Month: June 2012

50 Shades of Grey

Last week, I spoke at two Activate Your Life events. The talks involved all sorts of topics but on both occasions, I was heard to say,

“The Bible is very matter of fact about sexuality but in polite Christian circles we mostly avoid talking about it. It’s a subject people are very interested in yet as Christians we often have so little to say about it that the world assumes our views are negative. When we consider how explicit Song of Solomon is, are we in danger of burying our heads in the sand over sex?”

It appears now is my time to practice what I preach. There was a time when “shades of grey” was just the stuff on my head that I was trying to hide with a variety of hair dyes. But these last couple of weeks, my Facebook friends have brought to my attention “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a series of books by E L James that are amazingly popular among my peers at the moment. The blurb on the back of the first book describes it as,

“Romantic, liberating and totally addictive, this is a novel that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.”

It seems some of my friends would agree as they appear to be devouring this book and ignoring household chores (easily done I’d say!) to devote time to reading these stories. And it’s not just my friends who are getting into them. This week, ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ became the first novel to sell more than one million copies for Kindles. The paperback version is achieving the UK’s highest weekly sale with more than 200,000 copies sold. The print versions of the books take the top three places in Amazon’s bestseller lists and the film rights have already been snapped up.

So what’s the fuss all about? The books are all about the relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and controlling billionaire Christian Grey. As Ana gets to know Christian, she discovers that his sexual tastes involve bondage and domination. She finds out later that he is deeply scarred from abuse in his childhood. With a deep need to control, in order to be his partner, Christian asks Ana to sign an agreement that she will experiment with his preferred sexual behaviours and will allow him to control other aspects of her life too. Throughout the story, Ana finds it hard to reconcile who she really is with the submissive partner that Christian wants her to be.

The question has been asked of me, “Can I read this book or do I need to make a stand and say I won’t because I’m a Christian?” Now, you need to be aware before you dive into reading it, that this book contains some explicit adult erotica themes that may well offend. These themes have provoked some understandable concerns about the impact of the book on society. As someone involved in a variety of church organisations, it would be really easy to speak negative views over this book and in doing that imply judgement over all the women who are reading it. A book that brings erotic fiction and the topics of bondage and domination into the mainstream public view so widely is an easy target. ‘Fifty Shades’ could easily become another book/film to blacklist and condemn along with everyone who reads it.

But I wonder what would happen if we saw ‘Fifty Shades’ as an opening instead of a hazard? Just mentioning the book (even without reading it) could open up conversations about sexuality, abuse or the pain of the past. ‘Fifty Shades’ could give us the opportunity to discuss God’s ideas about the best context for sexual pleasure. Proverbs 5: 18-19 says,

“Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love”

God is not embarrassed by our sexuality. Maybe this book gives us the chance to talk about being made in God’s image and how all that we do, including our love-making is best when we reflect what God is like. Maybe we could talk about the Bible’s view on honouring each other’s bodies. Maybe we could end up discussing Adam and Eve and God’s original plan for mutual rule and companionship that was marred by their sin.

Whatever the topic, whatever the conversations, I am passionate about the people reading this series. What is it we are looking for that makes us so compelled to read on? What is it that holds our attention so strongly? Near to the end of the first book I was brought up short by a profound paragraph that may hold the answer.

“What does Christian know of love? Seems he didn’t get the unconditional love he was entitled to during his very early years. My heart twists, and my mother’s words waft like a zephyr through my mind: Yes, Ana. Hell, what do you need? A neon sign flashing on his forehead? She thinks Christian loves me, but then she’s my mother, of course she’d think that. She thinks I deserve the best of everything. I frown. It’s true, and in a moment of startling clarity, I see it. It’s very simple: I want his love. I need Christian Grey to love me. This is why I am so reticent about our relationship –because on some fundamental level, I recognise within me a deep-seated compulsion to be loved and cherished. And because of his fifty shades, I am holding myself back. The BDSM is a distraction from the real issue. The sex is amazing, he’s wealthy, he’s beautiful, but this is all meaningless without his love, and the real heart-fail is that I don’t know if he’s capable of love.”

I think we read on hoping that he’ll love her unconditionally in the end. I wonder if these books are quietly awakening a personal, deep-seated thirst for love and healing in the 200, 000 people and more that are reading it? Many of the people I know who have read them refer to their reading as “spending time with Mr Grey” and have felt a sense of loss when they’ve finished the books. Some have immediately started reading them again from the start. The extract above speaks into all our hearts doesn’t it? The search to know and be known is so dominant in our lives. We get busy and sometimes our activity distracts us but the longing still lurks beneath it all. We all want to know and be known by someone who loves us.

So if you’re reading these books and feeling this need – I know just who you’re looking for! There is someone pursuing us and loving us unconditionally. His name is Jesus. He loves you. He longs to be in relationship with you. And he’s not embarrassed to talk to you and listen to you about every aspect of your life including your sexuality.

I love a good romance. I have loved watching the stories that have played out in mine and my friends lives as we have searched for that special someone. But like Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman, I also want to point my friends to, and find myself relying on, the lasting hope, the lasting satisfaction and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

Some people are reading this book as part of their book club at the moment. What are you reading in your book club at the moment? What themes are you bringing a gentle Christian viewpoint to with that group of friends? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

Back to the Future, today!!

I admit it, I am a fan of the Back To The Future films. I loved them in the eighties and I have started enjoying them all over again when my daughter was given a boxed set.
I loved the gentle sci-fi theme, the alternative existence and the idea that subtle choices we make can affect our future hugely. And watching the films today has an added pleasure of discovering whether or not the predicted future has come true in our present. Marty McFly arrives in his hometown on June 27th, 2012. We are the future world he is trying to escape from! We do not have the hover boards but the clothes are not far away and perhaps our Internet world is more futuristic than the one Marty finds! It is fun watching it and provoked a great discussion in our house.
Looking for an easy event over the next couple of weeks? Maybe a gathering when it is raining outside? Or if it a sunny evening, borrow a projector, tie up a sheet and show it on the wall of your house whilst you all lie out on rugs. A discussion that includes where we will be in another 27 years, or how decisions affect our futures would be great. Back to the Future indeed!

An Interview With Danielle Strickland

On Friday the 22nd of June, Activate Your Life partnered with Moorlands College in hosting a training event with Danielle Strickland as the keynote speaker. 180 women gathered in Christchurch, Dorset, and had the opportunity to be inspired by Danielle as she spoke movingly on ‘The Liberating Truth’: how Jesus empowers women. It was a fantastic event, with a buzzing atmosphere, a great worship band led by students and a sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Activate Your Life was there with pink gift bags and water bottles for everyone. Caroline East, Sarah McKerney and I shared an afternoon seminar in one of the college lecture rooms and presented ‘Unlocking the Door’- an introduction to Friendship Evangelism. We were able to meet lots of interested women afterwards and hand out ‘Freewheeling’ books.
Buy the talks on CD
For those who missed the day but would like to catch up with Danielle’s two amazing talks and the six seminars, Moorlands are organising an audio Cd. Please contact us with your name and address and pay £5 into our ‘donate now’ button. We will send you all the talks to enjoy at your leisure.

I had the opportunity to meet Danielle and spend time with her and her gorgeous eight week old son, Moses. She is an amazing woman of God, with boundless sources of energy, a fantastic sense of humour and a natural affinity to engage with everyone she meets, especially teenagers and starstruck Activate directors!! Over breakfast I asked her six questions.

Can You Describe Jesus in eight words?
Truth, Light, Freedom, Word, Hope,Power, Love, Eternal

The gospel – in twenty five words?
The Gospel is the big redemption plan that God has to redeem the world, the fullness of His Kingdom – to banish wickedness from the world.

What do you think of relational evangelism?
Is there any other kind? All conversions, even conference ones, are ultimately linked to relationships.

What is the hope of the world?
Redemption, wholeness, the righting of every wrong, injustice banished, righteousness flourishing.

What is your priority as a Christian?
To love and follow Jesus, to do what He says.

What encouragement would you give to others when they feel inadequate to do evangelism?
Do what’s in front of you, so – we make it all hard and try to be strategic but we should just do it. If someone has a need – meet it, a request- pray for them, a question – tell them. Just do it.

Pampered Chef parties

If you’re like me the thought of inviting people to your house can be daunting, so I tend to hold parties like the ‘Pampered Chef’, where there is a focus. These parties involve cooking something yummy and having a laugh with friends, usually at my lack of cooking skills! Our local person who leads the evenings is a christian, which is great. I always say it’s just an excuse for a social and there is no pressure to buy anything but just to come and have an enjoyable evening. My friend has just recently held one and invited all her neighbours, some whom she had never spoken to and they had a great evening and this has started some great relationships. There are lots of party plans like this around that you can choose from, just choose one that suits your and your friends’ interests.

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