Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: Faith and Other Flat Tires by Andrea Palpant Dilley

Faith and Other Flat Tires is a book by a bright, introspective woman who finds problems with religion in everything. An Eric Clapton concert is as likely to raise tough theological questions as does having to bury a childhood friend. Dilley's memoirs outline how she grew up a missionary kid and then became a 'melancholy Christian' before leaving the church. She eventually found that the same questions that drove her away from God ended up driving her back to faith once again. She returns to God hesitantly, with battle wounds and hope and also - get this - without all the answers.

Even though a memoir, the author offers a very honest portrayal of who she is and how her life experiences shaped both her faith and her doubts.  Dilley doesn't paint herself as a victim or a saint. She's awkward at times, painfully aware of her flaws and she bravely lays her selfish moments and bad choices along with her honesty and courage. It is a tale of how a person can lose faith ; how even the seemingly 'good' kids can find themselves stomping out of the church and slamming the doors behind them (literally) because their questions are not being answered.I think a lot of us who are raised in Christian homes undergo a falling away from the church or even from faith and although Dilley's specific experiences might differ, her memoir is one which is easy to relate to. For those who are seeking for Truth about  their faith and Christ yet feel like they're out of place among the church potluck crowd, this book will come as a welcome read.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Black and White: The reason we are drawn to Fifty Shades of Grey

Last week I started reading two very different books at the same time. I do that a lot – read two books simultaneously. It’s a habit I picked up from my husband a few years ago. The first book is a very thoughtful, reflective memoir about one woman’s struggle with her faith. The second book is a novel where a young, liberated female college student signs an agreement to be totally submissive toward a billionaire businessmen. Two totally different topics to be certain, but they both bring up interesting perspectives on love.

In Andrea Palpant Dilley’s memoir, Faith and other Flat Tires, she talks at one point about her friend presenting her with the following allegory for love,
"Imagine I was in a magical forest, he said, and down from heaven came two platters. One held a rich three-layer cake and the other had a bologna sandwich." 
The rich, decadent dessert was someone unique, forbidden and the bologna sandwich, the plain, safe person that one ultimately settles for as a mate. It is why I think as women we are drawn to the second book I was reading, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. We are longing for that piece of cake we once devoured because our love lives have become something that represents more of a plain bologna sandwich on white bread staring back up at us from a cold plate. 

Some find this book to be “Mommy Porn”, but I have a feeling there is a lot more to the book than restraints, riding crops, and the like.  In fact, I think many women liked the books in spite of some of those things. People have felt women are drawn to the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey because of the modern woman's inability to carry the entire burden that has been placed on her by society. As she struggles to balance career, family and other responsibilities she just wants someone to lighten her load. She wants someone to take full control so she gets a break. And a book about a man taking over her life is thereby, in a sense, liberating. But if that were the case then a novel about a woman getting a really good housekeeper and financial planner could have been just as adequate. Why sexual submission?

The reason is black and white and plain as day. It has to do with that piece of chocolate cake. It has to do with the other “L” word; lust. Our world has little understanding of lust. We put all our emphasis on love. We watch romantic comedies about men and women slowly falling in love, in a slow, low-simmering manner. We laugh with them until they tie the knot and live happily ever after in their comfortable, humorous, cozy little lives. We offer platitudes like love being the most powerful emotion in the world.

But here is simple proof that it is not. About eighty percent of the men who cheat on their wives claim to love their wives. But lust for another woman has superseded their love. In truth, lust is the most powerful emotion in the universe. When we think of lust, we often think of the part associated with sinning. We think of an illicit affair between the married man and his secretary or a housewife and her old high school flame she has reconnected with on some social network. 

But lust is actually an important part of marriage. I pity the husband and wife who have ceased lusting after one another. In so doing they have lost the deep, passionate, raw, carnal desire that draws them to one another and makes each feel deeply desirable. We all want to be wanted, need to be needed, desire to be desired. The Bible concurs. The tenth commandment is that a man should not covet and lust after another man's wife, which means, by direct implication that he sure as heck ought to be lusting after his own wife.

So why do we so disparage lust? Why do we trump love at lust's expense? We mistakenly think that lust is something merely physical. We wrongly attribute it to being of the body. In truth lust is the feverish, intuitive gravitation of masculine to feminine and feminine to masculine. Real lust occurs when there is perfect polar alignment between masculine and feminine opposites. Lust is what magnetizes an otherwise ordinary man and woman to become infatuated with each other. It is not of the merely of the body but is rather the arrangement of two opposing energies that causes us to passionately incline toward one another. Think of how you felt about your husband or wife when you first started dating. Do you remember? 

The second reason we shun lust is because we don’t seem to know how to keep it. Let’s face it, time, familiarity, problems, children, middle-age bulge all detract from the carefree, early dating days---when he wanted you but did not quite have you yet. And he spent money, and more importantly, time---time being wowed by you, mesmerized by you, and showering all sorts of attention upon you. We don't know how to sustain it so we disparage it. We don't know how to hold on to it in marriage so we curse it. Be gone, you emotion of the devil. What results, however, are marriages based on the weak link of friendship as opposed to the fiery and scorching bond of lust. To be sure, both are necessary. The complete marriage is where husband and wife are both lovers and best friends. But today we are mostly, and sometimes only, the latter. I have heard lots of men say, 'This is my wife. She's my best friend.' and just as many wives say that about their husbands. But friendship is not the nuclear bond that marriage requires in order to not just survive but flourish. 

Be that as it may and simply put, lust is where you are made to feel intensely desirable. It's where a man can't stop thinking about you, obsessing over you, can't keep his hands off you. It's where you're placed at the center of another person's existence and where they permanently bask in the glow of your light. You are the planet and they are drawn into your gravitational orbit. And there is no feeling in the world quite like it. Nothing can make you feel more special.

Now we get to why women -- and so many married women especially, are reading
Fifty Shades of Grey. The book is really the story of a billionaire who can have whatever he wants. But he wants this one woman. He wants her so badly that he obsesses over controlling her completely, making her submit, owning her, and taking complete possession over her. Nothing else matters, only her. He doesn't want to ink any deals except with her. She has to, has to, sign on the dotted line or he'll wither away. In other words, it is he who is her slave, and not the reverse. He can't be without her. He can't live without having her. He is utterly smitten.

The truth of the story is that she is the one who is dominant. It is she who has a far greater hold over him than the opposite and it is she who controls her submission. He, however, has no control, pursuing her doggedly, making her feel intensely desirable at all times.

And why submission specifically? Yes, women want to be wanted, but why in a position of subservience, even if only feigned? Simple. In a world where lust has died, where sexual polarity has all but disappeared and where sexual attraction has been reduced to the single cylinder of the physical alone, an author gives us a wild story of a man and a woman recreating extreme sexual polarity of masculine and feminine in the most extreme sense and we lap it up. The polarity is created in a manner, to be sure, but then one extreme invites another. The extremely passionless nature of today's relationships, where the poles of masculine and feminine are unaligned and therefore boring, is met with another extreme to create sparks.

We crave that desire we had at the beginning of our relationships so we are enthralled and intrigued by Christian Grey. Bottom line - We need make our marriages more exciting. We need to make them more passionate. Do our wives really need to find this passion only in a fantasy novel about domination? Perhaps it is time to emphasize not just love but desire in our marriages. We can have our chocolate cake by restoring the desire in our marriages.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book Review: Proverbs Reconstructed

Proverbs Reconstructed by Gus Dallas was written to simplify the Proverbs into one easy book that even a person who never opened the Bible could learn. In a way that's true. Dallas goes through the book of Proverbs and gleans every bit of wisdom he can find about a number of subjects. He takes the verses and separates them into the subjects. The book is lists of verses for just about any subject you can think of. Anything from abomination to feet, yes feet, and folly to, my favorite part, being a Godly wife.

While this book is a handy resource for someone looking for a quick Scripture reference, it's not anymore helpful than just reading the Word yourself. I was expecting more discussion, more practical explanations, ways to apply the verses to my life. As I said before, I enjoy the book of Proverbs. Breaking it up for no other reason than to list verses per subject was a bit disappointing to me. It took away the beauty of the prose and rhythm of the Proverbs. 

There's a big index of topics at the front of the book, everything from Abomination, Adultery, Adversity and Advocate all the way to Work, Worry, Worship, Wrath and Zealous. Actually, Wrath appears twice - once with a "Good" entry and once with a "Bad" entry.

Having looked through the book and played with it quite a bit, I'm still not sure what Dallas means by "Good" and "Bad". There are actually many double entries like this throughout the book. As an example of "good" wrath, Dallas lists Proverbs 15:1: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (and four other, separate verses). But for BAD wrath, he lists many more, including, 19:12: "The king's wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass." I'm not sure I get the distinction, honestly.

Dallas, who has apparently not written anything else of a religious nature before, adds his own touch to the book mainly through a brief introduction in which he makes sweeping and unconvincing generalizations about the need for his book: "...Many have been instructed to "read one Proverb a day." But that does not work."

The very first sentence in his introduction ends with the word "etc." and the thing only gets fuzzier from there. ("all the information in the Bible is useful for reproof, instruction, etc." - did he forget what else the Bible is useful for?) He goes on to call the Book of Proverbs, "the sign to us that the Bible does not despise common sense and good judgment." THE sign? There's nothing else in the entire thing (and since he's Christian, that means 66 books!) that makes any sense ? I'm surprised to see these annoying generalizations in a book from a religious publisher - of any religion.

To be very honest, the "index" at the front of the book seems more like a list of computer-generated key words, than an actual thoughtful index which might be helpful to a person looking for Scriptural insight on pressing topics like marriage (nothing listed), childbirth, graduations, or divorce (though adultery and widowhood are covered). Heaven help you if you want to write a sermon, or speak, or write on a somewhat contemporary topic like the environment or war.Poverty, however, is covered with tidbits like 10:15: "The rich man's wealth is his strong city; the destruction of the poor is their poverty." Oh-kay! I'll have to slip that one in the next time I'm writing about homelessness.

Perhaps the book would be  useful as one way to find ideas quickly for a speech, sermon or blog post... but deep insights are few and far between here and in terms of "value added," nothing here, in the eBook version, at least, that you couldn't do yourself for free. In all honesty,  a decent concordance is probably a better long-term investment in your spiritual bookshelf.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."