Five Minute Friday: Visit

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Gentle Reader,

Chit-chatting with Kate and the crew about the sacred, the mundane and the in-between. Tonight we: visit.

Go.

I’m fascinated by the Myers-Briggs personality profiles. As an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) person (and a female one at that, which is apparently rare), learning about the different types and how everyone navigates the world is right up my alley. I love seeing how things interconnect. I’m fascinated by both patterns and differences.

Yet as much as people intrigue me, they drain me. If you imagine a turtle pulling himself deep inside his shell, that would be me. I like alone time. I cherish alone time. I jealously guard alone time.

And then all of a sudden I pop out and go, “Where’s the party?”

I got to do that this past Saturday. The hubs and I invited a few friends over for a visit, something I haven’t been able to do since before I had surgery. I don’t dive into friendship quickly or easily, so I’ve had the same core group for about 10 years. Three of my dearest relationships stretch back to high school. When we get together, in whatever combination, the banter flies fast and heavy – and then turns abruptly to matters like politics and theology.

There’s such joy in that.

Such sweet comfort in the bouncing from the silly to the serious, knowing that the jests are made with a gentle heart and the thoughts shared have been weighed and considered.

I may not speak to any one of my friends on a daily or even weekly basis, but there is a love that connects us. If one of them needed a kidney and I was a match, there’d be no questions about it.

My heart swelled with warmth as I sat on my little corner of the couch and looked into those dear faces squished into every nook of the tiny living room. I was tired and sore. I’m always tired and sore these days. But I was so very glad to have arranged that visit.

Stop.

Grace and peace along the way.

50 Shades of Something Else Entirely

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Gentle Reader,

I realize that I’m a couple of weeks late to the party, but I do like to make a dramatic entrance.

There is a plethora of articles and information out there that go into great detail as to why 50 Shades of Grey is nothing more than an attempt to glamourize (and thinly at that) an abusive relationship. Some of the loudest voices actually come from within the BDSM community itself, which I find incredibly telling. Priscilla Shirer discussed the series at length with author Dana Gresh and clinical psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery over two episodes on The Chat (you can find part one here). And of course there are quips galore, the best of which has been floating around Twitter (I am unclear as to the original source):

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is romantic only because the guy is a billionaire. If he was living in a trailer it would be a “Criminal Minds” episode.

How true. Although I dispute that it’s romantic at all.

I’m not going to give you an exhaustive list of reasons as to why you should avoid 50 Shades. (Except that it began as Twilight fan-fiction. Please do dwell on that for a bit). It’s been done and by people far better versed on the topic than I. A simple Google search will lead you to that conclusion.

I have something else to tell you.

First, let’s be quite clear about the fact that this is pornography. Women who would (justifiably) flip out if their husbands or boyfriends indulged in the consumption of illicit material are absolutely kidding themselves (or outright lying) if they insist that 50 Shades is “just” a love story. This series has sold well because of the graphic descriptions of sex. (And the descriptions can’t even be that good; more than a few reviewers have said that E.L. James’ writing is awful). If you read the books or see the movie, at least be honest about what it is that you’re putting into your mind.

Second, the major thematic element in the 50 Shades series is control, not love. I have not read the books (nor will I) but I have had enough exposure to them to know. I’ve read plenty of quotes. I’ve cataloged dozens of copies of each one for the library. I know that Mr. Must-be-Ironically-Named Christian Grey stalks, grooms and abuses Anastasia I-Checked-My-Brain-at-the-Door Steele (she has GOT to be the single-dumbest female character ever written). I know that he uses his past as an excuse for his present behavior. I know that he uses power – financial, physical, emotional – to manipulate this woman he so “loves.”

There’s nothing sexy or romantic about it. The fact that anyone thinks otherwise is quite literally beyond my understanding.

But maybe the people who enjoy these books (and the movie that the actors themselves found to be horrid) were never stalked, groomed or abused.

I was.

Too young and naive to understand, too convinced of my own complete lack of self-worth, I never found the words to discuss what happened to me as it was happening. Not with my parents or other trusted adults, at any rate. My friends were aware of some things, but they were also too young and too naive. Many of these people are still in my life and I love them to pieces, but their advice at the time simply wasn’t helpful. How could it be? We had no experience of these things.

There is nothing but horror to be felt when your boyfriend pretends to shoot himself during a phone conversation because he loves you “so much.” Nothing but confusion when he screams at you in front of others because you achieved something while he wasted his time and somehow that’s your fault. Nothing but pain when he calls you terrible names. Nothing but frustration when he starts dictating your clothing choices. Nothing but an undefinable emotion when you tell him that you’re afraid he’ll hit you – and he does. Nothing but terror after you break up with him and he shows up at your workplace, outside your classroom doors, uninvited at friend’s houses when you’re there, follows you home night after night and sits in the street for long stretches, staring.

And yet you think all of these awful feelings are somehow love, because he’s sunk his hooks so deep into your mind that you no longer know what’s up or down, right or wrong. When you try to confront him about something, he cries. Or refuses to speak. Because you’ve hurt him. Because you don’t understand how deep his devotion to you goes. How dare you question him?

I’m still afraid to run across this guy and it’s been more than 11 years since the last incident. I don’t want to be afraid. I’m a grown woman with a good life and an ever-growing sense of self. By the grace of God, I’m strong. I’ve dealt with some genuinely difficult stuff. Yet the handful of times I’ve run into him… The ice crawls up my spine in the thinking about them.

Real love is not about control, my friend. Relationships are not based in one partner dominating the other. Ladies, there is something fundamentally flawed in your thinking if you are attracted to Mr. Grey, if you think he’s so dreamy and you want a guy just like him. There are plenty of Mr. Grey’s in the world – and they are evil. They will manipulate you. Gaslight you. Abuse you. They will cut you until all of your beautiful sparkle, all of your unique life, is drained out through the veins of identity and value.

That’s not love. That’s not romance.

It’s 50 Shades of something else entirely.

Darling, precious women – you are worth SO MUCH MORE. In fact, the God of all creation has such passionate love for you that He sacrificed His own life so you could be with Him. So you could be made whole. He wants nothing more than to bring you out of darkness and into the light of His wholly perfect love. He wants you to have healthy relationships where you are cherished. Highly esteemed. Where you can grow and flourish. Where your gifts and talents are appreciated, your strengths admired. Where your weaknesses are acknowledged but never used against you.

God will never push you into the dirt and He doesn’t want you to be with anyone who will.

Mr. Grey belongs in the trash.

Don’t climb in there with him.

Grace and peace along the way.

The Words Matter

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Gentle Reader,

I’m not Amish. (Obviously). I don’t think that Christians have to buck every fashion trend. Nor do I think we have to shun technology. I don’t think that anything righteous comes out of sneering at any and all art, literature, music, live theater, movies or television. It’s not sinful to use an electric guitar in a worship service or to use a Bible app on a tablet or smartphone (though the latter does make me twitch). We shouldn’t close ourselves off from society in the pursuit of holiness.

That said, I loathe the whole “we must make Christianity relevant” thing. I despise it and have from the moment I had realized that what this “relevancy” really amounts to is post-modernist nonsense wearing a thin, cracked evangelical mask.

A hallmark of post-modern thinking is that words have no meaning beyond that which the reader assigns them. It is relativism liberally applied to sentence structure. Thus, I might say that “the sky is blue” and three different people may read that statement and draw three different conclusions. One may accept the statement, another reject it and the third spend hours attempting to determine what “sky” really means. Each one is supposedly equally accurate.

Insert eye-roll here.

We run into massive problems when we attempt to strip words of their meanings or give them new meanings altogether. For example, relevant is defined as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” But is this what anyone really means when they talk about the relevance of Christianity? Is this what Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle (among others) are talking about?

No. This isn’t what they’re talking about at all. (I don’t have time right now to get into exhaustive quotes from the above-mentioned or others, but by all means do some reading yourself). The “relevancy” imagined here actually makes Christianity entirely irrelevant. It addresses no real issues. It provides no hope. Central concepts such as sin, redemption, resurrection and judgment are redefined or done away with completely. It is feel-happy teaching. You’re good just as you are. There’s really nothing to believing in God. Doesn’t require any real change on your part. Oddly, it also winds up being elitist teaching; those of us who don’t jump on the fuzzy-warmness are just poor, bigoted, unenlightened souls.

It’s all packaged differently, but really this has been going on for centuries. Pretty much from the moment Christ stepped out of the tomb. There’s always someone claiming to have a “better” or “new” understanding. Nothing new under the sun. Nothing new at all.

Look again at the definition of relevant. Pretend for a moment that words really do have meaning. Then please, tell me: What is possibly and more profoundly relevant that the Gospel message of Christ who died and rose again? How can we not see that the beautiful truth that we are sinners in need of a Savior transcends time, culture, geography, class and gender? What person doesn’t need to know that he is so loved in his wretchedness that God, infinite and majestic, wrapped Himself in a tiny human frame to bring about redemption? What person doesn’t need to be brought to her knees in a deep, abiding awareness of her complete inability to save herself? What person doesn’t need to feel God’s hand on his shoulder, doesn’t need to hear God say, “I adore you far too much to let you stay here”? What person doesn’t need to be radically changed?

Do you see? Do you understand how important language and definition are?

When we strip words of their meanings, we wind up with statements like this from Bell, spoken in the context of a discussion about gay marriage but impactful in a much broader sense: “…the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.”

There is so much in that sentence. So, so much.

The Church is defined by Scripture. What she is – the Body, the Bride. Who she is – people saved from their sins by the grace of Holy God. Her mission – to share the truth, the light of God with the dark world. The Church cannot be separated from the Bible. She ceases to be the Church without the mind, the thoughts, the heart, the will of God splattered in ink onto the page at the hand of His servants.

Two-thousand-year-old letters? How about “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35)? How about “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? How about “this Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8)? How about

Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies;
For they are ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the ancients,
Because I keep Your precepts.
I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Your word.
I have not departed from Your judgments,
For You Yourself have taught me.
How sweet are Your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way. – Psalm 119:97-104

The quickest way for the Church to become irrelevant is to reject the words of God, which can only lead to a rejection of the Word of God, Christ Himself. I desperately want someone to tell me how it is possible to believe in Jesus without holding Scripture in high esteem. Everything there is to know about Jesus is found in those 66 books. I cannot imagine the level of cognitive dissonance required to dismiss the Bible while claiming to love Christ. It just doesn’t make sense.

“Did God really say?” is the oldest question.

How are we answering it?

Grace and peace along the way.