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Amoral Abstinence

My daughter, Claire, was selected to help teach sexual abstinence to sixth graders in South Saint Paul. She’s a good choice because she has strong views about it herself. She believes that God intended sex for married couples. Sex outside of marriage is just wrong. This view is so at odds with the prevailing view in our culture that it at first seems ridiculous or even nonsensical. Yet a little reflection shows how wise it really is.

Suppose people actually began to act on the principle that God intended sex to be reserved for married couples and that he intended marriage as a lifelong partnership rather than the temporary arrangement it has often become. Think of the number of social problems that would be solved. The number of one-parent families would drop dramatically. The number of adults and children receiving welfare would decline. Most sexually transmitted diseases would disappear within a generation. Since four out of five abortions are performed for unmarried women, the abortion rate would likely decline by at least two-thirds. Crime would fall as the number of stable, two-parent families increased. The effect of universal obedience to just one commandment (You shall not commit adultery) would be overwhelmingly positive.

So why don’t we teach abstinence?

Of course, we do teach abstinence—as one choice among many for children to handle their developing sexuality. The trouble is that allowing children to choose any behavior but abstinence brings with it all the problems we would like to solve. By presenting abstinence as one strategy among other value-neutral strategies, we guarantee that it will not be widely adopted. We teach abstinence but only in school and only in sex education classes. In every other way—in the movies we watch, in the books we read, in the television shows we like, in the music we listen to—we encourage sexual adventuring, and we ourselves rationalize our own sexual misbehaviors.

Values are caught not taught. My daughter believes sex should be reserved for marriage not because I have told her so. She believes it because I live it myself. If I see a beautiful woman, I don’t gawk and make puerile comments about her body. But every day I hug and kiss my wife and tell her I love her and stare at her in open admiration. I bring her coffee every morning in bed. I live to serve her. My daughter sees the impact of marital faithfulness every day. Why would she want anything less for herself?

Resurrection Day

Today is Resurrection Sunday, the day when Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It commemorates the most inexplicable day in history. For many readers, talk of the resurrection of the dead seems nonsensical, a matter for mockery, perhaps, or to be dismissed as foolishness. But Christians are quite serious about regarding the resurrection as real. Without it, there is no point to following Christ.

The resurrection is not just a matter of faith. All the extraordinary claims Jesus made hinge on the resurrection. All the gospel accounts have Jesus predicting his own death and resurrection. If what he predicted happened, then it tends to authenticate the other things he said. If it did not happen, then it tends to call into question all the teachings of Jesus about himself and the kingdom of heaven. Not only that, but the apsotles taught that Jesus’ death and resurrection somehow broke the tyranny of sin and death over the human race so that followers of Jesus need no longer fear death. Without the resurrection, sin and death still reign; Jesus was just a well-intentioned madman; and Christianity is delusion.

All the gospel accounts, written by eyewitnesses or collected from eyewitness accounts, agree on the main events: that Jesus was crucified after a mock trial, buried in a stone tomb for three days, and that the tomb was inexplicably empty when the women went after the Sabbath to finish the burial preparations. The resurrection is as well attested as any fact in ancient history.

Unexpected Iowa

I drove halfway across Iowa today, from Ames to Sioux City. The weather was warm and the day was lovely. I took US 20 through Fort Dodge. A few miles west, I came across a town called Rockwell City, “The golden buckle on the corn belt.” It got me to wondering about how small towns choose to identify themselves. Of course, we all know that Iowa is smack dab in the middle of the corn belt. But what does it mean for a town to be “the golden buckle on the corn belt?” I doubt there’s really any gold there. Does Rockwell City have a higher per capita net worth than the rest of the towns in Iowa? Not judging by appearances. Perhaps they consider themselves a treasure. If so, one might ask why anyone else should consider them so. What is there about Rockwell City that makes it “the golden buckle on the corn belt?” If anyone knows, please write.
A little further on, I stopped for lunch at an unpretentious place called Hutch’s Cafe in Sac City. It had the standard fare: burgers and fries, sandwiches, sodas. Two items on the menu caught my eye: chicken livers and chicken gizzards. Yes, gizzards. Most folks probably don’t even know what a gizzard is. You might think it’s a kind of cross between a grizzly and a lizard (T-Rex, anyone?), but you’d be wrong. A gizzard is a kind of chewing stomach. Birds, including chickens, eat grit along with their grist, and the grit in the gizzard grinds the grist into more manageable size for further processing by the rest of the digestive tract. I ate chicken gizzards when I was a kid. They were tough and chewy, a lot like clams. But I have never seen them on a menu in any establishment that sells food to the dining public. Until today. I couldn’t help mentioning my surprise to the waitress.
“Oh,” she said, “I don’t care for them myself, but we sell a lot of them. We get a lot of orders for chicken livers and gizzards too.”
I had the onion rings.
By this time, I felt I was becoming attuned to the Iowan aura. I came to the town of Early and saw that it identified itself as the “Crossroads of the Nation.” I thought, how does this little bit of a town get to be the crossroads of the whole, entire nation? But there was a big banner on a building in the fairgrounds: “Crossroad Days,” and a little further on I passed the Crossroad Restaurant and Lounge. This is a town that takes its crossroads status seriously. Early is situated at the crossroads of US 20 and US 71. Perhaps there was a real crossroads at one time, but now US 20 doglegs about 4 miles, passing through Early on the way. Still it’s more of a cross than the intersection of two interstates. You don’t get a cross but a cloverleaf. Or, in the case of I35 and I80 at Des Moines, a whole tangle of cloverleafs, shamrocks, and snapdragons. Portions seem always to be under construction.
One common misconception about Iowa is that it is Flat. The fact is some of it is Flat, and some of it is Wrinkled. There are a lot of Wrinkles in US 20 as you approach Sioux City. Some of them even begin to look like hills. The biggest Wrinkle of them all is crowned with huge, three-armed giants, dozens of them waving their three arms as if performing some stationary dance. They have an austere, haphazard beauty. Got photos of these giants? I’d love to see them.