When losing your religion means losing your fingers and toes. (Or why your faith hasn’t healed you).

Elisha and Naaman

There’s a great story in the Old Testament about an army commander named Naaman. Naaman was  the top dog in the army of a place called Aram.

Oh and Naaman had leprosy. A virus that I was told about so much as a kid in Sunday School I was terrified of my body parts falling off.

The writer of the book tells us that some of Arams’ people had gone and trafficked a young Israelite girl to serve Naaman’s wife.

Now this young girl knew about a prophet back in Israel called Elisha who could heal and she suggested that Naaman head on over there and have this guy heal him of his leprosy.

So off Naaman went and met the King of Israel who upon hearing Naaman’s request got in quite the tizzy because how the heck was he going to be able to heal this guy of his leprosy?! Plus he was probably afraid of repercussion if he couldn’t come through.

Thankfully Elisha turns up and tells the King that he is overreacting and that he will indeed help Naaman. So what does he do? Lay his hands on him and pray a wordy, dramatic prayer to God bringing down light from Heaven and watch as Naaman’s skin is restored? Recite some magic spell, making humming noises and laying his hands on his body?

Or rather, tell him to bathe not once, not twice, but seven times in the river Jordan?

Now I don’t know if this story actually happened. But to spend too much time worrying about that is to miss a more important point that the writer could be trying to tell us.

To understand what that is, it is helpful to think about another story of miraculous healing found in the book of John. In this story Jesus heals a man who has been blind from birth by spitting on the ground, making some mud from the saliva that he just spat up and then putting it on this blind guy’s eyes.

Nice.

Then he instructs the man to do something that you might have seen coming. He tells him to go and wash in a pool. He went, did that and John says he “came home seeing”.

I wonder if this blind guy knew of the story of Naaman?

But people who saw this once blind man, question whether this is actually the same blind man they’ve seen every day begging. There is something about this guy that looks completely different. Then there is Naaman. Imagine, if you were a part of his army or his wife or one of his friends and he returns home with brand new skin?

You wouldn’t recognize him would you? It would kind of look like him but not really. You literally wouldn’t believe your eyes.

Two stories about healing involving water and two stories about healing that seemingly led to a transformation that rendered the person unrecognizable.

But what is more extraordinary is the manner that both men were healed. Grossness is heavily involved. One man is asked to bathe his virus ridden body in a river that many relied on for life. The other had spitty mud applied to his face. These are manners of healing that are the exact opposite of what you’d expect. How on earth would someone else’s spit mixed with mud, not do anything but damage already damaged eyes.

Even if said spit belongs to the Son of God?!

Regardless, if any of us found ourselves in similar situations and someone told us to carry out instructions including bathing in rivers or applying spit/mud concoctions to our eyes we would resist. It’s just so far fetched that we’d think someone was taking the piss.

In fact I’m surprised piss wasn’t involved somehow.

But here’s the thing. It worked. These men were healed. At least in the case of Naaman (who could see what was going on) after his initial hesitancy, he did what he was told and he was healed. Perhaps he was so desperate that he would travel a long distance on the word of some young girl and perhaps his leprosy was so bad that what extra harm could bathing in the River Jordan do, right?

Or, maybe it was the words of his servants who reasoned with him, suggesting that if Elisha had asked him to take some grand, over the top action he would have done it without even thinking. Yet, how much simpler is bathing a few times in a river?

Now, we could read this as a really strange story from thousands of years ago that may just have been rumor and legend, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some really important truth for us to think about.

So now we’ve thought a little about mud and spit and our fingers and toes falling off; it makes complete sense for us to think about porn addiction.

Still with me? Good, because here is why addiction and Naaman are so important.

When we talk about the things that affect the church the most, porn is usually not very high on that list. But that’s simply because we don’t talk about it very much and the vast numbers of Christians who compulsively view porn every day definitely don’t talk about it. Men and women. I mean lots and lots and lots of men and women.

So it goes under the radar. Then if we do talk about it this is the typical approach to dealing with it.

Download some accountability software. Commit to reading your Bible more. Remember that Jesus loves you unconditionally. Pray harder. Worship louder. Go for a run. Call a buddy. Have a plan.

Or we write articles about why porn is bad and how it damages your marriage or how your marriage is going to end. Or we talk about how it aids the human trafficking industry and think about what it would be like if it was your sister or your daughter in those pictures you’re wanking over every evening?

I know we do this because I’ve written plenty of those exact articles over the years. I’ve tried all those tactics a million times.

And here’s the kicker. They don’t really work. Men and women in the church continue to struggle with addictions and anxiety and fear and pain for their whole life. Hanging on tightly to their Christian beliefs that they simply need to do more of the same old things.

Our faith has failed us.

The way we have dealt with healing in the church from things like porn addiction, usually just create a different type of prison and simply use shame to pressure us into staying away from it. Shame may be a powerful force but it simply distracts us from facing the real pain we’re experiencing.

It give us control. But it doesn’t give us freedom.

When Naaman was asked to bathe his infected body 7 times in a river, of course he thought it was insane

But it worked.

If we were in the crowd as we watched a rogue Jewish Rabbi spit on the ground, mix it with the dirt to create a spit/mud concoction and apply it to a blind man’s eyes; of course we would have considered this Rabbi a mad man.

But it worked.

For the church today, all the different tools that we use to defeat porn addiction are treated in the same manner that Naaman expected himself to be healed. Naaman thought he knew how it worked. We think we know how it works. We know how this is supposed to happen. We know the rules.

But what if the rules just haven’t been working?

What if all the filters in the world and all the accountability software and all the cold showers are ultimately of no help?

For a Christian industry based on those things, that’s frightening. We’re invested in them because we need control, but do we really want freedom? What if our journey towards freedom required something radical from us. Something that seems so outside the Christian box that we’ve put healing into, that it ends up becoming our version of bathing in the River Jordan.

But it works.

Last year I led over 300 men through small groups run using My Pilgrimage. My friends Seth and David wrote a book and workbook based on their own experience in Alaska where they describe their healing and transformation which was unlike anything I had ever heard of before.

I started applying the experiences and tools they had to my own life and underwent my own radical transformation.

But the thing is, it wasn’t necessarily a “Christian” experience of healing. God was in it, the Holy Spirit was involved but most of us in the church would be very hesitant and weary to engage with it. Which is what I found in the groups. And is probably exactly why it was so powerful.

Some men, were so desperate for healing that they were willing to lay down some of their beliefs and try something radical. When they did, they discovered something better than simply not looking at porn anymore.

Others, just couldn’t do it. They didn’t want the shame anymore but they turned up expecting and hoping to be told to just do the same old things again. Some questioned the theology of the program and some turned up to a group once, then left frustrated that things didn’t magically just change.

This was very interesting to me because it seems that we’re very hesitant of things that are different. We can see the evidence of healing in someone’s life but still not want to engage with it because we’re afraid we’re selling our souls to the devil.

What do we do with those stories of healing that don’t make sense?

What if someone experiences something we desire but it doesn’t fit into our Christian or Spiritual paradigm?

We shouldn’t underestimate the lengths we’ll go to to stop our pain being exposed.

We in the church, tend to treat our pain as something that we can simply heal by thinking better. This is why we rely so heavily on software or by memorizing Bible verses or anything that makes us think better for a moment. We tell ourselves that Jesus loves us unconditionally.

But when this has no effect, then what?

The problem though, isn’t that Jesus doesn’t love us unconditionally. But rather, that part of us doesn’t truly believe that He does. So we sing louder on a Sunday morning, trying to convince ourselves of something that part of us can’t fully accept.

We treat sobriety as something that will be our Salvation, rather than allow it be the result of Salvation. (Tweet this)

We’re not trying to convince God that we accept His Love, we’re trying to convince ourselves.

And if at the deepest level, we don’t truly believe that, no amount of sobriety will help.

In the Jewish Scriptures belief isn’t an academic endeavor; it’s a practical one. For the Jewish people, belief required actions. Faith and belief is the foundation of which proof or evidence or the fruits of the spirit arise, not vice versa.

Doubt then, in the ancient Scriptures is not a dangerous threat to our connection with God, but ultimately the source of our connection to the Divine.

But when doubt is pushed further and further down, because we’re afraid that what we’re doing isn’t working, it becomes a silent killer.

So back to Naaman and the blind guy.

These stories primarily show and encourage us to look outside what we think is the right way to do things and be open to stories and ways of healing that on the face of it, may look strange. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time and are struggling with anxiety, pain or addiction. You’ve tried all the right things but still aren’t free.

You tell yourself that this is your cross to bear but I wonder if you truly believe that or are trying to convince yourself that you’re alright.

When we hold tightly to our Christian cliches and ways of healing and they don’t work, we should learn to loosen our grip and allow ourselves to pick up something new and fresh. Then we will experience healing in ways that we have never dreamed of.

And if you’re lucky, you won’t even need to rub spit in your eyes.

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Learning how to write again (Or why I couldn’t be arsed writing for a year)

It’s been exactly one year and one month since I wrote on my blog. This may not shock you as much as it shocked me but after spending a good 10 minutes trying to remember my log in info for my site, I’m not really surprised.

I am hoping this is a lot like riding a bike but just to be safe, I have my stabilizers firmly fitted to my wheels.

Ok, so now I have a crappy analogy out of the way, why have I not been writing for the past year?

For many of you who have been following my blog or presence online for a while you will know that porn has been a pretty big part of my life, for better or worse. I’ll not rehash my story here but you can check up some of my journey and evolution here.

Backing up just a little, I’ve been involved with the ministry xxxchurch for about 5 years as a blogger, small group leader, coach and teacher. Then a couple of years ago I was introduced to Seth Taylor and later his brother David. With them I found kindred spirits in how I thought about porn, addiction and spirituality.

Hearing Seth and David’s story and their journey finding freedom from addiction, anxiety and depression was something that blew apart how I approached God. Seth and David wrote a book called Feels Like Redemption, and once I started reading the first few pages of an early draft, I knew I needed to get to know these guys more.

I had grown tired of the usual, “3 simple steps to defeating porn”. I was tired of the cliches and solutions that were based around controlling behavior. There had to be something better to dealing with this, I told myself.

Seth and I began to dialogue over email.

Simultaneously at this point I had begun practicing meditation, processing (a type of visual emotional healing) and allowing myself to be ok with doubt and the mystery of God. Over the last few years I’ve started to become interested in the more mystic side of Christianity. I started to question why Christians hardly ever experience the healing we claim to believe in, dealing with the fact that it was kind of arrogant of me to believe I could understand how God operates.

Was a filter for our computers the best we could come up with?

Seth and David have helped me as much as anyone in shaping not so much what I believe, but how I believe.

A mini personal reformation if you will.

They developed a new program called My Pilgrimage. More the framework for a new type of spiritual journey than a “program” to “defeat” porn.

Then, last February, I had the privilege to begin leading 20 small groups each week; guiding guys through this pretty radical idea of healing and transformation.

This has been my job. This has been what I’ve devoted pretty much every waking minute to for 10 months.

And let me tell you, it’s been one hell of a year. It’s been exhausting. It’s been frustrating. It’s been maddening, exciting and did I say exhausting. I’ve seen guys go from being held down and clinging to a god that has simply just not been working for them, to finding a freedom from addiction that they never imagined was possible.

Many have joined the groups and many have stopped, not experiencing anything substantial.

I don’t blame them. If we decide to partake in such a journey we are going to asked to bring up our pain and wounds and face it and deal with it. It asks us to put aside our identities for a moment or two, so that we can deconstruct the beliefs that need to be reconstructed.

There have been times where I’ve just wanted to ignore my email reminder to start a group at 730am in the morning or 930pm in the evening.

There are the groups I thought were going to be difficult and stressful but which have pushed me more than any other.

Others have joined and formed bonds and relationships with each other that will live on.

These guys I’ve met are not just clients or participants in a group; but people who I now call friends. They have taught me so much.

Then there is Brittany who has been unbelievable in encouraging me and picking me up off the floor, sacrificing her evenings with me so I could lead small groups 3 evenings out of the week.

Those 10 months were the most professionally, personally, emotionally and spiritually fulfilling and draining, I’ve ever had.

So the last thing I’ve usually felt like doing was to sit down and write.

And just before Christmas it came to an end. 800 small group meetings later and I’m at peace. I’m ready for the next thing. But first I need to breathe and take stock. I’m excited for what’s coming and I want to keep moving but it’s time to have a Sabbath.

I’ll post more soon about how this year has changed me and expect much more writing from me than this year. Shouldn’t be hard.

Until then, Peace and Grace my friends.

What Now For Page 3?

The first time I saw a page 3 model I must have been around 5 or 6. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My whole world had opened up before me and all I wanted was more. The more, in question was of course the plethora of toys that the kid in the Toymaster brochure seemed to own. Lucky bastard.

Fast forward, 8 or 9 years I was still jealous of that kid probably now in his early teens like me and still getting spoiled with all the latest gear, but now it was probably more cool gadgets and portable sound playing machines. Lucky bastard. On this particular day though it was a different page 3 that I was interested in. Continue reading

Christians and porn. Why protesting is not the answer.

How we treat porn stars or page 3 models is a question that is often absent in any discussion on the exploitation of women and to some extent men, in the mammoth porn industry that is in our faces more often than not.

Most people don’t like sexism, most people believe that male or female bodies should not be used for the sexual pleasure of a 14 year old cracking open the pages of Zoo in his bedroom. And an end to publications that promote these thoughts and ideas would benefit a lot of people.

Yet, I see a problem with the promotion simply of boycotts or protests of magazines like Zoo or “newspapers” like the Sun. Continue reading