Friday, April 1, 2011

The Shame of Purity - A Dirty Lie

(I wrote this after we had a guest speaker at church.  I needed to respond to it, because it hit me in such a big way.  I loved writing it, and I realized that all those times I said I hated writing in college, it was because I was forced to.  Maybe the 153 blog posts should have given it away, but I don't hate writing at all!  What a fun and relieving realization...)

Today at my church we had a speaker who basically came to help guide us as a church around the world of pop media. He covered movies, tv, advertising, and games. His name is Ted Baehr (that's a little about him and his "Movieguide" site--worth a look). His talk was very interesting (basically, vote with your dollar. If you like it when a hero is in line with your morals and you want to see more of that, be knowledgeable about films before you see them and encourage industry growth in that direction), but the talk itself is not what I need to talk out with you. It's the "take it home with you" aspect that hit a personal nerve.

I am incredibly blessed to have grown up in a Christian home, with parents who were involved in my life and encouraged good choices. Without their influence, I don't want to know where my sin nature would have taken me. As a kid I wasn't "forbidden" to see things. I was knowledgeably discouraged from watching certain things, but I didn't anxiously await the moment that I was out from their grasp so that I could partake of the forbidden fruit. Why? Because 1) they discouraged certain themes, rather than just discouraging specific shows or movies, 2) they explained why they discouraged what they did, and 3) I knew that they loved me and they were protecting me from things I probably didn't want to see in the first place. This, in my opinion, is brilliant parenting. Granted, folks, I've always been one who desperately sought to follow the rules and receive praise for being "good." There are kids who are rebellious from the moment of birth, and I realize that we are just wired differently. I still hold that all this applies, even if it doesn't look the same in post-processing.

This upbringing meant that I grew up knowing who the Power Rangers were, but I never watched the show. I watched Mr. Rogers (but really I only liked the part when they went into the magical land, or when the guest was a performer). I loved movies like The Wizard of Oz (over and over and over again) and The Little Mermaid. I was still the target audience of Disney movies, Nickelodeon, and ABC Family (which was then actually family friendly) when I was in my teens. My parents knew what I was watching, and that made me feel safe. If my dad was watching a movie and something inappropriate for me to see came on, he would change the channel, look at me and tell me why he did that ("That was not a nice word he was using. We don't say things like that." "They were about to get in a big fight and it's not something you should see." "You don't wanna see all that kissing. That's gross and boys have cooties and you should never go near one ever. Ever, Cole.") That was so important to me, and it stuck with me.

It stuck with me, for better AND for worse. In elementary, jr. high, high school, AND college, I was teased for being naive. I didn't know about salacious topics that my 3rd grade classmates were talking about (not kidding on that one, folks). My most embarrassing story (and a textbook case of bullying the nerdy girl) happened in 6th grade when I didn't know what a sexual term meant, and a classmate heckled me until I had to fess up to my ignorance. I was the college girl who was perceived to be "pure as the driven snow"--a direct quote that a boy used in a derogatory fashion about me. Every time something like that happened, I hated how little I knew about the vulgar, perverse, salacious side of the world. I hated how shielded I was from what everyone else was clearly well-versed in. I saw my naïveté as something to hide, resent, and fight against.

But since when is purity and innocence something to be ashamed of?

No matter how I fought against it, my conscience (encouraged by my upbringing and my growing faith in the Lord) kept whispering to me, "Cole, you may be uncomfortable in this situation, but ultimately innocence is of greater value than your temporary ease in an unimportant social interaction."

Sometimes I could not for the life of me see the truth in that idea, and I read that Cosmo, watched that movie, listened to that girl's story, read that book, and kissed that guy. I sat on whatever guilt emerged and told it that whatever I'd learned was necessary for my social survival. As I got older and learned about more of the "bad" to counteract my upbringing of "good," I did survive in those social interactions. I could talk like all the other girls, even if I hadn't the actual experience that they had (and now I wonder if they were just like me, struggling to display a lifestyle that they didn't lead just for social gratification). I could emerge on the other side of a provocative conversation looking like I was still a "good" girl, but not too good to fit in.

So now I'm a college graduate. I'm 21. I have a job (woo!). I'm an adult (albeit a young one). I've been making my own choices for a long while now. And I have Netflix. I watch whatever movies I want! Sometimes I feel like Singing In the Rain, but sometimes I try watching something more along the lines of That Old Feeling, a goofy comedy starring Bette Midler, or Dorian Gray, the film version of the classic Oscar Wilde novel, or maybe I'll watch an episode of The Tudors, about the history and scandals of Henry VIII.

My conscience is still whispering to me about those movies and shows, though. I keep telling myself that old lie that I'm just uncomfortable watching this because of that ridiculous naive thing that I should still be battling against. This movie has this or that actor in it, or this show is appealing for this or that intellectual reason. But after Dr. Baehr's talk, I turned to my conscience, that same quiet voice that hated That Old Feeling, a comedy that romanticizes infidelity and divorce, the whisper that felt ill at Dorian Gray, which is, in its entirety, all about the salacious and vulgar elements of the world, the voice that quietly ended any interest in The Tudors, the overly sexual show that dresses itself up like a history lesson, much like an inappropriate Halloween costume from last year, and I said sheepishly to my conscience, "Thank you. And you're right."

The truth is, still, that ultimately innocence is of greater value than any worldly entertainment to be drawn from movies or shows like that. Or books or games or even conversations like that. And whether I like to admit it or not (I don’t), I am affected by being exposed to that material. We all are. Some definitely more than others. I didn’t grow up becoming more and more desensitized by sex, violence, drug use, or other unpleasantries. I was guarded from that, at least to some substantial degree, and I wish that everyone in the world had been or could be completely protected from that trash.

In the same breath, though, I must warn that a side effect of being rightfully guarded from bad is the reaction to it that surely must come when the inevitable intersection occurs when the guarded meets exactly what she was being guarded against. Proof that I am as naïve as I pretend not to be is the lasting discomfort that I feel (that I want so desperately to ignore) when I do meet up with situations of perversity. If I was not so inexperienced, surely it wouldn’t concern me, and so admitting the effect is embracing the naïveté, the disgrace that I’ve fought against my whole life! Oh, what turmoil, then, to subject myself to the categorization of “goody too shoes,” the blasted greenness—just imagine the heckling!


Where are the hecklers?

She’s me. My own habit of avoiding innocence is the only thing preventing me from embracing it, for no one and nothing but that habit would now begrudge me of it. What a gut-punch of a realization. As an adult, I’m now comfortable embracing myself for who I am, primarily who I am in Christ! What’s more, my love for Him has made me clean, pure, white, and blameless, like new. I’ve embraced that stiffly for so long—glad for it, but bracing myself against my own training that all of those beautiful qualities are something to hide and be a little ashamed of. Embraced it, yes, because it truly is important to me—I value relationship purity for a reason, I fight for the safety and innocence of children for a reason—but begrudgingly because of the little travel-sized idol that I made way back in elementary school and carried with me through college—the idol of social acceptance.

I declare that now that idol is dead to me. I destroy it. I embrace the purity that Christ has given me, and I will just have to retrain myself by the power of the Holy Spirit to re-value my own innocence in the same way that I value it in others. I am never so tainted that my Father will not love me and clean me, like a loving father would always clean his child who falls in the mud, but I am now going to walk like a child who appreciates that cleanliness and try to avoid the mudpuddles.

(written on 3/27/11)

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