Baby Boomer Christians

I’m not surprised that bondage/sadomasochistic sex is practiced. What surprises me is that we are no longer embarrassed. Everyone has embarrassing behaviors (especially thoughts), but we practice them behind closed doors. If we must perform our shameful acts in public, we disguise them, like wrapping brown paper bags around our open beer bottles.

I had not heard of Fifty Shades of Grey until someone emailed me an article from theNational Center on Sexual Exploitation about a real-life man who practiced BDSM. (He later arranged the strangulation of his wife after she refused to participate in his sadomasochistic sex fantasies.)

Since then I have read a score of articles about Fifty Shades of Grey with differing slants:

  • Most secular articles were in favor, basically agreeing with the movie producer, who said, “People are not that prudish anymore;”
  • A few secular articles were opposed; one article read, “Finally! An issue leftist feminists and right-wing Christians can agree upon;”
  • And all the Christian articles basically said, “Just don’t do it. Or read it. Or watch it.”

But thousands of people read the book in public—no paper bags—and tens of thousands of people publicly watched the movie. Its opening weekend brought in $81.7 million dollars, the second-biggest February opening of all time (ironically, second only to The Passion of Christ).

Amazingly, 68% of the movie’s attendees were women, even though—in the words of one article—“In the final analysis, it is always women who suffer most at the hands of violent sex.”

How did we get here, where our private disgraces are now brazenly displayed on our rooftops?

The Bible and banned sex

Christianity isn’t squeamish about sex (despite what Fifty Shades of Grey’s producerthinks). The Bible openly describes all kinds of illicit sex: Judah’s daughter-in-law seduces him, David commits adultery with Bathsheba, and David’s son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar.

The Bible admits these acts, it just doesn’t excuse them. They are deemed appalling.

The only place in Scripture that shameful sexuality is publicly acceptable is in Sodom (the city infamously known for its citizens wanting to rape Lot’s male houseguests and where Lot unbelievably offers his two daughters in their place). To us, Sodom means unabashed, illicit sex.

But notice how Ezekiel describes the sins of Sodom hundreds of years after its destruction:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ez. 16:49).

Did you notice what Ezekiel’s sin-list lacks? He never mentions forbidden sex!

The real source of Sodom’s sin is simple: Pride. Pride leads to greed, excessive ease, and injustice. (And illicit sex as well.) Does Sodom’s sin remind you of anyone? It reminds me of us.

We are prideful

Baby-boomer are perhaps the proudest of all generations. We arrogantly, willfully, and stupidly disparaged our parents, claiming we could do everything better (while denying our arrogance). After some of us became believers, we considered our own Christianity better than our parents.

I once asked dozens of baby-boomer Christians if they ever repented to their parents for their prideful rebellion and (worse) their own sense of Christian superiority: Not One Had. Instead we proudly birthed the mega-church, a monument to our pride and a place we could hide.

Greed

Paul Krugman (a Princeton economist) noted that before World War II, the highest executive’s pay rarely exceeded ten times the lowest employee’s pay. Since we baby-boomers took charge, executive pay is now two to three hundred times (up to a thousandtimes!) more. He said,

For a generation after WWII, fear of outrage kept executives’ salaries in check. The outrage is gone … [It is] something like the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, a relaxation of the old restrictions of disgrace.

In other words, we lost our shame.

Excessive Ease

Cruise ships can’t be built fast enough; five star resorts are exploding; we drown ourselves in movies on our home TV’s, mobile phones and tablets; and we’re too tired to read books except titillating drivel like Fifty Shades of Grey. (I’m told even the author admits that it’s rubbish.)

We’ve come to prefer fantasy over reality. We lose our souls to mind-numbing entertainment.

Maybe the best commentary on our media addiction is Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. He claims our problem isn’t the dictatorships of George Orwell’sNineteen Eighty-Four but the self-medicated bliss of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. But G. K. Chesterton said,

Meaninglessness comes not from weariness of pain, but from weariness of pleasure.

And then there’s justice

My generation was rightly ashamed of the world’s injustice to the needy. We swore to do much better. Instead we’ve done much worse. We are now only ashamed of any shame that restricts our voracious appetites. We’ve abandoned the Biblical description of a just­person:

“He raises the poor from the dust and he lifts the needy from the ashes, and he makes them sit with princes” (Ps. 113:7-98).

How many of us listen nearly as much as we talk? How many of us give twenty percent (or more) to the needy? No! We prefer to raise ourselves up and to seat ourselves with the mighty.

Why are we surprised at the success of Fifty Shades of Grey? It’s a book about us. Maybe our only surprise should be that it took so long for someone to take it out of the brown paper bag.

Sam

I’ve been sick for the last month. Sniffles turned into bronchitis; bronchitis became pneumonia; and the pneumonia was accompanied by a gut wrenching nausea. I was sick, in bed, too tired to think or pray. A walk to the kitchen for a sip of water left me gasping for air.

And I felt drained emotionally. All my life to date felt inconsequential, like I’d played a good game of chess but was checkmated in the end. Game over.

I often think negative thoughts when I’m sick so I try not to take them too seriously; but I also feel more honest. My self-protection filters are lowered, I have less pretense. And in this illness I saw a longing in my heart that I usually hide away, a desire with too much control.

I want my life to bear fruit; to make a difference; to leave a legacy; to know that this earth was better for me having lived here. I want a name, a sense of significance, to know that my life mattered.

Is that so bad? I never thought so before, but now I question it. Today I feel better physically, but I also feel a smarter spiritually, and I think my desire for a legacy has been a misdirection.

What I most need is a deeper—more real—relationship with God.

True and false legacies

Scripture overflows with metaphors of God’s tie to us, but it never says God is a spark plug and we are crankshafts (though I am often cranky). The images are relational not mechanical:

  • He is a shepherd and we are his sheep;
  • He is our father and we are his children;
  • He is our betrothed;
  • He is our friend.

Only one Biblical image hints of mechanics, the picture of God as the potter and us as the clay. But this metaphor means we are the artistry of God. Artists delight in their works of art. Even this slightly mechanistic metaphor bristles with relational connectivity.

When I was sick, I read only two verses every day for four weeks. They explain relational legacy:

Abide in me, and I in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me. I am the vine and you are the branches. If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit. But apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).

After reading these few words for twenty-eight days straight (I’m slow), I realized I have been looking at life the wrong way: I wanted to leave a legacy, instead I was leaving spiritual sanity.

A branch doesn’t get fruit by looking to the fruit; it gets fruit by looking to the vine.

Which way do we look?

Scripture promises a relationship with God that involves a personal, intimate connection; in it we receive real life—every joy, hope, and satisfaction—all completely from that link. “Life” will never come from legacies we leave, our good deeds, or the fruit we bear. Only from the link.

It means our fruit (deeds and legacies) are byproducts of that relational bond. If we want fruit (deeds and legacies), we must pour our energy into one thing only: drawing on the vine. Even Jesus admitted, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I can do nothing on my own” (John 5:19, par).

I’ll never leave a legacy of value if all I care about is a legacy; I’ve been looking the wrong way.

How can we find “life” in our lives?

Branches thrive on the vine only by drawing life from that connection; the relationship itself becomes its sustenance. It’s more than a mere connection (some connected branches are cut off because they refuse to “abide”). It means we learn to dwell and draw life in him. We:

  • Thirst for him. Branches get moisture from the vine, but not like garden hoses (where water flows in one side and out the other). Branches draw in water from the vine, and that water miraculously comes out as grapes in our lives. The legacy is the relationship.
  • Converse with him. All human intimacy is based on communication. God invites us to converse with him, to tell him everything we tell our friends, and to expect him to speak to us personally. Not all God-speak is doctrine; much is simply relational.
  • Serve him as he likes. Intimate relationships involve knowing each other’s desires and loving to satisfy them. As our Godly intimacy grows, we want to delight him. (And he us.) Abiding in Christ means growing obedience, even when we don’t understand.

What about when our legacies are dying?

My desire to leave a legacy was (I now believe) mostly selfish. It was a way to stake a claim for my self-worth, to make a name for myself.  But self-worth can’t hold a candle to God-worth. Jesus said, “As my father has loved me, so I love you; remain [continue, dwell, draw life] in that love.”

Only in dwelling upon that love will we bear fruit. The legacy is just a byproduct.

John Milton was a writer who lost his sight in an age when blindness almost always meant intellectual death (long before braille or audiobooks). His legacy of spiritual insight was threatened. He dealt with this threat in his sonnet, On His Blindness. It begins:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless,

Milton most treasured talent (“which was death to hide”) was now useless. No legacy. No fruit. No nothing. Game over. How did he deal with the loss of legacy? He learned to abide in God. His poem ends relationally victorious over mere legacy:

They also serve who only stand and wait.

Milton’s poem is bearing fruit in my life; his legacy was formed when he dwelt in Christ. That’s what I need more than aspirations for legacies: to dwell in God’s love. And to stand and wait.

Sam