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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Sex God By Rob Bell
Book Discussion

Rob Bell takes a holistic view of sexuality, understanding it primarily as the longing and expression of connection, rather than merely physical sexual drives and acts. He writes:" Our sexuality is all of the ways we strive for connection with our world, with each other, and with God" (p 42) Seeing marriage as a beautiful and healthy, but temporary and unnecessary manifestation of this connection and a special picture the ultimate union between people and God, Bell emphasizes the importance of regarding whole persons, both with their spiritual and physical dimensions with respect and value as precious human beings worth dying; persons we need to honor with self-giving love rather than degrading with self-gratifying, anti-human consumption. There are so many places we can take this discussion, and I hope the conversation opens up into many areas. Here are a few quotes and questions to kick us off.

1. Rob quotes his wife's definition of sexy as this: "Sexy is when it feels good to be in your own skin. Your body feels right. It feels comfortable. Sexy is when you love being you." (p 46)

What is your reaction to this definition? How is it different than the beliefs about "sexy" you grew up with? How is it different from what our culture conveys about being sexy?

2. On page 76, Bell writes, "Addictions rob people of their appreciation of things." How have you experienced this phenomenon in your own life? What is your current relationship with addiction?

3. On page 79 Bell has an excellent list of questions to ask oneself in the face of temptation. Choose an area of temptation, or addiction and apply this list to yourself, inviting God into the journey. If you feel comfortable, share your experience of the process.

4. Bell notes the source of lust as a lack of gratitude and contentment leading to the lie that, "If I just..." Bell goes on, "The 'if' means we have become attached to the idea that we are missing something and that we can be satisfied by whatever it is we have in our sights. There's a hole, a space, a gap, and we're on the search. And we may not even realize it. When we are in the right place, the right space -- content and at peace -- we aren't on the search, and our radar gets turned off." (p 73)

How can we cultivate contentment, joy and peace in our lives just as they are? How can believers help on another let go of comparing and and start loving and enjoying the lives and gifts we have?

5. Rob often applies gender stereotypes to the book, titled one chapter, "She ran to the bathroom," and referring repeatedly to "She's worth dying for," or presuming the reader is a female, as in, "But you don't have to give yourself away to earn a man's love" (P 124) in the chapter titled, "worth dying for." Bell's understanding of marriage as complementarian/egalitarian also seems a little fuzzy. Did you think Bell came across as sexist or right on?

6. Bell stresses that one can be celibate and be a deeply sexual person, practicing, "universal love," (p 45) and that if anything, Jesus tilt is for being single over being married (p 164) How do you feel about single people (yourself included if applicable)?

7. On page 167 Bell asks, "What happens when everything we need from each other we have in God? What happens in the presence of God when we are everything we were originally created to be?"

What are your thoughts on these questions in light of passages in genesis that state that "male and female he made them in his image" and "it was not good that man was alone" even before there was a rupture in God-human relationship in the biblical narrative?

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posted by Jemila Kwon at 10:03 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 5/15/2007 12:08:00 PM, Blogger medium guy

    Awesome commentary and discussion starter - makes me want to read the book!

    On the addiction note, an insight that just came to me is about one of the characteristics of addiction is the power of something that creates something of a relationship of servitude to it. I'm particularly curious to understand those accounts of miraculous addiction breaking, sometimes ascribed to God and sometimes not, and how the aftermath can either lead to increased compassion for others and empowering to call, or relapse, or sometimes both concurrently...

  • At 5/15/2007 08:57:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    1. I just absolutely love this definition of sexy. I grew up being taught that sexy is distasteful and negative. It seems like our culture's message is that sexy is about what the eyes take in, power, manipulation -- a sensory/psychological game. I am glad to finally have a way of embracing sexy without becoming ensnared in the addiction of living up to cultural images and expecations of sexiness or putting on an act to get some commodity, whether attention or affection or something else.

    2.I have begun to notice how I can do anything in an "addictive" way -- whether it's eating chocolate, blogging, reading a book, over-plucking my eyebrows or seeking an ego-boost/affirmation; and whenever I do these things out of a feeling of compulsion, I seriously don't enjoy them or savor them, even if the things are fine or even good in and of themselves. By taking note of when I do things from that place, I am beginning sometimes to choose not to do the behavior because I know I won't fine genuine peace or happiness from it. I try to be gentle with myself, as I've found condemnation only makes addiction worse, whereas compassionate observation seems to loosen the grip of compulsion. When I am able to eat slowly, or postpone chocolate for a time I can savor it, or let myself off teh hook for not reading enough/doing enough/being a perfect parent etc, I find contentment in the moment, whether eating the chocolate or not eating the chocolate. Living in freedom is a lifelong journey!

  • At 5/16/2007 03:37:00 PM, Blogger Lori

    Jemila, thanks so much for starting us off. This book was great fun to read, and brought up some lively conversations here at home when my husband read it, too.

    A question I have for you, and for anyone else who cares to dive in, stems from Rob's basic assumption that sex is about something else (i.e., connection). While I'm sympathetic to that perspective, and there's certainly truth in it, it seems that perhaps it undervalues the earthiness of our humanity. Is it also possible that sometimes, sex is "just" sex?

  • At 5/16/2007 04:09:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I borrowed the book from the library (first fresh copy!) and now my step-mom has it. So unfortunately I don't have the copy in front of me.

    My opinion of this book is that it was pretty good, but I think I had a certain expectation about what it contained. Especially from reading the chapter titles. I think due to that I was a little disappointed, because I thought it was going to hit other things. However, that is my own problem! LOL

    In general, I still found some places that I really liked. I don't remember what chapter it was in, but I liked the description of Agape love within a relationship. Where the "submissive" passages have been completely misused in the past (and in some places still), I liked his discussion about Agape love, and that it describes Godly love and within the context of a relationship.

    I also liked the definition of sexy. I do think our culture defines sexy as typically a physical trait, but hopefully in time that will evolve to include everything about a person.

    As for addictions, I agree with Jemila. I too can take almost anything to the extreme. I think part of it is cultural. We are a driven society. We want to accomplish, learn, compete, raise the best kids etc. Making it hard sometime to stop and "enjoy" the little things in life. I do agree that addictions rob us of the "enjoyment". We all have some "battle" of addiction. Some are more detrimental than others, but they all affect us negatively.

    In response to Lori...good question. I am not sure "sex can just be sex". I do believe in the
    "deep connection". I will confess here...I have had "just sex" in my lifetime. I also walked away thinking it was just fine. However, I think it still affects a person in some way. Maybe not at the time, but later down the road. I know that even within my marriage, it is hard to "just have sex". If my husband and I have a "rough" patch, it is not the same. I find many times, I don't even want to have sex, unless I feel emotionally connected. Maybe it is different for men? Many try to say that, but from speaking from a women's side, I think it affects us. I have also observed many friends over time. Those that "just had sex", don't seem to have the same level of intimacy in general in their lives, nor the satifaction. I think for myself, even those moments have come back to haunt me. I realize that they were either low moments in my confidence, or really selfish times in my life.

    My two cents! (or more Ha)

  • At 5/16/2007 09:26:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Great question Lori. My response is yes and no. One thing I would like to point out is that marriage is no promise of intimacy during sex. I waited until marriage for sex, and in my first marriage, sex was largely some combination of toxic and purely physical. Yet I think the lack of (healthy) intimacy and presence of toxicity damaged me much more because of the inherent vulnerability of sex than if we had had a toxic-but-celibate marriage.

    In my healthy marriage currently my experience is that sex is analagous to saying, "I love you." Sometimes you say it in a rush on the way out the door and sometimes you say it with profoundly soulful eye contact, but either it speaks to an underlying relationship, connection and commitment.

    And then there's the purely physical urges that most people experience. I have no problem with people who care about and respect each other having passionate, urgent sex that doesn't involve candle light dinners or tons of foreplay, but I personally think that if it's really JUST physical, masturbation is better than involving someone else most of the time; otherwise if there's NO caring-honoring-connection, it seems kind of dehumanizing to me, esp if it's habitual.

    Michele L, I agree, the book was somewhat of a disappointment to me as well. It seemed more like a sermon than a book delving deeply into exploring into the sexual-spiritual connection.
    I still found the stuff on addiction and the definition of "sexy" inspiring and spiritually nutritious.

  • At 5/16/2007 10:30:00 PM, Blogger Candace

    While not an official member of your beautiful blog...I do lurk quite a bit and wanted to quickly comment on this discussion!

    I have not read the book, but loved the quote pertaining to the definition of "sexy." It quitely parallels the exquisite voice of Maya Angelou in the poem "Phenomenal Woman."


    As women, we should all strive for the certainty of being able to feel "comfortable in our own skin" and sexuality.

  • At 5/17/2007 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Lori - one of my biggest issues with the book was his assertion that sex is just about connection. I personally sex as being about a lot of things and am very wary when anyone tries to define it as just one thing (see all the trouble lately as evangelicals move to claim that sex is only about procreation). I also was uneasy with how he assumed that anyone having sex outside of marriage has no connection and is doing it only for the animal physicality of it. That seems to fall prey to the necessary language of abstinence only campaigns. I think there is something good about marriage, but it isn't a magic wand promising intimate connection. So while sex can sometimes just be intended as a physical act, it is often that and much more. Imho, a healthy perspective on sex allows it to be multiple things.

  • At 5/17/2007 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Candace...keep sharing! ;)

    Julie I agree about taking a "distinct" position. Sex before marriage is a tough one. Obviously, I was raised that it was wrong, and would completely damage a relationship.

    Due to other problems, sex before marriage did happen in my life, and at a very young age (which I think had it's own affects!). However, my husband and I dated for 7 years before we were married. All of which we were having sex. I don't feel we "didn't" have a connection at all. As a matter of fact, most of the time the guilt was over "hiding" such a fact. At that time in my life, that was probably one of the only "real" connected relationships I had.

    Over the years, that "connection" has continued to grow. I felt shame and judgement for years over "how God felt about it". My positions have changed some. I am not so sure that it's absolute. I do believe that pyschologically having many partner's, or not respecting one's self etc., can have great impacts on us, but I just don't believe in many things now.

    I had been told that "sex before marriage" would do damage in the long run. Actually, I think it was one of the things that has kept us going and committed (not necessarily the before marriage part...but our sexual connection in general).

    I think commitment is where the sex should lay. Even in the context of "married", there are many people who feel that they are "committed" in the eyes of God, but didn't necessarily go through the "ceremony" etc. Many of those have very committed, lasting relationships.

  • At 5/17/2007 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Kimberly

    Interesting conversation so far…I was hoping for a little more depth in this book, but came away with a few good nuggets. One of the thoughts I had stemmed from Ch 5 specifically pg 98: “Love is a giving away of power”, “Love is a giving away”, and “Love is giving up control”. Personal sacrifice was made much of in the conservative circles I grew up in, but I have watched a couple of my friends marriages break up because they gave and gave (both physically and emotionally) to spouses who did not give in return. In the end, they lost themselves, risking in the name of sacrificial “Christian” love with very painful consequences. I understand that love does involve risk and sacrifice, but I am wary of the “keep giving” mentality as love is meant to be reciprocated. True wholeness seems to come as we learn what it means to love our neighbor as well as ourselves. There is a connection (sexually?) there that is not really addressed in the book. The love we have for ourselves is so often linked with selfishness or pop psychology, its sometimes difficult to navigate a healthy understanding of what that means in a marriage…or otherwise.

  • At 5/17/2007 04:49:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I agree Rob Bell seemed to make a leap of saying or inferring that any sex outside of marriage is not about true love and connection or a giving to another, and that all premarital sex is inherently exploitive. I was at least glad that Bell didn't focus on a message AGAINST premarital sex, but emphasized his understanding of sex as connection and his sense of this within marriage.

    My feeling about premarital sex is this: if you make a habit of having mindless, heartless animal sex (ie hooking up) as a way of life, I think it can desensitize and fragment a person; on the otherhand, if you make love with someone who you are in love with and care deeply for, but don't end up marrying, the odds are pretty good your future spouse will have some jealousy to work out or learn to live with graciously. That being said, I don't think it's a black or white issue.

    Personally I think it's better to have premarital sex than to have premature marriage to avoid premarital sex.

    I am one of those "married in God's eyes" people myself, so it won't be a surprise to learn that I don't feel Uncle Sam is ultimately the validator of the love and commitment shared between two people.

  • At 5/17/2007 04:55:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Kimberly, I resonate with your point.
    Self-love, other-love and a balance between sefless giving and replenishing self are not truly mutually exclusive. Sometimes TRUE LOVE is saying, "I can't do this." Or "I need to do this." Or leaving a bad situation that isn't healthy or loving for either person in the long run.

    Just ask my ex husband. He will tell you our divorce was the best thing for both of us, and we have been able to show each other much better Christian love since I set boundaries with him, including leaving the abusive marriage, which led him to get help and has resulted in our ability to get along quite well and help each other out with our lives in a caring and respectful way.

  • At 5/18/2007 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Sally

    good questions, I really like those thoughts on what being sexy is- but wonder how many of us are ever comfortable in our own skin!

  • At 5/18/2007 11:58:00 AM, Blogger Lydia

    Unfortunately, I haven't read the book yet - the library doesn't carry it, and I have yet to find it at the bookstores I frequent most often...I'll keep looking, though. :)

    But I can answer the OP's questions about Rob Bell's definition of the word sexy.

    My reaction to it was mixed. One the one hand, it's a very positive, inclusive definition. And I like that about it.

    On the other hand, I grew up in a church environment that definitely did not encourage us to be "sexy," as "sexy" was all but a synonym for promiscuity in that culture.

    So, I don't know. Guess I still have a ways to go in this area.

  • At 5/18/2007 01:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I have to humbly admit that I tore through this book to learn what RB would say about homosexuality. (If he said anything about it, I missed it.)

    Now, I see the book as something I wish my teenage daughter will read with a small group. Or for other young women/young men. Our culture is so sexually dysfunctional and this book offers such a healthy perspective.

    My take on the book is that he is onto something important -- a whole life/whole body view of sexuality. It's clear that his views have been informed by doing ministry with lots of kinds of people: single, married, married-but-not-happy-about-it, etc.

  • At 5/18/2007 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Kimberly

    I kind of like Rob's wife's definition of sexy. There's a lot to unpack there. I wonder if it has a bit to do with age, wisdom, maturity, etc. I certainly feel more sexy now that I am a year from 40 than I did at 20. I think this is because there seems to be a direct co-relation between our ability to love ourselves and receive love from others, with our ability to then turn around and freely give that love away. The more I take a good hard look at who I am, make peace with the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the more I learn to find myself good company and appreciate my strengths, the more I can do the same for those around me. Once sex (and relationships in general) don't complete me, I am complete as I am, then sex is icing. This makes sense when you check out the cultures view of sex and find that it is more lust (looking for something to complete them) than truly sexy. What this means is that when we're 80 there's going to be some pretty hot booty out there. Just our luck that the body degenerates!

  • At 5/18/2007 07:32:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe


    You are right -- there is often a big discrepancy between what we want to feel/believe and what we actually experience in terms of being comfortable in our own skin, loving being ourselves, in our bodies.

    I think so often women judge each other out of insecurity and this contributes to a catty culture where it's difficult to be accepting of oneself and everyone else, because we are comparing ourselves constantly.

    What would happen if women were not competitive and jealous with each other? How would this help us accept ourselves and each other?

    Kimberly, funny you should mention sex in old age -- I've heard STDs are actually quite a problem among the elderly! Thanks for sharing your journey of self-love and healthy sexiness!

  • At 5/22/2007 09:13:00 AM, Blogger Lori

    I've enjoyed all your comments, especially referencing sexiness in old age. Thanks, too, for a more nuanced rendering of sex as connection. Rob's insights tend to be great--but perhaps would be greater were they tempered just a bit.

    Another question I've been mulling over:

    Why is it that "sexy" is the only word we have to describe "comfortable in my own skin"? Maybe it's old-fashioned of me, but the word itself seems to imply sex--of the specifically erotic sort. It seems to me that our confidence, beauty, and physical "comfortableness" ought to be more broad than narrow, encompassing fitness, health, confidence, etc. Am I simply missing the more current implications of the term? Or is it inherently limiting, confining our physical sense of well-being to our sexual function?

  • At 5/22/2007 12:48:00 PM, Blogger LietoFine

    I really liked that it seemed one of Rob Bell's main points of the book was that sexuality and sex is more than just an act or a body part. Everything we are and everything we do is related to our sexuality. Being "sexy" is part of who we are and we are glorifying God by being the sexual beings that God created us to be. I think it's sad how our culture (especially Christian culture) has tried to separate that into "you should only being sexy in the act of sex" or if you're being sexy you're implying that anyone who sees you wants to have sex with you (or you with them).

    As for Rob's take on the afterlife...that's a real tough one for me. It always has been. It just seems to say that we will somehow be asexual. It's confusing to me that God created us this way, why would this section of us be nullified? But then maybe I'm thinking too much in terms of sex and sexuality as only an act.

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