“The divine Marquis de la Fayette is in town, and is quite the thing.” An Annapolis resident, Mrs. Benjamin Ogle, wrote this in 1781. She was right. A Marquis is divine.
My wife Kathy and I live in Annapolis, a town Lafayette frequented with his friend, George Washington. Lafayette served Washington and the Continental Army with distinction during the American Revolutionary War. That’s why America honors The Marquis de la Fayette to this day.
France conferred the title Marquis on Lafayette as a young man. It’s derived from the Old French word marchis “march, borderland,” referring to someone who ruled on the borderlands of a realm. Borderlands are contested areas, wide or small, between countries or armies (such as the British and Patriot army in Lafayette’s day).
Borderlands exist between God’s kingdom and the domain of darkness. They’re contested areas such as sexuality or, a few years back, drinking and movies. Small-minded folks imagine these borderlands as narrow and dangerous. Can’t get close to hem. Can’t talk about erotic desire for fear you’ll get sucked into pornography.
I didn’t say that. The Apostle Paul did. He planted the Corinthian church but it floundered for many years. Paul said the problem was “small-minded people” (10:28) who were “reducing God to something they can use or control” (10:14). Or someone.
Narrow-minded people seek to take others “emotional hostage.” They cross-examine other believers on the ethical purity of many things. Paul calls this “bad manners and bad spirituality.” For instance, small-minded people are uncomfortable talking about sexuality. Yet scripture pictures God’s love for us as the erotic union between man and woman. The Song of Songs is intensely erotic series of poems about the passion between two young people who are patently not married. Narrow-minded Christians are uneasy talking about this. They fear this fills young minds with dirty thoughts.
In Corinth, narrow Christians frowned on other believers who enjoyed eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul enjoyed eating it as well, for he felt God “lurks” in everything, even in this meat. It is not profaned. It is sacramental (this is where we get the idea of life as sacramental). All of life is a “sacrament,” a revelation of God’s presence.
Paul was a broad-minded believer. “The earth is God’s, and everything in it” (10:26). That “everything” includes sexuality (or few glasses of wine – or, in C. S. Lewis’ case, a few pints of beer). The borderlands between God’s kingdom and the darkness are very wide and, as Dallas Willard noted, “a perfectly safe place for us to be.”
Broad-minded Christians know this because they see the presence of God in the world. Our homes, work, and schools are “haunted” by God. Small-minded Christians emphasize the absence of God. There is a “spiritual” part of life where God is present and a “secular” part where he is, at best, only marginally present. In this small world, the borderlands are narrow and best avoided. Too easy to get drawn to the dark side.
This is why narrow-minded believers are uncomfortable with Bernini’s statue of Saint Therese being transfixed by the arrow of divine love. It dares to portray her ecstasy as orgasmic. The saint herself was not hesitant about the use of erotic vocabulary in her description of her relationship with God. Narrow-minded believers can’t go there. They “argue that the borderland between the erotic and a pornographic is so narrow and so dubious that the erotic must be avoided,” writes Andrew Greeley, “lest it be perceived as pornographic.” But in fact, the borders are wide and “easily distinguish from one another by those who do not have prurient minds.”
Ah… prurient minds. Paul said the narrow-minded Corinthians suffered from a “defiled conscience” (8:7). It’s usually the result of terrible tragedies such as sexual abuse, porn, or alcoholism. Terribly hurt and scarred, narrow-minded believers are terrified of the borderlands. Get too close to the other side and you get burned.
Not true. Paul wrote that, for those with pure consciences, “all things are pure” (Titus 1:15). The borderlands are broad and safe. That’s why Paul could wander around Athens, the most pornographic city of his day, “examining closely” its artwork (Acts 17:23). He lived his entire life with a clear conscience (Acts 23:1).
I’m encouraged by the millennial believers I am meeting here in Annapolis. They know we are to heartily and freely enjoy God’s world. They know we shouldn’t be callous in our exercise of freedom, thoughtlessly stepping on the toes of those who aren’t as free, but neither should we be taken “emotional hostage” by them. God made us to rule over all creation. Yes, in a fallen world there are two kingdoms. But these millennials are like a Marquis, knowing how to rule the borderlands. In that sense, Mrs. Ogle was right about the Marquis de Lafayette.
 This is Eugene Peterson’s rendering of I Corinthians in The Message.
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 321.
 Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 62.