Friday, June 1, 2012

Gifts, Lolo, and Covenant Love

Lolo Jones interviews with Bryant Gumbel
On Thursday, Emily Shire wrote an article on Slate commenting on Olympian "Lolo" Jones' announcement that, at age 29, she is still keeping her virginity for her future husband. It was insufferably condescending ("If it’s what she wants, I hope Jones will give her future husband her virginity. But she should keep the 'medals' for herself." Really??and I don't understand many pop-feminists' double standard of worshipping choice when it comes to women's decisions unless said choice approaches something resembling pre-sexual revolutionary norms.

This part of the article especially perturbed me:
If virginity is commodified into the “perfect gift,” it becomes about a woman pleasing a man rather than herself, and it is difficult to picture the determined and forceful Jones being that submissive in any other aspect of her life.
Shire's comments betray a broader idea that sex is primarily about personal, private pleasure: nothing more.
In fact, what the author implicitly argues is if sex is valued any higher than nothing, it's "commodified." I would argue that true commodification of virginity happens when it turns into something regarded as a sad delay in the relentless pursuit of pleasure. It becomes about performance, about what another person can provide for me to consume for my own personal benefit. The diminishment of gift language reminds me of the overwrought sex scenes in Ayn Rand's novels in which the characters take great pains to assure their partner that they solely enjoyed sex for the personal gain, not their partner's. But of course, anything other than selfishness is "submissive" - an epithet reserved for all educated women who buy into the benighted patriarchy.

The Christian view of sex must be different than the belittling "do you want a medal" view of the larger culture and it is fundamentally about the person as a gift. In John Paul II's Theology of the Body, a mutual gift is both giving and accepting. "The giving and the accepting of the gift interpenetrate, so that the giving itself becomes accepting, and the acceptance is transformed into giving." Seen perfectly before the Fall in Adam and Eve, John Piper puts this gift of self in terms of "covenant love." Genesis 2:25 - Adam and Eve were "naked and not ashamed" - can only be imitated within "the gracious nature of covenant love." Covenantal relationships are not based on how much one person can please another, but on commitment to another's good before God. Vulnerability is possible when love or desire is not based on selfish terms of personal fulfillment. The Fall changed Adam and Eve's unbroken covenant love to our sinful tendency to the contractual:
[After the Fall], she, [the person viewing my nakedness], has made herself central in the place of God. She is essentially now a selfish person. From this day forward, she will put herself first. She is no longer a servant. So she is not safe. And I feel vulnerable around her, because she is very likely to put me down if that puts her up (Piper, 35).
Selfish hedonism is not the original design for sex. Physical intimacy is inherently a gift founded in covenant love, which means fundamental concern for pleasing another. And this concern is foremost a submissive, serving love commanded of both husband and wife in different ways. When we accept each other for his or her own sake, we act in line with our created nature. John Paul II puts it this way: "When the whole dignity of the gift is ensured in this acceptance, through the offer of what she is in the whole truth of her humanity and in the whole reality of her body and sex, of her femininity, she reaches the inner depth of her person and full possession of herself." Gift and acceptance, not selfishness, lead to further self-discovery, and this can only be fully realized in the covenantal relationship between God and a man and a woman.

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