I am not writing a post about 50 Shades of Grey, seeing as how I haven’t actually read it and I’m probably not the target audience. I do my best not to comment on something unless I have some sense of actual familiarity with it. I don’t want my opinion on something to be based off what someone else said, I’d like actually to know what it says.
That said, I think the popularity of the book, as well as the forthcoming movie (especially, apparently in my home state), says something about the notion of sex in our culture, as well as in the church culture. It’s interesting; the 50 Shades of Grey movie has done something that I’ve not seen done in the life of the church in a long time. It has brought conservative/evangelicals together with liberal/progressives. Both sides are saying that this book/movie speaks to something deep in our culture.
The thing that I keep coming back into in my mind, however, is how 50 Shades of Grey, as well as other shifting mores on sexuality, stake their territory in the notion of empowering individuals. We can be told in this culture that it is up to us to make our decisions, claim our rights, and own our sexuality. (By the way, this notion is true not just of sex, but about anything that people desire). Who is society/the Church/anyone to tell me how I should live, what I should do? That is a form or repression or corrosion. We are called to be empowered to live as we want, to do as we want, and to claim the life that we want to live.
We should not be told how to live. We must live.
And that sounds tempting and good. It does sound empowering. It does sound like something that may be appealing.
But here’s the thing. I’ve been thinking about something I read about Dean Smith this week. Smith is the form coach at the Univeristy of North Carolina. He lived a truly amazing life, and he wasn’t just a coach. He was really a coach/philosopher/theologian. He said this in an interview.
“Years ago, Dr. Seymour gave a sermon that made so much sense to me. It was called The Paradox of Discipline, and I had it mimeographed. He made the point that the disciplined person is the one that’s truly free. The student who says, ‘I could make A’s if I tried,’ but who doesn’t have the discipline to sit down and do it, is the one who’s shackled. The disciplined student is free: He has the choice of making an A or D.”
I’ve been thinking about that in regards to 50 Shades of Grey, and really all forms of “self-empowerment.” We want freedom by claiming what we want. To deny yourself of a pleasure, or of anything, means that you aren’t able to fully be you. We want that empowerment.
And here’s the catch for Christians. We aren’t called to be empowered. We are called to be humbled. To be servants. To deny ourselves and take up our cross.
As Paul says of Jesus and how He lived in Philippians 2: 4-9:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name
For us as believers, freedom or empowerment doesn’t come from our desires. It comes from discipline. Self-control. And that’s not something we just have. That’s only a fruit of the spirit. It’s a gift of grace. It’s an act of God.
And that only comes from, not seeking our will. But from seeking His. That only comes from submitting ourselves to Jesus.
The older I get, the more I come to believe that my only shot at freedom, at peace, a full life doesn’t come from me and my “stuff.” It comes from submitting myself to my Lord.
That’s so counterintuitive to this culture. But it is truth. There are many things I can’t speak to. I am a quickly graying soon to be middle-aged white male. I would be considered in our culture a conservative/evangelical. I get it. I’m not a prude; I just act like one.
So maybe I’m biased, maybe this is my perspective alone. But I know that freedom doesn’t come from me seeking what I want and what gives me pleasure, above all else. It comes from most often from denying those urges and doing the “right” thing. And then, freedom comes because I’m not controlled by those desires. As a believer, I would say that I’m controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Today, seek freedom. As Paul writes, it is for freedom you have been set free. But seek truth freedom. Not cultural freedom. Because to be free in Christ is to live. And honestly, is that what we all want?