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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.

Victimhood

Victimhood

During the apex of my physical suffering, I found myself in court, not in my usual role as a lawyer, but as a defendant in a $1 million malpractice lawsuit.  There was no merit to the lawsuit.  But there I was in court, listening to my lawyer argue why the case against me was baseless and should be dismissed.  There I was, barely holding on to life, and listening to the hum and whirl of my infusion pump push formula into my small bowel through my feeding tube, feeling quite angry and quite justified in my anger and self-pity.  The case was dismissed as meritless.  But the anger I felt towards the former client and friend who had betrayed me in my darkest hour lingered.

Victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.

The former client that betrayed me didn’t seem to care.  He was looking for an easy way to avoid a $1 million judgment against him (in a fraud lawsuit) that he couldn’t pay.  I didn’t lose his case.  I dropped his case after this client stopped paying me and owed me thousands of dollars in unpaid attorney’s fees.  Then, more than 18 months later, another lawyer, who didn’t have malpractice insurance, finished the case and lost.  So, my former client apparently told the lawyers that sued him to sue me for malpractice because he knew I had insurance.  A story of my alleged wrongdoing was fabricated, the body of my work was falsified and then it (and my large insurance policy) was cast into the waters for the sharks to attack.  Fortunately, the judge saw through the subterfuge and tossed the case out.  I won the case.  But would I lose my soul?

I always had two choices ….

No matter how I looked at it, I always had two choices.  I could hate or I could love.  I could forgive or I could hold a grudge.  I could move on or I could seek revenge (if only just reimbursement for the $15,000.00 deductible I had to pay the insurance company for my defense attorney which was a devastating financial blow in light of all my medical bills, not to mention the thousands of dollars this guy owed me).  What should I do?

I learned that there is no joy in victimhood.  In fact, the longer you cling to your status as victim, the more you will suffer.  Yet we see more and more victims every day.  They are all around us.  They are everywhere.  We all know one.  They are like crack addicts, just waiting to get their next fix of sympathy or pity.  But the narcotic effects of attention wear off quickly and soon the victim clamors for another round of condolences.  Complaining.  Crying.  Shouting.  Raging.  Whatever it takes to get that next hit.  But it’s never enough.

It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Perhaps that’s because victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.  Victimhood is the polar opposite of everything Jesus offers you.  The victim wants to be thirsty and parched.  But Jesus says if you come to me you’ll never be thirsty again.  (John 4:14.)  The victim wants to be hungry and starving.  But Jesus says come to me and you’ll never be hungry.  (John 6:35.)  Jesus was wounded so we could be healed.  (Isaiah 53:5.)  The victim rejects healing so as to remain wounded.  Jesus was the great and final sacrifice.  (Hebrews 10:1-18.)  In contrast, the victim is the continual and insatiable martyr, egotistically substituting himself for the Savior.

The narcotic effect wears off quickly and soon we clamor for another round of condolences.

Why do we choose victimhood?  And, make no doubt about it, victimhood is a choice.  Like the choice to shoot up or choose any other false substitute for the atonement of Jesus Christ to ease your pain, it’s a very sinister and self-destructive choice that will take you to very dark places.  It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44.)  Why?  Not because it is some grand requirement to get into heaven.  But because it will make you happy … now.  It’s actually very good therapy.  It’s wise living.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.

What was I going to do when I saw this friend and former client?  I would run in to him a lot.  In fact, I would see him at church every Sunday.  I decided to experiment upon God’s word.  I stopped praying that God would change him and I started praying that God would change me.  I prayed that God might fill my heart with empathy, compassion and charity and remove the hatred and anger I felt.  I prayed for the courage to hold my tongue.  I prayed for the strength to love.  And the next time I saw him, I hugged him.

I hugged him ….

What did that feel like?

It felt like I was in a holy place.  I felt love.  I felt the love of God come through me and empower me.  I felt his presence, telling me that everything would be okay.  I felt God tell me that I didn’t have to trust this person ever again.  I didn’t have to have a relationship with this person ever again.  I didn’t have to excuse what this person did to me or deny that it hurt me.  I didn’t even have to like this person.  I just had to love him.  And there’s a big difference.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.  Not only that but this self-imposed distancing also requires aiders and abettors to feed the hungry, self-centered werewolf that hatred and anger make of us all, thus drawing others away, too.  In contrast, the decision to let go of your victimhood and love is unitive, filling and fulfilling.  It is transformative, ennobling and uplifting as you experience the incredible love of God flowing through you and lifting you to higher ground.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ who suffered, bled and died for him and said, “[i]nasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40.)  As difficult as it is, I would much rather hold on to the Victim than the dark and endless abyss of victimhood.

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

Have You Ever Felt Empty and Disconnected?

Have You Ever Felt Empty and Disconnected?

Have you ever been in one of those funks where you just feel empty?  You feel so empty inside that you don’t really feel anything at all?  You’re numb and disconnected. Very recently, I had been in one of those ruts for several weeks and, try as I might, I just couldn’t get out.  I had no desire to do good or get outside of myself.  I had nothing in the tank.  The thought of getting out and visiting someone to cheer them up or making food for someone–my usual means of de-funking my life and getting out of that rut–overwhelmed me.  The very thought of it was exhausting.  I had nothing.  I was stuck.  The only thing I could do was to pray and ask God for help.  I asked God to help me find a way out.

I had no desire to do good or get outside of myself.  I had nothing in the tank.

After several more days of this empty disconnectedness, I decided to take my 12-year-old daughter, Sophie, for a drive up the canyon to scout out my favorite fishing holes to see if the violence of winter, followed by the aggressive spring runoff, had damaged my favorite spots.  As we were driving, we noticed a young couple–two teenagers–stopped on the side of the road.  I drove right past them.  Then that “something” inside of me–that voice that whispers to  your soul–told me to turn around and go see if that young couple needed help.  They did.

I jacked up their car, removed the blown tire, and replaced it with the spare.

Turns out a jagged rock in the road had blown their tire and they had no clue as to how to remove it and replace it with the spare tire in their trunk.  They didn’t know how to use the tire jack.  They didn’t know how to remove the lug nuts.  So I jacked up their car, removed the blown tire, and replaced it with the spare.  They happily went on their way.  And I happily went on my way, as well.  But I wasn’t empty any more.  I was filled with love.

Helping this young couple reminded me of one of the teachings in my book, Built to Love:  “Yes, God’s love feels fleeting at times.  But I think this is because we were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.  The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we 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.”

We were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.

Serving this young couple in this very small way made me feel connected to God once again, which was a good thing because I was scheduled to speak to a youth group at a local university the very next day.  I was terrified of speaking to them about becoming built to love when I was overwhelmed with disconnectedness and felt no love inside of me at all. Fortunately, God heard my little prayer and put someone in my path to help me break the cycle.

When we perform acts of love and service we invoke the presence of God, for God IS love.  “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.  (1 John 4:16.)   Where love is, there God is also.  So if you long for God’s presence, then stop thinking of yourself, stop brooding, and put yourself in the presence of others.  Choose to love them and you will soon find yourself happy and in the presence of God.  In the immortal words of Jean Val Jean from the beloved Les Miserables, to love another person is to see the face of God.

I am reminded, once again, of my “Proxy Triangle”:

Since Jesus taught “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … ye have done it unto me,” others stand as proxies for Him.  That means there is a triangular relationship between me, God and others–an at-one-ment that brings us together through love and compassion.  One of my favorite authors and teachers, Richard Rohr, recently explained it this way:

The Spirit of God, poured into our hearts as love (Romans 5:5), gathers us together in the body of Christ, transforming us so that “we become by grace what God is by nature,” namely, persons in full communion with God and with every creature.

It’s a beautiful thing to feel connected again.  I know that darkness will return one day.  I know that I will find myself lost in a cave of emptiness once more.  This is because I am mortal, weak and still learning.  This oneness or at-one-ment with everyone and everything waxes and wanes.  But, through pursuing a path of discipleship, I am learning how to cope better.  I am learning how to live.

As I look back on it, the things that caused the darkness to settle in were rather mundane and routine.  I had spent too much time at work.  I hadn’t been getting enough sleep.  This rendered me self-centered instead of other-centered, and derailed me for a time on my journey to becoming built to love.  As Jesus put it, “He that findeth his life shall lose it.”  (Matthew 10:39.)  Thankfully, however, a flat tire on the side of the road has me back on track.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

Shouldn’t the questions you ask yourself at the end of your life be the same questions you ask yourself each day?  If you were about to face your final judgment, what would you be asking yourself?  Did I spend enough time at the office?  Were my teeth white enough?  Did my butt look big in those pants?  Did I spend enough time at the gym?  Was I popular?  I don’t know what the ultimate questions would be.  However, when I was given my two weeks notice by the doctor, the following questions are the ones that came to my mind as I thought about my most treasured relationships.  Perhaps asking yourself these questions daily will prepare you to answer them in the days to come … and help you become built to love.

Question 1:  Have I Listened?

Listening is like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience.

To listen is to love. To be a sponge that absorbs the venom and toxicity of a poisoned soul is difficult. To mourn with those who mourn is painful. To listen to others can be a burden. It’s like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience. But this is what fuels relationships. This is what fuels love. As author and Mennonite minister David Augsberger wisely observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”

This soul-to-soul communication puts you into communion with God because, remember, the “least of these” you listen to is a proxy for Jesus. (See Matthew 25:31-46.)  Hence, to truly listen to another human being is to hear the voice of God.

“Listening is as close to acting for God as God will allow.”

Listening is also as close to acting for God as God will allow. Listening is, in essence, a form of receiving prayer. The realm of listening, therefore, is sacred ground. The miracle of listening is that it elevates you while you lift others. All of that lifting, hauling and stacking of life’s lumber transforms and strengthens us in the process, as well. We get to vicariously learn and experience life.

The hardest part about listening is that mere mortals are ill-equipped to solve problems. But that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems. You don’t have to have all the answers … or even any of them. Listening is its own medicine. Saying, “I honestly don’t know what to tell you because your burdens are so enormous and complex” to someone who is truly overwhelmed with life will be reaffirming to them, especially if you follow that with, “you’re an amazing person. You teach me so much.”

Listening is loving.

Question 2:  Have I Encouraged?

It only takes a second to offer encouragement.

There really is no excuse for failing to offer encouragement. You can text. You can message. You can email. Even just sending two or three words can make all the difference to someone’s day.

There are so many times throughout my battles with illness when a simple text made the difference between a day spent in loneliness, battling wrenching, nauseous pain, and a day where at least I didn’t feel so alone.

What can you say to offer encouragement?

“I’m hurting for you.”  “You don’t deserve this.”  “Keep fighting.”  “Your example gives me strength.”  “You are so strong.”  “I’m on your side.”  “I’m cheering for you.”  “Don’t quit. We need you.”

There are a hundred simple things you can say to make someone feel loved and acknowledged.  Of course, taking the time to explain what someone means to you and how they have influenced your life for good is even better. The point is, you must act. You must speak. You must say something. In the face of suffering or trial, your silence says a thousand things and none of them are good. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” “In the end,” he said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

If you don’t know what to say, say that. For someone suffering from extreme trials and burdens, to hear someone say “I don’t know what to say” is, strangely enough, very encouraging to them because it is validating. It shows that you “get it.” If you understand, maybe God understands. If God understands, then maybe there’s hope.

If all else fails, just remember listening is loving. Hugs are almost always welcome. Your tears also say a lot. It’s okay to cry with others. Tears are the cleansing and encouraging solvents of the soul.

Question 3:  Have I Given?

The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we 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.  If you have listened or encouraged someone, you have given. But it also brings you a lot of happiness to physically give something to someone on a daily basis.

Giving is living. Be generous.

It doesn’t have to be big. Give a child some money. Stop at the lemonade or cookie stand and see what happens when you whip out a $5 bill. Don’t be a stingy tipper. Pay for the food order behind you in the drive through line. Donate money to charity. Give  someone a book (especially mine!).  Make cookies for someone. Send flowers.  Take someone out to lunch. Find out what they like or enjoy and get it for them. Buy someone their favorite drink or smoothie.  Sneak some money into your kid’s wallet or purse.  Do it.  It will make you feel good.  I promise.

Remember the Platinum Rule.

The only rule here is be sure that your giving is empathy-guided.  Remember the “platinum rule,” which is the proper interpretation of the golden rule. That rule, when properly understood, is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.” What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?” To treat you the way you want to be treated. Jesus understood this and taught this simple truth. Give people what they want.  (See Matthew 7:9-11.)

The reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it. You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need. You have to understand them. Love takes empathy.

The whole condescension of God illustrates this. The condescension of God teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.

Give today.  Giving is living.

The Way of Discipleship

Daily asking yourself these three simple questions—“Have I listened? Have I encouraged? Have I given?”—will keep you focused as you strive to become built to love. It will also help keep you happy.  Finally, asking these three questions of yourself daily will help you in the noble endeavor of trying to follow Jesus and prepare you for the day when there’s no more time for questions.