Book Review: At the Center of All Beauty by Fenton Johnson

At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative LifeAt the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life by Fenton Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fenton Johnson in rich, beautiful language has crafted a wonderful exploration of the “solitary” life which, as he demonstrates, can take many forms and shapes but relies on a person’s answering of an unwavering call to beauty, truth and love for all people and all creation. Johnson lays out an expansive vision of what it means to live as to oneself, even in the midst of relationships and society. I found this work to be incredibly affirming and freeing for my spirit, which thrives in solitude even as I manage a complex network of relationships in my external life. This work nourished my creative soul and showed me a path to my best life.

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Book Review: At the Center of All Beauty by Fenton Johnson

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

Faith seeking understanding #076: Coming face to face with yourself

Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.

Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Sometimes, all it takes
Is rounding a corner
To come face-to-face with yourself,
Face to face with your future,
Face to face with your potentials,
Face to face with your truest self.

And you realize
That you’ve been there all along
Waiting for you to drop the mask
And discover yourself anew.

Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
Please comment, below, or email me at joncarllewis@gmail.com.
May God richly bless you on your journey.

Faith seeking understanding #076: Coming face to face with yourself

Faith seeking understanding #075: A return, a recommittal, a new resolve

Photo by Taylor Nicole on Unsplash

Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.

Folks who follow me may be surprised to see that I’m writing reflections again under the title of “Faith seeking understanding.” Although I swore off the series and thought I was bringing it to a close in #072: “Goodbye to “Faith seeking understanding”? I couldn’t envision an umbrella for another series that “felt” as right as this one.

Continue reading “Faith seeking understanding #075: A return, a recommittal, a new resolve”
Faith seeking understanding #075: A return, a recommittal, a new resolve

Faith seeking understanding #074: Give me success… but not yet!

Photo by Ian Kim on Unsplash

“Nothing succeeds like success.”

This is what we are led to believe by Sir Arthur Helps, who wrote these words in his book Realmah, published in 1868. For a long time, I had been inclined to agree with this sentiment. Then a minor success happened to me, and it really shut me down.

Continue reading “Faith seeking understanding #074: Give me success… but not yet!”
Faith seeking understanding #074: Give me success… but not yet!

Faith seeking understanding: #073: Will my life even matter?

Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

Life is short. I think that’s true for everyone, but especially for some who aren’t “supposed” to die as soon as they do—as if we had a choice or a say in the matter. One of those persons who I don’t believe was “supposed” to die was Rachel Held Evans who died early Saturday morning, 04 May 2019. She had fallen ill with the flu, had a very bad reaction to the antibiotics she had been given, was placed in a medically-induced coma, and didn’t survive being brought out of it. She leaves behind a husband, Dan, and two daughters, aged three- and almost one-year old. She was 37.

Continue reading “Faith seeking understanding: #073: Will my life even matter?”
Faith seeking understanding: #073: Will my life even matter?

Day 001/100. An introduction to me: a queer/gay, Black, Christian intellectual writer… and the limitations of identity

Jon Carl Lewis. Photo by Cie Stroud. May 2016.
Jon Carl Lewis. Photo by Cie Stroud. May 2016.

Please allow me to introduce myself at the beginning of this hundred-day undertaking: my name is Jon Carl Lewis, and I identify as a queer/gay, Black, Christian, intellectual writer. I am cisgender and my pronouns are he/him/his. At the time of this writing I am approaching my mid-fifties and sort of smugly glad I haven’t reached the exact midpoint of that decade (I tell myself I have things I need to accomplish before then). I am transitioning spiritually from the first half of life to the second half of life, and I hope I’m doing it gracefully (see Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life).

Continue reading “Day 001/100. An introduction to me: a queer/gay, Black, Christian intellectual writer… and the limitations of identity”
Day 001/100. An introduction to me: a queer/gay, Black, Christian intellectual writer… and the limitations of identity