I’m at the IASYM conference in Cambridge – the international association of studies of youth ministry, mostly doing childcare as my wife is involved in the organisation. There are a number of papers applicable to the young adult section as well as youth.
Russell Hatch from Bethany Theological Seminary in Illinois is resenting his paper with the above title.
The Internet is a place where old rules, new rules, and no rules come together. Just look at the comment thread from pretty much any ethical article.
Behind rules we have relationships, and behind sexuality we have intimacy. We can at least agree between the advocated of various rules, that sex and intimacy are not the same. It is best to focus first on relationships and intimacy rather than on rules and sex.
Here is the question: how do we become relational beings in an age of individualism? Modern western thinking has focused on an individual sense of self – the western perception of the person as a unique bounded cognitive universe, separate from kinship in some sense. Individual freedom is the new ideal over communal responsibility. There have been technological changes, legal changes, and values changes that have occurred since the 1960s.
Up to 70% of emerging adults think they may have got it wrong in their sexual explorations. They still want, in general, to be married and settled but have trouble in committed relationships. Jillion Strauss blames the ‘cult of I’. How do we know what is good?
To quick observations in regard to Christian ministry. 1. Diverse sexual fantasies seem to be a normal part of development, but there should be no rush into practice.. 2. A desire that is no primarily sexual can become sexualised prematurely in our current culture.
The dilemma is this- how do we move from individualism to intimacy? No by moralising or denying social progress in many areas. The question “who am I” is a good question. The individualist is prone to ask “how do I become myself?” But the answer doesn’t come from within individualism. The need for acceptance means that most people conform to society even when they are soul-deadening.
What is the self? The self is inherently relational. The human spirit is trying to go between and unite polarities of life. We are finite but sense ourselves to be unbounded. We are time bound but sense ourselves to be eternal, we are egocentric and exocentric. In this case, we become ourselves only in relation to others.
Intimacy is knowing and experiencing someone from the inside. They feel free in the presence of the other, but though free they voluntarily accept constraints in relation to the other. Intimates have an uncommon trust which tends outside of time. they feel present to each other even when apart. They know acceptance. They share things and they share the relationship itself – sharing one another. They talk of the relationships as a gift.
Intimacy is a larger and deeper reality than sexuality, but there are important connections.
Claim: intimacy with god through a personal relationship in Jesus becomes the foundation for intimacy with everything else in the universe.
We are inherently relational, and relate to ourselves as well as others. (Kierkegaard) We sense that we must become a combination of finite and infinite. On my own, I cannot create this unified relationality. It must be grounded transparently in the power which gives it. The self cannot ground itself.
1. The self can be fully and truly relational only in relation to the other. But in relation to what other do we become ourselves? If we make inanimate objects the focus, we become like the idols themselves. Same with an idolised person. But in God as trinity we find an relationality and intimacy that does justice to our human longing. Thomas Aquinas ‘God is more one because God is three’.
2. We cannot become individuals on our own because of the problem of sin. E can’t live up to even our own standards for loving others.
3. The problem of death – it dissolves hope in holding the finite and infinite together. We cannot avoid it but can find an enduring identity in relation to the one who transforms death.
As humans, we long for intimacy but also fear it, if we are known then we can be hurt. The hurt may not be intentional but it is a risk nonetheless. Twin fears of absorption or abandonment. We try to get close but distance ourselves.
Transformation occurs when a person experiences the relation of Christ. We are absorbed into Christ but not in a way that we lose ourselves. We are given the space for me to be me,
In this way an intimate relationship with Jesus gives assurance to the self and provides the basis for intimacy with others.
Four criticisms of this.
1. Separation of physical act from intimacy. Haitch responds saying intimacy is a larger and deeper aspect of sexuality.
2. Conjoinment of physical and spiritual. Haitch defends this and says that psychological and physical are related, although separate.
3. Lack of qualitative research in finding out what young people think.
4. Should look at what is really going on verse what is in theory. Response that theory helps us understand what is really going on.