There we were, Evan – Sarah’s boyfriend visiting from Canada – and I, watching late night TV as we downed our Heinekens and vegged-out on the living-room sofas. On the screen a young man sits in the male-only sauna reading the newspaper. Soon he notices he is sitting next to a small air vent. Out of curiosity he opens it up. Peering through the vent he finds it provides him an unobstructed view of a common male fantasy: the women’s sauna, full of nude beauties. Angelic music swells as he takes in the scene before him.
Gulp. Silence. Awkward moment for the Anglican priest and his young Canadian guest. Evan and I contemplate the scene too, wondering how long it will last and pondering – at least a little bit – whether this unexpected situation is posing any threat to our Christian value system.
Suddenly, without warning the living room door bursts open and my mother – my mother! – pokes her head in and says ominously, “Howie? Can I talk to you for a minute?”
What?! Am I dreaming? Please tell me I’m dreaming! Has she been peeping through the keyhole? Listening at the door? This can’t be happening – I’m 47 years old and she’s….well, she’s pretty old. How does she do it? She really must have eyes in the back of her head. I feel like a 16-year-old. Caught!
Actually, the story needs a bit of explanation. It is true, all of it. But along with Evan and me, the sofas were occupied by Renata and my teenage daughters. Together we were watching a show about “the world’s funniest TV commercials” and somehow this Danish ad for a newspaper (! ?) made the cut. (YouTube search “Danish ad sauna” and you’ll have it.) We were just having a good laugh about the differences between Canadian and Dutch television ratings when my mom, who had gone to bed earlier, stumbled in on us with her urgent request to see me. I jumped up to see what she wanted, pulling the door closed behind me. It was about something else entirely, and she never even saw what we were watching, but the timing could not have been more perfect.
When I returned it was all giggles and smiles as my daughters enjoyed having their dad caught red-handed. They were seeing me in an entirely new light, imagining me as someone of their own age group. One of those moments in life that I’ll never live down.
Growing up, my parents were pretty sensitive to any media with explicit sexual content or nudity. There are a good number of movies whose endings I still don’t know because half-way through the film the story got a bit passionate and my father decided it was time for the family to leave the cinema. I don’t blame them; they meant well and they came from a different time and culture. But having lived for over 25 years in Amsterdam, I’ve definitely overcome my automatic cringe at any and every scene involving nudity or sex.
Isn’t it odd that Christians of Anglo cultures (U.K., North America, etc.) – perhaps especially Evangelicals – hold on so tightly to their aversion to sexual content? Most of us will think nothing of going to a movie filled with scenes of violence; we’ll gladly spend two hours “lusting” after murder, intrigue, retribution, and the indiscriminate, graphic killing of human beings. It’s hard to imagine a good thriller that doesn’t have a substantial dose of such stuff. “It’s just part of the story.” But woe unto us if lovers happen to climb into bed or someone sheds their clothes! That is somehow inappropriate and unacceptable. One of the cultural values I really like in the Netherlands is that violence in films is rated as being more harmful to young minds than is natural sexual content.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “anything goes”. I’ve seen enough on television and walking the streets of Amsterdam to appreciate there is a lot of sexual content out there that has nothing to do with love and dignity, or – as in the case of the Danish ad – with boyish locker-room humor. We DO need to test what goes into our minds. I only wish we could be more aware of the cultural biases which have informed the decisions we make about what is good and what is not.