Several Shades of Valentine’s Day

heartI’m not a prude. At least I don’t think I am. I really do believe we are created by a good God who blesses us to delight in our sexuality. But I don’t think it makes me a religious moralist to suggest that when we allow our natural appetites and affections to become egocentric, inordinate and undisciplined, they cease to deliver delight, and begin instead to diminish, demean and destroy everything they hunger after. Again, this is not moralism or religiosity; it is simple, observable fact. Indeed, as our better poets have written:

The best things turned bad are the worst things of all. – Malcolm Guite


Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. – William Shakespeare

We’re now approaching Valentine’s Day, the day we celebrate mutual cherishment, which also happens to border the Christian observance of Lent, which prepares us for Easter—that astonishing display of heightened love:

Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
which my God feels as blood, but I as wine.    
– George Herbert

But my motivation for writing at this point is the media frenzy surrounding the release of the movie 50 Shades of Grey, a story of exploitative domination and sadomasochism to be released on… of all days… Valentines Day.

I don’t imagine I’ll read the book or watch the movie, but today I stumbled on one critic’s alarm at what the movie apparently teaches:

1. If you’re good looking, rich, or successful, you can develop a violent sexual appetite and people will be okay with it.
— Clearly, the movie wouldn’t be received with such gleeful anticipation if the protagonist were a homeless man with missing teeth and questionable hygiene; indeed, the same behaviour would be cast as deviant.

2. Sex is completely for pleasure and all love/romance should be removed from the situation.
— The protagonist makes his “partner” sign a gag order, which also gives him permission to do whatever he wants to her.

3. You can do whatever you want to a woman and she’ll just take it because… she’s a woman.
— He can do whatever he wants to her and she’ll remain strangely magnetized to him.

Is it just me, or does this sound a lot like the Jian Ghomeshi story—Canada’s fallen talk show host whose exploitative behaviour elicited mass outrage and social solidarity with his victims just a few months ago? Perhaps the critic I read has misrepresented, but if not, it strikes me as the height of hypocrisy that a society that so recently found Jian’s “private sexual preferences” repellent, can hardly contain its titillated excitement in anticipation of the equivalent now presented for our entertainment. Indeed, it seems we are a people who have forgotten how to blush.

This Valentine’s Day, besides reflecting gratefully on the marvel my wife Nanci is, and her longsuffering love for me, I’ll also be reflecting on my father, bussing every day to the care home where his wife now lives, just to sit and  “be with”. I’ll be reflecting on the many saints worldwide whose love compels them to serve others rather than to exploit others in order to service themselves. And yes, I’ll likely reflect on Christ, whose love—when I allow myself to lean into it—stirs both wonder and ardour as it simultaneously ennobles me to love others likewise.

It’s not sexy, I know… but neither is 50 Shades of Grey.


This is Love
music and lyrics by Steve Bell
adapted from John 13-17

Father, just before the hour comes
That was set aside to glorify your son
With a glory from before the world began
With a glory given to no other man
Protect the ones you’ve given me to love
I so desire that none of them be lost
They’ve yet to understand the mystery
Why the Son of God would wash another’s feet

But this is not the same
It’s a different thing altogether
This is not the same
It’s a different thing altogether
This is love

My prayer is not for only these alone
But for those who follow after I’m gone
May they understand the love you have for me
As the kind of love that changes everything
They argue who will sit next to the throne
I cringe to hear them say “Thy kingdom come”
They think they know what they’re getting into
But we both know that they haven’t got a clue…

‘Cause this is not the same
It’s a different thing altogether
This is not the same
It’s a different thing altogether
This is love

Now here’s something that they won’t like
Someone’s coming to take the life
No one has to look farther than me
For I Am He
Some will trust in the things they think they know
They should think again and let them go
Put away the sword and get behind
And let me die

This is not the same
It’s a different thing altogether
This is not the same
It’s a better thing altogether
This is love
This is love


This version of This is Love is found on Steve Bell’s 1997 CD Romantics and Mystics which can be previewed and purchased here:…and-mystics-album/

An alternate version, recorded with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra can be found on Steve’s CD Symphony Sessions, which can be previewed and purchased here:…ny-sessions-album/

Read more at: THIS IS LOVE: A Race To The Bottom

11 thoughts on “Several Shades of Valentine’s Day

  1. Thanks, Steve. I’ve been thinking along similar lines. Thanks for making the time to craft a well-worded response.

  2. Thanks, Steve, for thinking deeply about this topic. I’ve shared it on our church Facebook page. It’s a small group but perhaps there will be other sharing.

  3. It’s as though you were listening to the conversation my husband and I were just having….you’ve described EXACTLY what we are both feeling. WOW!!! Thank you Steve for being so brilliant, so brave, so articulate, so insightful….we are encouraged and blessed by your words. Hope it’s ok for me to share on facebook…I don’t usually post things but I want my world to hear what I am feeling, and you’ve described it so well.

  4. Kathi, it could not have been expressed better. It is most encouraging that people like Steve Bell vocalize what many of us think and feel.
    Thank you Steve for holding up a mirror to us, our hypocritical society that is on the one hand self righteous in its judgement publicly and right next to it, enjoys wholeheartedly what it condemns. Thank you for reminding us what love REALLY is.
    Thank you Kathi for sharing.

  5. Steve…watched your video (wonderful as ever!) and read this blog. I thank God that you, as a genius wordsmith, can say what so many of us are unable to say so lovingly, so succinctly. The world is hurting and my heart breaks for that…looking at simply another addiction to ease that pain that can only be satisfied with Love Himself. Thank you! Thanking God for Nanci. Happy Valentine’s Day to both of you.

  6. For those of you who haven’t read the books, let me enlighten you. This is not a story about sadomasocism or the degradation of women. This is the story of a man who was broken by severe childhood abuse, who, despite his efforts through the use of wealth and power, was not able to overcome his inability to function as an emotionally healthy human being. When surrounded by true undying love, however, he was eventually able to learn to love himself, and others with that same undying true love. Is that kind of love not what Valentines Day all about? Is that not the essence of God at work?

  7. I’ve seen others describe the movie as Paul does in his comments here. In that light, I can see the redemptive aspect. I guess it comes down to “what kind of love is this?”

    Real love that transcends (and should infuse) romantic love?

    Real love – where the rubber hits the road? (re: “my father, bussing every day to the care home where his wife now lives, just to sit and “be with.” )

    Real love – self-donating love as you and Malcolm Guitte have been writing and singing about.

    “I’m not talking ’bout radio love” that Gord Johnson sang about?

    I haven’t seen the movie yet — don’t know if I will but in the meantime — funniest comment yet: “Bondage is getting much easier as we age. We used to need blind folds, but now we just hide our glasses.”

  8. Steve you said it the best!!! WOW what CRAZYNESS!!! Lord Jesus HELP US!!! Blessings to you Nanci, Family And Staff Family!! Photos will show up at your studeo for Faye to give to you for the “MEMORIE BOOK” soon I hope! Love Glynis & Fam xoxo

  9. HI Steve,

    Thanks for writing this! Some of the same thoughts I had around Valentine’s Day with the hype about the movie and on the eve of Jian’s Ghomeshi’s scandal. It was good to have it spoken so clearly here. You are a man that speaks the truth, sometimes hard, sometimes good but needs to be spoken. You are a prophet of sorts! Thanks again for your reflection. Aisha

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