Spirit and Hindsight

A couple of days ago, I had an incredible privilege to speak to the interns at an organization in Seattle called "Serve Seattle", which is run by the Union Gospel Mission. These incredibly brave people come to Seattle for close to a year and dedicate their lives to working among the urban poor as well as to study and spiritual transformation.

My talk revolved around what Spirit is, how it works, what it’s for. And how it can heal us from the wounds that we medicate daily with things like porn, substances, self-hate, religion, social media, work, and the myriad of other forms of medicine that are available to us in this modern age.

I wonder what I would have felt had someone said these things to me when I was between 18 and 25 years old. Could I have heard it? Back then, I was depressed – really depressed. But I didn’t know it. I had never had anyone tell me anything outside of the idea that my problems were "because I was sinful." Simply put, the narrative of my life was, “You’re not worthy – but thank God for Jesus, you piece of crap.”

I am pretty sure the people that were responsible for my development didn’t mean for this to be the theological takeaway of my childhood, but nevertheless, that’s what happened.

For this reason, I want to spend the rest of my life doing what I did just the other day. I want to reach into the lives of people who have, at some level, believed the lie that they too are not worthy and I want to decimate that lie with the light of the truth – that we are not only loved, but that we are love.  Because we are created in the image of LOVE.

What a privilege.

 

Photos courtesy of Sam Vert


To Honor the Life of Stephen Reed

Stephen Reed died this last week. You might not know who he was. I didn’t know him well - I only knew Stephen through a friend and by observing him pursue his passions. But for some reason his death has spurred in me the need to get some thoughts down on paper.

The things is, I didn’t know a lot about Stephen, but I knew this much: Stephen was rare. Every time I saw him or interacted with him, what I experienced can be described as passion, or enthusiasm…or a high vibration. Higher than most. He was one of the rare lights in the universe that didn’t seem to see obstacles where must of us do.

I have so many conversations these days with people about this question of how we achieve the life we want and find freedom and peace and joy – the essence of God in this world and in us. And Stephen was the kind of person that was the embodiment of an answer to that question. If someone were to ask me, “How do I find out what I was put here for?” and Stephen were standing there, I would just point at him and say, “That’s how.” He was the embodiment or spiritual equivalent of “Beast Mode.” In other words, there were few things that could stop him.

And now I, and those of us who were privileged to have met Stephen and been in his presence, if even for a brief moment, have to wrestle with the dissonance that we feel. Stephen could be stopped. And so can we. And I never had the chance to learn more from Stephen. And it doesn’t make any sense. I’m mad at myself for not having grabbed a coffee with him. I feel robbed for some reason…and that’s confusing to me because I didn’t know him that well.

Anyone who’s read my book knows I am a fan of the Green Lantern universe, so I will quote from the film: “A great light has gone out in the universe.” And it seems to me the only true way to honor Stephen’s life is for each of us to ask this question: What is stopping me from living out my passions? Perhaps Stephen now takes his place as an angel meant to guide each of us to real transformation. That thought is comforting to me, whether it is the reality or not. So I will adopt it and hold that Stephen’s light still lives on within each of us that has the courage to pursue our dreams and leave the world a better place than the way we found it. Just like Stephen did.

If you want to help Stephen’s family shoulder the burdens of this loss, you can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/nz4rnuz4

What Porn is…and what it isn't.

Many people like to argue about what porn is.  Porn is good.  Porn is evil.  Porn is a virtue.  Porn is a sin.  Porn is whatever you want it to be.  For some, they see it as just another tool of enjoyment at our disposal.  For others, it is the 1st Horseman of the Apocalypse, signaling the end of the world.  Some call it entertainment, some call it the gateway for the sex-trade.  Some would say it helps their sex life or their relationship and others would say that porn destroyed their relational world.  Arguing about what porn is becomes a silly endeavor at times - it's a deeply complicated and sensitive issue that ALWAYS has a story behind it that must be sat with and honored.  Because one thing I do know porn to be - porn is people.  Porn stars are people and the millions and millions of people who feast on their flesh everyday are people too.  And I believe that each of these people carries the DNA of the Divine Creator inside them.  That is my fundamental paradigm of the inhabitants of this planet.  Within each of us is untold power to heal, transform, and bring unlimited goodness into this world.  This was the message of Christ.  

So, the discussion becomes useful for me when we start talking about what porn isn't.  Even pro-porn people can probably deduce that porn isn't love.  It isn't intimacy.  Porn may be A truth for you, but it isn't THE truth about you, no matter how much you've been abused.  You may experience intimacy with someone while watching porn, but the question is still: Is there something deeper?  Is porn the ultimate truth about who I am and what I am capable of becoming as a sexual being?  I think the answer to that is clear.  Porn isn't the truth about your sexuality.  It is, like I said before, a pacifier, a space-holder - a medication for pain that, I will admit, sometimes may need some medication.  But pain medication doesn't heal.  Porn isn't a healer of the wounds that we carry.  

Some would say that porn can fill a need.  "I have needs," one spouse says to another.  But what is the need?  For a release?  Perhaps.  But, I have this hunch that our sexuality goes deeper than that still.  What if we were meant to be driven by desire, not need?  What if the same thing driving us to porn is meant to drive us to the truth that lies hidden in our sexuality?  What if the path called sexuality, with all of it's pain and pleasure, horror and happiness, is meant to drive us to the core of who we are?  What if it is meant to heal us?  I certainly know that porn isn't that truth.  It isn't happiness.  It isn't joy.  Porn isn't peace.  And ultimately, that is what we all want.  And only desire can drive us to this type of truth seeking.

My wife and I recently had our second child - emergency c-section.  This can throw a curve-ball into one's sex-life, to say the least.  (Not to mention that our other child is only 18 months old.)  We were talking the other day about "needs" in this context.  As we were discussing this, I felt a determination rise up inside of me.  A determination to go deeper than the past.  "Screw needs," I said.  "I don't want to need you.  I want you."  

I truly believe if we can come to the place where we realize that we are all driven by a desire to find the truth at our unconscious core, we would move beyond the instinctual "need" very quickly.  What truth?  The truth about who we are.  What makes us valuable?  What makes us safe?  What are we meant to be?  This is where we carry our pain and this is where we abandon ourselves and give in to the idea that the best we can hope for is to "need" a release.  Which porn is.  It's a release.  

But porn isn't the last word on you and your sexuality.  (-:  Would love to hear your stories - comment below.  

Einstein and Porn

I read an awesome quote from Albert Einstein recently that said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness it was created from."

I immediately thought about the church's approach to porn addiction. Hundreds and hundreds of years of sexual suppression and now they are trying to solve the problem they created without having to change. I see organizations and people focusing all of their "healing" energies on teaching people how to have "great" sex in their marriages or develop greater and greater technological and social tools of control and all of the while changing nothing but the language they use to describe the issue. They're still scared of their desires, their bodies, and the other.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness it was created from.
— Albert Einstein

I am shocked everyday when I listen to Christian podcasts and read Christian blogs and books at how much energy is put into trying to figure out what is a sin and what isn't. It's mind-blowing. I was listening to a podcast the other day and it was as if the guys on there have a vending machine they have to run everything through before they can talk about it - put the "thing" in the coin slaught and see if it comes out as "sin" or "not a sin". All the while they seem to be completely missing out on the idea that everytime they label another thing like that, they are articulating a very specific theology - they are saying "this is what God is like." It takes the idea of grace and reduces it to the function of a garnish on your plate at Applebees. Like if all of the guys on the show agree that this is indeed a "sin", oh crap……we're in trouble. It's as if Jesus never lived a day on this earth.

Dietrich Beonhoffer wrote in his letters from prison, just before he was executed by the Nazis, about what he called a "religionless Christianity". He was saying that he had come to see that God had been reduced to a psychological crutch for people unconsciously invested in staying in pain and in power more than in real freedom and transformation. He talked about an extreme Christianity that allowed such freedom that we could live without looking over our shoulders constantly, thinking God was there with a ledger, ready to mark down if we had sinned again.

If this is you - trying to figure out what is a sin or what isn't, know this: you are trying to solve the problem you find inside yourself without having to change. And I'm not talking about changing your behavior or desires. I am talking about truly confronting what it is you are medicating with all of that behavior. The answer is to walk straight into the pain you are medicating. Point your face toward the storm you feel in your body and take one painful step at a time. Start with therapy. And please - if you utter the phrase, "I wonder if that was a sin?" - either with your mouth or in your mind, please answer it this way: It is finished. System complete. Doesn't matter.

Now, ask the deeper question: what do you want for your life?

Is it the Church's Responsibility to Deal with Porn Issues?

I have been reading a lot lately about the issue of porn addiction, both inside and outside the Christian church, and I recently started to wonder why there seems to be an implicit responsibility cast on the church and its leaders to have an answer to the issue of porn addiction.  For some reason, we expect religious people to be healthy or to be able to show us how to be healthy.  Or maybe it's just some inherent sense of guilt that lives in our culture regarding sexuality - perhaps the priests will asuage the anger of the gods.  

This had me thinking about the people who were responsible for the formation of my sexuality as a young man.  Who's job was it anyway!?!?  In my life, there were a few authority figures and I'm sure most of you can relate to one if not all of these:

Parents.

Relatives (grandparents/uncles/aunts).

Teachers.

Pastors/youth pastors.

Coaches.

If you look at the above people, each one seems to have an inherent job in the development of a young man's/woman's sexuality:

Parents: EVERYTHING

Relatives: safety

Teachers: safety

pastors/youth pastors: safety

Coaches: safety

Not there aren't other responsibilities for these other people.  Pastors are there to teach us about the character of God and what that says about who we are.  Coaches are there to teach me how to perform.  Teachers educate my mind.  All of these people help form my understanding of who I am. But my sexuality?  Who's job is that? Isn't that obvious? 

Why do we expect the church to have the answer?  Is it because their track record in dealing with sexuality is so stellar?  I mean, we have made strides since the days of whipping oneself because of sexual desire.  But, c'mon, we all know that the religious answer to issues of sexuality has been suppression, oppression, and mountains and mountains of shame.  And yet, everywhere I go, people are saying that the church needs to be talking about this issue!!!  Why?  Why does the church need to be talking about this?  Haven't they done enough damage?  50% of the pastors that are talking about it are addicted to porn - so why do we want them to talk about it more?  Are we actually wanting a confession?    

This seems to me to be a very important question.  

It reminds me of 9/11.  In September of 2001, I was attending a small Christian college in Northern California and that semester, I was in a speech class.  I remember when those planes hit, there was a strange need I felt inside to hear a leader talk.  I wanted to hear the President say everything was going to be "okay".  I think that was a really common experience.  I remember asking a question about that in our speech class a few days after that tragedy and my professor said talked about how authority works in our consciousness.  Something about President Bush saying we would prevail made me feel like I would prevail.  The leader says I am okay.  So, I feel okay.  I need him to say it because the truth is that at an unconscious level is that I am not, nor do I feel, okay.

We expect the church and its leaders to speak for God.  For most of us, we are so out of touch with our own spirit and so rooted in shame and pain, that we need some pastor, some priest, some church body to tell us that God is okay with us, so we can feel okay.  We want to hear that we are forgiven because we feel like we aren't.  

And these religious leaders are struggling with the same issues in the same unconscious, wounded spaces inside themselves that we are.  This makes me wonder if we were healed as people to the level where we could truly know grace - that resounding "you are loved, forgiven, and known!" spoken throughout eternity - perhaps we could then allow the church to be a center of community and spiritual renewal and we would all be more equipped to be the voice of sexual truth for our children.  

For me - it isn't the church's job to form my sexuality or that of my children - it's mine.  And in order to fulfill that responsibility well, I have to be willing to walk into the pain that I am medicating within this sexual culture.  I do this so that my children can bear less of my pain than I bore of my parents.  The Bible says that the spirit will show me all truth (1st John).  So that is the last frontier.  That is where I go with these issues.  And if we don't know how to do that?  Now we can start talking about the responsibility of the church.