More Than Objects

More Than Objects

Anyone whose lived in Florida for long, and traveled on I-75, will recognize the billboard pictured above.  Though the signs have been changed, the billboards, like the one above, adorned the Interstate for years and years.  I’ve passed those billboards countless times.

I assume the photos imply beautiful women can be seen – without their clothes, of course – at Cafe Risque.  Perhaps the photos were even meant to imply THESE women can be seen – without their clothes, of course.

I recall looking at those signs, wondering about the photos.  Did the women actually work at Cafe Risque?  Were the women paid for the photos?  I wondered about their families.  Had their parents seen those billboards and looked at their photos?  If so, did they care?  As a father, of a daughter I adore, I can’t imagine the heartbreak I would feel to see her beautiful face on that billboard.

Whoever these women are, and however their photos were procured, they’re someone’s daughter, someone’s sister.  They might be someone’s mother.  They have stories.  They have histories.  They have talents and abilities.  They have strengths and weaknesses.  They have qualities and flaws. They have personalities.  They have likes and dislikes.  They have potential.  They have lives.

As beautiful as they are, their physical beauty – their sexual allure – is only one dimension of who they are.  They aren’t objects, existing only for men’s pleasure and stimulation.

Did I mention that they were made in the image and likeness of God?

Some might assume they chose to be photographed, or chose to be strippers.  Maybe so.  Maybe they like their job.  Or, maybe, they were never told they’re more than their beauty.  Maybe no one every told them they’re more than objects.  Maybe they’re desperate to earn a living, and didn’t know they had other options.

Though obviously different, there’s been a recent tidal wave of accusations of varying degrees of sexually inappropriate conduct – men behaving very badly.  Accusations range from offensive joking, to lewd comments, to inappropriate touching, to unwelcomed/unwanted advances and propositions, to indecent exposure, to physical intimidation, to threats, to physical assault and rape.  Story, after story, after story of men treating women (and, sometimes, men) as little more than objects to fulfill their sexual desires.

And, the men accused are among our most culturally admired – entertainers, journalists, elected public servants, business moguls.  Educated.  Successful.  Famous.  Cultured.  Respected.  Professional.  I have admired some of these men.

But, behind closed doors, these men revealed who they actually are.

So, what’s the connection between inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace and photos on Cafe Risque billboards?  Both objectify women.  Let’s be honest – strip clubs don’t exist because women want to dance naked.  Strip clubs exist to entertain men.  The issue is the same – men assuming others exist to fulfill their sexual desires.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sexual attraction is normal.  Sex, between mutually-consenting, committed, covenanted adults , is beautiful – godly even.  The human body can be beautiful to see, and exhilarating to touch, when willing shared and freely given.  God made sex as a gift for us – a gift to be cherished, honored and protected.

But, when sex is misused; when sex and sexuality is cheapened and degraded; when sex is imposed, but unwanted; when sex is expected, demanded, or forced; when humans, made in the image of God, are objectified sexually; when sex victimizes; the human toll can be devastating.

The recent wave of accusations reveals a sickness – a sexual sickness – in our society.  Add to these accusations, incidents that will remain unreported.  Add to these accusations the high instances of date rape.  Add to these accusations the epidemic of porn-use.  We have a massive problem.

Though my heart breaks for all of the victims, for what they’ve endured, I celebrate and applaud their bravery coming forward now.  And, I hope, this might be a moment of societal shift.

But, true change will only come when we learn to see and treat people and sexuality with utmost dignity and respect.  EVERY human is a child God.  Physical beauty is to be appreciated and respected, as one dimension of a person.  Sex is a holy gift from God, to be enjoyed AND treated as sacred.

May I be so bold to suggest this is a spiritual issue, needing a spiritual solution?

 

Brutiful

Brutiful

My morning began with a text from a good friend shaken by the shootings in Las Vegas.  At this point, the news reports 58 killed and over 500 injured by a lone gunmen with unknown motives.

Brutal.

Moments ago, I listened to a radio report, saying conditions in Puerto Rico are rapidly deteriorating, and millions of people are suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Brutal.

While trivial by comparison, as I drove, I passed piles of debris awaiting pick-up since Hurricane Irma passed through Florida, nearly a month ago.

Not brutal – at least in my community – but, more signs of destruction.

I know there are three emails in my inbox regarding a young woman who was abducted, brutally raped, and murdered earlier this year.  I haven’t read them, yet.  I will.  But, not yet.  I know the family.  I know the story.  I know the brutality.

Brutal feels like the word of the day.  So much brutality.  Brutality everywhere I look.  Perhaps another word is broken.  So much brokenness.  Brutal and broken.  That’s how the world feels to me today.  Brutal and broken.

Later this evening, I will gather with a cohort preparing to become Spiritual Directors.  Spiritual Directors are companions on the journey, seeking God in prayer.  Inevitably, I have no doubt, we’ll be wrestling with how to find God in the brutality, and how to pray in moments of brokenness.

I’ll confess, I haven’t known what to pray today.  And, thus, I haven’t.

Days like today, I trust in the promise of Romans 8:26-27 (NLT), “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.”

Days like today, I groan more than pray.  Maybe my groans are prayers.  I hope so.  Maybe your groans are prayers.  Maybe the groans arising from Las Vegas and Puerto Rico are prayers.  I think God’s hearing a lot of groaning these days.

I’m also reminded of an expression I learned from Glennon Doyle:”brutiful.”  Glennon says, “Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real.”

Amidst the brutality of today’s events and news, I hear stories of heroic acts in Las Vegas and the generous outpouring of donations for Puerto Rico.  While the dark clouds of brutality obscure the beauty of the day, some beauty remains.  Thank God.  There is a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5, NLT)

I need to be reminded of beauty sometimes.

There is so much that is brutal and broken in this world.  There’s so much brokenness.  So much despair.  Help us, Lord, to never lose sight of the beauty that co-exists with the brutality.  Help us, Lord, never to lose sight of you.

And, when we don’t know what to pray,  hear our groans.