GAINESVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Gary Crawford figured he would draw from his wife’s now eight-year struggle with multiple myeloma to write a book about “the best of life in some of the most difficult of times.”
But then came a sense of urgency — not just about Freda’s health but also the crisis facing America in sexuality, marriage and the family.
Digging into a key section of Scripture and tapping his 30-plus years in ministry and 37 years of marriage, Crawford wrote “Celebration of Love, Marriage and Sex: A Journey Through Song of Solomon.”
“Sexuality is seldom discussed in a very proactive and healthy way in a Christian community … much less in our culture,” said Crawford, pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville, Fla., “and so I wanted a positive word for sexuality.
“Never has a word from God been more needed in America about love, marriage and sex than right now,” Crawford told the Florida Baptist Witness.
“Love backs us into a corner. It asks for everything we have,” Crawford said. “And nowhere does love work more deeply than in marriage.
“Marriage is about exposure; it is about truth between two people; and it is about the opportunity to know and to be known. And sex is the handiwork of love and the tool of marriage.
“It is sacred ground, a gift filled with beauty, grace and power.”
But in American culture, sex is associated too often with the profane, Crawford said; “we talk about it from a more vulgar and disrespectful perspective.”
But, Crawford noted, “The unique thing about the Bible is that it puts [sexuality] in the context of love and beauty, and power to heal, and freedom and enhancement of intimacy — and all of that is contrary to what we experience in our culture.” The Bible, he said, sets forth “a paradigm shift” for the culture — “an altogether different kind of experience.”
“The Song of Solomon is very erotic,” Crawford continued. “God combines the erotic, the sensual and the spiritual. He’s not silent about the most intimate experiences of our lives.”
The most descriptive parts of Crawford’s book, however, are drawn straight from Scripture, with each chapter framed under such headings as “Loving Each Other Deeply” and “Solving Sexual Problems in Marriage: Leadership and Grace.”
Crawford said his book can provide inspirational reading or serve as a guidebook -– and parents can comfortably use it to engage in discussions of sexuality with their teenagers.
The book’s lengthy title is purposeful, reflecting its exposition of portions of the Song of Solomon — and yet it does not read like a theological treatise. Instead, it is woven with transparent, emotional stories about Crawford’s own love relationship with his wife Freda, their two children and four grandchildren, accenting practical instruction about dating and marriage — and even definitions of symbols used in wedding ceremonies -– and reflections on creating family memories and leaving a legacy.
Crawford said part of his experience has been shaped by how nearly all his ministry has been at Westside, and he credits the church in the book’s forward.
“It is so unusual as a pastor to have almost 27 years where your children are raised within the church and where your grandchildren begin to experience that same church family,” Crawford said. “I feel a debt to what this church has provided for my family and me. I wanted to make it clear from the beginning that all of this is embedded in our experience here at Westside.”
But another key reason Crawford has worked in the early morning and every evening for months to finish the book as quickly as he could involves Freda’s multiple myeloma.
Freda, who taught high school science for nearly 25 years and is a vocalist and pianist, initially had two stem cell transplants and went into remission for five years. Then once out of remission she was about to enter an experimental protocol but developed breast cancer. After she recovered from the breast cancer, she “stabilized” and is now on two treatments a week for the myeloma but cannot participate in the protocol that was originally planned.
“This last year was a pretty difficult experience but this last fall I just really felt like I needed to write this book and I just needed to write it now,” Crawford said. “I just think the book needed to be written now because of where we are in our personal pilgrimage, because of the need for such a book in the Christian community and in our culture and I just felt compelled to get it done.
“That’s kind of a nutshell … of what the intention was,” Crawford said. “I really hope this book can be useful in a number of ways,” he added. “One, it has a lot to say to young people about dating. Important decisions are made even in dating, and it addresses that. It addresses choosing a spouse and the important components of that. And it addresses keeping romance in marriage and making and celebrating memories and leaving a legacy for family. And so it has broad appeal in terms of age demographic and in terms of issues that young people face, persons becoming engaged and persons who have been married for short term or long term.”
Crawford plans to write more about leadership development, prayer and missions. He holds a doctor of ministry and master of divinity degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of West Florida in Pensacola. He has served as president of Florida Baptists’ state board of missions and as a trustee of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.
In Celebration of Love, Marriage and Sex is available at www.Amazon.com or at www.xulonpress.com/book_detail.php?id=5258.