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Pornography and Other Monsters and Scapegoats

Pornography and Other Monsters and Scapegoats

Pornography is evil.  I’ll never deny that.  But, for the religious, it has become a convenient scapegoat, hiding an even more insidious evil we don’t like to talk about.  The ego/the natural man (whatever you want to call it) … it will always find a person, group or thing—something or someone “out there”—on which to project its problems.  This great evil, this plague, this thing “out there” attacking us and assaulting us diverts our attention and focus away from where the real trouble lies.  In reality, we create most of the monsters that we hate and fear.

Having a monster to slay keeps us distracted and busy so we don’t think about all that motes and beams stuff or ask the difficult questions such as, “Lord, is it I?”

There’s a name for what we do when we rail on pornography, bullying or other monsters.  It’s called the “scapegoat mechanism.”  This scapegoat mechanism largely operates at the unconscious level.  People don’t even know when they are scapegoating.  It’s a convenient diversion that works quite well.  Having a monster to slay keeps us distracted and busy so we don’t think about all that motes and beams stuff (Matthew 7:3, 5) or ask the difficult questions such as, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:21-22.)

Lord, is it I?

And when we can rally as a group and rail against the monster, the diversion away from the real problem is even more successful since hatred and fear hold a group together more readily than the self-examination and introspection mandated by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So we rail on the monster as if it was more evil than the unredeemed culture of guilt and shame our self-righteous defense of purity and piousness perpetuates.  Blaise Pascal so insightfully wrote, “People never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they do it with a religious conviction.”

So what is the real problem?  Who created this monster of pornography?  You did and I did.

You see, we are learning, more and more each day, that people turn to pornography for escape and not necessarily sexual pleasure.  As Robert Weiss wrote recently in Psychology Today, “these individuals use not to feel pleasure but to escape emotional discomfort. It is a desire for emotional escape rather than a desire to ‘get high’ that is the crux of all addictions and compulsive behavior.”

The gospel invites us into a path of introspection and self-examination

Yet how many of us ask ourselves, “Do I contribute to the environment of pain and emotional trauma ‘out there’ that would lead someone to seek escape through pornography, drug addiction or some other outlet?”  “Lord, is it I?”  Of course not.  We never see a connection between ourselves and the “out there” monsters.  So the evils in society repeat themselves, over and over and over again.

Even when we can catch a glimpse of our own culpability the cycle inevitably repeats itself.  For example, the recent school shooting in Spokane, Washington, is typical of the pattern.  Kid gets bullied by all the “nice” kids at school.  Kid has access to a gun.  Kid goes berserk, takes his gun to school and starts shooting.  We all feel bad for the innocent victim, who is eulogized in the media nigh to sainthood (rightfully so).  We hold a candlelight vigil, talk about the evil monster called “bullying,” and then get back to our self-centered, unempathetic, uncaring ways until the next school shooting.

But when Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21) perhaps it was an indication that the gospel invites us into a path of introspection and self-examination—fighting the evils within rather than those without.  If you want to build the Kingdom of God, become a better person.

Pornography is evil.  Make no doubt about it.  However, what is more evil, pornography or the culture of emotional pain that we create and that leads people to seek refuge and comfort in the grasp of this false god?  The stories of Jesus give us some clue as to the answer.

The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground

What was Jesus more worried about—the sexual sin of a woman caught in the very act of cheating on her husband or the pious men who lacked love and had so much judgment in their hearts that they wanted to kill her by stoning her to death?  (John 8:3-8.)  What troubled Jesus more—a sinful woman of the “city” (who by every indication was the village harlot) inappropriately touching and kissing his feet, or the judgmental thoughts of the pious Simon and Simon’s overall lack of empathy, which manifested itself in failing to extend even common courtesies to a dinner guest?  (Luke 7:36-50.)

Wasn’t Jesus saying that the sins of judgment, condemnation, piousness, lack of empathy, lack of understanding, lack of compassion and lack of courtesy—in a word, pride—were bigger issues for him than sexual sin?  Make no doubt about it, he never approved of sexual sin.  But he prioritized and juxtaposed“sin.”  And who were the heroes and who were the villains in these stories?

Yes, pornography is evil.  But the way we talk about it, the way we are fixated upon it, the way we preach about it … none of that will do any good unless we, ourselves, look inwardly and see our own complicity in this (and every other) modern-day plague or monster.  Until our dialogue regarding pornography, bullying or any other monster or plague “out there” includes a discussion of what we’ve done (and are doing) “in here” to contribute to it, we will never understand the true nature of evil and sin.  As Franciscan scholar Richard Rohr wrote recently, “You will keep projecting, fearing, and attacking it over there, instead of ‘gazing’ on it within and ‘weeping’ over it within yourself and all of us. The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground.”

We cannot transform suffering and evil in the world unless and until we, ourselves, are transformed.

We create most of the monsters we fear.  Why?  So we can hide from our shadow selves and bask in the false light that our spiritual lynch mob torches and candlelight vigils cast us.  Attacking monsters feeds the ego.  If even at the subconscious level, it feeds our pride, which is the ironic self-deception that we are better than someone else experienced only when we are insecure enough to value superiority.  But isn’t our pride the more sinister monster and the more devious addiction?

We can decry the evils of pornography upon every housetop.  We can preach a thousand sermons about how wicked and corrupt it is.  But no amount of condemning, shaming or guilting will ever do any good unless we are willing to set aside our pride, look deeper, see ourselves as part of the problem, and then learn how to become the embodiment of compassion and love—in a word, repent—which is what God has really called us to do.  (See Matthew 5:48; 1 John 4:8.)  We cannot transform suffering and evil in the world unless and until we, ourselves, are transformed.  Until then we won’t transform suffering and evil, we’ll transmit it!

It is you, and it is me.

Would pornography exist in a world that was built to love?  If our emotional culture was loving and nurturing (instead of so proud and competitive) would people need to turn to pornography for escape from emotional pain and trauma?  If our emotional culture was compassionate and empathetic (instead of so proud and perfectionist) would we want to desecrate the sacredness of sex?  If we were good at building and maintaining strong and healthy relationships would pornography really be a temptation?

You want to fix the plague of pornography?  Learn how to love.  You want to solve the drug addiction and opioid crisis?  Learn how to love.  You want to stop school shootings?  Learn how to love.  Teach your children to do likewise.  As we try to navigate a world that is more confusing than ever, that is filled with changing values and social upheaval, that is filled with random acts of terror, and where, as Jesus said, men’s hearts will fail them (Matthew 24:12), I am convinced that the only hope for the world is learning how to love.  Yes, let’s fight pornography.  But let us not be distracted by the “otherness” of it.

I have seen the monster.  It is you and it is me.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

A Christmas Wish

A Christmas Wish

I haven’t written for a while because I’ve been down with pneumonia, followed by a SIBO infection.  I have lacked energy and inspiration for many weeks now.  The holidays are always a difficult time for me.  Surrounded by all of the candy, goodies, treats and sumptuous food I cannot eat, I am reminded of how abnormal I am.  It’s easy to feel sorry for myself.  It’s difficult to resist the urge to hide in the shadows of depression and self-pity.  But, as I am surrounded by food, I realize that I am also surrounded by family and friends.  I focus on the love I have for each one of them.  I stay busy cooking for them and trying to make their holiday memorable and, soon enough, I find myself happy and connected once again.  I am reminded that the reason we forget the gifts we get but remember the gifts we give is because giving is exponentially more rewarding than getting.

If God is love, then it must follow, as day follows night, that loving connects us not only to one another but also to God.  So if you want to feel the reality of the Christmas spirit then focus on loving, listening and serving those around you.  As I child I was devastated to learn the truth about Santa Claus.  But then I matured and evolved and discovered, as an adult, the joy of being Santa Claus.  Santa Claus was alive once more!  As a spiritually immature individual–a spiritual “child”–I was devastated to discover all of the flaws and imperfections in the Church, in religion in general, and most of all, in people.  Also, battling years of intense suffering, it rocked me to my core to learn that God was not who or what I had believed him to be.  But then I matured and evolved and discovered, as a spiritual adult, the joy of being.  Being love, that is.  God was alive once more!

Just as you can mediate the spirit of Christmas for others by being Santa Claus or just being your best self for a week or so each year, you can have that abiding joy and spirit all year long by choosing to mediate the presence and reality of God for others.  By choosing to be the “adult” in every situation and by focusing on bringing joy to others you can, once again, discover the magic of living … of being human.  This is the only thing that enables me to endure life on a feeding tube and life without food.

Be the one that reaches out.  Be the one that mends, rather than nurtures, grudges.  Be the one to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.”  Be the bigger person.

I recently heard from a reader who had been in conflict with a neighbor for years.  After reading my book she asked for advice on what she could do to start the process of reaching out to mend the rift.  I suggested she start with a smile, then maybe a wave and then, perhaps, a gift.  The plan was implemented without immediate results.  Then, just a few weeks ago, this reader reported that she took this neighbor some bread and a Christmas ornament.  She said that the neighbor was completely shocked.  I asked, “How did it feel.”  She replied, “It felt really good.”  And that’s the point.  If you want to feel good, do good.  Be good.  You cannot control what others think of you, but you can always control what you think of others.  And that means you don’t have to control others to control your happiness.

You don’t need food to be happy.  I’m living proof of that.  You don’t need money to be happy.  I think I’m also living proof of that.  All you need is to find the true “you”–the “you” that is not tied to ego, pride and image.  The “you” that emerges from behind the shadow of the false self and does incredibly good and wonderful things.

If you need God’s embrace, then embrace another.  To hug another human being is to embrace the divine.

If you cannot see God’s presence in the world, then look deeply into another person’s eyes and listen intently.  You will soon see the light of God and hear his voice whisper to your soul.  You will feel a connection.  You will realize that you are not alone in this world.

May God bless you this Christmas season and through0ut the coming year!  May you find peace and contentment through letting go of the false liberators of “success” and “prestige” by becoming like that lowly little babe born in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago, who changed the world forever by giving … not getting.  May the spirit of Jesus abide with you now and for always.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do, It’s Doing It With Love That Counts

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do, It’s Doing It With Love That Counts

dentist-1427291_1920It’s a fact, as confirmed in a recent International Dental Journal Article—there is “systematically a suicide rate among dentists higher than those of other occupations.”  (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21302740 .) While we don’t yet know why, dentists suffer unusually high rates of suicide and depression.  The two dentists in my life—well, one’s not really my dentist—seem to have bucked this trend on their own and seem to be two of the happiest, kindest people I know.  I think this is because they are both built to love.  Maybe if I tell you a little more about these two dentists, you’ll get a better picture of what I’m trying to describe.

People who are built to love are some of the happiest people you’ll ever meet.  They’re confident, grounded and give off a positive energy.  They make you feel special when you’re around them.  They have a servant-leader mentality.  They tend to love what they do and it shows.  They love what they do because they love who they serve and, so long as they have the opportunity to help and heal others, they’re as happy as a two-tailed puppy.

Many years ago, Dr. Richards, my regular dentist, who I had been seeing for years, was out of town or on vacation or something for the Christmas holiday.  As luck would have it, I developed a very large abscessed gum, which was causing me excruciating pain.  Think of a massive boil inside your mouth, pressing in on the nerves surrounding your teeth.  If felt like Satan, himself, had found the center of my nerve universe and, with a red-hot poker, was continually stabbing me with it over and over and over.

If felt like Satan, himself, had found the center of my nerve universe and, with a red-hot poker, was continually stabbing me with it over and over and over.

Luckily, my next-door neighbor and dentist, Dr. Pitts, had not left for the holidays.  I think Christmas was on a Sunday that year and, being a man, I made the genius move to tough the pain out all week long until Friday night, when, of course, it was too late to get in and see the dentist.  After much pride-swallowing by me and coaxing from the wife, I sheepishly called Dr. Pitts, explained my situation and asked if he had any advice for me.  He told me to meet him at his office in about 15 minutes.

So, as I recall, at night, on a weekend—a holiday weekend nonetheless—Dr. Pitts met me down at his office, lanced the abscess (or whatever kind of voodoo magic he did) and sent me home with some kind of antibiotic rinse that almost immediately relieved my pain.  He didn’t charge me a thing.  And, even though I wasn’t one of his patients, he dropped everything to help me.  I reminded him of this years later and he didn’t even remember helping me, which signals to me that he must help so many people that this just blurred into all the other acts of kindness he has performed over the years.

I have followed and observed Dr. Pitts over the years.  His patients love him.  He serves the community, donating his time and products to countless football teams and youth groups.  His employees love him.  He is physically active and takes good care of himself.  He is always propping up others, whether it’s his wife, his daughters, his former teammates, etc.  His Facebook posts are not “Look at me!  Look what I did!”  His Facebook posts are, “Look at this amazing person I’m with!  Look at this incredible person I get to do stuff with!”  He’s happy.

Her jaws were locked.  She was in full fight or flight—actually, just fight—and she wasn’t letting go.

Dr. Richards, my regular dentist, seems to be cut from the same cloth.  I have so many Dr. Richards stories that I could fill a book.  But I’ll just share a few.

My daughter, Abby, must have been about 5 years old.  It was one of her first trips to the dentist and she was so nervous she asked me to hold her in her arms while Dr. Richards worked on her teeth.  Dr. Richards was so nice and kind to her, just chatting it up the way dentists do, when all the sudden I heard this blood-curdling scream come out of his mouth.  As it turns out, my sweet little Abby had chomped down on his finger with a python death grip and wouldn’t let go.  Her jaws were locked.  She was in full fight or flight—actually, just fight—and she wasn’t letting go.

There were no harsh or negative words from Dr. Richards.  No scolding.  Nothing like, “What the heck is wrong with your kid!”  As I recall, he complimented Abby on her strong jaw muscles and made her giggle about the whole thing.

Dr. Richards is patient with me, too.  You see, my body metabolizes lidocaine and articaine faster than a lawyer can take money.  By the time the doc has given me the shot and gets his drill turned on, the numbness has gone and I can feel everything.  Dr. Richards and I learned this the hard way.  So, poor Dr. Richards must give me multiple injections and stock up on the lidocaine, articaine, adrenaline and epinephrine just to keep me numb.  I take about twice as long as all of his other patients.  But never, not once, has he complained or made me feel like a wimp.  He seems to say just what I need to hear to make my bruised male ego feel better.

Dr. Richards has done acts of kindness for my family that he probably wouldn’t want me to write about publicly, so I won’t.  He has helped us out in rough times.  I’ll leave it at that.  He has made multiple trips to the Dominican Republic or Haiti (I can’t remember which one) with members of his staff and family to provide free dental care to those in need.  He has a gift for putting people at ease and making sure they are comfortable.  He makes people feel loved and important.  I don’t know how he does it.  He just does it.  I can’t explain it.  It’s a gift, I suppose.  He’s physically active.  He loves the outdoors.  He is a happy person and I love being around him.  There’s a positive energy I get.  He just exudes it.  The license plate on his truck says, “Dr. Smile.”  That’s a good description.

So, what do these two dentists have in common (other than I think they might be cousins or some distant relation)?  How do they buck the trend that seems to afflict so many others in their profession?  I think they have both learned what I wrote about in my book, Built to Love:

Choosing love adds purpose to an otherwise meaningless existence.  To a heart built to love there are no mundane jobs.  As long as there are people where you work, your work is the most important work on earth.  This is because you will see your work as being larger than the work itself.  You’re not there to build the company.  You’re there as an emissary of God to build others.  And in so doing, you build yourself and experience joy and happiness.

Thank you, Dr. Richards and Dr. Pitts, for serving your community and building others up.  Hundreds of people pass through your doors and sit in your chairs each month.  You are doing more than healing wounded teeth.  You are healing wounded souls.  You are healing a wounded world.

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Everyone, whether they be a Wal Mart greeter, a fast food worker, a teacher, an accountant, an engineer, etc., could take a cue from you.  All it takes is a paradigm shift.  All it takes is the realization that, so long as you interact with people, you have the most important job in the world.

There may be days when you feel empty, like you have nothing to give, like you just can’t give.  But dig deep.  Push through.  Force yourself to get outside yourself.  Force yourself to think of others first.  Stop processing your own feelings and start trying to empathize with those around you.  We were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.  The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way you can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.  Try sharing it today and that empty void inside of you will soon be replaced with love and contentment.

You can’t love Him if you don’t encourage, lift and support your fellow human beings. However much you learn about God doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t learn about the people you share this planet with. Figure them out and you’ll figure Him out. Get connected with them and you’ll get connected with Him. Take care of them and He’ll take care of you. It’s that simple.  Like Dr. Richards and Dr. Pitts apparently did long ago, make the decision to become built to love today and you, too, will buck the trend and find happiness in a dark world.  Decide today that you, too, will become built to love!

Can You Remember Him If You Forget About Me?

Can You Remember Him If You Forget About Me?

2016-27-9-16-50-23At 6’3” “Bob” weighed only 128 lbs.  He was very weak from starvation caused by a chronic illness.  He was slowly dying.  With tears in his eyes, he recently told me the story of how people in his faith community would drive by and wave to him as he struggled to mow his front lawn.  He would walk very slowly down one row, mustering every ounce of strength he had to push the mower, and then, at the end of the row, he would stop and rest for a few minutes, then start the lawn mower back up and tackle one more row.  No one stopped to help.  Bob eventually had a partial recovery and is doing much better physically—at least he is no longer dying.  But the emotional scars left by his faith community are still very evident.

Hearing Bob’s story caused me to reflect deeply upon the words of covenant I hear each week as I attend church.  Evangelical churches typically recite these words when taking communion—or the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.”  The Eucharists or communions of other Christian faiths typically have similar calls to action, which are based upon the admonition of Jesus, at the Lord’s Supper, to “do this in remembrance of me.”  (See Luke 22:17-20.)  My own faith tradition invokes a covenant to “always remember Him” each week as we take the sacrament.

But what does it mean to “always remember him?”

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For many, the call to action to “always remember Him” manifests itself in more rigid adherence to dogma, more faithful observance, more faithful attendance, more scripture reading, more praying, more thinking about Jesus during the week, all of which aren’t bad things.  For others, it results in visualizing the suffering of Jesus and trying to think more about all that Jesus has done for them.  But are you missing the point?  And can you remember Jesus if you forget about me?

Can you remember Jesus if you see a sad look on my face and don’t take the time to sit down with me, listen to me and find out why I’m sad or struggling?  Can you remember Jesus if you see me discouraged and don’t do what you can to offer encouragement and hope?  Can you remember Jesus if I’m sick and you don’t come visit me?

Can you remember Jesus if you forget to call your mother, your mother-in-law, your brother, your sister?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget to visit the sick and the shut-in?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget to hug, to encourage, to cheer up the sad?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget the dance recital or the soccer game?

Jesus saw no distinction between himself and all of those people.  He taught, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  (Matthew 25:45.)  So, to Jesus, remembering others is remembering him.  Forgetting others is forgetting him.

He also saw no distinction between himself and you.  Have you ever thought about why Jesus instructed the disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood?  (See John 6:53-66.)  Could one of the reasons be that he was trying to use the strongest metaphor possible to convey the message that you need to be Christ to others.  You need to be their Savior.  He needs to be in you and act through you.  He wants you to incorporate who he is in the very fiber of your nerves, in the very tissues of your skin, in every sinew, in the very marrow of your bones.

He wants you to be worthy of the name “Christian” in every sense of the word.  He wants you to be Christian, not just in thought, but also in deed.

So next time you take communion, the sacrament or whatever your faith tradition calls it, remember that to remember others is the way, the truth and the life that Jesus is calling you to live.

Don’t ever let the Bobs of this world mow the lawns of life alone.