To Jesus’ followers back in the day, “Follow me” was a literal statement, something akin to, “hey, I’m heading to this particular geographic location, come with.” As a rabbi, it was also an invitation to accept His teachings, which for this army of ragtag volunteers meant certain physical danger.
For them, it was hard to screw up, misinterpret, or miss Jesus’ meaning altogether because He would immediately get in their face and make an attempt at setting them straight.
We don’t have that today. We’ve got our Bibles, and our interpretations of our Bibles, and our Christian culture, and from that we try to figure out the life that Jesus wants us to live. We don’t have Jesus in our faces every time we get something wrong.
For many of us, especially us Evangelicals, we’ve distilled His invitation to “follow” into three categories:
Think the right things about Jesus and God (theology)
Embrace a particular list of rules and try hard not to break them (morality)
Protect our world from moral decay (politics)
I’d add an unwritten rule to this list: no matter what the cost, be safe. Don’t get in trouble, don’t make anyone mad (unless they’re not Christian) and for God’s sake don’t get yourself killed.
As an Evangelical of 30 years I understand this list, and with the exception of being a dyed in the wool conservative, this is my list too – especially the safety part. I don’t like physical pain, or danger, or fear, and there are plenty of places I could go and get hurt telling people about Jesus. Read more →
Sometime around the industrial revolution, we coined a term for our worry. We downgraded it to “stress,” and began to treat it like something you can manage, something that can be controlled. And when we failed to call it what it really is, it became a permanent part of our culture, and our day-to-day lives.
We should have called it fear.
“Stress” has the same effect as fear – adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” response, an inability to focus on anything else until the threat is mitigated.
The biggest problem with “stress” is that it’s not the kind of fear that you’d get from, say, being chased by a bear. It’s not a temporary, one-off thing. “Stress” is a long-term, ongoing event, constantly taxing our nervous system, making us tired, grumpy, discouraged, and not-so-fun to be around.
But because we’re so afraid to call it fear, we try to manage our “stress” – vacations, drinking, hobbies, drugs (legal and beyond), sex, etc. And while we might get a brief respite, our “stress” will be waiting when the vacation’s over, or the affair gets old, or the buzz wears off.
If the goal of “stress” management is a very short break from scary things, I guess you could say it works. The marketing world sure seems to think so.
But there’s no such thing as fear management. Fear is a big thing, much bigger than “stress.” It must be dealt with directly, forcefully, with a view towards permanent annihilation. When we downgrade our fears to something that’s “manageable,” we’re welcoming them into our lives as permanent guests.
The best first step to take is to say to ourselves, and maybe to a few close friends, “I’m scared. Really scared. So scared that it’s making me tired, hard to get along with. I can’t sleep at night because I’m so scared.”
Our “stress” needs an upgrade.
And that’s something that most of us won’t do. We don’t like saying “I’m scared.”
Fear is weakness. How would it sound if you were hanging out with friends and you said something akin to “I really screwed up at work and I’m scared of what people are saying about me. Really scared. So scared that it’s keeping me up at night.” How awkward would that be? Your friends would have to be super healthy people to respond appropriately.
Far better to say, “Jeeze, I really screwed up at work and it’s stressing me out.” Then everyone can say, “Oh yeah, stress,” and seamlessly move to the next topic.
I think most psychotherapeutic professionals would call that weak. Facing our fears, and taking the very important first step of calling them what they are requires strength, as does any step you might take towards the total obliteration of fears.
I realize that I’m talking a big game here. Can we get rid of our fears? Can we find complete freedom from the things that scare the crap out us?
I can’t. I’ve tried.
I’ve lived most of my life with a debilitating fear of being rejected. I was a nerd in junior high/high school, got picked on, laughed at, etc. and frequently went to bed worried about what would happen at school the next day.
I didn’t know who to talk to, or how to talk about it, so I did my best to plod through the trauma – alone.
Years later I went to seminary and started a career as a pastor. I wasn’t very good at it, but got enough exposure to get a good taste of how mean God’s people can be. If you need everyone to like you, don’t go into ministry.
People talked about me behind my back, some laughed at my mistakes and my awkwardness – not because I was worse than other pastors – it’s simply/unfortunately common to the calling. But I couldn’t focus on all the good things that were going on. I was scared. All the old memories of my teen years came flooding in, the unhealed hurts, the trauma. It was overwhelming. So I quit and started a web business, which was much more “friendly.”
A few years later, I was offered a volunteer position as a pastor in the church we were attending. I was honored, took the position, and jumped back into the world of helping others, making mistakes, delivering bad sermons, and knowing that not everybody was a fan.
All the fears came flooding back in, but in the middle of the sleepless nights something new came to bear. I took an inventory of all my “fans” – the people who I’d helped, mentored, pastored, etc. There were many. In spite of my detractors, I was winning, moving forward. Things were working.
I’d always been afraid that if someone didn’t like me, others would follow suit, and I’d be ruined. That wasn’t the case here. I didn’t actually have anything to be afraid of. I also noticed that people who talk about others aren’t healthy – there’s something broken inside that’s driving them to focus on the mistakes and frailties of other people.
I can’t say that I’m completely free from the fear of rejection, but I’m closer to freedom.
And none of that would have happened if I hadn’t admitted, “I’m scared.”
I still have plenty of sleepless nights, a mountain of fear, but I’ve learned two things. First, telling myself and others, “I’m scared” is the best first step I can take towards getting rid of these fears. Second, while I’ll never totally eradicate my fears, I can take small steps towards a fear-free life.
I know, I just said “set your goals high in life and you will go far,” but it happens to be true in this case.
The point isn’t total annihilation, it’s more freedom, but we won’t get more freedom unless we shoot for total annihilation.
And none of that will happen if we’re too scared to say “I’m scared.”
Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. Pick something that “stresses” you out – Job, marriage, kids, money, image, things, whatever. Take an hour alone and admit how scared you are, and how your fear of this thing is running your life, and stealing from it. Don’t downplay it, don’t say things like “but everybody gets scared,” or, “it’s not really that bad.”
Face it, admit it.
Then take it to the next level. Grab someone close to you, sit down with them and confess what you just admitted to yourself. Make it a big deal, formal. This will be awkward. And scary. You’ll really want to downplay it, make it sound like you’re not that “weak.”
If you do this right, what you’ll find is that there’s something powerful in saying “I’m scared.” I have no idea how it works, maybe it’s a God thing, but it works.
These aren’t the only steps to freedom, there’ll be more work to do. But like most difficult things, especially freedom, the process gets much more clear once we’ve taken first steps.
The biggest complaint I hear about the #metoo movement is that women shouldn’t have this kind of power.
Nobody should have the ability to simply utter something that could ruin a person’s career. But that’s what’s happening. Judge Kavanaugh’s name has been dragged through the mud, so has Donald Trump’s, and a host of other powerful/famous people.
Many claim that these women are merely seeking fame, or hate their victims, or both.
For me, there are two things about the #metoo movement that I never hear, two things that, in my opinion, stink to high heaven.
First, where are the lawsuits?
Crying “sexual harassment,” especially if it never happened, is something that can get you in a ton of trouble. Donald Trump could easily turn around and ruin you financially if he wanted to. Brett Kavanaugh could do the same.
Why don’t they?
If I had a career that could be ruined by an accusation like this, I’d seek legal action. I’d do everything in my power to clear my name, prove my innocence, and hold onto my career – unless I was guilty, then I’d do everything in my power to steer clear of these people, lie to my fans, and try to move forward.
In this #metoo movement, to my knowledge, there have been 0 lawsuits.
The second thing that stinks is the very popular declaration that these women have no evidence and therefore shouldn’t have a voice, or the power that comes with it.
And this is where things get downright silly to me. I hear, over and over again, because of the lack of evidence: “These women are lying,” and, “All they want is fame/power/revenge, etc.”
True enough that there’s a dirth of evidence in all of this – you can’t convict Judge Kavanaugh on someone’s word, even if there are three someones. But, apparently, you can convict these women of lying based on the same lack of evidence.
I’m begging – If we can’t convict someone like Brett Kavanaugh because there’s not enough evidence, can we please stop calling these women liars – there’s no evidence there either. We should be consistent, especially if being inconsistent means stripping a woman of her voice.
This whole thing smells of something very old.
Ours country has never been fair to women. Despite our attempts at equality, women are still paid less, and still occupy “lower” positions in the working world than men. Dudes, don’t get angry that I said this – there’s a mountain of proof at our fingertips to back me up.
Now, with the #metoo movement, men especially talk about a woman’s voice in this arena, and how the power that comes with it “bothers” them.
The men who ridicule the #metoo voices, or in some way marginalize them, seem to never talk about how risky it is for these women to come forward, or the myriad emotional barriers involved in exercising their voice.
It seems that there are many in our country who just want these women to shut up.
When I do the math, i.e., women aren’t treated fairly + so many want them shushed, I smell the discrimination that’s always bedeviled us. When I hear the opposition talk one-sided about this issue, and their angry/scared voices, I see symptoms of a very old problem.
Men in our country have always had more power than women. With #metoo, a woman’s voice has more power than it’s ever had. And that’s making us nervous. We should be awed by such a powerful shift in culture and equality.
But nobody in power ever appreciates a power shift.
In any culture, when humans in a position of power are threatened by the humans below them, the humans in power get nervous, angry. Is that what’s happening here?
Someone recently suggested that my perspective/opinion/feelings about the #metoo movement are political. They’re not. Us men want you women to keep your mouths shut and know your place. That’s what we’ve always wanted. This isn’t a political issue, it’s an issue of justice, and I’m a Christian man who believes that the Bible is the word of God, speaks ad-nauseum about injustice, and commands me to respond when I see it.
I’m also a white male. It’s easier for me to get ahead in our world than non-white non-males. And when I see white males telling non-white non-males to shush, I feel the need to speak, and do some shushing of my own.
Guys, dudes, fellow men, there’s no way to let women have more power without giving up some of our own. And in giving up our power, or having it threatened, we’re going to get scared and angry. But we don’t have to.
These women are risking a ton to speak, and climbing a mountain of emotional pain to bring their grievances to bear. They’re also teaching us that sexual assault/harassment/brokenness is a huge problem.
They need to speak, and we need to listen, honor who they are, mourn what they’ve been through, strongly consider that God Himself might be the one driving all of this, and consider what other ways we might use our power to bring liberty and justice to people who have less of it than we do.
If you’re not in your 50’s yet, I promise that by the time you get there you’ll have heard tons of stories about parents who, faced with the rigors of parenting, threw in the towel. They didn’t go away physically, they simply decided enough was enough, and emotionally detached from their relationship with their kids.
And man do I get it.
And I don’t have teenagers, though they’re coming like God’s justice.
And I find myself constantly asking, when my kids hit their teens, will I quit?
I could give you a very long list of personal, very painful quitting stories. Near the top is the time I attempted to start my own church. I gave it hell, spent a year out of state training for the venture (thanx Fellowship Associates!!), raised enough money to pay the bills for 3 years (thanx you-know-who-you-are!!), and started off pretty great. At the end of it all, my mentors and I decided it was time to “transition” out of the very small church that came to be after a couple of years.
I have bad memories of the early Sunday AM when I walked to the school where our church was meeting and taped the “sorry, outta here” sign on the double doors to the gym, then walked home to begin the difficult journey of patching up the marriage that was struggling b/c I spent every waking moment perseverating about the church (thanx wife, for putting up with all that).
There’s a shorter list of the times I didn’t quit, a few episodes where I pushed through tons-o-muck to reap what lay on the other side. It’s fascinating that I don’t regret any of the pain, lack of hope, relational hardship, etc. that always comes part and parcel to perseverance. I’m left with only fond memories, mainly because the good stuff has always redeemed the bad, and become part of the whole story.
I’ve persevered enough to understand that perseverance is a deal-breaking ingredient to any good life – can’t have what you want without it. We’re all going to have to walk through crap – relationally, vocationally, physically, spiritually, etc. if want to live.
No way around it.
Which might explain why so many of us Americans are compulsively unhappy. We talk ad-nauseum about things like “toxic” relationships, and soul-killing job situations. More than any culture before, we address perseverance like it’s a deadly poison. And more than any culture before, we bail when things get difficult.
When we attempt to stroll through the parenting brier patch, wondering why things aren’t easier, or better, or more akin to things as they are in the movies, we excuse ourselves from what our kids require. We still provide for their safety and physical well-being, but deny them something that they can’t live a good life without.
At first, they don’t seem to mind. They love us – we’re their everything. Our “departure” hurts them, they feel it, but they can’t stand it, so they pursue us, sad as that is, push their hurt deep inside, and sally forth.
Until they reach early adulthood, when all that hurt comes to the surface.
The technical, psychotherapeutic term for this is “payback,” and it usually happens some time around the teen years – rebellion, disrespect, mouthy BS, general-all-around anger, etc.
It’s such a prolific phenomenon in our culture that we’ve come to believe that all teenagers are unruly, unhappy, mean-spirited schmucks.
I know not thing one about raising teenagers, but the mentoring/coaching/counseling/reading I’ve done has taught me a powerful, painful truth – jerks aren’t born, they’re made. 99% of the time, anger is a symptom of hurt that someone else gave us.
I know, our teens are dealing with a ton – tricky social situations at school, hormones, new found sovereignty, and the impending unknowns of college and beyond. But that doesn’t make people angry, mouthy jerk-wads.
Hurt does. Every time.
And because our culture’s constantly peddling the notion that bailing from difficult relationships is the best thing for everyone, our kids enter their teen years with a mountain of it. And because of the way we think about teens, we blame them, and further distance ourselves.
Taking responsibility for someone else’s junk is something us ‘Mericans don’t do.
As parents we’ve been saddled with the horrifying responsibility of telling our kids who they are. If we don’t do this right, our kids will enter their early adult years with a shaky sense of self-worth. They won’t be asking “who am I?” They’ll have already answered that question, and it won’t be good. We’ll have communicated very clearly that they’re not worth the effort.
And if they survive their hurt-fueled, angry teen years, they’ll enter the professional world trying to prove something, starving for applause/attention/accolades – every moment and every ounce of emotionally energy spent trying to “get somewhere” they’ll never get, working like mad to silence the “you’re just a piece of crap” soundtrack constantly looping in their soul.
And man will they make crappy parents.
For my part, I’ve decided that I’m not going to quit my kids. I’m going to pay attention to the hurt they’re carrying – the behaviors they exhibit when they’re feeling bad about themselves – and do something about it, like, now. I’m going to apologize, set and enforce boundaries, plan fun, lecture when appropriate, drop what I’m doing when they want to connect, have the best marriage I can, and in general grind whatever grist the mill requires to set them up for their teen years.
My number one goal is to send them into 16 with a strong sense that they matter, that they’re valuable, regardless of what they do or don’t accomplish.
Unconditional self worth.
This is another thing that bugs me about our culture. We don’t like to talk about inward, emotional things. That stuff doesn’t matter. It’s just another way that we distract ourselves from the real stuff of life – character, hard work, accomplishment. I’m not knocking any of that, but without a solid sense of self worth, those things become more difficult to attain, as does a “good” life.
It’s easy for me to talk about teens having no experience. I sound like one of those newlyweds who’s just written a passionate blog post about “the wonders of marriage.” Because of my ignorance, you may very well find me, four years from now, printing a very humble retraction to this AM’s thoughts.
But, if nothing else, my understanding of parenting, along with the legion of stories I have of parents who didn’t raise abominable teens, is keeping me in the game.
You stay in the game, too, comrade cat herdsman.
If you’re my kid, reading this years from now as an adult, I’m sorry if I didn’t live up to what I’ve written here. But if I did, to any significant degree, give glory to God Almighty, ’cause it’s a freaking miracle.
I used to work for an organization called “Young Life” that partnered with local high schools to help kids learn about Jesus, life, relationships – just about anything we could do to journey with them as they navigated their teens. It was one of the most challenging jobs I’ve had.
It was also one of the most clueless episodes of my life. I won’t list all of the awkward things I perpetrated there, partly because there’s not enough storage on my WordPress account, and partly because I don’t want to re-hash it all.
However, just to illustrate how bad I wrestle with this…
I went on a date with a friend’s cousin. Nothing huge, no fireworks, neither of us was really into it. At the end of the date, I parked the car in front of her apartment, unbuckled my seat belt, opened the door and started to get out. She got agitated and said, “No. No, it’s OK, you don’t have to walk me up.”
As someone who’s always struggled with social anxiety, trying to figure out norms, protocols, and the myriad games we’re supposed to play, especially the ones that apply to girls, I thought I had run into something new. Maybe girls don’t actually like being walked to their door. Maybe it makes them feel some kind of pressure to invite you in, or kiss you because you went out of your way.
My next date, some time later, with a different girl who worked with Young Life, went way better, until the end when I didn’t get out of the car. I didn’t want to freak her out, or put some kind of pressure on her – I thought I was doing a good thing.
So I sat in the car like an idiot and said “good night.” Read more →
By writing what follows I’m in no way implying that any kind of blindness, especially the permanent kind, is good, or beneficial. I sort of lost my sight for a day and got my eyes opened, but thankful that it was temporary.
Here’s the story…
5 years ago I was diagnosed with a thing called RA. My immune system will occasionally flare and attack my joints. It’s super painful and can result in permanent disability if it’s not handled rightly. But somehow, about two years into the diagnosis, I convinced myself that if I exercised super hard I could manage this without RA meds, which are super scary.
It “worked” for a couple of years, but last week I started experiencing a burning sensation in my left eye, which got worse day by day. Pretty soon, the only time I could open either eye was in a dark room.
Wife rushed me to the ophthalmologist who said I had an ulcer on my eyeball, most likely caused by the RA which he believed wasn’t being managed well. Can’t tell you how painful it was.
The next day we visited my RA doc who gave me a bunch of dirty looks for not going to the doctor for two years, put me back on meds. Eye’s feeling better, still burns a little – having a hard time writing this morning, but I hope what I learned by not being able to see for day stays with me for awhile.
It’s weird at first, being driven around in cars, not being able to see anything, or sitting in your living room with your eyes closed, nothing to do.
You can’t turn on the TV, read the news, or soak in some social media. I had no idea how much crap was coming into my brain through my eyes. I’m not mature enough to read someone’s rant on Facebook and not let it into my soul, so I’m frequently feasting my eyes on things that take me to the dark side.
I also couldn’t judge anybody, which for me has become a staple of being, a coping mechanism of sorts. I pick on the frailties of others to make myself feel good, which works in the moment, but the bill that comes later is big, and gets paid out of my quality-of-life budget.
But the hardest thing about my temporary loss of sight was that I couldn’t get anything done. I’m a “do-er.” I derive my value and life’s purpose from what I can accomplish – especially if it’s something impressive. That’s why being a stay-at-home-dad has been so difficult. There are no paychecks, no measurables – nothing I can throw out in a conversation to give evidence to my worth as a human.
That’s difficult in a world that worships accomplishment.
For years, sociologists have drawn an interesting distinction between “doing” and “being” cultures. Ours is more of a “doing” culture. We’re busy, tied to the clock, frequently talking in terms of accomplishments and accolades. Things like achievement, awards, education, goals, money, real estate, and other signs of “success” are what we value.
That’s not a bad thing. Every culture needs to have a “doing” aspect to it, or… well… nothing gets done.
Cultures that focus more on “doing” are typically more wealthy and powerful than “being” cultures, which place more weight on things like artistic expression, parties/gatherings, celebrations, friendship, and a general care for one another. Folk in “being” cultures enjoy more intimacy, more interdependence, and far less anxiety, loneliness, and depression than folk in “doing” cultures.
If there was a perfect culture, it would have a healthy amount of “being” and “doing,” and neither would exist at the expense of the other.
But for now, our culture makes it difficult to value people, relationships, etc. We’re too heavy on the “doing” end, and suffering for it.
But when you can’t see, when you have to spend an entire day getting nothing done, all you can do is “be.”
So, I sat in the silence of my living room chair with my eyes closed for hours. For the first time in my life I rode in the car while dad drove, totally un-annoyed by his lack of respect for the lower end of the legal speed limit. Instead of worrying about all the stuff I want to get done, I thought about my wife, thankful that I get to spend the rest of my life with her.
I felt present. I couldn’t think about all the things I was dreaming about, or the list of things needed to make them come true. I never realized how distracting my dreams are, how much they keep me from being present with the people I love, or with the things that are truly beautiful and meaningful that I’m constantly surrounded by.
I’m so taken by “what’s coming next” that my life is like a long, steel tunnel. I can see what’s at the end, and it looks great, like nothing else matters, but I can’t see what’s around me – the beauty, the weight. Peace. The things that are most important to me will occasionally poke their hands through the tunnel and try to get me to come out, but that impedes forward motion, and makes me angry.
Not being able to see for a day showed me that I’m too heavy on “doing” at the expense of the “being” that my soul is craving.
So, for now at least, I’m not going to spend the time I usually spend on Sunday AM blogging, and go hang out with the fam.
And although the NFL will fine any player who publicly protests during the national anthem, we’re already seeing more of it – highly paid professional football players acting in a manner we find disrespectful; and us getting really angry about it.
But I don’t think we understand what it is that we’re really angry about.
Hang with me here as I do my best to explain.
Say, hypothetically, that the US passed a law allowing parents to beat their children. Slapping, punching, screaming, starving – all became legal. And because of the good and bad of social media, we’d be daily bombarded with images of abused children.
And there’d be nothing any of us could do about it.
Or say that Hilary was president, and she found a way to ban all public expressions of Christianity – not any other religion, just Christianity. No more t-shirts, tattoos, jewelry. No more talking about Jesus in bars or with co-workers No more Easter Sunday outdoor services, small-group Bible studies, Christian youth camps, etc.
So, NFL players start taking a knee during our national anthem because they feel like they can’t, in good conscious, stand as everyone sings about America.
Would that bother you? Would that break your mind?
Of course not.
They’d be heroes.
We’d support them if they were protesting something we valued.
But they’re not, and that makes us mad.
Our problem with the NFL protests isn’t that taking a knee is disrespectful to our flag and country. What’s making us mad is that we believe, with every fiber of our being, that there’s nothing to protest.
Football isn’t the only place this is happening.
Recently, lots of folks got mad when Donald Trump announced that black unemployment was at an all-time low (which is true) and everyone stood up to clap, except for most of the black people in the crowd. They sat in protest.
My social media feed lit up with people saying things like “how dare they,” and “they don’t know how good they have it.”
Fox News interviewed a few spokespeople from the black community to assure us that these people should have celebrated.
This was proof to so many that blacks in the US are entitled, whiny, divisive malcontents.
But most white people I know can’t articulate why these black people didn’t stand.
Black unemployment has always been twice that of white unemployment – always – since we started measuring employment statistics long ago. No matter how educated or empowered black people become, or whatever good comes from affirmative action, blacks will always be 100% less employable than whites.
I wouldn’t have stood up either.
When NFL players kneel, they’re convinced that our systems – our economic systems, our educational systems, our law enforcement systems, our economic systems – are rigged in favor of whites at significant cost to non-whites.
And we get mad because we’re firmly convinced that they are dead wrong. Sure, we’ve got problems with racism in the US, but it’s not that bad.
If that’s how you approach all of this – If you believe that non-white NFL players have nothing significant to protest, you simply haven’t done your homework.
There is a MOUNTAIN of statistics that support the fact that our systems are white-skewed at the expense of non-whites. Turns out there actually is something to protest. Here’s an article that puts a lot of this in one place, with links to sources. It’s a great place to start if you haven’t been exposed to any of this.
But despite the fact that these statistics, studies, research etc. have been around for the last 20 years, us white Christians keep finding creative ways to ignore them. So, whenever a non-white cries “injustice,” white people, especially white Christians, turn a blind eye. That’s what we’ve always done.
Have you noticed that, with very rare exception, it’s white people that get the most angry about the protests? People that have no experience with racism whatsoever, people that are more likely to get hired when the economy’s good, people that are less likely to get fired when it’s bad, people who are less likely to be incarcerated, etc., all say “there’s not a problem here.”
I have white friends who would say, “hold on a minute, white people are the victims of racism all the time.” A Facebook friend recently commented that any form of discrimination where a black person is chosen over a white person is racism.
That’s not racism…
Racism says “there’s something wrong with a person because of the color of their skin.” Affirmative action, even in it’s most broken expression doesn’t do that. You can call it wrong if you want to, but you can’t call it racist.
We don’t know what racism is. We have no experience with it. If we did, we’d love it when our NFL stars and others protested. We’d march. We’d organize. We’d fight.
But because we don’t understand, we vilify those that do, especially the ones who take a stand on their knee.
And we get angry. We call it righteous anger, but rest assured, 99% of the time, anger is far from righteous.
As someone who does an OK job at following Jesus, and as a former pastor who still mentors people from time to time, it’s become clear that the places we’re angry are the places we’re the most broken, the places where we need to be begging Jesus for help.
If these protests are making you mad, you’ve got some work to do.
If you’re a Christian, what would it hurt to pray to Jesus, “Am I missing something here?” Or surrender to Him, “You can do whatever you want to me, just make sure that I’m not on the wrong side of this thing.” Even the great King David prayed that God would protect him from himself.
But we don’t pray that. Why would we? There’s not a problem here.
Unless you’re willing to start listening, these protests are going to keep ruining your Monday nights, because there is a problem here. A big one. And it’s not going anywhere until the people who have all the power at the expense of the people who don’t, do something about it.
I know, when people start talking about “white privilege,” it makes us angry. White privilege isn’t a thing right?
That’s what you believe when you haven’t done your homework.
At least do your homework so that, when people like me start ranting, you can have a conversation, a debate, maybe the two of us can get somewhere we haven’t been before. But this homework will complicate the problem of knee-taking at football games.
It’ll make it harder to point fingers and run to simple, black and white, judgmental solutions that require little more than an emotional response and some heated social media ranting.
I never struggled with pornography until my wife and I decided to plant a church. I became distracted, busy, boring, and not too interested in my own spiritual health.
I had work to do.
For most of my career as a church planter, I struggled with porn.
I fessed up to my wife, my mentors, and got into therapy, which seemed to make things worse. Everyone knew what I had been up to. One mentor cautioned, “If you look at a mere thumbnail of a naked woman, you should step down as a pastor.”
Scared to death, I downloaded software that would block the bad sites. I locked down my router and signed up for a few “accountability” programs that would alert my friends every time I clicked on something questionable. While this had some effect, I was a part-time web developer and knew how to sneak around these firewalls if I wanted to.
At times I could plow through the temptation. The shame of so many people knowing every site I visited, and the shame of “letting God down” were good motivators. But after a few years I got tired.
I fought the best I could, had some victories, lied sometimes, and got pretty good at keeping it all to myself.
Then, boom. Victory.
I got out of church planting, signed up for a local pastor gig, hung out with a healthy staff team, started having some fun, and for two full years found freedom from porn that I never thought possible.
But our three adopted kids were struggling, and in need of some specialized time and attention from their parents. I drew the short straw, quit my pastor job, sold the web business, and became the first male at-home-parent in my family’s history.
And my porn problem went off the charts.
Saved by a Selfish Prayer
About a year later I gave up. I stopped trying to stop, and let porn become a regular part of my life. Anytime I felt discouraged, angry, lonely, or hopeless, which was often, I’d dive in.
I’d tried everything. And looking for another “fun” job wasn’t an option.
Why keep trying?
I was fully aware of the evils of porn – how it warps us, affects our marriages, marginalizes women, and puts a huge clamp on our ability to be happy. But what concerned me the most was the impact it had on my relationship with Jesus.
For most of my Christian life, I’d had a sense of His presence, His hope. In this latest chapter, I felt like He wasn’t there, and it didn’t bother me. I began to believe that if I kept this up, I wouldn’t believe much longer. Pretty soon I’d be someone who’s faith didn’t amount to much more than good behavior.
One night, at about 2AM, wrestling with thoughts that typically led to something bad, I told Jesus that I didn’t want to live like this anymore, and that I had no idea how to get out.
I prayed something I never prayed before.
It was a self-serving prayer, and wholly unspiritual. But it was also an invitation for Jesus to step into the epicenter of my porn addiction.
“Dear Lord, I feel like crap and porn is the quickest way out. It’s the only thing that makes sense right now. Would you comfort me? I’ll sit here, feel bad, and wait for you. I won’t do my usual escape. Please give me what I’m looking for.”
Instead of gritting my teeth, flexing my spiritual muscles, and plowing through the temptation until it subsided – God knows how long that would have taken – I asked God to solve the problem for me; to provide the comfort that I was expecting from porn.
I told Him He could have 15 minutes to make something happen. If He didn’t show, I’d fire up the laptop.
That’s bad theology, and arrogant, but that’s the shape I was in.
Within 15 minutes the comfort showed up, and I fell asleep.
Saying No to DIY Spirituality
I’d always believed that this fight was up to me. I’d ask God for strength to resist, employ some tools, and go to others for motivation/shame, but I saw it as my battle. I had become confused about the limits of my strength and the limitlessness of His.
It never occurred to me to let God do the work – to have faith that He was willing to replace the temptation with something better.
But this forced me to embrace the spiritual disciplines of weakness and dependence. I’m not good at that. I’m an American Evangelical – part of a culture that values strength, faithfulness, personal purity, and people who overpower life’s frequent hardships.
We are warriors, overcomers, do-it-yourselfers. And we look down on people who aren’t.
But the heroes of the Bible are too often spiritual “losers” who throw up their hands and cry out something akin to “God! I can’t do this! Save me!!” The Bible is the only religious document in the history of religion, to my knowledge, that puts weakness and self-insufficiency near the top of the spiritual disciplines list.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” I Cor 12:9
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14
Unfortunately, these passages don’t get much pulpit time – they don’t drive our culture nearly as much as the ones that lead us to believe that God loves a good warrior.
So it’s no surprise that my anti-porn campaigns were too dependent on my own strength, which brought even more shame when I failed, which did little more than add fuel to the fire.
For me, shame drives porn like nothing else.
So does repression. When we’re faced with a desire for something, even if it’s for something destructive, and we try to ignore it, or distract ourselves, we make things worse.
If I grit my teeth and go the DIY route, added to the pain of saying “no” to porn is the knowledge that I’ll be doing the same thing multiple times before day’s end. I might be able to claim bragging rights, or sooth myself by thinking about how faithful I am, but by the time I climb into bed, I’ll be a hornet’s nest of repressed desire. No amount of pride or feeling like God loves me for my faithfulness will soothe it.
And I’m not aware of any psychotherapeutic professional who would recommend our typical, repressive model of porn avoidance.
Underneath my temptation to do bad things is the desire for good things – comfort, excitement, pleasure, etc. Repressing these will make them worse. I needed to engage my desires in a way that honored them while keeping them in their place.
This was the best prayer I could come up with. And regardless of how unspiritual it might sound, and how weird it feels when I pray it, it’s working, even in this difficult, lonely, frequently un-fun stay-at-home-dad chapter of my life.
Tempted to Worship
Attractive as DIY spirituality is, it’s never done anything for my addiction beyond making it worse.
Via the weak, dependent, spiritual-loser route, I’m slowly coming to believe that my desire for comfort will be fulfilled. I have confidence that I’ll go to bed tempted to worship God for the tangible, frequent, undeniable ways I saw Him intervene in my day.
He’s taken an impossible addiction and turned it into a call to worship.
I know, I’m peddling a formula here – “Do X and God will give you Y.” We’re not supposed buy into formulas. God does what He wants to do and isn’t subject to our whims and addictions.
But in too many of our Bible translations, the Holy Spirit’s very name is “The Comforter.” No need to speculate on His role in our lives, and no need to feel weird, unholy, or selfish asking for comfort when we need it most.
Add to that the faithfulness of God, the power of God, the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, and the fact that He’s the one who came up with the whole comfort thing in the first place. It’s a little silly for me to not ask for and expect comfort in these moments where my soul is so thirsty that it’s willing to drink toilet water.
I wish I was the kind of person who worships when things are bad, or when God’s not answering my prayers, but I’m not that mature. I’ve got some growing up to do.
Watching God show up in this tangible way, over and over again, and knowing that my temptations now have an enemy that’s bigger than me is not just driving worship, it’s driving trust, and a deeper intimacy with God… which drives more worship.
Feel free to call me weak, undisciplined, hedonistic, whatever – but with regard to spiritual maturity, I’m growing like a weed.
And at the core is one simple belief, an awkward prayer that puts Jesus smack dab in the middle of something that wants to put a great distance between myself and everything that I love.
A couple of years ago, I quit my web business and my volunteer pastor gig to go stay at home dad.
I wouldn’t change a thing about it, but I’ve since struggled with the lack of paycheck and the sense of accomplishment I used to find in the workplace.
So I took up a new hobby. The Japanese refer to it as “Yamadori”
If you’ve ever seen a really old bonsai tree, it wasn’t grown from a seed, someone who’s really into bonsai trees climbed a mountain, searched for hours, maybe days, found a very old tree struggling for life in a rock, very carefully harvested it, put it in a pot, and trained it into something amazing.
That’s Yamadori – collecting wild bonsai trees. It’s a blast. You get to hike, “hunt,” and if you know what you’re doing find a really old, really amazing tree that you keep till you die. Here’s an example of a ponderosa pine that was harvested in the Rocky Mountains:
With time and training this tree will be extremely valuable. As-is, if the harvester can keep it alive in the box for a year, the tree could easily sell for $2000.00.
I lost my mind when I heard about Yamadori, how it works, and how to do it. I called a friend who owns some land in the Red Feather Lakes area near Fort Collins and he agreed to let me try and collect a few trees.
The problem with Yamadori is that these trees are struggling to survive – that’s why they can be hundreds of years old and only 3 feet tall. Their root systems are super complicated which makes the harvesting process difficult, especially for newbies. Most hunters lose half the trees they harvest.
I’ve taken 4. Yesterday I lost #2 – a 200+ year old ponderosa that’s easily the coolest tree I’ve ever seen. If I could’ve kept it alive and trained it well, it would easily rival any bonsai at the Denver Botanic gardens.
When I found it, I was about to give up. I had climbed to the top of a ridge near my friends ranch and was completely worn out. When I stumbled across it I shook the trunk to make sure it was loose enough to come out. I could tell it was crazy old but it didn’t look like much as it stood in the rock it had grown up in.
I decided “what the heck” and started the harvesting process, trying my best to track down all the roots and get as many as possible.
I wrapped everything up in burlap and started down the mountain. The whole package weighed 50 pounds, and I had 30 pounds of gear to contend with.
One thing I hate about Yamadori hunting is that you feel guilty when you harvest a tree, knowing there’s a 50/50 chance that it won’t make it. At one point, about an hour into my journey off the mountain, I had to decide whether to leave the tree behind, or my gear. I couldn’t carry both.
I left the gear – a nice, internal frame backpack, a 20 lb breaker bar, my water, some tools, and an awesome jacket my wife gave me for Christmas.
2 hours later I made it to the truck, put the tree in the bed, and headed back up the mountain to find my gear. It was getting late, and I can’t remember ever being that tired.
I spent an hour so on top of the ridge looking for my pack but couldn’t find it. The sun was going down and it was time to go home. I prayed – why not – “Jesus, you gotta help me find this backpack. You’ve done bigger things, really need some help right now.”
I said “amen,” went to the bathroom, walked about 150 yards, and stumbled into my gear.
You can call it dumb luck, I’m calling it a miracle. These days I’d rather err on the side of “Jesus did it” than “dumb luck,” annoying as people like me can be.
What a day.
Which made it all the more difficult when the tree finally died.
Pine trees don’t just give up the ghost all of a sudden, it takes them months to die. So when you bring home your prize, you get to bite your nails for a long time before you get your report card.
I figured if the tree could make it to mid-July I’d be in the clear. On July 13th it went from looking good, to worst case scenario.
Yesterday, I said goodbye, pulled it out of the ground, trimmed the leaves off, and prepared it for it’s life as an ornament in my back yard.
I can’t tell you how much this sucks.
I did however get to cut the trunk and count the rings. 260+. Counting rings on these trees is difficult because they’re so close together – you need a microscope, or a powerful magnifying glass, and some patience to get a good estimate of age.
But there you have it. I harvested a tree older than George Washington’s cat, and killed it.
Such is the life of a Yamadori hunter.
I’m still at 50% though – I’ve only killed half the trees I’ve harvested. I’m on par with people who actually know what they’re doing. The two trees I took last year are doing great, and giving me something to do in one of the most boring, discouraging chapters of my life.
The beach there is nasty – there’s one 12 foot break 100 yards from the beach – people get sucked into it and drown all the time. On this particular day there was a rip current that yanked two guys, who decided to go swimming at a black-flagged area, into the break. One guy made it out, the other guy was in for five minutes or so. I’ve never seen someone that exhausted, that close to going under.
Someone showed up with a rescue buoy and a very long rope. Another guy swam it out to drowning guy and they were both dragged to shore.
My kids were watching. I had to wrestle with a bit of PTSD for the rest of our trip.
Shortly after, we watched a sea turtle lay eggs on the beach. Can you imagine? An animal that spends 99.99% of her life in the water – deep, cold water – climbs onto the beach, crawls for 50 yards or so in the 95 degree Mexican heat – super hot sand – spends about an hour digging a hole with her flippers, then delivers her ~75 eggs. Then another 10 minutes across the scorching sand into the water.
And maybe one of her eggs will make it.
Shortly after that I rescued a baby bird who had fallen into the pool. The poor thing was so scared Read more →