Fifty Shades of Abuse

It wasn’t too long ago when I first began hearing about the newest book to captivate women. I remembered the Twilight craze and how women pined after the sullen, sparkling Edward Cullen.

Fifty Shades of Grey  by E. L. James seemed to be another book in that genre, offering a love story for women to relish and long for. This book was different, in that the central male loved BDSM, a topic I admittedly know near to nothing about. But as more and more people began speaking out about it, and with  the movie premiering this weekend, I thought I would take a look and read through it. I’m a fan of literature, and I gave Twilight a shot, so I figured I would give Fifty Shades a chance too. I will admit, I have not finished reading it, partly because I think it reads like a 7th grader wrote it. But the real reason I didn’t finish it was because of some of the content disturbed me — a lot.

The story centers around Anastasia Steele, a girl about to graduate college, and Christian Grey, a young and enigmatic business magnate. They meet coincindentally, and the rest of the story involves the relationship between the two. What caught me off guard was when Grey begins stalking her — but I figured this could potentially be viewed as a sign of endearment or pursuit. But then came intimidation and humiliation. Nevermind the kinky stuff that this book attempts to explore; there are multiple cases of sexual aggression. When she doesn’t want to do something, he threatens to tie her up and gag her. He is frequently described as controlling, one of the reasons Ana doesn’t want to get involved with him, and yet he makes her submit. He forces her to do things she doesn’t want to do.

I’m not the first person to say this, but Fifty Shades glorifies abuse and harmed identity. Studies show that nearly every interaction between the two main protagonists (if you will) is emotionally abusive, and Grey displays classic signs of being emotionally distant and sexually abusive. Most of the sexual encounters between the two read frighteningly a bit like rape; she doesn’t give consent, and even when she says their “safe word,” Grey continues. In real life, this is called rape. A recent study, although limited, has possibly linked reading the book to unhealthy behaviors in its readers, including eating disorders or having a verbally abusive partner. This isn’t to say that if you read the book or watch the movie you’ll develop bulimia or suddenly find yourself a victim of abuse, but the statistics are worrisome and shouldn’t be ignored.

There has been so much outcry, especially recently on the treatment of women, and I’m glad we’re speaking out on when women are abused! It is never okay. However, this book perpetuates the abuse of women by calling it love — and the majority of readers have bought into the lie. If we saw this described anywhere outside of an erotic novel, we would reject it readily. My fear is that female readers of the book, or watchers of the movie, will come away longing for a Christian Grey to spice up their love life. The sad reality is that there are already an overabundance of arrogant, emotionally distant, and abusive men out there. The sad reality is that women who have been sexually and emotionally abused are in no shortage and are very clear that there is nothing exciting and romantic and satisfying in the experience. The sad reality is that the victims of domestic abuse are all too aware that “Christian Grey the hero” doesn’t exist. Most of the men who exhibit such a disregard for consent and abuse of power turn out to be those we warn women to stay away from. I worry that readers will think that this is the kind of man they have been waiting for. That a lack of consent in the marriage bed (not that Grey and Steele were married, mind you) is okay, and maybe even desired.

This image of domination has also been perpetuated by the pornography industry. Most of porn is men doing whatever they want to women — even if it’s against their will. The women are depicted as appreciating the degradation and wanting more of it, when this is never the case. Pornography is a massive problem for men (and women for that matter), and it is sending the message to men that whatever you want is okay, and she will always be okay with it — in fact she wants it. Not only is this clearly unhealthy and wrong, my fear is that guys, already bombarded with this skewed view of sex from porn, will look at this book, this movie, and be more convinced than ever that women want someone to assert themselves on them, especially power. That it is okay to do whatever you want to women. That the sexual experience you lust for is greater than any fear or trepidation she may have. That you take what you want if you’re a “real man.”

What’s interesting is that this book has been lauded as being progressively empowering to women, especially by those who demonize the Bible as being repressive. And yet where Grey prides himself on his physical and emotional domination of Steele, the Bible tells husbands to love their wives by laying down their lives for their wives, as Christ laid himself down for the Church. (Ephesians 5:25) The Bible calls the man to protect and love and serve — something you don’t see in Fifty Shades.

I implore you, readers, don’t go watch Fifty Shades of Grey this Valentines weekend, a weekend our country uses to celebrate love. Don’t watch it any weekend. Don’t encourage others to watch it. Spread the word. This is not just harmless fun — this is perpetuating unhealthy emotional, physical, and sexual behaviors in men AND women. This book and movie is giving us a false notion of love. It is a twisted, insidious lie.

And I hope you remember the example of love that Christ gave us: not abusing his unfaithful bride, but of loving, pursuing, and serving her. By laying down his life.  That is love. That is romance.

the grace of God that wounds

I was a good kid. I made high A’s all through school and the extent of my rebellion to my parents was how low I would grow my sideburns. I led worship at my church throughout high school, and then again with our student ministry in college, and I would often speak/preach when given an opportunity. I learned how to be socially adept and maintain friendships with many people, so that my friends would jokingly use terms like “social butterfly” and “friend whore” to describe me. And I had a relationship with Jesus that seemed earnest, and I knew that I needed Jesus.

But I didn’t really need Jesus.

I knew that God sent Jesus to save sinners like me, and I knew I was a sinner, but I really didn’t think I was that much of a sinner. I didn’t do that many sinful things. I knew about the grace of God, but grace seemed more to me like good things I deserved because I was good. I was a good kid! Why wouldn’t Jesus save me? Grace was just for those few times I slipped up and looked at pornography or lied to my parents about being in my dorm when I was really at my friends’ place.

I knew that the gospel was good news, but honestly, the bad news didn’t seem that bad, at least for me. School was going great, my parents bragged about me, my church family loved me, my friendships were great, and I did all the things a good Christian leader was supposed to do.

But then I felt God calling me to vocational ministry, and I switched my life about. And in fear of the consequences, I wasn’t so forthright about it. My parents and extended family eventually found out and didn’t take this so well, because it had seemed clear that God was actually calling me to be a doctor or some other prestigious vocation.

There were many tears shed and hurtful words shared. We went from talking almost daily to me talking to my mom maybe once a week. I hardly talked to my dad at all. My grandparents didn’t know what to say to me except to look at me in sadness and my church family just didn’t talk about it. School seemed to take a turn for the worse. I ended up hurting close friends, and I was hurt by close friends. I was in a relationship that ended suddenly, and for the first time, it wasn’t amicable. I was hurting and cowering in the darkest shadows of my life, and I didn’t know who to reach out to. I tried to portray cool confidence and trust in God, but I was floundering. I was confused and depressed and heartbroken and angry and anxious. There were even several times where I thought that the best way to deal with it all was by ending everything. And several times where I almost did.

And all this brought me to a place of deep introspection and crying out to the God I claimed to love and serve.

Slowly, layer by layer, relationship by relationship, God began showing me things I had never seen before. I realized that I was selfish and hurtful and greedy and arrogant and sexually immoral and wicked — all without having to do any specific actions. That was just how my mind and heart was bent! God showed me how silly it was that I prided myself in my “humility” and self-deference. He humbled me by unveiling the fact that I was capable of causing so much destructive damage in my relationships with people. He exposed a heart that sought comfort in temporal things rather than on eternal things. He revealed that self-approval was the idol I worshiped at, and my identity wasn’t really found in Christ, but ultimately in how people perceived me.

It felt like life was beating me up, but when I thought upon the sovereignty of God, it dawned on me that my world wasn’t rocked upside-down by chance, but by the grace of God. He had brought me to this place! And it was one of the greatest displays of love I had encountered personally. It was a gift of the grace of God. 

In love, he had brought me to that point to show me my brokenness. I had always been broken, I just refused to see it. In love, he had wounded me so that he could reveal his goodness. So that he could reveal his love in binding me up. He had knocked my legs out from under me, so that I could be on my knees before him. He bruised me to show me why the Son of God was bruised. To show me why the gospel was such good news.

The depravity of man (the fallen nature we’ve all inherited ever since our ancestor Adam felt like rejecting God was a good idea) began to be a real thing I knew not only in theory, but in experience. Sin wasn’t just things I did, but the posture of my heart. As I began to see myself for who I am, I began to see why I so desperately needed Jesus! I was a mess, and no amount of self-help would ultimately fix my heart. I turned to the only One I knew to turn to.

I was spiritually dead, and Christ came into my dead-ness and caused me to be un-dead, to have life, and new life in him! He had saved me from sin, from death, from myself. And by the grace of God, he has healed my brokenness — and my relationships.

I am thankful for the grace of God displayed in the perfect life, sin-absorbing death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that this same Jesus is coming again! It is the gospel that changes everything!

But I’m also thankful for the gift of the grace of God that sometimes, He wounds us in love.

“Let me hear gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” – Psalm 51:8
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down , and he will bind us up.” – Hosea 6:1
Image Credit: Courtney Celley 

unsolved mysteries

There are many puzzles and questions that have perplexed men through the course of time. I’ve thought not-very long and concluded there are three great mysteries:

– The creation and expansion of the universe

– The role and place of dinosaurs in Earth’s history

– Women

That list is not in any specific order, but I think we can all agree that last one is by far the most intricate and vexing of them all. Not one thing specifically, but the whole species of “women” has been a puzzle to men since creation; they’ve always been shrouded in mystery. Even in the story of the creation of man and woman, we’re faced with some sketchy business and missing pieces to the story: there is great detail and imagery in God gathering some dust, forming man’s shape and image, and breathing life into his nostrils.

Then God knocks Adam unconscious and he wakes up with a woman and a missing rib. End of story.

I’m telling you, something’s fishy…

Men, maybe it’s just one of those mysteries that we’ll never figure out this side of eternity (or the other side for that matter). I know I certainly don’t. I’ve had more than one occasion where that extra X chromosome has really thrown me off.

In the 5th Grade, I peaked in my bookworm phase and I had approximately 1,276 Accelerated Reading points that year (that’s not an exaggeration, but really, who keeps a record of their points?………..). We had an AR store where once during a 6-week period, we could go and “buy” items with our points. They had the coolest things at the time there, like mini-stereos, Beanie Babies, candy, etc. I actually bought books with my points. But once, feeling like a millionaire with money to flaunt on women, I invited a girl that I crushed on to come with me to the AR store. I swept my arm around the room and with great smugness told her to get whatever things she wanted. “Baby, just throw it in the bag. You can have whatever you liiiiike.” Fabolous and TI, eat your heart out.

She got a couple things. And then picked a different boy to date.

There was once a girl I really liked, and we were “talking” and all that other nonsense teenagers say when they’re dating. One day I sent her a poem I wrote for her; I was proud of it and thought she deserved my cheesy rhyming romanticism, and so with trepidation I emailed it to her. When a week had gone by and I didn’t hear back about it, I asked her if she ever got it. This is literally how the conversation went:

Me: “Hey! So, umm… did you get that thing I sent you?”

Girl: “Oh yeah, in that email? Yeah… I was wondering what that was…”

Me: “That was a poem I wrote for you!”

Girl: “Oh, is that what that was?….. *silence*…. A poem…….. *more silence*…… That’s cool. So what are you up to?”

I knew it wouldn’t last.

Maybe we’re not supposed to understand women. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s what makes love and romance and pursuit such beautiful things we long for and celebrate. Getting to know the beautiful mysteries and delicate intricacies and wonderful history of that girl is the best part, isn’t it? Maybe you can never fully understand her because the moment you did, you would take her for granted and lose the intrigue. Because the moment you had her figured out, you would move onto something else to discover. And after all, who doesn’t love a good mystery?

Sometimes, in the midst of trying to figure out what it really is that women want, you run across a gem of a girl. Sometimes you find a pearl of great price. Treasure it. Treasure and love it and don’t forget the worth of that pearl, lest you lose it for someone else to find and appreciate. Because you will. And when you begin to take that pearl for granted, remind yourself that you were poor before you found her. Don’t throw your pearls before the swine. Don’t throw her away.

Valentine’s Day has just ended and I’ve heard many people express their differing opinions on the holiday: the person who is angry at commercialized chocolate love, the whiny single person, the sickeningly sweet love bird with her 200 quotes on love. Just go take a look at your Facebook timeline. I don’t think it’s that bad of a thing, why complain about celebrating a day to celebrate love?

But it reminds us that we don’t love just for the sake of it. We love because God loved us so deeply and pursued us so relentlessly that He sent Jesus to woo His bride to Himself. Jesus, who completely knows His messy bride and still loves her, and will continue to love her for eternity. That’s what Valentine’s Day and every lasting and non-lasting romantic relationship point to.

So look, I get it. They make our heads hurt, our hearts race, and our wallets light. But if your girl is that pearl, you keep at it. You pursue her and woo her and get to know her. And when you think you understand her, get to know her more, because you will never fully understand her. Boys, be men.

And women? Be gentle.

 “There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.” – Agur, Proverbs 30:18-19

For Whom the Wedding Bells Toll

Take a big whiff. Come on. A sizeable sniff…

Do you smell it?

No, not your deodorant failing on you. Not what the Rock is cooking. Certainly not what your digestive system is cooking. Hmm… Here, how about this: go on Facebook and go through every single one of your 1,000 plus friends. See what’s new for them…

Ahh… Do you see it now? Do you see the trend? Do you see smiling couples and artsy photo shoots? Joined hands and joined hearts. That’s what I meant. That’s what is in the air. Marriage. Love. Ugh.

Within this last year, 90% of my friends have decided to get married. Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little, but it seems that way! Every week I hear of someone getting engaged or married. Friends from childhood, from church, from college. Long lost acquaintences, old crushes, and those people that I never really met but know via Facebook/Twitter, photos, and a slightly unhealthy amount of stalking. They’re all getting married and I have no reprieve from it! Cupid has been busting his bogus butt in letting his arrows loose, and they seem to be finding some sort of mark. But it isn’t even just weddings that I hear of! More and more people I know have become doe-eyed dears and fallen to the love bug (virus). There’s a relationship epidemic among us.

Now all this may lead you to conclude that I’m bitter about marriage and love and all that gooey stuff. Maybe a girl did me wrong. Maybe I’m jealous I’m not in that category. Nope, it’s not that. I’m actually really excited and proud for these people that are taking huge steps into maturity and commitment. Jealous of a beautiful thing as love? That’s kind of petty, isn’t it? I’m just taken aback by the burst of new couples this year, but this can probably be chalked up to the fact that I’m getting older, and thus my friends get older. And as you get older, what do you do? You get married.

I wish I could refer you at this point to my “Guide to Make a Relationship Last” or “7 Steps to a Godly Marriage” but I don’t have either of those. In fact, I could probably tell you what not to do, focus on, or look for in a relationship. How to make it not work. I would just have to look at my past.

… This is kind of awkward.

“There you go! He is bitter! He’s just venting about it and calling it a ‘blog'”

I stand by what I said, to see my friends tie the knot is exciting and joyful. But I’ve honestly grown and learned more about what it looks like to be in a relationship, especially one that glorifies God. I thought I knew it before. But God has a way of shaping and humbling you, and doing it constantly. Maybe you’re under the persuasion that a relationship that “glorifies God” simply means that you both go to church. I’d disagree, but I’m not here to present the theological views on what a Biblical marriage (or relationship headed toward marriage) looks like. That would be akin to a pilot giving a flying lesson without ever having a succesful take-off and landing sequence.

I’m not sure if or when I’ll look down the aisle to see a blushing bride walking toward me to join me in covenant. I’m certainly in no hurry. But I hope that if that day comes, I remember that my relationship is to mirror the marriage of Christ with the Church. (Big “C” Church, the universal body of believers) It is a covenant of sacrifice, humility, mission and love. Love that is not defined or identified merely as a “spark” or swapping of pheremones, but as a commitment centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. I hope in that day, I remember that I am to honor her and love her and pursue her as Christ pursues His bride. I hope to not just remember these thing, but to do them.

But that day has not come. So till then, I’m content with hearing the music of everyone else’s wedding bells.

praying for God knows what

God has a funny way of really getting your attention.

Yesterday, I began writing a post on prayer and how we try to curry favor from God. We think that if we butter Him up with flattering adjectives and phrases, dubbing it “praise”, then He’ll be in a better mood to answer our prayer requests.

And well, I was three-fourths of the way done with the entry. I was going to finish it up today and then post it up on here. And then today happened.

What happened, you ask? Well, yesterday I was in a situation where I needed to pray. A situation where only God could make a way and help. And I prayed earnestly, without empty words, but as a helpless child who goes to his father. I wasn’t too sure if He would grant me this, but I knew that only He could do it. I really wasn’t thinking about the situation when I was typing away at the post, just making observations. But separate from my blog, I was fervently asking God for help.

Today, I got a call. And it was an answer to my prayer. It was my request and then some. And at that point, all I could do was acknowledge that God, in His grace, had said yes. And more than just warm fuzzies, it reminded me that I belong to God, the most supreme Being in the universe. And He who has no beginning actually gives ear to my cries and pleas, and listens. And not just listens, but He acts. God moves in history on behalf of His own.

I hardly hear anyone claim that they have a great prayer life. It’s one of those things all of us wish we were better at. Growing up, I always heard stories of people who had these impressive prayer regimens. An hour in the morning. An hour or two in the evening. It gave you the impression that they were these resilient, resolute people who were ever on their knees. And I envied these claims and was honestly a bit skeptical. But one thing kept me from writing these folks off as fibbers: my mom. Every morning she would get up and pray, oftentimes fasting as well, crying out to God, imploring Him in her native tongue. She still does it. But even she will tell you that she doesn’t pray enough.

If you’re a Christian, it is understood that you pray; it’s part of the territory, part of the calling. It’s not really an option. You can’t just be “friends” with God and not talk to Him. Jesus is not your Facebook friend.

If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, if you claim that He is your hope, salvation, love, everything to you, but you don’t talk to Him… then I would boldly say you’re deluding yourself. If a guy told me he was in a serious relationship with a girl, but it had been a few weeks since he had talked to her (and she could be easily contacted), then I would call him a liar. But that’s just me. Who wants to hear my opinions?

So Christian, when you pray, God listens! You are not just speaking empty words into air, but are invoking the Sovereign Father as His child. That’s powerful! That’s awe-inspiring! And incredibly humbling.

I don’t have to go into detail about how God doesn’t always answer every prayer with a “yes”. Life teaches us that. And it frustrates and angers a lot of people. Frankly, we think the universe (and God) revolves around us. We like to think our will is His will.

Sometimes, the prayer is met with silence. Jesus prayed that if possible, the cup of wrath and death be taken away. God didn’t grant that. And that’s because Christ walking to the cross fell into God’s greater will and purpose. God and His glory is at the center of everything.

But that ought not to discourage us in praying! We pray all the more knowing that we are helpless and God is mighty. He can move. And He does move.

And sometimes… He does say “yes”. Sometimes things play out as we hoped. It would be a shame to chalk it up to coincidence.

Give credit where it’s due.

God loves us so much that He would stoop down to our level to communicate with us and make Himself known. Can you imagine that? A perfect, holy, powerful, creative God relating to imperfect, broken, sinful, weak humans. And yet He longs to be in relationship with us! This experience has taught me of the overwhelming beauty of the grace of God in allowing me to relate to Him! For crying out loud, He sent Christ to draw us into relationship! To quote Gym Class Heroes, “if that ain’t love, then I don’t know what love is.”

Whatever you believe, go talk to Him. Just talk.

Oh, how He loves us!