Monday, April 28, 2008

Miley Cyrus photos

WARNING: This post discusses some adult themes and is NOT for children.

Back in February I wrote a post that was somewhat complimentary of Miley Cyrus. I felt that in order to do my “due diligence” I should also, therefore, comment on the latest news item about Ms. Cyrus that I just saw on the Today Show this morning.

Apparently, a number of moderately suggestive photos have surfaced of Ms. Cyrus. Most of them are on the internet. Of those they showed on the Today Show, they seemed to be depicting her laying across a boy her age, fully clothed but bearing her midriff, along with various other pictures of her in close proximity with this boy, and one in particular which the Today Show described as her kissing another girl (in all honesty, to me it looked like they were both eating something like a Twizzler, one on each end, a la “Lady and the Tramp”, but I admittedly only got a quick glimpse of it and the overall tone did seem to be suggestive in nature).

But the picture that is getting the most attention is in the latest issue of “Vanity Fair.” There, a photo appears of Ms. Cyrus sitting down. The picture is taken from behind her, but she appears to be topless, holding a blanket or sheet up to cover her front. She is wearing very bold lipstick and you see her full bare back. Ms. Cyrus is 15 years old.

Aside from the fact that Annie Liebowitz, who took the photo, did so (I believe) in exceedingly poor taste, Ms. Cyrus obviously went along with it. According to one source her parents were present the whole time. According to another they left 10 minutes early (I do not know if this particular photo was taken during that 10 minute span).

Ms. Cyrus has apologized. Apparently she initially believed the photo was “artistic,” but now acknowledges that it never should have been taken. Time will tell if she really means what she says.

The biggest thing that struck me about this whole story, though, was a comment on the Today Show by Donny Deutsch, host of MSNBC’s “The Big Idea.” Mr. Deutsch said that this is a “win-win” situation for everyone, including Ms. Cyrus. He claimed that the Vanity Fair photo will be good for her because it begins her transition from girl to woman. She needs to show a little sexuality in order for people to accept her as a woman. If she continues to keep her squeaky clean little girl image, then her career will be over when she turns 18.

I can accept the general principle that you need to be seen as an adult in order to have an adult career. But here is my issue with Mr. Deutsh. Why must being viewed as a “woman” be equated with sexuality? Don’t get me wrong. I am not na├»ve, and I am well aware that this is a viewpoint that is pervasive throughout our culture. I am admittedly simply choosing Mr. Deutsch’s remarks to illustrate a point that could have been made in any number of other contexts.

I am also admittedly not a woman. But I would think that this type of thinking would be offensive to most women. If not, maybe it should be. Basically, what Mr. Deutsch is saying is that if you want the public to view you as an adult woman, you must portray yourself as a sex object. Why can’t we come to view her as a woman by her exemplifying maturity, or the ability to make the correct decisions on her own without her parents’ involvement? Frankly, I believe she would have shown herself to be more of an adult if, assuming her parents were not there at the time, she showed the maturity to tell Ms. Liebowitz “no” to this particular pose. That would show that she can make her own decisions, and would demonstrate a level of maturity that we expect from adults.

Please do not misunderstand me. I do not want to seem like I am coming down too hard on Ms. Cyrus. She is, after all, only 15 years old, and is likely still learning how to be an adult. It is somewhat unfair how we place these young people in the enormous spotlight and expect so much from them. They are, after all, people like everyone else. And like all other teenagers they will go through their struggles as they make the transition from children to adults.

I only bring up the other possible decisions Ms. Cyrus could have made to illustrate what I believe is wrong with Mr. Deutsch’s viewpoint. He basically equates “womanhood” with “sexuality”, and ignores the plethora of other qualities that should properly define what it means to be a “woman.” Women, like men, were made in the image of God. But if you look at them as nothing more than an object designed to satisfy your personal selfish sexual desires, how are you treating them any different than any other consumable commodity; i.e., food satisfies my biological urge for sustenance, television satisfies my urge for entertainment, women satisfy my urge for sex? If that is all they are, how are you treating them any differently than food or your television set?

Women are human beings. They have far more value than consumable commodities. But when we define women in purely sexual terms, we devalue them as persons. They become “things”, not “people.” People have personalities, feelings and souls. Objects do not. I personally find this type of thinking to be highly offensive.

I also do not mean to say that this type of thinking only applies to women. Any time men are objectified I find it offensive as well (while I believe it is far more common in our culture to objectify women, any number of examples of treating men the same way can also be seen).

This is one of the reasons I am opposed to recreational sex. If the only reason you are engaging in the activity is to satisfy your sexual desires, each party is treating the other as no more than an object. When any of us are treated this way, we should be screaming out, “NO! I am more than that!” We should try as best we can to avoid looking at others that way and we certainly should not allow ourselves to be treated like that.

This is why, I believe, the Bible describes sexuality as two becoming one. It is an expression of intimacy, of recognition of the bond between the two of you. It shows in a very real, physical way, that you are bound to each other as if you shared one body, for the rest of your life. The two, quite literally, become one. Your partner is one and the same with you, not simply some object to satisfy your selfish desires. In the act of intercourse, you are quite literally equating your partner with yourself. When sex occurs properly, you are explicitly elevating your partner above “object” status to the same “personhood” status you recognize for yourself.

So I encourage Ms. Cyrus and anyone else who reads this (whether you be woman or man) to refuse to surrender to this cultural norm. You do not need to show your skin to be seen as an adult. In fact, if that is how you choose to express your adulthood, you run the risk of starting down a dangerous path in which you define your identity based solely on your sexuality, and all the entailments that may lead to. So please, when someone tries to get you to define yourself in that way, boldly assert, “No! I am more that that!”

God bless.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Being a Christian

This is probably one of the most difficult posts I've ever had to write, for reasons that are all to apparent to me, and yet unfortunately will have to remain somewhat of a mystery for the rest of you. Suffice it to say it is a difficult time right now, but through the difficulty, God has inspired me to write some more general comments that I simply must share.

You see, I have a pretty serious failing (actually, I have quite a few, but one in particular that is relevant for this discussion). Most of you know that I am a lawyer (no, that's not the failing). As with many lawyers, I am very logically-minded. My approach to Christianity, on the Ten Minas website and elsewhere, is often to break down the logical arguments and show step by step why Christianity is true, or how beautifully Christian theology builds on itself. I can illustrate why we all need a savior and how Jesus satisfied that need. All we need to do is to come to Him in faith.

My failing is that this is often where the conversation ends. This is common in many churches too. The focus is on salvation, and we seem to have this belief that Christianity is somewhat like a sprint with salvation as the finish line. We cheer ourselves or our friends on until we or they cross the finish line. Once there we breath a sigh of relief and relax. The race is over. The prize is won. Nothing else to be done here.

But through recent events I have come to understand how much more Christianity really is. Don't get me wrong. I have "understood" what I am about to say on an intellectual level for some time. But something is different now. Something I don't think that I can put into words adequately.

I titled this post "Being a Christian" rather than simply "Christianity" for a reason. I believe that "Being a Christian" describes what begins after salvation. Being a Christian involves the process of developing spiritual friendships with your Christian bretheren. Being a Christian means that you will get hurt, and when that happens it means we must be willing to forgive. We get together with others in our congregation to study the Bible or worship together on Sunday mornings. But being a Christian means we should be getting to know each other on a personal level. A risky proposition to be sure, and one that inevitably will lead to disappointment eventually. After all, we all are sinful humans and we will fail somehow someday.

But it is precisely because we will all fail that we need to get closer to each other. We all need someone to hold us accountable. It is precisely when we believe that no one is looking that we are more likely to slip into sin. For that reason I believe it is important for us all to have a Christian circle that is looking in on the most secret corners of our lives. This group will know "our business", and nip sin in the bud when it first blossoms before it grows out of control and ruins very promising careers, personal lives or spirituality.

There is a type of spiritual friendship that can arise between a Christian and a non-Christian which is elegantly described by Brian D. McLaren in his book "More Ready Than You Realize." That is not the kind of spiritual friendship I am talking about though. Here I am speaking of the relationships that develop between fellow Christians. The point of these relationships is not the same as many people think of as part of secular friendships today. In many modern relationships, people seem to be more concerned with pleasing others so that they "make friends." Honesty often falls by the wayside. We want to avoid confrontation so we try not to say anything that might make someone else upset. We focus on fun and leave it at that.

But for Christians we are not simply talking about social gatherings for recreational purposes. We certainly can have fun with our spiritual friends. But the priority for these relationships must be honesty, accountability and mutual strengthening. This is part of being a Christian. Forget all of the elaborate theological and philosophical arguments. Every Christian should know that being a Christian is not just about theology. It is also about community.

As I said before, entering into this type of Christian community means that you will get disappointed. You will get hurt. And when that happens, you have to be willing to forgive. That is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Remember, you have allowed yourself to get close to someone. You have trusted them with you innermost being and they have violated your trust. That is the type of thing you are going to face if you are truly placing yourself into one of these spiritual friendships. I cannot sugarcoat this. Understand that it WILL happen.

But if sincere repentance is there our role as spiritual friends means we have to hold our friend accountable, condemn the sin, but then forgive, love, and help to build them up again. Please, under no circumstances should you underestimate how hard this can be.

So I apologize for not focusing on the role of Christian community enough in my teaching, and I will try to do better in the future. Ultimately, Christianity is not about making logical arguments. It is about building relationships. And that is something that doesn't stop when you make a sinner's prayer.

For now, ask yourself if you have true spiritual friendships; people you can trust to confront you with what you do not want to hear and who can help bring you back after you repent. I admit to having far too few of these types of relationships. But despite my recent disappointments, I have come out with a commitment to seek out even more of these relationships, with the full knowledge of the additional heartache I may be setting myself up for. I firmly believe, though, that this is what we are all called to do.

If the person who inspired this blog happens to read it, I am confident that they will know exactly what this long rant is all about. If that happens, I would just like to say that I am your spiritual friend. I know you have others, probably many that you are even closer to than you are to me. I obviously cannot condone the sin. But I will always be here to help build you up again. I know you are in for some hard times in the near and possibly even the distant future. If you feel the need for a spiritual friend, please remember that you have my number. I, for one, do not want to lose you as a spiritual friend.

God bless.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Postmodernism and Contemporary Christianity

I'm working on a short book right now that is designed to help non-philosophy people gain a basic understanding of postmodernism, how it differs from Biblical Christianity, how it has infiltrated the church, and what to do about it. The title of this post is, at least for now, the working title of the book. One chapter in this book is going to address how vastly different theologies can emerge from what seem to be relatively small shifts in our foundation. In other words, every logical progression has a starting point. When you make small changes in that starting point, then follow the logical trail where it leads you, you may just find that the paths start to diverge more and more the further you go. The particular context I will be addressing is the inerrancy verses non-inerrancy on the Bible and how this seemingly small change, when followed through to its logical conclusion, leads to drastically different theologies. But the general point certainly holds true in other contexts as well.

I thought I would give you a bit of a preview of the example I was thinking of using to illustrate this point, and invite anyone to comment if they think they have a better one (with the understanding that you would be giving me permission to use it in the book if I agree it is a better example). I was looking for something not too complex and that would be familiar to people who don’t spend every moment of every day discussing deep philosophical issues. Remember, this is supposed to be a book for laypeople.

The thought that occurred to me was the movie “Back to the Future.” Marty McFly’s parents, George and Lorraine, are not exactly the parents every child would dream of. George is extremely timid and allows himself to be bullied by his boss, Biff Tannen, who also happened to be the old high school bully. Lorraine lacks the passion to do much of anything and is hooked on alcohol. But at least they got married and had three kids.

Marty winds up traveling back in time and inadvertently prevents his parents from ever meeting. When Marty sees George about to get hit by a car in the street he pushes him out of the way. Unfortunately, it was Lorraine’s father driving the car. In the old timeline he hit George, George met Lorraine, they kissed each other at the school dance and fell in love. Now Lorraine’s father hit Marty instead, and that one small change made all the difference. Marty’s very existence was in jeopardy because his parents never met and Lorraine was falling for him! It may seem like a small change at first, but when one consequence builds on another, the end result down the line is drastically different.

Marty does end up getting his parents to kiss each other at the dance and get things “back on track”, but George had to stand up to Biff in the process. Even that small change has vast consequences down the line. Now, back in present day, George is much more authoritative, and Biff is the timid one. Lorraine has taken much better care of herself and has her own self-confidence.

What was true for Marty McFly is true for any logical argument as well. When we make a small shift in our starting point, our two positions may not seem too far apart. But when you start following the logical outworkings of those positions we get further and further away from each other.

If anyone feels like sharing how they would illustrate this point, please feel free to chime in. God bless.