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Lauren Winner Addresses the Trinity and Sex in Nyvall Lectures

Author Lauren Winner

CHICAGO, IL (April 30, 2007) – Noted author Lauren Winner admitted her two lectures at North Park Theological Seminary on Thursday were incongruous: the first on the Trinity, and the second on sex.

Still, Winner's humor and breezy style captivated the packed audience at both presentations when she delivered the Nyvall Lectures in the Isaacson Chapel.

Churches often avoid speaking about the Trinity other than as a theological idea because it is so elusive. "Don't you just feel like you're nailing Jell-O to the wall?" she asked. At her Episcopal Church on Trinity, "The rector is always mysteriously out of town," leaving the sermon to a guest speaker, she quipped.

But incorporating a proper understanding of the Trinity into people's lives enriches their faith and communal relationships, she said. She spoke about three characteristics of the Trinity:

--The Trinity always is participating in an ongoing conversation about God's redeeming love.
--The Trinity models distinction without subordination.
--The Trinity means God is defined by relationships.

Understanding that the Trinity already is in conversation should shape how people understand prayer, Winner said. "We are being invited into a conversation that already is happening," Winner said. Therefore, Christians should not think of prayer as something they initiate.

The ongoing conversation also means that prayer includes silent listening. "Silence is probably more urgently needed now than perhaps any time in our Christian history."

The lack of subordination in the Trinity demonstrates an "ontology of peace," Winner said. "We are bid to a politics of peace because the Trinity is a relationship without violence."

She pointed to John 14 in which Jesus tells his disciples, "My peace I give to you." "Calm is not the only kind of peace," Winner said. "My peace," she explained, also means a life of reconciliation. The early church practiced pursuing peacemaking and reconciliation as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, she added.

Winner said it is easier for people to call for peace in Iraq, where they are not involved in an ongoing, intimate fashion, than it is to live peaceably in households and churches.

Those households and relationships are characterized by a commitment to hospitality because God is defined through relationships, Winner said. "The persons of the Trinity don't exist by themselves. They are defined by their relationships with one another."

She added that Christian hospitality means involving people more deeply in one another's lives and "not just inviting people into our homes occasionally."

In her second lecture, Winner drew from her book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. She told the gathering that the church has engaged in four myths about sex that ultimately are damaging to people:

--People will necessarily feel bad about having premarital sex.
--Men have uncontrollable libidos and women have none.
--Sex is necessary for fulfillment.
--Sexual sin is the unforgivable sin.

Telling young people they will feel bad if they have premarital sex ultimately will undercut trust of pastoral authority, Winner said, because not everyone feels regret or guilt. "Scripture is clear that sin works because what is corrosive actually feels fantastic."

Talking about sex cannot be isolated from the larger context of sin in general, Winner said, adding that the church often tells people they will be permanently damaged by having premarital or extramarital sex. As with any sin, people will be affected by their actions and will need to deal with its repercussions, she explained, but, "Saying reformation is a long process is not the same as saying someone is scarred for life."

Winner also told the gathering that the church's discussion of sex also demeans singleness. "The way the church says sex is necessary is to say marriage is necessary," Winner said. That attitude "explicitly or tacitly says that singleness doesn't count." Winner noted that Paul preferred singleness and Jesus remained single.

The church also causes harm when it tells the lie that men have raging libidos and women are not interested in sex. She drew laughter from the audience as she read from a contemporary Christian book on sex that highlighted that view.

Women, she added, are told to be chaste before marrying and then to become an entirely different person overnight. That is an impossible burden.

To say someone is waiting until they get married also is to assume that someone will get married. People must realize that they may never get married. "This is accepting that discipleship is not hard, and that following Jesus will always make you happy."

The church needs to speak better about marital sex, as well. "The church has not answered the question, 'Why is sex in marriage the best kind of sex?'"

The answer, she said, was the power of commitment and stability in a relationship.

The Nyvall Lectures are delivered each spring at North Park Theological Seminary and are named in honor of the school's founder, David Nyvall.