Porn: The Hidden Self

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“And you’re wondering why you felt like you weren’t good enough?” my friend Dave said. “You were literally conditioned to think that way!”

I had just finished telling Dave about an exercise I had been doing for a class on addiction in which I created a timeline of my life. In doing so, I realized that there was a lot of rejection in my younger years. Prior to college, nearly every girl I had been interested in either dumped me after a few weeks, or flat out rejected me from the start.

I hardly dated anyone after that.

It has taken me a while to freely admit it, but one of the deepest roots of my addiction to pornography has been this feeling that I’m not good enough for a real woman.

You see, in middle and high school, I was not the oxen of a man you see today. I was not the “Shirtless Wonder.”

I was a nerd.

A geek.

Whatever label you want to stick on the kid that moved a couple times, went to three high schools and two middle schools, and had a collection of 500 comic books. The kid who had every detail about Middle Earth memorized and longed to become Batman (truth be told, that’s part of the reason I started working out…I guess comic books were good for something.)

After a number of failed relationships (or whatever you call two 9th graders going to a movie), I came to think that the problem was me. That I was the undesirable one.

So I worked to change it.

I chopped my Beatles-era haircut and hit the weights. I bought nicer clothes and dropped the Star Wars t-shirts. I did everything I could think of to change people’s perception of me into a man who was worthy of dating. The problem with these things is that they do nothing to heal the wounded heart of a man.

Dr. Dan Allender says that men today are broken hearted. “Not broken hearted as in sad or full of grief,” he writes. “Instead, we are broken into fragmented selves that are unable to do much other than posture and pretend we are someone whom we know we are not.”

At an early age, my heart was broken into a dozen different pieces. Some of these pieces ventured to the identity of a nerd while others worked at getting into better physical shape. Some tried to earn value in artistry, while other fragments delighted in being the class clown.

All of these “identities” were only parts of a shield, though. Like a turtle shell I could tuck into whenever someone looked my way, while the Real Ethan, the weird, eccentric, tender-hearted self stayed safe inside.

John Eldredge echoed this sentiment when he wrote,

This is every man’s deepest fear: to be exposed, to be found out, to be discovered as an impostor, and not really a man…We are hiding, every last one of us. Well aware that we, too, are not what we were meant to be, desperately afraid of exposure, terrified of being seen for what we are and are not, we have run off into the bushes. We hide in our office, at the gym, behind the newspaper and mostly behind our personality.

The sad thing is, most of us go on living like this and wondering why we feel so severed from our real self. Why there is no peace inside us. Why we feel splintered into so many pieces. Social media doesn’t help because we can look any way we want online.

I maintained the charade for many many years until recently when I decided to do the tough work of examining myself and taking a good, hard, honest look in the mirror. It was like pulling a hermit crab from his protective shell: It was ugly and it snapped and fought like hell against being exposed, because the work of healing is not easy.

Several years ago, I was on the bus in Chicago with a Moody student who was an acquaintance of mine. He began sharing what the Lord was teaching him in that season, and the only part I remember was one line: “The Lord is teaching me that it’s okay to be weak, to be broken.”

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much respect for another human being in my life.

It’s as if he was standing before me as the bus tilted and rocked, holding his palms open to me saying Look, this is me. I’m not that cool. I’m hurt and broken. But God’s cool with that, and I’m learning to be cool with it too.

So I’m attempting to become like that too. It’s incredibly hard for a man to admit that he is weak and broken, but I think that is the first step in healing.

Because women don’t fall in love with how many pounds you can put up on the bench, or that sweet new shirt from H&M. They can’t even love the jokes you make or the intelligence stored in the folds of your brain.

People love other people, not the things they try to wrap around themselves as a disguise.

Learning this is hard, because ever since we got the boot from the Garden of Eden, we’ve been trying to cover ourselves up, trying to look better than we actually are.

Underneath all the fancy fig leaves and one-liners, we are all pretty ugly and weak, but that doesn’t mean we’re unworthy of love. God doesn’t stop chasing you because you woke up with bedhead, or you can’t curl a 5 pounder.

It’s hard to examine myself and see that there are a lot of things I don’t like about myself. But it’s even harder to accept that despite them, God still loves me. And hopefully, there’s a woman out there who will too. But living with a splintered heart and trying to be a dozen men at once is exhausting and will keep us returning to the fire hydrant of porn to try to nourish our broken heart.

My friend Michael Cusick points out that the word “integrity” comes from the word “integer,” meaning whole. A person of integrity is a whole person, not a shapeshifter who modifies themselves to fit the scene.

So may we be a people who give up disguising ourselves and trying to be more impressive than we are.

May we seek wholeness, root ourselves in quietness and peace and know ourselves as we are known by God, recognizing that God loves the weak and the broken; He lifts up those who are low. (Psalm 145)

“But [Jesus] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in my weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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The Fault in Our Stories

 

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Tressa and I, c.a. January, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories we tell.

Or more accurately, the stories we hear. The films we watch and the books we read. And If I were to make a monstrous generalization about modern Hollywood’s ideals, it would be summed up in two words: Happy endings.

I touched on this in a recent post, but wanted to expound on this idea of a ‘one-fight life’. Even the best romantic movies fall prey to this outline of a plot: Meet, flirt, fall in love, roll romantic montage, and here is where the drama sets in. A secret from earlier in the film is revealed, or maybe a trait that she wasn’t supposed to see appears. A battle erupts, but peace is eventually restored and they make out.

Take, for instance, one of my favorite films of all time, Beginners. Realistic as it is, it is heavily laden with artistic takes and romantic whimsy. The film reaches a place where the protagonist unravels years of psychological threads; his noncommittal character breaks down and he leaves his beautiful French girl. Without giving away too much, there is a happy ending. A reunion after their singular conflict. The jazzy piano croons on as the last shot gives way to the credits.

And after the credits roll, the audience is left with this vague good feeling because the conflict has been resolved and in our minds, the two romantic leads continue on in their blissful romantic utopia, never to fight again.

In our optimism, we have adopted this repetitive plot into the liturgy of our lives.

What I mean by liturgy is a repeated action or input into our lives that eventually develops certain rhythms within us. For instance, I used to work in the Chicago Juvenile Detention Center and would always ask the guys about their influences. They talked about characters like Lil’ Wayne, who glorifies getting money above all. Right under money was getting girls and shooting their enemies.

Their liturgy was one that glorified money above all, as well as exalting a lifestyle of violence and self-glorification because they repeatedly put those concepts into their minds via Wayne, Eminem or Chief Keef. A lifetime of this liturgy led them to juvy, because it became the entirety of what they hoped for and worked toward. Their end goal fueled their actions. (Of course this is an oversimplification, but you get the concept of how liturgies affect our lives).

My uncle, a Doctorate in Theology, says that we should never take in media with our brains turned off. Always be aware of what your movies and music are saying. Everyone is always saying something, so learn to recognize how your media is affecting your desires, your actions, and your thoughts. There is no neutral ground. It is either orienting you toward God and His grace, or it is pointing you toward yourself, money, sex, pleasure, et cetera.

We often fail to recognize our own liturgies—repetitive actions or thoughts in our lives—because they are less explicit and cloaked in the innocent spirit of rom-coms and love songs. Even commercials promise that this one simple product will be a quick fix for whatever ailments your life has accrued.

We expect every situation in our lives to be resolved simplistically and offer a permanent solution to whatever ache or conflict we are engaged in because that is what our postmodern liturgy has promised us. Especially as Christians, we often associate coming to faith in Jesus with the elimination of our sins, struggles and conflicts.

I wonder if this is why so many marriages end prematurely: We think that when the first winds of conflict stir, it means there is a problem with the person we have chosen. Or when your porn habit simply will not go away, even though you repeatedly pray to Jesus to take it away, you wonder if you’re really saved.

Because there should be a quick fix and a happy ending, right?

Hardships, trials and conflicts will continue as long as sinful people continue to walk the earth. This is why so much of premarital counseling teaches the prenuptials how to fight, rather than how to avoid fighting.

Because in real life, there is more than one fight.

There are a lot more than one fight.

I once was in Florida and this beautiful couple that must have been hovering around 80 years old invited me to dinner. They were cuter than plums on the porch, and I expected to witness a couple that only said kind words to each other with the gentleness of a baby’s rear end.

Instead, I was privy to an ongoing (hilarious) bicker battle between the loving couple. They were still very much in love with each other, and both knew it, but she yelled at him for getting the wrong flavor of ice cream, and he jabbed back that there was too much sauce on the salad. It went on most of the night in the cutest way possible. Like two puppies wrestling.

I was trying so hard not to laugh out loud.

They had learned how to fight well. They did not expect a one-fight marriage followed by a Pax Romana. Rather, they accepted that they would never agree on everything and engaged in a life together in which conflict was an acquired skill.

This doesn’t just apply to relationships either. I feel like every episode of Modern Family offers some kind of pithy moral throughout the course of the plot, as if life change happens over the course of 21 minutes and endures the rest of our lives.

If my life is any indicator, this is clearly not the case.

Because sin is ongoing. My pride and selfishness are ongoing. My fallen human nature creeps up again and again and I find myself falling into the same pit,

climbing out,

and falling in again.

At the end of his life, well-battered and weathered, Brennan manning sat in a chair in his Kansas home and told a camera crew, “Let yourself be loved by God, as you are and not as you should be, because none of us are as we should be…” After struggling with alcoholism for decades and only finding relief in the arms of a gracious God, Manning found only one cure for the repetitive liturgies sung to us in the smoothest voices from Hollywood and television: the love of God.

Repeatedly returning to God reminds us that there is not one solve-all solution for our brokenness and pain. Creating new rhythms that engage with His Word, His body, and His Spirit are what begin to reorient our lives toward what is true. Maybe this is what Paul meant in Romans 12 when he wrote, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Yes, you will continue to battle the urges to look at porn, or to lose your temper at your husband. These may be lifelong struggles that take years to eradicate, but implementing new rhythms and liturgies into our lives will help us change; they will help us see God in everything as His Spirit works and moves through the mundane and ordinary things in our lives.

May we be a people who integrate holy rhythms into our lives in order to orient our hearts toward God daily.

Not just once.

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Theology as Best I Understand It: Unio Christi

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A few days ago, I got an email from a reader who asked me a simple, yet penetratingly deep theological question. She asked, “If we, as the Church, are the Bride of Christ, and therefore Christ is the groom, does that imply that we are to become one with Christ? And if this is true, what does becoming one with Christ mean?”

At first, I shook my head because after three years of Bible college, preceded by two years with various missions organizations, this language was commonly understood. Of course union with Christ is the central tenet of our Christianity! There is nothing else!

But then I had another realization. That is, not everyone has the benefits I have had of learning everything I have been able to through the various schools I’ve attended, and I need to quit being a pedantic jerk about it.

The very least I can do is begin a series of theological blogs to help share some of the truth I’ve accrued the past several years. They may not rake in the clicks like my posts on porn or singleness, but I really want to create them for the sake of helping people learn more about Christ.

Many people have this notion about Christianity that what we know doesn’t really matter, as long as we love Jesus, but I could not disagree more.

I always recite John 4:24 to people, where Jesus says, “Believers will worship in spirit and in truth.” Truth is not more valuable than the spirit with which we worship, nor vice versa. Having the truth without the spirit is just dry and human effort to connect to abstract facts, but having spirit without truth is how cults are made. It’s running fast on ‘spirit juice,’ but not always in the right direction.

Additionally, in Hosea 4:6, God says that “my people perish for a lack of knowledge.” Evidently, there is ample value given to true knowledge that leads to life and a closer walk with the Lord, and that’s why I will be writing several of these theologically-oriented posts.

May they be beneficial!


For this first one, I want to answer and expand on the great question posed by my reader: Essentially, what is union with Christ?

Not only is this one of the biggest and most overwhelming of theological topics, but it is the root from which nearly all other theological dialogue stems. So I will do my best at a crash course.

I think that in order to begin thinking about how unio Christi plays into our salvation, we need to first think about the nature of God. And how is it that we primarily describe Him? Is it as the eternal? If this is the case, He is very impersonal and cold. As the Creator? With this in mind, He is eternally dependent on His creation.

No, When we think of God’s identity, we must first see Him as a Father from whom all love and good things come. Because when we see Him as a Father, we see Jesus rightly as the Son. (It is worth noting that there is no hierarchy within the Trinity. The Father is not greater, or more God than the Son or the Spirit.)

So, if the Father is eternally loving the Son and giving Him good things, what does that have to do with us?

The Bible uses a lot of familial language to describe aspects of our salvation. We are the Bride of Christ; we are sons of God. By binding ourselves to Christ (through the Holy Spirit), we then become recipients of the Father’s love.

Think of it in human terms: Picture a great, loving father who loves his son. One day, his son is grown and comes home with a girl. They eventually get married and the new daughter-in-law receives all the blessings the son did. By binding herself to the son, the wife is now included in the family and gets all the perks (like the family’s social status, financial blessing, et cetera).

When we are saved by Christ, we are bound to Him in such a way that we become participants in the Father-Child relationship that has existed within the Trinity for all eternity past. This is why the Bible is not an instruction manual, and Christianity is not just a label or a collection of rule-followers.

Christianity is a participation in the greatest relationship in the universe. The Trinity allows for an invitation into this relationship, whereas single-person gods (such as Allah) have no relationship to invite us into. They are lonely for eternity past, where the Trinity has been in loving relationship for as long as they can remember (which is…a long time.)

This helps explain why Allah seems to be more of a harsh judge than a loving entity. A solo god wouldn’t know how to interact with another being, whereas the Trinity has been practicing love for, well, forever. And creation is an overflow of that loving relationship. (Kind of like how a baby is the ‘overflow’ of love between a husband and wife.)

So, is uniting ourselves to Christ important? Well, yes. From it springs all other aspects of our salvation. Picture a spider. The body of the arachnid is our unio Christi and all the legs extending from the center are the other elements of that relationship. Our sanctification is rooted in our bond with Christ. Our justification is rooted in our bond with Christ. And so on.

To be continued!

For more on this, check out One With Christ by Marcus Johnson, as well as Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves; from both I have borrowed heavily.

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I’m a Woman and I Struggle with Porn (Guest Post)

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I’m handing the reins over to my dear friend Jillian today. In fact, I desperately wanted her to write this piece to shed light on the women’s side of struggling with pornography. Jill is a wife, barista and friend who lives in Chicago.     -e

Long before I ever cracked open a Bible, Cosmopolitan Magazine was teaching me right from wrong. I remember buying the magazine with my girlfriends around the age of twelve or thirteen, feeling a little embarrassed and ashamed as we reached the register, but full of excitement for the things we’d find inside. Looking back it felt empowering, even though at that age you don’t really understand it that way. Cosmo was teaching me about things I could do, sexual things that would give me power, and the better I could perform these things, the more I was worth in the eyes of a man. My eyes and heart were shaped by all these things before I ever even had my first kiss.

I remember sitting on my bed and reading my thin magazine ‘bible’ as it gave me all the best websites for soft porn. Porn that was more “girl friendly”, not so rough, you know? I remember a specific Q&A even, where a reader had talked about how she enjoyed lesbian porn more than your typical guy/girl action, and she wanted to know if this made her gay. I remember being relieved by the answer as the sex guru explained that lots of straight women felt more turned on with girl on girl.

I was relieved of course, because I was one of them.

I remember the all-consuming enticement as my brain would start to wander to porn, the primal sensation of lust as it drove me to my computer screen. The longing was so intense that it felt impossible to calm unless it got what it wanted. I can also just as clearly remember the quickness of the drop as my climax came to completion. The weight and the depth of the shame and disgust for myself and for the things on the screen. I remember the quickness of my hands as I’d close out my tabs and delete my history and push my computer far away from me, as if I could just make it all go away. It’s so wild to me how both the overwhelming longing and lust, and the disgust and shame are such natural responses with no invitation. I did not ask for those feelings, it’s as if my emotions led me with no warning, rhyme or reason.

The reason I opened with those stories is in hopes that I am not alone. I started this way, with some extremely personal memory-sharing in a desperate attempt to see if there are more of me. Maybe you have a different story, but you can relate when it comes to the worth associated with your sexuality, the intensity of your emotions and lust as they lead you, and the intense shame that follows you as a woman who has struggled or is struggling with sexual sin. Maybe you have felt dirty, too. Maybe you have felt used and manipulated by your own emotions as they drag you into the fiercest desires and longings of lust, like a fire within you, and then in one fell swoop mock you as you are filled with disgust and shame. The emotions that laugh at your own naked body and dirty mind and cause you to become more self-conscious, untouchable, and alone.

Are you out there, women who have used your bodies in such an intimate, selfish, and distasteful way and are now reaping the consequences of feeling filthy? How have our bodies become this way? And our emotions? Am I the only female asking these sort of questions?

After all, women are not raised like men. We don’t get the porn and masturbation classes in Sunday school. We don’t have female role models openly talking to us about their sexual temptations and fantasies. We as women are the ones who need to dress modestly for the MAN’S lustful mind, right? We can’t experience lust like a man does…or at least that is what we have been seasoned to believe.

So here it goes, I am asking. Am I the only woman who has struggled with sexual sin? Am I the only one who feels weirder, and dirtier, and even more of a sinner because I am a WOMAN who has touched herself and seen incredibly explicit things on the internet?

Of course I’m not.

And this is why I am writing.

I am writing because I believe women and men handle sexual sin differently and because there is very little material about why women struggle with sexual sin and what deep-rooted desires and hurts drive us to it.

I believe that as women we have a deep, ingrained desire for acceptance. Not just acceptance, but for people to breathtakingly, awe-strikingly desire us, our whole person. Our souls and our bodies. We desire to be deeply desired, and we have been lied to and tricked by our culture and our own flesh to think that giving into this lust will somehow make us feel more complete.

You see, this desire is healthy. The desire to be wanted. We were magnificently designed with it. It should not cause us shame. As a woman, you were programmed for desire. As a woman, you were programed for sexual empowerment, and you were programed for connection. You were programed for passion, and sexuality. You were programmed for good, raw, sexy, sex within the proper context of marriage. And you were also—and most importantly—programmed for the admiration your Savior feels toward you.

This is why I am writing.

I am writing for you and for me. I am writing for us and for the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume in Luke 7. And for the other prostitute in Southeast Asia and for the one in your home town. I am writing for the lovely and broken women in those videos I watched online. I’m writing because I want to be clear that Jesus has given these sort of women a special opportunity to weep at His feet as He tells you how crazy He is about you.

I am writing because I know the self-hate that goes along with these types of sins and I know how ashamed you can feel. And most of all, I know that this type of failure and wreckage is exactly what drives us to a Jesus who looks at us in awe, our whole person, mind, body and spirit in awe. The God who is Jesus thinks of us as perfect and wants nothing more than for us to sit with Him in our hurt as He dresses every wound and mends every scar and calls us clean.

This type of longing that our Jesus has for us is what we are made for.

And as we take it, test it, and make it our own, as we learn to truly believe His love for us, we will begin to stop looking for that acceptance in places where all we find is emptiness.

We, as “this sort of woman” have an opportunity to know our Savior’s love much more deeply than one who is unaware of just how ugly their sin is. We know His love because we need His love, and this causes us to love Him back in deep deep ways. I am writing for the women who have dived into sexual sin, feel like they have lost a lot and gained nothing, and have come out with more self-hate than satisfaction. I am writing specifically for you, to tell you that your sins, which are many, are forgiven — for you loved much. (Luke 7:47)

 

“4 Reasons You Should Keep Looking at Porn”

 

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Last night I tried to write a sardonic satire piece on pornography entitled “4 Reasons You Should Keep Looking At Porn.” I got through the first three—Avoid the unnecessary pain! You’ll never get rejected! Provide jobs for struggling actors!—but then I got to the last one, Provide jobs for people worldwide, and I simply could not keep the satirical tone.

The piece wasn’t meant to be a funny satire, but simply a “Hey, these are true facts about pornography that I want to write in a different way” type piece, but I realized that there is a real weight to the sexual brokenness of our world that should not be trivilaized.

As hard as I tried, I could not come up with a satirical way to present (even in a somber tone) a child being taken from her family and forced to commit sexual acts with strangers, all before the age of a Kindergartener. Or women who, when the PornHub camera stops rolling, burst into tears because any real sense of personhood they tried to hold onto has evaporated.

When I was in junior high, I got caught by my parents looking at porn on our family computer. They sent me to chat with my youth pastor, who explained that although I messed up, there is grace and forgiveness for me, and that everyone struggles with it.

Over the next couple years in youth group, I would find porn to be the subject of many of our jokes. We would break up into our high school boy’s group and spend half the time making jokes about masturbation and porn. I don’t think this was my youth pastor’s fault, as I grew up in the era when pornography was exploding onto the digital scene and leaders in the church hardly knew how to react. Certainly, making light of the subject is easier than delving into the darkness we were dealing with.

So that is what I knew. Growing up, it became normal to joke about porn and masturbation, and I carried the tradition long into my college years, and even recently, I find myself making jokes I immediately regret.

Because there are things we don’t joke about.

I think this may have been what Paul was referring to when he wrote that there should be no “foolish talk or coarse joking” (Ephesians 5) among the people of God.

Because I think God calls us to be better than that.

Look at Jesus as He talks to the woman at the well in John 4. He could have easily cracked a few one-liners about her being married five times (Hey, you know what they say! Sixth time’s the charm!), but He doesn’t. He addresses the deeper issues within her soul that she was neglecting to address, and got to work healing her.

I think when we encounter Jesus, we have to make a decision. Are we going to keep making light of things that hurt us, and our world, or are we going to speak of them seriously and address them in a life-giving, healing way? Are we willing to press a little where it aches, or just keep inhaling the nitrous oxide and forgetting the injury is there?

So I guess, in place of my satirical piece, here are the same three facts (I combined the last two) about pornography, presented with the gravity they warrant.

Quitting Porn Hurts

Most of us came to pornography out of innocent curiosity, sensual desire, or accidental exposure. But all of us stay with pornography because it takes away the pain. Pain from broken relationships, abandonment, rejection, and a whole novella of other sources. It keeps us in its grip because the numbing agents get straight to work, helping us to escape the harsh reality of life. Maybe your marriage is a let-down and you want a quick upgrade. Maybe you’re tired of being overweight and never being asked out. There is no itch pornography cannot scratch.

But for some reason, I expected my life to be easier and more pain-free when I quit. I quickly found that’s not the way it works. If you struggle with porn and masturbation, don’t quit trying to quit because the familiar pain from your life returns.

And it will return.

Expecting pain to evaporate when you remove porn from your life is akin to expecting the agony of an amputated leg to magically disappear once the morphine wears off. That’s just not how it works. Invite Jesus into your life, and even into your past to walk through these painful places with you. Embrace the pain. Embrace revisiting painful moments in your life in order to properly heal from them.

Scars make us stronger, laughing gas does not.

You won’t be rejected

One of the appeals of pornography is that it never says no. It never rolls over in bed, or walks away form you at the bar. The women and men on the screen are always smiling, happy to see you, and eager to do exactly what you want.

John Eldrege writes, “The dangerous thing about porn is it allows a man to feel like a man without requiring anything from him.” In other words, there is no risk of rejection with pornography.

And I think this has raised up a generation of milquetoasts, myself included. I see a lot of men and women who lack confidence in themselves because they have become accustomed to this risk-free outlet. Why talk to a real girl when I have my laptop at home?

People often ask me why I’m single, and if I’m honest, I think porn has a lot to do with it. I have avoided the risk of asking a girl out because the safety of my web browser beckoned louder. There are times when a situation calls for us to be bold, but we choose the route of passivity because porn has conditioned us that way. It conditions us to avoid risks.

You are perpetuating the sex trade industry

How could I possibly be helping the sex trade industry? I’ve never even paid for porn!

These same sentiments echoed through me for years until I began to understand the way the internet works. Traffic is what drives a website to success, because the more clicks it gets, the more people want to advertise on it. And the more advertising there is, the more money the website is getting.

So like it or not, by visiting pornographic websites, you have funded the sex industry.

Sadly, this does not just include actors, directors, ‘writers’, and cameramen. It also includes the people who are victim to human sex trafficking. If pornography creates the desire, the sex slave industry is the ultimate outlet for those urges to pragmatically use people purely for their bodies.

Children as young as 5 and older are forced into the sex industry by the millions every year. Some counts position the current sex slave population—these are people who are forced into being sex slaves; they did not choose it, are not being paid for it, and they have severe emotional, mental, and physical problems as a result—at around 28 million.

28 million human beings.

It breaks me down to know that I have unwittingly contributed to this number with my porn addiction.


Somehow, in all of this, Jesus still wants me. He still wants you. He still walks over to us and says, “They do not condemn you? Then I don’t either.” He still draws near to us, no matter how fast we try to run from Him. He still washes us and makes us clean.

In light of this heavier post, I want to close with a piece from the great Puritan prayer, The Valley of Vision:

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

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Jesus, The Easy Way Out

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A few nights ago, I couldn’t sleep and headed to my favorite 24-hour coffee shop to write a blog. I was stoked to write one on the theological Father-Son relationship we are ushered into through Union with Christ (Don’t worry, it’s coming soon!), but there were no empty tables.

Being the ever optimistic bachelor, I approached the cute girl sitting alone and asked if I could share the table with her. She eagerly agreed and before I could get a keystroke down, we began chatting.

“Are you a lawyer?” she asked, pointing to my law-book-sized Bible.

I told her No, I’m a writer and this is my Bible.

The next three hours were spent talking about our religious differences, until 1am when I told her we should go across the street and I’d buy her an ice cream cone from McDonald’s.

Over the course of our conversation, she verbalized most people’s main struggle with Christianity. She was from a Muslim country, so she was used to a religion where your effort earned you pardon in the eyes of an angry god: You sin, you repent. You do your daily prayers, you stay pure. And hopefully your actions are good enough to earn you a spot in heaven.

What if they’re not?

I don’t know, I just hope I’m good enough.

I spent a few minutes explaining what I believe: That Jesus is the one who repents for us. He is the one who lives a perfect life in our place. He is the one who was tortured and descended into hell so that we never have to. In that sense, Christians never have to wonder if we are doing enough to warrant God’s favor. It’s the difference between a God who is first and foremost a Father versus one who is an angry judge demanding punishment.

I recited one of the analogies I used with prisoners in Chicago when I used to work in the Juvenile Detention Center:

Imagine that you’re on trial for murdering 100 people. The judge orders you to a life sentence of being beaten and tortured until the day you die. But then, something unexpected happens. The judge steps down from his stand and walks through the gate. He motions you to stand up, and the guard to unlock your cuffs. He then puts them on and sits in your chair. He tells you to go, because he is going to pay your life sentence.

The girl responded the same way the inmates always did: “But that would never happen! You could just go back out and kill more people!”

“That’s why I could never be a Christian,” she added. “It’s too easy! You take the easy way out!”

“Exactly!” I responded. “Jesus is the easy way out!”

She then got down onto her knees and began a relationship with Jesus right there.

Just kidding.

I wish it was that easy.

As much as I pray that elements of our conversation stick with her, I was certainly reminded of the good gospel of grace that night. I was reminded that I have chosen the easy way out. I have chosen to bind myself to Jesus, who makes my burdens lighter, because I am so so weary (Matthew 11).

I have chosen the easy way because, as she said, I can go back out and commit whatever heinous crimes my mind can concoct and He will still welcome me back with open arms. Seven times seventy times (Matthew 18).  Such is the nature of grace.

I chose the easy way because, despite my constant sin and unfaithfulness, the mercy of God is new each morning (Lamentations 3). Because He still runs after me, the wandering prostitute, and showers His love upon me (Hosea).

I think this is the gate through which all people initially come to Jesus: A man bending down to help up the adulterous woman, telling her that He does not condemn her (John 8).

And although this is the starting point, I don’t think it is the ending point. I think those who choose to follow Jesus soon find that, while their sins are washed away and the punishment has been absorbed by Jesus, and their minds have begun to be healed, life is far from easy.

There is a word that most Christians today can’t define, although it is a central tenet of the Christian faith: Cruciformity.

It is essentially the joining of the believer to Christ in His sufferings, being crucified alongside Him. There are dozens of verses pointing us to this idea that along with the benefits of knowing Christ come joining in His sufferings. Jesus Himself tells us that following Him includes every part of His journey: including taking up our crosses and dying (Matthew 16).

Jesus never promised that our bodies will be immune to cancer, or that the baby will never die. He never promised that we won’t be beheaded or lit on fire by those who don’t know Him.

He didn’t offer us a pardon from suffering and pain, but a way to walk through it with Him.

Jesus never promised us an easier life—in fact quite the opposite—but He did make us two promises which I think are worth mentioning here:

He promised to be with us

We will still have suffering in this life. Most likely, lots of it. But in this, we know that Jesus is with us in more ways than one. He is with us in the sympathetic sense, that He has already undergone suffering, and whatever we are going through is not foreign to Him. God the Father watched as His Son was tortured and pinned to a cross and died. Jesus endured the beating and the rejection and the shame.

Jesus is no stranger to pain and suffering. So as we walk through the valleys of our own lives, we can know that He has gone before us, but He also walks beside us through the Holy Spirit (John 14). He didn’t promise an escape from the pain, but He offers to walk through it with us when it does come (Matthew 28).

We have assurance of our salvation

For many years, I thought this term was such a grandma word. I didn’t get why assurance was such a big deal. However, after a handful of conversations similar to the one I had the other night, my understanding of the word has changed.

We as Christians don’t have to worry if we are doing enough to satisfy God. We don’t have to stress about where we’ll wake up after our last breath is taken. There is no more mystery about whether our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. Jesus has taken those scales and smashed them. He is the one who has satisfied the scales of justice once and for all, so that our puny ‘deeds’ don’t even register on the meter.

The Bible says that the Holy Spirit operates as a down-payment, or a deposit (2 Corinthians 1:22) of our inheritance that is to come. We have assurance of our salvation, not because of anything we can do, but because of what Jesus already has done.

So yes, I have taken the easy way.

And despite the fact that it is laced with continued suffering and pain, I hope you take it too.

e

Why I Am Waiting Till Marriage (To Have Sex)

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Ok, this time it’s for real.

I decided that after the misleading title, I should make a post about sex and discuss why I am, in fact, waiting until marriage to have sex for the first time. This will be a very surface-level survey, because this is a conversation that is definitely deep and ongoing. Brace yourself for a fistful of euphemisms because I got tired of using the word sex. 

A few months ago, TMZ broadcasted to the world that “Ethan the Shirtless Runner is the new Tim Tebow…HE’S A VIRGIN!” and people went wild. Some accused me of being a prude. Many assumed I was gay. But for some reason, I remained silent on my reasons for waiting until marriage to park the car in the garage.

I think the best way to go about this is in two sections: One with my ‘Christian’ reasons for abstinence, and another more broad section that anyone can apply, Christian or not.

The Broader Reasons

I’m not even going to waste my time expounding on STDs and unplanned pregnancies, as MTV and public schools have talked about those to no end, and they seem to do little to deter anyone from waiting until marriage (that, and they can usually be prevented with a quality contraceptive).

Instead, I think there are a lot more unseen complications that arise when two people put the bread in the toaster prior to marriage. For one, having sex with someone creates a chemical bond to them in your brain. The more sex, the stronger the connection.

So, for people going out every weekend and holstering their pistols, they are creating these deep chemical brain-bonds with dozens or hundreds of people. You can imagine what this does to a person. It essentially confuses your brain into a dysphoric state of being deeply committed to many people.

Not only will they have a much harder time committing to just one person in the future, but it may even become harder to maintain other relationships in their lives. Because the chemical used to bond together two lovers is the same one used to bond a mother to her child during breastfeeding, people who have had a lot of sexual partners may even have a harder time bonding with their own children.

Let’s not just talk about chemicals; look at how hard it is emotionally to move on from a good (or even bad) relationship! In my life, I can clearly see how much more complicated things were with the girls I kissed versus those I didn’t. The ones I smooched seem like a much deeper connection was formed. I can’t even imagine trying to get over someone with whom I had shared even deeper physical connection!

I’ve seen friends of mine who had been sexual and then broke up, and how they were so much more devastated than other friends who had chosen not to have sex. My friends who couldn’t wait to plug it in suffered so much more unnecessary heartache.

One of the arguments I hear the most is that “we REALLY love each other!” The cold hard truth is simply that there is no foundation in that. It is a foundation built on emotion and impulse rather than legal, financial, spiritual, and contractual bonds. There is just no guarantee, no matter how poetically you slice it. At any given moment, she could cut things off, or he could run away with a prettier girl and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.

When I give myself entirely to someone else, I want the grounds upon which I do so to be one of firm trust and deep-rooted love, not just because we really really really like each other.

The ‘Christian’ Reasons

Growing up in the church, it was easy for me to simply point to a number of Bible verses and say, ‘See! God says not to do it!”  However, after walking through several years of Bible school and countless conversations with people exponentially smarter than me, I have come to realize that such a simplistic argument doesn’t always hold up.

As with anything, I think the best approach to take is to ‘zoom out’ to get as much of the bigger picture as we can. So in this case, this means examining the purpose of marriage, our bodies, and sex. Granted, I have about 200 words left so this will be a very superficial survey.

Bodies

The first thing to note is that our bodies are good. I think that often we inherit this gnostic idea that our bodies are somehow dirty or gross or bad. This mindset perpetuates cycles of shame, which lead us into deeper spirals of sinful activity. If our bodies were inherently bad, then how could Jesus have entered into a human body and through it, worked out the whole of our salvation?? Bodies are good and useful, and from them, good can come.

However, because we live in a sinful and fallen world, we can also do harm and evil with our bodies. We can beat and kill. We can selfishly take things. We can ‘unite ourselves to a prostitute’ (Paul’s phrase for sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6).

So when it comes to boogy-woogy, we have to ask ourselves, are we using our bodies to give to others and glorify God, or are we using them for selfish means of satisfaction and temporary pleasure? Jesus used His body for the ultimate good when He took it to a cross and let it be tortured and killed in order to save the whole of creation. Are you using yours to the best of your ability, or are you using it to take from others and feel some fleeting good feelings?

Sex

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul describes a husband and wife becoming one flesh with each other. This is not to be taken lightly, as the next thing Paul says is that the Church becomes one spirit with Jesus. When a husband and wife do the horizontal tango, they are physically demonstrating something far bigger than the two of them. They are acting out a microcosm of what Jesus does spiritually with His Church.

Confused yet?

Another way to think of it is through the sacraments. When you take the bread and wine into your digestive system, you are physically acting out a spiritual reality. We have spiritually taken Christ into ourselves, and eating and drinking the communion elements physically demonstrates that.

Looking at sex in this light, we can see why the Bible is so adamant about maintaining purity outside of marriage. To sleep around reflects a Christianity in which Jesus is not faithful to His bride, the Church. We have taken Jesus into ourselves, so let us live in a way that reflects this spiritual reality.

Marriage

Lastly, marriage is the context in which sex happens. It is the covenant on which all of these actions rest. Covenant is a biblical term for a contract or promise. When you enter into a covenant with someone, there is no breaking it. The Bible speaks of blood covenants, which were so serious that, if broken, blood would be spilled. Not only that, but they were sealed with blood, usually of animals.

When a marriage is initiated between two people, there is a sort of safety created between them. They are free to be themselves. Free to give themselves wholly to the other without having to fear being left or abandoned or taken advantage of.

I think the Bible has a much higher view of marriage than most people in our culture, and as Christians, we should be working to restore this. We should be examples of marriages that are strong and built on sincere love and steadfast trust (Something Christians have not been good at the past several decades).

Conclusion

So if you’ve got Getin’ Jiggy With It on repeat, it may be time to think about retiring the charade and making the choice to wait. For the sake of a life lived wisely, as well as a life that reflects well the spiritual realities we embody, join me in placing sex within the boundaries of marriage.

And if you’re not a virgin, don’t think it’s too late for this to apply to you! The God who makes all things new has grace sufficient for all of us. He is eagerly chasing after you, virgin or prostitute. It’s never too late to start.

I realize that this overview of my reasons for maintaining my virginity was very brief and terse. Please keep the conversation going.

Ask questions.

Disagree.

Keep reading, because I’ll certainly be writing more on this in the future.

e

The Misymphomiacs

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This is a short story that I worked on the past four months. I have never put this much effort into a single piece in my entire life, and I’m pretty happy with the concept. The entire plot should be read as an allegory to modern day social injustices. There are several graphically violent parts, so beware!


The truck tossed and jolted as we made our way up the unkept Thai terrain. Everywhere we looked was green, green, green and we had been on this same steady weaving incline for hours. We had left Chiang Rai and gone west about 9 hours ago, driving straight into the mountainous jungle. The last village that had running water or electricity was about 7 hours behind us. This was uncharted territory.

I am the “medical assistant” on this voyage, which basically means I am the gopher. Reggie says ‘go fer this,’ and I do it. Reginald Smith and his student Anne were commissioned to visit this colony of people in rural Thailand and they brought me with. And we have a translator named Pornchai.

The people in this tribe have what the doctors call misymphomia, which is a fancy word for, their bodies never heal. The Thai people call them wah-see-how. If they get a cut, they’re stuck with it for life. If they hear something too loud, their hearing is irreparably damaged.

And so on.

Apparently no one has ever gone and done a proper medical evaluation of their condition, so we’re going to take a look. I’ve been wondering how we’re going to do blood tests if the needle holes would never heal.

“We ammost there,” said Pornchai over his shoulder.

The motion of the truck driving over the mud road could have been that of a boat tossed by the waves of a small storm. From the passenger seat, Reggie looked determined to arrive, slightly anxious at what he might see. The jaw beneath his peppery temples had been tensed this entire trip. He wasn’t quite middle aged, but it was dawning quickly on his horizon.

Continue reading

Porn: You Can’t Save Yourself

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I have a friend named Brandon whose story goes something like this: He used to party and do a lot of drugs. He slept with a lot of girls and watched a lot of porn. But about two years ago, he became a Christian. At that moment, he stopped EVERYTHING. He hasn’t watched porn in two years. He hasn’t been drunk or abused substances. He hasn’t slept with anyone. He just works hard at his job, loves Jesus, and enjoys his friends.

If your story is anything like mine, it’s way different than Brandon’s.

If I’m honest, I’m a little jealous of how Brandon just cut all his bad habits out of his life and set his eyes on Jesus, because if it was that easy, I would have done it years ago.

My story looks a lot more like feebly praying to the Lord a long time ago, then falling headfirst into a battle with pornography in 7th grade, and not really making much progress since then.

My story looks more like a roller coaster, where I’ve got it under control! swiftly drops into a binging streak and free falling plummet, and I ask myself the question many of you have probably asked yourself a thousand times: If I’m a Christian who takes Jesus at His word, shouldn’t I be free from all my sin? 

I mean, that’s what the Bible says, right?

The answer is a firm eh.

I’ve been taking this class on addiction at my church, and a big part of the curriculum is examining the methods of Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the most successful addiction recovery programs in history. The first week was one of those jarring classes where a lot of what you believed about addiction got flipped on its head, and I made a big realization in my approach to my own battle with porn.

Jesus promises us freedom from sin. The question is, what does He mean by freedom? 

I realized that it doesn’t always mean quitting. In fact, sometimes the opposite. Long-time addicts of any kind will agree that the only way to begin healing from an addiction is to hit absolute rock bottom. To reach the point where you can finally say, “If I have any hope in repairing my life, it must come from a source outside of myself. Because I am empty. I am spent. I am unable to help myself.”

So maybe, when Jesus says He will set us free from our sin, it means pushing us even further into an addiction so we reach that place. Perhaps He wants us to get to the point where we must say, “Jesus, I cannot help myself. I need you. There are zero other options.”

And then after that point, you’ll never look at porn again, right?

No.

Not at all. Recovery is a long process, and I think in many ways, seeing recovery in this light makes the gospel even more real and more wonderful. Because then, every time we slip up and sit before the dim light of the laptop, having just screwed up again, its a reminder of our own helplessness.

It’s a total perspective change. I tend to fill up with shame every time I screw up with pornography, and picture myself drifting farther away from God. But when we think about the gospel as a compass to our helplessness, each screw-up should only point us to how much we need Jesus; how we cannot do it on our own; and how His grace expands even more every time we fail.

We talk about the gospel as Jesus saving us, then get confused when we can’t save ourselves from sin, as if we are the ones who should be doing the saving.

I’ll paraphrase a story from John Z’s book Grace in Addiction:

Imagine that you’re on the deck of a cruise ship late one night and somehow slip off and fall into the water. It’s dark and you can’t swim. You try to yell, but water is filling your mouth. Somehow, someone on board sees you and tells the captain. He slowly turns the ship around, but your arms are getting even more tired. The liner finally gets close enough to you to throw a life preserver near you. With all your remaining strength, you cling to it as they reel you in. Men at the base of the ship haul you over the rails to safety. Your first words after being saved are:

Did you see how I grabbed onto that life preserver like an expert?? Did you notice the strength of my biceps and the dexterity in my wrists? I was all over that thing!

Everyone would think you lost your mind! You just got saved from a situation that surely would have left you dead if not for everyone else on the ship. You were rescued, plain and simple. Z writes:

Sadly enough, some form of the above tends to be our own response to most of the good things that happen to us…While Christians often talk loudly about God’s power and grace, their rhetoric just as often betrays a secret belief that their own initiative and willpower has played a decisive role.

Don’t underestimate Jesus’ power to use your addiction for good. Remember that you’re still in the middle of the story, not the end, and (cheesy as it sounds) it’s never too late to move from a state of hopelessness to a happy ending. More often than not, your story won’t look like Brandon’s, where Jesus magically zaps all your struggles out of your life. But He is good. And He is always moving.

Perhaps freedom in Christ is even deeper than simply no longer committing a certain sin. Perhaps it means that when God looks at us, He no longer sees alcoholics and porn addicts, despite how long it’s been since their last relapse. Maybe freedom means we don’t have to bear the weight of our own sins, even if we are presently battling them, even daily giving in.

Next time you mess up, remember that Jesus is present in your struggle. He’s not there pointing fingers and condemning you, but He is inviting you to Himself.

Inviting you to give up control and let yourself be saved by Him.

e

Why I’m No Longer Waiting Till Marriage

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I remember being in 6th grade and watching some cheesy family movie where the princess fell in love with some peasant shlub and they lived happily ever after. I remember the film stirring up longings within me for that same kind of whimsical romance. I wanted a beautiful and innocent mademoiselle to fall helplessly into my arms after I had heroically come to her rescue, whatever form that took.

Over the years, Hollywood continued to program my desires. I remember movies (tacky as they were) like Fever Pitch, Serendipity, and literally hundreds more which taught me that all my problems would be solved once I met the right girl, fell head over heels in love, hit a rough patch where we didn’t talk for a minute, then came rushing back together to live indefinitely in a state of heavenly bliss.

Yes, once that happened I would be good.

So I eagerly waited. I knew in the depths of my being that one glorious day, God would orchestrate a meet cute, and I only wondered when and where. Would she walk in the door of a coffee shop with an adorable lost expression on her face, or would she happen to sit next to me on the airplane? The options were endless.

But the troubles this presented me were manifold.

For starters, the romance film industry programmed me to believe there is one perfect woman out there for me, and all I have to do is meet her. According to the criterion plot line, we have everything in common and enjoy the same hobbies. (Of course, there are the cute discrepancies which cause cute little arguments, but those can be overlooked.)

But there are no perfect women. And I am as far from a perfect man as you can get before you start getting into the “Murderous Dictator & Collegiate Rapist” categories.

I also failed to account for insecurities arising, both in myself and in others. I overlooked more base factors such as farts, B.O., and faint moustache hairs. I didn’t think about how the timing is usually bad, and she’s going home for the summer. I didn’t think about arguments and disagreements, and how my anger can boil over.

All that is to say, my ideas of marriage, and life in general, were programmed into me by the media. The media did not simply influence my thinking about these things; it literally reprogrammed me.

I’m going to repeat that once more just to be clear: The things we allow into our minds rearrange our desires, and even create new ones that were not there before.

I’ve been reading a book lately called You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith, and it is reshaping the way I think. It is mind-boggling. Buy it. Smith explores our desires, and what shapes them, and I have been able to identify certain desires in my life that have been programmed into me, with an idyllic image of marriage being at the top of the list.

Marriage became something I looked forward to, to the degree that I couldn’t be happy until there was a woman in my life.

And apparently, I was not the only one to buy into this. Look at the number of people on Tinder, eHarmony and the like. The dating industry rakes in over $1.4 billion a year. A lot of us seem to feel lonely, and think a relationship (even a one-night relationship) will fill in the gaps.

There is no place in the Bible that points to marriage as the source of our satisfaction and fulfillment, yet we Christians are terribly guilty of elevating marriage to a source of satisfaction.

A friend once told me, “If you’re not happy as a single person, you won’t be happy as a married person.” Marriage was not invented as a means of solving all your personal issues. If anything, it will likely bring to light more issues that lie dormant beneath the surface.

Marriage is a reflection of the gospel; of God’s relationship to His people. It is a covenant. It is living in a perpetual state of forgiveness. It is not a happily-ever-after utopia where all your problems are vanquished.

Recently, however, I decided that I don’t want to wait until marriage…(long pause)…to be happy.

I can enjoy the friends I have right now rather than wish I had someone more than a friend. I can buy a house by myself. I can pursue hobbies like painting, dancing or snake charming on my own. (Insert cheesy inspirational line about how doing the things you love will lead you to ‘The One’ you’re supposed to be with. Then stop and think about how even that sentiment reflects how deeply you have been programmed to see marriage as the ultimate destination.)

I’m attempting to undo years of programming and enjoy the present moment, single as I am. I go on runs and stop to talk to people. I bike really fast and simply enjoy the adrenaline rush, rather than trying to impress anyone. I got off social media so as to not stalk countless women to determine if they are The One (My friend runs it all for me now, for those of you who were wondering).

More so, I am working on enjoying God, and my times of quietness with Him. My prayers are no longer a begging-session of me complaining about my celibacy (I’ve reduced that to about 50% of my prayers now), But I can zoom out and focus on others. What does the world need? Who does God’s heart hurt for?

Since deciding not to wait until marriage, life is more enjoyable. It’s almost like experiencing freedom from a big weight that always loomed overhead. The pressure is off. And if it happens, it will happen in God’s time, so I can relax.

I hope the rest of you single people experience this same degree of freedom.

Don’t look to romance to fill the voids within you.

Don’t wait till marriage.

e

I bet you thought this was about sex, didn’t you? Sickos.