29.  The Italians ate one

During a Sunday evening Christian talk-back program a young man asked the panel of theologians this brave question: “What does the bible say in regards to masturbation?” Just as well the setting wasn’t on colour TV. The screen may have turned a ‘shade of red’ redder, you know what I mean?

The caller ought to have received a ‘medal for bravery’ just for bringing up the subject in public. An expert on the panel of bible scholars answered: “There is very little in the bible on this subject. I have heard opinions that range from one side of the spectrum – that it is sin – to the other – that it is only a natural drive, like hunger etc. (or words to that effect). I can’t recall the rest of the discussion.

When I was at the confusing age of 15 years, and going through puberty, I would have loved to be able to phone up someone and have an open talk on such an intimate subject. In my generation matters of sexuality were never discussed, let alone in public. Once at about age 16, I had opportunity to speak to a Pastor from another church. He actually brought up the subject, quite out of the blue. Perhaps he had a gift of reading my mind and knew I had questions.

For the very fact that I had never forgotten his comment – how do you manage it - he must have made an impression on me. I can’t remember what I said, but only his final advice: “Leave such things until you have a wife”. From then on, what I now believe was the natural process of becoming a man, turned into a guilt trip. The constant struggle against guilt and shame held me back in my relationship with God. Only now do I realize how unnecessary my doubts and worries really were.

At one stage I had even thought that I was not normal. Was I being gay without realizing it? That subject was an even greater taboo. I hardly knew what the word “homosexual” meant, until a frightening experience when I was 18 years old. In retrospect I shake my head and marvel at my naivety and at God’s hand of protection way back then:

It was in August of 1968. For those old enough, the incidence happened the same week Russia invaded Czechoslovakia. Readers in that age group may recall that hitchhiking was an acceptable form of transport in that era. I decided to hitchhike from my home in southern Germany to London, England during the summer holidays.

Right at the beginning, near Mannheim, I was picked up in a vehicle, which I could tell by the registration number, belonged to a member of the US Armed Forces stationed in Germany. From the first moment of contact, when the ‘helpful’ driver locked my backpack into the boot (trunk) of the car, did I have uneasy feelings. He kept looking at me strangely as I practiced my school English, trying to make conversation. It was not much later, when he started touching certain parts of his body that I knew I could get into trouble here.

Outwardly I acted as if I did not notice the man’s agitation. Inwardly I prayed as I had seldom in my Christian walk. “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will answer you and you shall praise me” (Psalm 50,15). Just to quietly repeat those words gave me calmness that may have perplexed the man.

We were crawling along the Autobahn at a very slow and dangerous speed. His lustful mind must have been battling against his logical reasoning. After what seemed hours, but were perhaps only minutes, we entered a “rest area”. This is it, I thought. He reached behind his seat and pulled out a bottle of alcohol, taking a few gulps and still touching his private parts. For a moment I thought the bottle could easily become a weapon. I was scared inside, but did not show it on the outside. I considered escaping as an option, but nothing sinister had yet occurred. But what about my luggage and my holiday? All would be ruined? Now I understood why he had locked my backpack in the boot.

After a few moments for no apparent reason, he must have come to his senses. His plans must have changed. All I remember was that a little earlier on, I had spoken to my potential attacker, quite assertively: “Come on, can’t you drive a bit faster than this?” Not long after, he sped up and continued as if nothing had happened. He dropped me at an exit ramp near Frankfurt. When a few days later an elderly gentleman, possibly a genuinely friendly man, offered to give me a tour of the historic city of Gent, I declined politely, but decisively.

God answered my prayer that day, or perhaps that of some of my friends and Christian family, who knew what I had exposed myself to.

The headline – ‘The Italians ate one’ has nothing to do with food or citizen of Italy. The Italians I am referring to is a book in the bible - Romans, Chapter 8 and Verse 1.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus”.

When we have accepted Jesus as our Saviour and are living in HIM, nothing can condemn us; no inner voice, no accusing finger and no guilty conscience. We don’t have one. Satan knows that when a Christian feels guilty and condemned, he becomes powerless. Vital energy is wasted, trying in vein to keep moralistic, legalistic expectations, loaded upon us by well-meaning parents or religious leaders. Many may have been struggling themselves to keeping those rules, but now project their failure onto others.

In the late 1980’s, when we did not have a television (by choice), we often listened to the radio. One Saturday afternoon we decided to tune in to a comedy program that had been advertised. Broadcast during family time, I was totally surprised (and embarrassed for my children) when the comedian made fun of teenagers masturbating. He reasoned like this: “If God didn’t want us to do it, he wouldn’t have made our arms just the right length.”

At the time my wife and I were shocked at the crude attempt at humour, but also because it was totally inappropriate for our children. We wrote a letter to the newspaper, which was published a few days later. The matter was also mentioned briefly on a radio news bulletin. My wife received a follow-up phone call from a radio journalist, while I was at work. Nothing more came of it.

Later when I thought about the comedian’s vulgar thinking, which was meant to be funny, he was actually on the right track, in a way. God made Adam – a perfect being - in HIS own image. Did Adam live without sex before God gave him a wife? I find that difficult to imagine. Should then something this natural, after God had provided Eve, all of a sudden have become sinful? Obsolete perhaps, but sinful?

What about when there are times of long separation, not by choice but business travel or extended commitments far from home? Does God expect us to fight our natural instinct, just to prove we are champions in self-control?  

But even what comes natural can, like everything else, become an obsession, especially when it drags other people into it. Eating can become sin, if one does not know when to stop. Using pornographic material to satisfy an ever-increasing appetite for sex is sin. Sexual intercourse, when forced onto another person, is not only sin, it is a crime. Many young lives have been ruined forever in one moment of untamed lust.

The most precious endowment a woman can take into marriage is her virginity. How many boys have robbed many a young girl of her dream of being a bride without blemish?

Teenager, be wise – be careful to not place yourself into a situation where you deliberately seek out to be alone with a member of the opposite sex. Don’t challenge yourself: I am strong enough to resist the power of passion – you could lose the bet. What may sound like a victory will prove to the innocent girl, what an uncontrolled, hopeless loser you are. You will reap scorn, before you had a chance of gaining respect.

As if by divine timing – at the time of writing I had just finished watching a weekly show on SBS Television. I like watching the inspector’s German shepherd dog, called Rex. The Austrian production is called “Inspector Rex”. The ending in tonight’s episode was very sad. A boy about 15 years of age admitted to strangling a girl to stop her screaming. He had unsuccessfully tried to “play around” with her.    

More God-incidental timing: I had been reminiscing this chapter for months. This morning (30/5/04, on the final day of editing this chapter before uploading it) the regular TV program “Hour of Power” showed a group of young people making a public commitment to keep themselves pure for marriage. The founder of a worldwide organization “True love waits” was telling the success story of the program after it took hold in African countries. The number of cases of aids had reduced dramatically, from 1 in 3 to about 1 in 10 in some regions. The organization (truelovewaits.com) is planning a huge outreach to the world during the Olympic Games in Athens.

Sex is a wonderful idea, thought up by God. It is the very catalyst for life. What have we humans made of it? The miracle of the sex act is denigrated into the most offensive swearword in the English language. During the Adelaide Writer’s week on March 4th 04 I witnessed one of the most shocking uses of the f…word and in a public place, during an event where I had least expected it.

The 2003 Noble prizewinner for literature, JM Coetzee lived right here in Adelaide and was to speak at 11 am on that sunny, but windy day in March 04. In between appointments I went to get a glimpse of the famous author, and to check out what else was happening in the two big, white tents, set up especially for ”Writer’s Week”. Rushing to get there, I still missed the famous author, but found a seat among the crowd of a few hundred, who sat waiting for a performance by a young British female author.

About half an hour into her life story and background, she started reading from one of her books. I felt increasingly uncomfortable after her male character in her story “was sexually aroused and was having an erection”. It was not long after that she read the f… word, loud and clear; not once, not twice, but three times. If anyone was shocked, nobody showed it. Was I the only one that had ears and understood English?

Should I wait until question time and make a fuss? My spirit was stirred and I felt like walking over to the microphone and telling them all to “repent or you all go to hell”. I had only weeks earlier written to the ABC, our national broadcaster, and complained about the use of the f… word in a program in the middle of the day on ABC Radio. (I sent copies to some politicians and the Prime Minister. The ‘Family Standard’s Organisation’ had encouraged me to do this). One senior member of the Government, a Senator in Canberra, replied with a kind letter, respecting my point of view.

In disappointment I got up and walked out. I wandered over to the second tent, where a male author was just finishing reading from one of his books. He was from Denmark. The chairman asked, if anyone had any questions. I had not been listening long enough to ask an intelligent question. One lady walked to the microphone in the isle and asked something.

After her question had been answered, the chairman again called for questions from the audience. This time he used the phrase: “Who else has the courage to ask a question?” This was not an invitation, but a challenge. I was still agitated, so I decided to do something. My human thinking argued that Christians are called to be peacemakers not troublemakers, to show tolerance to accept what you can’t change. But an inner urge kept nagging –go on, speak up!

I walked up to the microphone and waited until the chairman acknowledged me. I heard myself saying calmly: “I just came across from the other tent over there, where I was listening and enjoying myself - until I heard the speaker use the f… word. Is there a need to perpetuate bad language in modern literature?”

I don’t know or care if I had flustered the author or disturbed the audience with my question. The Danish author answered unperturbed by querying: “What constitutes bad language?” He went on to say that if a story would warrant it, it would be quite OK to use such language (or words similar). One lady turned to me afterwards and whispered a word of approval into my face.

Later a letter from the South Australian Attorney General confirmed my belief that the use of such language in public is still against the law. I had written to his Department to protest, without lodging a formal complaint etc. I think a large number of the crowd that morning felt exactly as I did. But the pressure to conform, to be like everyone else and to just go along with the crowd, usually wins. I think this is the reason bad things are often left unchallenged. 

Listening to a discussion on teenagers and sex on TV recently, I could hardly believe my ears when a member of the panel said that teaching abstinence would not solve the problem of teenage pregnancies. I say to those, who think the solution is teaching 12-year-olds the correct use of condoms, that condoms are not 100 percent safe; neither against unwanted pregnancies nor in the transmission of diseases.

One of the key Christian virtues is “self-control”. Abstinence, with God’s help, should be taught as the first and most successful option. I personally guarantee that it is 100 % effective in avoiding unwanted pregnancies. And there are only positive side effects.

Let’s trust our young people, give them a chance to prove, how responsible they can be. Teaching the use of condoms only, without moral values, are we not saying – it’s OK to do it, just play it safe? The psychological damage caused, by trying to play adult at the age of 15, may take a long time to repair. Many have problems in later years, trying to achieve a healthy sex life in marriage. 

As I mentioned in my email to a senior politician in Canberra (see previous chapter) teaching Christian principles to our young people could save us billions in the long term. Not to mention the years of heartache by liberal individuals, who started their relationship on the basis of lust – not love.

Sex is God’s idea. It existed long before “Playboy” magazine, and many other amoral business people, discovered it as a source for making millions. Young people -don’t listen to those that advocate: “If it feels good do it.” Stay within God’s guidelines in everything you do. A clear conscience is a great treasure. Seek it. Guard your mind from all evil. Watch every step you take. Choose carefully who you want to be alone with. Pray for the right partner to share the rest of your life with, if this is your desire. Be a winner in the game of life – that includes your sex life.

The wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon, said:

“For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose”.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after their own evil desires, but under the direction of HIS spirit”.

(Romans 8,1)   

Chapter 30