God’s Got This, Part 1

I recently finished a book called Restless Virgins, based on a sex scandal at Milton Academy in 2005 involving a sophomore girl and multiple hockey players. The scandal was supposed to be the crux of this book, but it only took up about fifteen pages. The two writers (both graduates of Milton Academy) focused the rest of the book on the culture of sex that was prevalent at Milton in the early 2000s (and is prevalent on many campuses today).

Disclaimer: The two women writing this book did a great job writing objectively and dispassionately about a horrific and sometimes heartbreaking year in these students’ lives. I commend them for their work. That being said, this book was, at times, disgusting. 50 Shades of Grey probably wasn’t any more salacious than this book was. I ached for a long, hot shower when I was done.

The writers wrote from the points-of-view of a handful of students with whom they’d had over 200 interviews over the course of two years. The students were all seniors at the time of the scandal, and they were remarkably forthcoming about their priorities and personal lives. Most of these priorities and personal lives were based on sex, drugs, partying, and drinking. To be honest, the sexual foibles and victories all started to blend together after a while, and by the end, I had trouble keeping the characters straight, but this much I do remember clearly: there was the girl who regularly cheated on her boyfriend because “he’s ugly and doesn’t deserve me to begin with.” There was the boy who believes girls deserve to be respected and treated to nice dinners and exciting evenings…only to abandon that belief the first time he finds a girl who’s willing to debase herself for his benefit. There was the girl who was admired by everyone for her brilliance and wit, who allowed herself to be used by a “hockey god,” so that he could satisfy his lust and she could gain a little notoriety. There was the girl who was known by younger students for her sympathy and understanding but spent years jumping to meet the sexual whims of a boy who refused to call her his girlfriend or acknowledge her in public.

I understand that much of this narrative may have been exaggerated; the entire book is based on the self-disclosure of horny adolescents, and who knows how honest they were being? However, assuming they were being even mostly honest, it is a damning and heartbreaking portrayal of what seems to be a pervasive mindset among adolescents.

The way I understand these kids’ psyches, after reading over two hundred pages of their inner monologues, is this: the girls believe they are only worth the popularity of the boys who want them. Therefore, it is in their best interest to climb the social ladder as efficiently as possible, and what better way to do that than to advertise that you are open for business (so to speak)? High school guys aren’t known for their nuance or their impulse control, and it’s understandable that they would find it hard to resist such persistent – and willing – temptation.

On the other hand, the boys believe that they are only worth the number of girls they “hook up” with (whatever that term means to them at this particular moment in time) and the entertainment value of the stories they can then broadcast to their friends. Therefore, it is in their best interest to take as many girls up on their offers, and to do it as quickly, as possible. High school girls aren’t known for their self-esteem and positive body image, and it’s understandable that they would find it hard to resist such desperation for a good story.

“He chose me!” I can hear the girls thinking. “He can have anyone at this school, and he chose me! Does he – could he – love me?”

“She said yes!” I can hear the boys thinking. “She doesn’t even know me, and she said yes! I must be the man!”

It’s hard for me to be sympathetic to the boys in this portrayal, all of whom believe that a hook-up is a one way street. The girl pleasures him, and there is no expectation of reciprocation. But these boys – boysare sympathetic. Look at them. They are so young, and they have been poisoned for who knows how many years, by who knows how many false gods, into thinking that they have the right or even the duty (to their buds, at least) to treat these girls like scum. (They even come up with a charming little nickname for these girls that involves the word scum. I’ll let you figure out the rest of it for yourself.)

The girls are just as sympathetic, although there were plenty of times I wanted to wring their necks, just to get my point across. Most of the girls who are portrayed are even younger than the boys – many are even still in middle school, and they are so deluded. They have bought into the lie – hook, line, and sinker – that they will only mean something if a guy (ideally, the right guy) says they mean something.

 

Here’s the problem, as far as I’m concerned: we have replaced our inherent worth as children of God with the wishy-washy worth sometimes bestowed upon us by people whose only endorsement is that they’re popular. No wonder there are so many unique kinds of addiction among humans! We humans will sell ourselves to anything, won’t we? Imagine living your whole life, believing the lie that you are responsible for creating your own worth. Wouldn’t you want to escape that pressure with some kind of addiction, too?

God wants us to know that there is nothing we can do to earn His love and there is nothing we can do to lose His love. Gave five guys blow jobs, just because they were popular? God’s got this. Drank too much and did something you never thought you’d do? God’s got this. Sold your body to the highest bidder? God’s got this.  Cheated on your boyfriend a dozen times because you thought he was ugly? God’s got this. Spent your life doubting yourself, your achievements, your gifts? God’s got this. Gained sixty pounds because you can’t stop eating and you don’t believe you’re worth a healthy body? God’s got this.

Here’s the thing, though. We have to ask Him to take it.

We look at this hook-up culture stuff all wrong. The problem is not that no one takes girls seriously, or that boys are being raised to be monsters, or that girls are taught to fear their bodies, or that there aren’t enough sensitivity seminars on school campuses, or that we’re in a misogynistic and patriarchal culture, or even that teens are drinking too much (which I definitely think is a big part of the problem that we all underestimate). These are all symptoms of the problem. The problem is that we are throwing ourselves away. If we allowed ourselves to feel the full power of God’s love for us, nothing – nothing – would be able to destroy us. Yes, there would be hard days or times we would feel alone and in despair, but if we lived fully in the power that God has already given us, those days would lead us straight into His arms, instead of to the nearest boy, girl, bag of chips, bottle, empty relationship, or what have you.

 

Of course, this has all been said before, and in much better words than I could ever come up with. Here is a favorite example of mine:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39, emphasis mine)

Hear that? Nothing. Neither sex nor drugs, nor despair nor fear, nor sin nor hopelessness, nor rape nor violence, nor laziness nor selfishness, nor anything else you could possibly think of, can ever separate us from God and take away the value He has already given us.

But if we want to live in that value, we have to ask Him to show it to us. And then believe it when He does.

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Dear Lord, I don’t know what to say.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I am more conservative than liberal, more Republican than Democrat (although lately, I’m more Libertarian than anything else), more believer than non. And for those of you who know me really well, you know that, even when I don’t know what to say, I say plenty anyway.

This past week has me at a loss.

A confession: I did not take the fact of racism seriously until marrying a man whose family has lived in the South for generations and who has seen, or whose family has seen, firsthand, the kind of thing I’d only heard about on the radio or read about in history books.

A confession: Six-and-a-half years after moving to Virginia, I still don’t quite get it about racism. At the risk of sounding cheesy, why can’t we all just get along? Is it really as bad as people say? Can’t we all give each other the gift of believing the best about each other?

A confession: I have a hard time accepting as truth examples of racism that I hear from others. I have a handful of anti-Semitic slurs, broken synagogue windows, and mind-boggling ignorance in my past, too. I have, oh…about five thousand years or so of universal hatred of my people to fall back on. Despite that, and thanks to the wisdom of those who know me and love me well, I make conscious decisions to believe that the people who have hurt me in the past either didn’t know what they were doing, or they aren’t worth the effort I would need to expend in order to keep being angry. In either of those cases, why on Earth would I waste my time getting angry?

A confession: I have been angry. I have been told that Mainers hate black people because there aren’t any black people in Maine (patently false, on both counts). I have been told that Virginians hate black people, because they stare at them (dude, that’s called making eye contact, and I get it — we Yankees aren’t used to it on the street, with strangers. But Southerners make eye contact with everybody. Yes, it’s disconcerting at first and hard to get used to, but it certainly isn’t racist). I have been told that I wear my privilege like a second skin and that there’s nothing I can do about it (well…okay, fine. But it hasn’t gotten me anything that anyone else couldn’t get, too — trust me, I’ve been broke, desperate, unemployed, hopeless, in despair, all that good stuff — and anyway, if there’s nothing I can do about it, why worry?) I have been told that, by merit of being white, I am racist, whether I think racist thoughts, feel racist feelings, or commit racist acts (um, isn’t there a word for judging me based on the color of my skin?).

So, yes, a confession: I did not mourn the passing of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, or any of the myriad of young black men who have been killed in our country in recent years at the level of many of my peers. I did not watch the videos, or read too many of the commentaries, because all I could see or hear were slurs and accusations.

But when five police officers were targeted and murdered in cold blood, at the hands of a vengeful sniper, I was furious. Five men, doing their jobs, protecting those who were taking advantage of their right to peaceful assembly–slaughtered. Five families–shattered. Five lives–ended. Where were the op-eds, the tearful pleas for mercy, the hour-long specials on NPR, for them?

In church today, our pastor listed the names of those who’d been killed in the past week near the end of his sermon, and for whatever reason, I felt released to mourn. I was overwhelmed by the loss of life. The foolishness. The anger. The brokenness. The men who died–all of them–were my brothers, my countrymen, and now they’re gone.

Now, readers, before you get too far ahead of yourselves, know that I believe that police officers have increasingly difficult and dangerous jobs. I cannot comprehend the discipline it takes to put on your badge and go to work, knowing you might be killed for that badge, day after day after day. I commend the police for fulfilling their duty, which is, after all, coming into situations that no one else can handle. Police officers are not paid to make people feel better. They are not paid to be social workers. They are paid to defuse situations that, otherwise, cannot be defused. When we encounter a police officer on duty, we never know what he has just witnessed, and he never knows what we are planning. I certainly don’t mind bending over a little backward, if it helps reassure him that I mean no harm. I still believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. I still believe in due process and in our legal system.

But the fact remains: whatever are the details of each circumstance, it is absolutely true that these are tragedies, worthy of grief. Dozens of lives have been lost in the wake of these deaths, sadness and despair have been compounded, faces have turned inward, distrust has run wild.

Listen, I have no idea what it’s like to black in America. I know firsthand what it’s like to be a minority and to be hated by the majority. But I do not believe that the past–either for white people or for black people–should be an excuse to mistreat each other. I do not believe that the past should have the power over us that we so freely give to it. I do not believe that black people see nothing but a privileged, closet racist when they see me, nor do I believe that white people see nothing but a lesser-than when they look at a black person.

This past week has been painful and has revealed some deep deep scars in our collective American tissue, but I ultimately believe that good will come. Love will win. Light will triumph. I don’t know what to do, how to pray, what words to say. But, holy Lord, I do know that.