50 Shades of Slavery

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“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”

~~ 1 Corinthians 8:9

Twenty million copies of 50 Shades of Grey have been sold, earning author E.L. James around $50,000,000 to date—one million per shade of grey, as the wag might say. As a result, the romance and erotic novel industry is on the upswing. Moreover, readers of this book are also signing up on the “sugar daddy/sugar baby” online dating site “Seeking Arrangement,” company owner Brandon Wade reports. He owns other sites, such as www.seekingmillionaire.com, and said out of 1.6 million “seeking arrangement” profiles, “50 Shades of Grey” is mentioned 28,382 times, Christian Grey 23,102 times, and Anastasia Steel 18,281 times. He claims that 186,000 females are “actively seeking a Christian Grey type arrangement.” (http://bostinno.com/2012/07/06/more-people-signing-up-for-sugar-daddy-site-after-reading-50-shades-of-grey/)

Even the makers of ties, suits, cars, bubbly and rope, as well as teas, condominiums, hotels, and helicopter rides in Seattle are cashing in on the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. Of course the bookstores are benefiting also, and especially Amazon, because the book is downloaded onto Kindles and Ipads galore (the modern equivalent of arriving in your mother’s mailbox in a plain brown paper wrapper). (http://www.businessinsider.com/50-shades-of-grey-is-making-these-companies-rich-2012-6?op=1)

I haven’t read all of 50 Shades of Grey, but then I don’t want to. I did pick it up at the Kroger store where I usually shop ($12 in gray paper on a lower shelf, not near the regular bookshelves. We’re discrete in Hot Springs, not IN YOUR FACE!) The reason I don’t want to read it is because I’ve been in an abusive relationship before. Like the heroine, I somehow thought I would be the one to redeem or rescue the flawed person whom I loved, even though he continually hurt me. I didn’t sign a contract, but then love is its own contract. My abuser disciplined me by words and emotions until I became “his” to control by a look or a word. When the abuse escalated to physical violence, I drew the line and threw him out. The truth is you can love someone who is wrong for you and who can hurt you.

The male character in 50 Shades of Grey was sexually abused at age 15, so now he passes that gift along to an unwitting virgin who has no idea that the world can hold such wickedness. She believes she can determine her own security even though she has given control over every minute part of her own life to another person. She is in denial about her true state of affairs and the loss of her self. In an earlier century, we would say she was a sex slave. In my native state of Louisiana, many a “high-yella” African American slave served in the master’s house rather than in the fields because they were part of the family. Their lives were not their own, however, and one wrong move would get them sold down the river. They were still slaves. This woman is a slave to this man. I do not believe that we have come to the point that we are finding our libidos racing by turning back the clock! Scarlet O’Hara, lace up my corset for me, honey! My waist just isn’t as small as it used to be!

We have to ask ourselves, Why is this book so popular? Do we women really need a jolt to arouse us from this poorly written sex trash? Do we need a rape fantasy to get us “going” as it were? If our husbands or boyfriends were to make us sign a contract that gave them total control over our clothes, our makeup, our hairstyles, our perfumes, and our coming and going, most of us would say, “ In your wildest dreams, buddy!” Maybe because they aren’t billionaires, in which case, we need to realize that our values have a price. Unfortunately, that means we could become “kept women” if the price were right.

When we consider this, that our values can be bought and sold for a price, then we realize that we don’t have a core set of values. These are values that don’t change according to circumstances. They are the values that we hold “come hell or high water,” such as honesty, fidelity, trustworthiness, justice, creativity, peace, compassion, commitment, sharing, excellence, service, beauty and seeking the good of all. You may have different core values, but these are mine. I value other things also, but these are the primary goods that I value. What do you value, and what do you hold dear, or are all things negotiable for you? Have you a steady center, a firm core, or are all things permissible and/or negotiable for you?

Some people say “This is harmless and let love happen. The world needs more love.” This book isn’t about love—this is sadistic, masochistic bondage and dominance. It is abuse. Abuse isn’t love and love isn’t abusive. The dominant male groomed his college age victim just as Jerry Sandusky groomed each of his innocent child victims because they both had power and status greater than the ones they harmed and controlled, even though they made their victims feel “special” with gifts and privileges. These are broken people who break the souls and lives of others. It takes years of counseling and the love of God to make these victims into survivors who can love again, and feel whole again, and not be part of the “gift that keeps on giving,” or the eternal cycle of abuse.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that “food sacrificed to idols” is really only meat and is harmless enough, but some in the faith are still struggling to break free from their old pagan life. If these folks know they are eating “food sacrificed to an idol” they may not be inclined to eat or if they do eat, they will consider themselves sinners. It’s better instead “not to let this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor 8:9).

Consider the stumbling blocks of your own life and what enslaves you today. Some folks have an internet addiction: posting tons of spiritually uplifting photos to Facebook or playing on-line gambling games or visiting internet pornography sites for hours at a time. Some of us are shopaholics; others are micromanagers (controlaholics). Others of us are slaves to debt and some are enslaved to toxic relationships at home or at work. I myself am in the process of breaking a food addiction, as I learn to deal with my emotions as they arise, rather than stuffing them down with chocolate ice cream or cheesecake.

Write about your path to freedom and what it feels like to have the chains come off. How does it feel when you are bound and subjected to the pain of your addiction/slavery? Give this work to the Christ who broke the chains of sin and death by rising from the dead to set us free for life and love?

For our art exercise, let’s do a drawing with “50 shades of gray.” Using black, chalk, conte crayon, or soft drawing pencils, draw the subject of your choice. A white or yellow rose fully opened might be one choice, or a landscape with large clouds in it would be another. What ever you choose, be sure to have very dark and very light values with all the shades of gray in between! Reflect on how often our choices in life are more often gray than easily black or white.

May your week be full of joy and peace, Cornelia

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Hunger Games and Religious Famine

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Family, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Love, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision, Work

two trees “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”             ~~ 1 Corinthians 2:12 

I spent two days last week listening to my favorite seminary professor, friend, bog Irishman and mentor, Dr. Billy Abraham from Perkins School of Theology. I was his research assistant one year, which is actually a glorified title for travel/booking agent, secretary, and general flunky.  Since I also was his alter ego for his correspondence, I learned to “channel my inner Abraham.” Fifteen years later, I can still easily pierce through his Irish dialect, which for others is as heavy as a stout pair of brogues handed down from their granddaddy’s closet.  “Faith” for Billy has three syllables, just as the Holy Trinity has three persons.

Billy is a resident alien in these parts, since he is an Irish citizen, but even if he were a naturalized American citizen, my guess is he wouldn’t consider himself a citizen of this world, for as a Christian “our citizenship is from heaven, and it is from there we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

In this world we have many nations, both rich and poor. In these, there are rich who live in the poorest nations and very poor people who live in the rich nations such as our own. I speak here only of economics, for some of those who are financially poor are richer spiritually than those who have great wealth, for they understand their lives depend upon God’s providence and mercy, and not on their own strength and position for gain.

Those who are caught up in the spirit of this world are beset by the cares of this world and focus on these problems. They see no hope for change, no way out of the status quo. They are “hopeless” people, for the spirit of the world can’t offer hope, but only more of the same. This is why “the Hunger Games” and its dystopian view of the future has captured the attention of our youth. They see it as a possible future, for they live without hope. Their generation’s symbol is the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01.

As I was chatting with my Walgreen’s photo clerk the other day, she said, “Your parents fought to make the world safe for democracy, and people your age put a man on the moon. Our generation hadn’t seen anything grand or positive happen. We’ve been at war most of our lives, mostly “against something”, but never “for anything.” It’s like we have lost our will to do any great deeds as a country. We can’t even be “for peace, for ecological sanity or for whatever!” The spirit of this world is negativity in all its aspects.

Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own” (John 15:19). Those who walk on another path don’t belong to the spirit of this world, even though they live in this world, for they have received the Spirit of God. This isn’t some special gift, reserved only for a few extraordinary persons, but it’s the gift of God to each and every believer! How are we to know God if we aren’t joined to him in a spiritual manner? We aren’t able to use our minds alone, for “no human mind can grasp this, and who can comprehend his ways?” Our mind is part of this world, but not part of the spiritual world (Ecclesiastes 16:20).

Once we have our own experiences with God, we can test them against the experiences of the saints of the church (tradition), the witness of Scripture, and the reason of our minds. We will never understand God with our minds only, but we will also never understand God only by our human experience or by the tradition of others either, or just by reading about God from the Bible.  Because God is a personal God, whom we know as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we need to experience God in relationship, for our spirit communicates with God’s Holy Spirit. When we experience God, we experience hope, life, and love.

We aren’t able to hear the sounds of hopelessness in the world unless we too have also known no hope. When I met this worker at the photo counter, we got into this discussion because another customer was admiring my iPhone 4S photos and compared them to my  35mm Minolta black body camera photos. Because there’s nothing automatic on my 40 year old camera, I have to think and compose my photo before I shoot.  She particularly admires the two trees winter stark against a blue sky. This photo was one of a series I took of trees that stood naked, ready to bloom once spring began, I was reading Brian D. McLauren’s Naked Spirituality at the time. It reminded her of the Twin Towers in New York City, the symbol of her generation’s loss and communal grief. She is my daughter’s age, part of Gen Y or the “Millenniums.” They are the first Internet generation, so technology is a necessity in their life. They may be wired into the world, but they have no intelligible vocabulary or theological framework from which to make a coherent and positive sense of the world.

They are “Saturday’s children, but they aren’t in Sunday School,” for as a group, these young people are deeply suspicious of tradition.  I suspect that even if they were in a church they would find that the gospel there has been watered down to what Billy Abraham calls a “civil religion” or “God, the flag, private enterprise, and the fourth of July.” Upon finding this worldly gospel within the church, they would turn and leave, and rightly so, for why get out of bed early on Sunday if they aren’t going to hear a different message from the world they are in the other six days of the week? They are hungry, but they aren’t finding nourishment in our “fast food churches” these days.

To make coherent sense of this world, we have to have a worldview that is focused on God, for only then will we understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. Our primary gift is “prophecy, in proportion to faith” (Romans 12:6). This isn’t some two bit foretelling of the future, but a vigorous listening to God’s word, an active calling of God’s people back to God’s love, and the announcing of God’s judgment if we fail to return or God’s mercy if we repent and return.

Too often we have made the gospel a cheap one-armed bandit, putting our quarters in and hoping for the three cherries to hit the jackpot of prosperity. Other times we have made the good news a shackle to bind people by laws and restrictions instead of freeing tem to become fully human and fully holy in the grace of God. We who claim the name of Christ have failed to articulate the good news so that our children and grandchildren can hear us! Why is that? Could it be that we actually practice a less robust religion, the civil religion in which we nod to the flag, to the country, to the rule of law, and to a creator God, but we do not give our whole lives over to the one Lord who can transform all that we are into more than we can ever imagine!  Our children deserve the Bread of Life!

“I Can Only Imagine” is a wonderful song—you can download it from iTunes if you don’t already have it. Although it’s about “heaven,” it could be about the new creation. Imagine your vision of a better world: describe it in positive terms rather than negative ones (we are at peace, rather than there is no war). If your idea is that all will have enough to eat, find a food pantry or soup kitchen and volunteer for a day to put a face on hunger in this present world. Make a difference in the part of the world in which you live. This is hands on spirituality or the spirituality of praxis.

As a creative project, write a poem or story, photograph, or place colors on a canvas about your experience. If you are photoing people, ask permission first, for not everyone wants their image used. Colors tell the story of your experience. You don’t have to make a realistic image, but your colors and shapes/lines should reflect your inner emotions. This may be harder than it sounds.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia