Here's a piece appearing in the current Christian Reader. An unimportant point here became the focus of a series of emails between me and the editor--I'll give you how I wrote it, and tell at the end how he changed it for print.
 
I know everyone is buzzing about teh Mel Gibson movie, debuting this week. I was on CNBC "Capital Report" last Tuesday talking about it alongside Michael Medved. (Not "debating" -- a TV show always wants to select people who will debate but we essentially were making parallel points.) I have a piece coming out in "Books & Culture" about the movie, and hope to send that soon.
 
Tonight Lent begins for Orthodox Christians. It is the evening we are supposed to ask everyone we know to forgive us for all teh ways we have sinned against them, things known and unknown, things done and left undone. So, my brothers and sisters, please do forgive me for any thing I have done to hurt or offend you in this past year.
 
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Q. Any advice on how I can encourage a young Christian woman that it is not right to share an apartment with a man, even though their relationship is non-romantic? 

--Name withheld

 

A. I notice that it happens to be the young woman you're trying to talk to about this, rather than the young man, so let me note that women are a little slower to see the problem. Young men know that sexual desire can overwhelm them unexpectedly, and that it is hard to direct or restrain. The actor Dustin Hoffman once remarked that he was glad to be growing older and to seeing these impulses fade; it had been, he said, "like waking up every morning chained to a maniac."

 

Say this to a young woman, however, and she's liable to register a "Huh?" In her experience, encounters with the opposite sex may cause exhilaration or distress, but sexual feelings are a milder subset of that heart-attraction. She can't imagine why sharing an apartment with a nice boy might lead to misbehavior, because she is not imagining that boy in any sexual way whatever. It's not so easy on the boy, however, and the strongest intentions can crumble.

 

It was the overwhelming nature of sexual desire that led St. Augustine to reason that humans are not able to resist sin. He is sometimes ridiculed as a prude, but the reverse is true. Like Dustin Hoffman, he felt "chained to a maniac" and battered by desires which he did not hesitate to act out; by age 17 he had a mistress and a son. Knowing how irresistible that temptation can be, he reasoned that humans are never able to avoid sin by their own strength.

 

What we do affects others, too, of course. Even if this pair were able to live chastely (it's possible) and without encountering sexual tension on anyone's part (a little less possible), those who saw them from the outside would have doubts. People who think that Christians are hypocrites would see this arrangement as proof of their thesis--"Born agains" may say they believe in abstinence before marriage, but look at those two playing house. Their example might influence others' decisions as well. Another girl may be coaxed into sharing an apartment under similar circumstances, but with less happy results. This is not a decision that would affect only this girl, but many others around her.

 

So I hope you can help your young friend to believe that for young men this is can be an unfairly trying situation, a temptation that it is not kind to inflict.  She may not believe you, but for her own good, I hope she does. We are tragically faced with a culture that is continually telling young women that being sexy is "powerful," but they don't really understand what this means. When young girls think of "power" they imagine the kind of social command enjoyed by the most popular girl in the in-crowd. Tiny, sexy outfits are understood as being "cute" or fashionable, conveying prestige points. It's quite different for the young men who have to sit by them in class. Such a vast mis-communication is one more reason they call it the "opposite" sex. Na´ve girls need all the protection they can get. And the boys do, too.

 

Q. How can a person deal with boredom in their personal and spiritual life? How do you deal with laziness?

 --David Ko, via email

 

A. David, put down this magazine this instant and go clean your room!

 

OK, that's one way to deal with laziness--have another person badger you. But it's not effective long-term, at least not once you move out of your mother's house. It's better to have the motivation inside. Many of us find that we have plenty of spiritual motivation at the beginning of our walk, or at various times when we feel inspired or moved, but other times just run out of steam. We fluctuate in our feelings for God--what the senior devil Screwtape, in C. S. Lewis' "Screwtape Letters," termed "the law of undulation."

 

I saw a cartoon years ago that showed that showed a husband driving a car, while his wife sat on the passenger side. How many years ago is indicated by the fact that the car had a bench front seat; old-timers like me remember when that was the standard, and bucket seats only appeared in sports cars. The wife was complaining: "You know, we used to be more romantic. When we were out driving we used to cuddle up and sit close together. Why don't we do that anymore?" And the husband replied, "Well, *I* haven't moved."

 

God hasn't moved. He never moves. We move; we forget him, drift away, get distracted, and then have to round ourselves up and come back. It might be said that the whole secret of the Christian life is paying attention; keeping your eye fixed on the Lord, putting first his Kingdom, and listening for his direction moment by moment in all we do. If we had that right, everything else would follow. But it's hard to keep focusing on Him, with such a busy, enticing, and frightening world around us all the time. Ask Peter, who could walk on water only as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. Instead of attending to God constantly in our hearts as Paul advised ("Pray constantly" I Thess 5:17), we pile up self-improvement projects. That's what we get bored with--not the Lord himself.

 

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It was the line about "put down this magazine and clean your room" that didn't resonate with my editor. He thought it sounded too much like what a mom would say, and suggested instead "...go do your taxes!" because it would be tax season. I thought the whole joke was that a scolding motherly voice would be unexpected and anomalous--that's what made it snappy. Giving the scolding a logical purpose would kind of take the air out of it. 

 

Generally I trust an editor to have a better sense than i do about what works; if it didn't work for him, it would probably misfire with other readers. But in this case I was perplexed abt why this didn't connect. I polled my friends, setting the two versions side by side, and they were all for the scolding mom. Still it never did make sense to my editor. In the end he suggested "...and go read your Bible!" and that's how it was published. A sense of humor is an unpredictable thing, eh?

 

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Frederica Mathewes-Green
www.frederica.com

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