. There is always work to do, but when we loiter and malinger, we end up replacing necessary work time with idle time, and in idle time we drift into gossip, plotting, and even, as the chapter closes, adultery.

Keep busy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Proverbs 5: The Secret Fountain v. the Polluted Stream

Proverbs 5 is labeled, in some translations, a warning against immoral women. But one can read the proverb allegorically, as contrasting the private delight of a chaste marriage with the shame and despair of sexual faithlessness.

The proverb begins with an extended warning against an archetype, a woman who seduces men but ruins them. It is interesting to note that the first part of her that is vilified is actually her mouth: "the lips of a loose woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood" (5:3).

This proverb might be best suited for a man who is struggling with the temptations of lusty noncommittal women. But for the man struggling against homosexuality it is not difficult to transfer the "loose woman" into an allegory for the gay community as a whole. With its slogans and sex-ridden poetry and hyper-sensual gatherings, the gay community does entice people with ideas that look sweet and smooth as oil.

But then see what the proverb states will follow if one is drawn by the smell of honey. The proverb states, "her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol." (5:5-6).

Later the text tells us that she will end up stealing one's cherished titles and distributing them aimlessly to others: "do not go near the door of her house; lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless; lest strangers take the fill of your strength and your labors go to the house of an alien" (5:9-11).

I had to read the verses above a few times to figure out what the proverb is saying about the "loose woman." Is she actually a thief who only plots to take your hard work and let others share in it? Is this a portrait of cuckolding?

The next line gives some clarity: "at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, 'How I hated discipline!'" (5:12-13).

There is a sense that the lack of boundaries between the man and the loose woman deprives him of necessary boundaries not only in sex but also in other parts of his life. If he is willing to make love to a woman whom he hasn't exchanged vows with, then why should anybody honor any deals or contracts made with him?

Sex, when unmoored from its safe context of chastity, ends up unraveling everything in a person's life. Work, home, friendships, worship, and even one's civic identity all become muddied, confused, and poisoned. Water serves as a useful metaphor in the proverb as the chapter contrasts drinking "from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well" with "springs" "scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets." (5:15-18).

The most refreshing water, the chapter tells us, comes from the private fountain -- "the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe." The imagery of pollution here is tied intricately into the imagery of public/private boundaries being obscured. The joy and happiness come with the clear, pure waters of one's own fountain rather than the filthy water running through the streets.

Water is like one's spirit, and lovemaking is like a pouring of spirit just like a pouring of water from a jar. One problem with the temptations of gay life is the public identity of gayness, which dictates that you must "come out" and when you have relations, you are not only communing with one person but with the whole political meaning of the person's gayness. You make love not only to one person but to the whole community. Your lover begins by being reduced to a fungible and vague category -- "I am for you because you are gay and I am a man and gay" rather than "I am for you because I am your private fountain and our love is what God designed." There is no way to replicate the privacy and personal closeness of the male-female bond in a world so overdetermined by political identity. Hence the "water" of gay sexuality is like the water running dirty through the streets.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Proverbs 4: Fatherhood and the Two Ways

The fourth chapter of Proverbs picks up with the structure of a father's advice to sons, inflected with "discipline" as the last chapter before it. In this chapter Solomon begins by addressing his own sons, beseeching them to hold the instructions close just as he listened to King David's advice in his own youth.

This chapter is relatively short and breaks quickly into a contrast, a juxtaposition of two paths. On one path, the one to be avoided, travel the evil ones. The path of the wicked is both dark and sleepless, a place where wine is laced with violence and people cannot rest peacefully. The way of the righteous, by contrast, is lit by the light of dawn.

The imagery of paths reminds me that it matters where we place ourselves. Even when we are simply in transit between two places, we need to avoid passing, even transiently, through places that bring us anxiety, stress, or doom. The resonance with the man struggling to overcome a sexually degenerate past seems to dovetail with this fable of the two paths. How many times do men set out to leave the gay lifestyle, and then fall back into it, even though they wanted more than anything else not to? I suspect that often such a man does not schedule a visit to a gay club ahead of time, but rather arrives at Friday night, perhaps sleepless, and finds himself with nothing to do and a vague restlessness. He gets up, throws on jeans and a black t-shirt, and then decides to drive around. He passes the gay club and tells himself he will just get a quick drink.

And then he goes in, and he falls, and he feels the crushing pain of lost years of chastity.

Paths are not merely physical but also in an abstract sense, our routine. In particular, the symbolize the way we bridge different parts of our day. Yes, during business hours you will be busy and untempted, most likely, and perhaps you can arrange to work out with a friend from church each night in the evening. But unfortunately there will be hours in between when nobody but God can keep you safe from drifting into danger zones.

The key is to link Proverbs 4 with Proverbs 3. During all the hours when you cannot count on others to keep you busy and accounted for, do not be fooled to think you can manage yourself for those hours on your own. Only Jesus can get you from place to place. When you are between appointments, or having down time, pray. This is why, I assume, some religions call for prayer several times a day, so there might be no idle time at all during which the slacking hours leave a person open to Satan's tricks.

I keep busy with my daily devotional. Now I have come to get good at talking to Jesus whenever there is nobody to talk to, and praying whenever there is nothing to do. When I find myself mulling and stressing, ruing over things I've done wrong and imagining worst-case scenarios, I remind myself that such is a sinful path. It is sinful to worry because one is traveling a path far from God. God can be trusted, he must be trusted. To worry and rue is to question the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Proverbs 3--Discipline and Creativity v. Fear and Loathing

As I journey through the chapters of proverbs, I am struck by how often the father-son relationship is invoked. Solomon seems to take very seriously his role as a father, and his father's role as his father as well. Yet the specific historical details of King David's family do not figure in the proverbs. The words of wisdom speak in general rules applicable to anybody reading them.

In the third chapter, "loyalty and faithfulness" now enter as important companions to wisdom (3:3)--both are to be worn like a tie around one's neck, and written on one's heart as if etched on a tablet.

From this mention of loyalty and faithfulness comes a new tone here. Somewhat surprisingly, loyalty to God means the inverse for one's faith in one's self. Here the struggler determined to overcome a homosexual past is probably most called to the Book of Proverbs. The memories of one's time in the gay world will always be, unfortunately, mixed together. There will be times of kindness, friendship, and even something approaching love--certainly some pleasure--mixed in with the darkness of the falling away from God, the loneliness, the unstable relationships, the health problems, and the constant sadness.

I find myself struggling now to die fully to the past, because there is still a part of me longing for the positive things I had in the gay lifestyle, but the Lord has set events before me that have made it clear: I cannot have the pleasure (even the mental or verbal pleasure of thinking or talking about it), the camaraderie with fellow travelers, or the thrill of doing something forbidden, without falling away from God.

I cannot trust myself. Certainly I cannot trust the friends I made when I was in the gay lifestyle, because their natural motive will be either to punish me for leaving them, or to draw me back into their circle. The third chapter of Proverbs states, "Don't consider yourself to be wise; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. This will be healing for your body, and strengthening for your bones" (3:7-8).

I feel that these lines are written so perfectly for a man in the struggle I face. Part of surviving the gay world is the memory of all those moments when I sensed that I was shrewd and cunning, able to compartmentalize and engage in secret pleasures while playing all the people around me so that I would avoid falling into the ruin that I already saw consuming so many of my gay colleagues. I thought I was smart because I knew how to use condoms, how to avoid getting HIV, how to have flings without getting caught up with stalkers or tiresome relationships. I thought I had it all figured it out.

But there is no wisdom in me apart from God, and God's wise words have stated that I should not be in any paths that lead to sodomy. This may mean, now, that I have to cut off all communication with friends I made in the gay world--not because I do not love them, not because I don't want them to be saved, but because I am not wise enough or strong enough to deal with them directly, without stumbling. Proverbs states, "do no loathe God's discipline, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves, just as a father, the son he delights in." (3:11-12).

It was sacrilege each time, in the gay world, I indulged the fantasies of the gay leather community. In that world, "daddies" search for sons and sons search for "daddies." As a tan-skinned Puerto Rican it was expected that I would be a submissive; the entire underground culture circumscribed to me the role of the subordinate seeking "discipline" from a white father figure. There is no way to engage in anything of the sort without dishonoring God, who Proverbs tell us is the one who disciplines us with wisdom, holiness, and divine love, not sin and sodomy and perversion.

"Happy is a man who finds wisdom," says Proverbs 3, as wisdom is compared to jewels, riches, honor, and pleasant ways. Wisdom flows from the creator of all things, since Proverbs 3 tells us "The Lord founded the earth by wisdom and established the heavens by understanding. By His knowledge the watery depths broke open and the clouds dripped with dew" (3:19-20).

The man trapped in gay living yearns to overcome the lines above, to replace creation and creativity based on the divine model of male and female becoming one flesh, with another model based on worldly concepts misconstrued as "wise" and a rejection of God's plan for an overconfident alternative put forward by men. Creation is a divine act, one that Proverbs would depict as tied together with wisdom. Wise ways are fruitful, not sterile or destructive.

Then Proverbs 3 paints a happy picture of the man who lives by wisdom, a man who "will go safely," "will not be afraid" upon lying down, and will have pleasant sleep without fear, for "the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from a snare." (3:23-26).