Wednesday, March 8, 2017

An Officer and a Barbarian

As of the writing of this article, a scandal has emerged in the United States Marine Corps exposing sexual misconduct towards women in the ranks.  This is not unique to the Corps.  A simple Google search of the term “Military Officer’s Sexual Misconduct” or a derivative thereof will generate a massive list containing the names of those who have fallen from favor by virtue of their own misdeeds from every branch of military service.  When these issues are discussed in the public view, the list of excuses offered in the defense of such indefensible conduct is equally long.  A very close friend and West Point classmate, Kris Fuhr lamented in response on social media, “If I read one more article comment where a man excuses men's behavior because ‘they have hormones/urges and can't help themselves’ or says ‘what do you expect when you throw men and women together’ then I am going to vomit...”  I am equally sickened. 

I am a man and understand the power of male “urges.”  As a preteen, youth and young man I wrestled mightily with the impulses that plague every male from puberty onward. My hormones raged as my testosterone levels increased and it seemed whether I liked it or not, every other thought seemed to somehow gravitate towards sexuality even though I had absolutely no experience in the matter.  I became a devout follower of Jesus before this hormonal explosion, and learned very quickly that, biblically speaking, there was an expected code of conduct regarding what was considered righteous and what was considered unholy sexual conduct regardless of one’s hormonal state. I also learned very quickly that many people who also considered themselves devout, overlooked this code in a variety of circumstances and offered plentiful excuses for why they did.

From my observations during my growing up years, the acceptability of this unholiness was bred in the incubator of the out-of-sight banter that occurs in the discussions of men and boys.  Women and girls were often discussed in terms of how they might satisfy someone’s urges or fantasies, rather than how interesting it might be to get to know them as people.  Sexual escapades – real and imagined – were discussed as if they were athletic contests, not as an expression of intimacy between two caring, committed people. As these types of conversations progressed over the years, it was clear that a main goal of much of the recreational activities for men was gaining an opportunity to “deal with one’s urges.”  The episodes of “release” that I most often heard discussed in the open were not usually reflections on beautiful moments of emotional connection, but rather testimonials of conquests and acquiescence.

This behavior is not new and it is addressed in the Bible. A passage that may speak to this issue more powerfully than we have typically taken time to consider is Proverbs 31. The identities of those mentioned in this passage is telling, once understood. The first few verses of the passage identify the writer as King Lemuel, who is said to be recording wisdom shared by his mother.  The Rabbinic tradition and many Christian scholars as well, believe that “King Lemuel” is a pseudonym for King Solomon.   King Lemuel directly attributes his writings as a transcription that came directly from the lips of his mother.  Again, by his own words, the wisdom he shares is not his own, but that of his own mother. 
Marinate on that information for a moment.  The words of Proverbs 31 were spoken by a woman; not just any woman, but royalty – the mother of a king.  She was not just any king’s mother, but by deduction we can surmise that if Lemuel was Solomon, the woman was Solomon’s mother. Pause and consider the question, who was King Solomon’s mother?  That’s right!  Bathsheba was – yes, THAT Bathsheba!  Understanding that a woman was the source of the instruction dispensed in the lines of that Proverb, and being aware that the woman was Bathsheba gives it a very different perspective to consider!  The probability that the woman who gave the advice was Bathsheba, gives the message a depth and power even more impacting than what might be gleaned if the passage is only viewed on a more casual level.

Looking more deeply at the implications of Bathsheba’s contribution to this amazing passage, she was someone who understood the ways of powerful men.  Her first husband, Uriah, was a commander of warriors.  Certainly, Bathsheba’s physical beauty had captured his attention, though his deeper virtue was later seen when he was invited by King David to satisfy “his urges” to hide David’s act of coercion against Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.  Amazingly, Uriah was a fiercely duty-driven soldier and refused the “comforts of home” as his unit faced the perils of war.  He refused the King’s invitation, telling him, “The ark, Israel, and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my master Joab and his soldiers are camping in the open field. How can I enter my house to eat and drink and sleep with my wife? As surely as you live and by your life, I will not do this!” 

What is heartbreaking is that King David, a man after God’s own heart, while courageous in the face of giants, could not conquer the giant appetites of his own soul.  Having already abused his power by coercing a rendezvous with Bathsheba, David attempts to hide his evil by playing on what he assumes are the common passions of men.  The problem was, Uriah was no common man.  Instead of indulging his appetites, driven by duty and honor, Uriah refuses to act on his own “urges” even after David introduces alcohol into the equation to lower his clarity of thought.  Singe-minded in doing his duty, even when inebriated, Uriah sleeps outside of his own home content to come as close as he can to sharing the hardships of those he commands.  This true devotion destroys the foundation of David’s pretense.   Consumed by his own passions, David’s devotion to righteousness is overcome by ambition and selfishness.  He orders Uriah to a certain death, adding murder to the sin of adultery.  The rest is history.

This history shaped a tragic chapter of Bathsheba’s life.  Through this tragedy, she grew, matured and gained wisdom and insight that she passed on to her son, Solomon.  While Solomon stayed the course of her teaching for a time he wandered into the desert of his father’s pursuit of sensory pleasure for a season as well.  When he came to himself and was able to reflect, he counted his pursuit of pleasure as “worthless” in the book of Ecclesiastes and reflected on the wisdom of his mother, recounted in Proverbs 31.  Bathsheba’s words come from observing the carnage that selfish pursuits of selfish fulfillment bring. Within the first five verses, Bathsheba’s warns against the unrestrained pursuit of sexual conquests and alcoholic indulgence, often bound together in a powerful, destructive alliance that dulls senses, impairs judgement, lowers inhibitions and creates an environment that sets the stage for a predator/prey scenario and seldom ends without planting the seeds for eventual regret. 

Bathsheba asks her son to instead spend his energy on matters that protect the vulnerable, comfort the afflicted and support the needy.  I remember during seminary, when the hormones were raging like crazy, my very wise spiritual mentor dispatching me to carry out every demanding physical job he could find for me and then challenging me to set up a personal physical regimen that either kept me in the gym or had me training someone else. I busted concrete, moved furniture, cut down trees, painted houses, delivered groceries, and ran in every 10K he could find within a hundred miles.  His theory, “A body too tired to sin, is less likely to sin!”  I stayed tired! Bathsheba called her son to “stay tired” in the pursuit of righteousness so that his strength would be devoted to only what was good.
Having a beautiful external appearance, Bathsheba understood the superficiality that can plague the life of an attractive person.  She spends the rest of her advisement focusing on the traits that truly lend themselves to greatness – industry, creativity, compassion, strength, virtue, honor and discipline – and challenges her son to see the value in character and closeness to God as opposed to the superficiality of externals and false charm.

If only Solomon had heeded.  He could only reflect on the truth of this wisdom after indulging himself in an unrestrained and literal orgy of concubinage and pleasure seeking – indulgences that left him compromised in his faith and impotent as a leader.   Solomon’s life serves as the ultimate example of why we cannot allow our sons to entertain even a hint of the “boys will be boys” mentality. Men must teach their sons to not merely desire virtue in “the one” they want for themselves, but to live the virtue they expect in someone else.  A man can call himself progressive, march in a hundred marches and speak with the greatest of political correctness in formal settings, but it is one’s behavior in the locker room, one’s words around the campfire and one’s actions in the shadows that truly defines just how progressive you are.  What good is an updated chassis of 21st century politics, when it houses an engine of prehistoric barbarism? 

The Apostle Paul provides solid instruction for we who are men to enlighten our hidden living to match our public talking – “do NOTHING from selfish ambition or empty deceit, but esteem others better than yourselves…[exercise] self-control…[Remember] Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish.”  Let’s get rid of the excuses, especially for those called to lead.  Let us learn from the ancients and hear the pain of our sisters who have been so thoroughly betrayed.  Let us establish ourselves as true gentlemen – not in appearance or for show, but rather in spirit and in truth, seeing our sisters as partners, colleagues and teammates worthy of respect, support, opportunities and justice.  To do anything less is not just ungentlemanly, it is evil.

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