Book Review: Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms by Matthias Roberts

Published on Goodreads Wednesday, 15 January 2020 at Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms by Matthias Roberts.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are certain book titles I fall in love with. In fact, I tend to fall in love with good book titles to the extent that I will often buy a book for its title, if not exactly for its cover. The types of titles I find hardest to resist are those titles which strike a chord in my heart—or a nerve. I am a sucker for a title which resonates with and promises to help me navigate deep emotional states which make me uncomfortable or hinder my enjoyment of living my life to the full. _Beyond Shame was one of those books for me, especially with such a promising subtitle as “creating a healthy sex life on your own terms.” And even though some of these books sit on the shelf where I can use their titles as a reminder of values I want to incorporate into my life, I’m glad I had the opportunity to look beyond the title and experience the wisdom inside the covers of this book.

I must state, for the record, that I received an advance reader’s copy of this work for free, but I must also reveal that I pre-ordered the book before I knew a free copy would be arriving. So I suspected this book was worth buying—and I was glad to see that my impulse to get this book as soon as possible was absolutely correct!

Beyond Shame is divided into three parts, the first devoted to the three ways Roberts proposes people cope with sex and shame, the second devoted to lies about sex and sexuality and the third devoted to paradoxes inherent in sex and sexuality. At the end of the book, Roberts offers us a road map for working through feelings of shame.

According to Roberts, one can approach shame from an attitude of “shamefulness,” “shamelessness” and what he calls “autopilot.” Shamefulness is characterized by being driven by shame into both an avoidance of sexuality and sometimes into a cycle of clandestine sexual activity which leaves the participant feeling even greater shame. Shamelessness is characterized by avoiding and suppressing shame to the extent that one acts like it doesn’t exist. Through case studies and examples, Roberts attempts to make a point that none of these approaches are optimal, even though I suspect that all but a very few readers will see themselves as avoiding one of these three traps.

The way out of these three pitfalls Roberts seems to suggest, is first facing and moving past what he calls the “lies we tell about sex and shame” (53). These lies include “the Bible is clear” about sex and shame, “God invented patriarchy” and “Queerness is sinful.” While avoiding a detailed theological discussion debunking these claims (Roberts does provide several lists of resources for those wanting to explore the particulars of such specialized controversies as the debate about what the Bible has to say about sexuality, homosexuality, and gender, perspectives by women on purity culture, and how to work with shame, sexual shame and self-compassion.) he shows us a way to consider how biblical and theological traditions can be interpreted to create a positive sexual ethic, one that enhances our lives, spiritually and otherwise, and minimizes harm.

Roberts also sees a way forward by grappling with four paradoxes about sex: (1) Sex is healthy and risky, (2) sex makes us vulnerable, (3) sex requires safety and safety is not guaranteed, and (4) we will get things wrong. In facing these four paradoxes and resolving their seeming contradictions, Roberts encourages us to look at the potentials for sex to not only present problems, but to be the very solution to resolving sexual shame in our lives.

Beyond Shame comes to a hopeful and (I would say) sex-positive conclusion. Despite the prevalence of shame in our society, the pervasive and damaging lies about our sexuality that abound, and the challenging paradoxes inherent to sexuality, Roberts believes there is a way out of shame beyond succumbing to it or pretending it doesn’t exist. He insists that by boldly facing our shame, acknowledging it and working through it, that we can participate in and enjoy a healthy sexuality. As he writes in his introduction: “Ultimately, what we’re moving toward is a life lived abundantly beyond shame. Instead of covering our eyes and hiding from everything sexual, we will learn to stop turning away from our bodies, our sexuality, and our feelings, and turn toward knowing ourselves and finding freedom.” (13)

Roberts has written an incredibly useful book, one that begins a conversation that needs to be had in society, in the church, among our friends, and—most importantly—with ourselves. Although I can’t deny that the whole book had a whiff of vanilla in terms of the possible breadth and depth of legitimate human sexual experiences, the theoretical and therapeutic framework Roberts constructs is a useful tool in having that conversation in a way that is affirming of life, of sexuality, of ourselves.

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Book Review: Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms by Matthias Roberts

Preparing for the death of my beloved aunt

Photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash

I have much to do, I think, in preparing for the death of my aunt. I don’t have a lot of time. God willing, I have all the time I need. I have squandered enough time, however, that I can’t get back and so I need to look forward, into the near future, towards what time I have. I almost can’t wait to tell Aunt Jeanne that I played piano in church on Sunday. She paid for my piano lessons and for the longest time I practiced on her piano in the living room. I remember being embarrassed as I played in the summer with the windows open, the sound wafting up and down the street, mistakes and all. I remember her sitting me down and asking if I was serious about piano. She explained that she was spending a significant amount of money on it and didn’t want to continue if I wasn’t serious about continuing. I guess I convinced her I was serious; the piano lessons continued. And boy was I serious. I spent a lot of time at the piano, playing with harmonies, later writing songs. Songs I would record in college. Songs that were of more interest to me than my studies in Biology. The songs are gone, now, but I grew from making them. And it was all due to the gift of music given to me by my aunt.

Thank you for your time and attention. Unless otherwise noted the contents of this website are © 2018-2020 Jon Carl Lewis. You can get in touch with me at joncarllewis@gmail.com. May God richly bless you on your journey.

Preparing for the death of my beloved aunt

Learning to trust the creative process

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

I will someday learn to trust the creative process. That might mean that I might come to trust that there is a creative force which my ego cannot control but which stands at the ready to swoop in and work with me if I manage to quiet my ego enough to let it happen. Because the ego is the thing that fears. Ram Dass suggested in an interview in the New York Times Magazine that it is only the ego that fears death, the soul lives forever. Likewise, the ego wants the fruits of creativity, it wants to take credit after the book is published, the performance is over, the film is wrapped, but to take a step back and let another entity possess one long enough to actually create… well, that is not at all something the ego likes to do. but to be creative, one must let go of control. One must let go of control on a regular basis. One must practice letting go of control. Just like spiritual growth requires the regular practice of asking the ego to step aside, creativity needs room to work. And our egos always take up too much room. But here is a promise to the ego: if you step aside on a regular basis to allow the spirit some space, you’ll get to take some of the credit for allowing something beautiful and transcendent to happen.

Thank you for your time and attention. Unless otherwise noted the contents of this website are © 2018-2020 Jon Carl Lewis. You can get in touch with me at joncarllewis@gmail.com. May God richly bless you on your journey.

Learning to trust the creative process

On digesting what I read

Photo by Danny on Unsplash

I find that reading articles online is both a blessing and a curse. I learn so much from the things I read online, about the world, about my craft, and about myself, but I often feel I am taking in information too quickly to process it all. It feels like taking a sip from a firehose. I want to be more mindful about how I consume information. I want to be able to take the time. Actually I am able to take the time to digest what I read before moving on to the next piece of mental candy. I must allow myself time to digest. And I digest by writing. I love reading articles on Medium.com because it allows me, encourages me to not only read great writing but to respond directly to the author of the piece in coherent thoughts. It creates connection and allows me to reflect meaningfully on what I gained from the exercise of reading someone’s work. Now to exercise this discipline of reflection when I read pieces where I do not have the encouragement nor the opportunity to speak directly to the author and tell them what I learned.

Thank you for your time and attention. Unless otherwise noted the contents of this website are © 2018-2020 Jon Carl Lewis. You can get in touch with me at joncarllewis@gmail.com. May God richly bless you on your journey.

On digesting what I read

A Spirituality in Motion

Photo by Jayden Brand on Unsplash

I have a spirituality that flourishes in the context of motion. Not only does my body love tai chi, my soul does too, as evidenced by the feeling I have that my ego manages to take a backset while I am learning something totally new, something about which I am totally ignorant. But there are other ways that motion informs my spirituality. I used to have a walking meditation practice that I really enjoyed and really helped me feel grounded and centered. And I find that typing on a keyboard is also a meditative activity, even though the only motion is my fingers and, maybe, my wrists. There is a rhythm to all of my moving activities, and I think it is rhythm that allows my ego to step aside and let my soul feel its way into presence, consciousness, growth. I love when I get into a rhythm of typing. It especially helps if there is piano music in the background. Or harpsichord. I get to imagine I am playing an instrument as I type along to the motion of the fingers of the performer I’m listening to. And it takes me somewhere. Somewhere ecstatic.

Thank you for your time and attention. Unless otherwise noted the contents of this website are © 2018-2020 Jon Carl Lewis. You can get in touch with me at joncarllewis@gmail.com. May God richly bless you on your journey.

A Spirituality in Motion

Moving past a church of “Us vs. Them”

This morning I listened to a podcast, Newsworthy with Norsworthy, where Luke Norsworthy was interviewing David Fitch, author of The Church of Us vs. Them. Norsworthy was maddeningly frustrating as usual with his banter about football’s supremacy over ice hockey and Texas over Canada and certain baseball teams over others. However, when Fitch could get a word in edgewise, he had some interesting things to say.

I’m glad I listened to the podcast—I’m glad I listen to Newsworthy with Norsworthy—it provides me a different, mostly intelligent perspective on issues facing the church and the body of Christ as it interfaces with contemporary culture. I don’t always agree with the guests, especially on issues of sexuality, but I almost always find some wisdom in what they have to say.

David Fitch, author of The Church of Us vs. Them from lukenorsworthy.com.

Fitch was a guest with which I disagreed on his “traditionalist” stance on homosexuality, but what he was saying about how a church body can come together to make decisions on hot topic “issues” was interesting. Fitch maintains that people are quick to adopt identities that tend to get in the way of dialogue by making people of a certain identity fight another identity for power. He decries the impulse to win. Of course, this takes a swipe at identity politics as a valid endeavor, but I like his alternative a little: heart-to-heart, face-to-face conversations with those people who are affected. Dialogue before determining doctrine.

Of course, what Fitch seems not to be mindful of is the decades of dialogue that have been going on around issues of sexuality and the fact that churches have been painfully slow in having the dialogue, and have used calls for dialogue as a delaying tactic when people’s lives have been at stake, but if he believes this in dialogue in good faith, I can go along with that. I will, again say that much dialogue has been entertained or issue of sexuality would never have come to the forefront. It’s not like people who affirm a diversity of sexualities and genders and family arrangements woke up overnight in power and started passing edicts to be affirming all of a sudden! Plus, there is the aspect of real harm being done to real people in real time with things existing as they are. It reminds me of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s, teachings about the questionable role of the moderate stance in the civil rights struggle. Perhaps the solution is a both-and.

But more dialogue can’t hurt so long as it is not used as a delaying tactic to forestall any change—and so long as hurting people quickly get the succor they need.

What do you think? I’d like to hear your thoughts on how these ideas might be applied to other differences among the body of Christ (or in our body politic).

Thank you for your time and attention. Unless otherwise noted the contents of this website are © 2018-2020 Jon Carl Lewis. You can get in touch with me at joncarllewis@gmail.com. May God richly bless you on your journey.

Moving past a church of “Us vs. Them”

My timer is my best writing buddy

Photo by Veri Ivanova on Unsplash

OK. I’ve officially started the day. Not when I got up. Not when I had breakfast. Not even when I powered up the computer. The day started when I set my timer for twenty minutes which was my signal to start keeping track of what I was doing. And to start typing. I don’t know why my timer is so good for me that way. I have frittered away whole days where I had nothing to do—or, at least, nothing scheduled—except work when I have ended up doing nothing. But I have found that if I set my timer for twenty-minute increments, I can get instantly focused and get a lot done. So, what’s the take-home lesson from that? I need to be mindful about when I start my timer. It’s also usually around this time, 11:47, that I “wake up” and start doing stuff. Should I just take this as information that this is when I get started every day? Or can I “hack” my brain into starting earlier if I set my timer earlier? Experimentation will tell. I can try tomorrow setting my timer early, before I have to leave for work, and see what happens.

Wish me luck!

My timer is my best writing buddy