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.

Living With Trolls As A Codependant Addict.

I remember the first time I had my writing published online. It was for my favorite website and I couldn’t be more excited. I had dreamed about the moment for days as I spent far too much time analyzing each word and sentence to make sure I had the best piece of work I could possibly produce.

Finally it was ready and I sent it in excited to receive all the congratulatory comments. I refreshed the page over and over on the day it was going live, excited to see my face and words online somewhere other than my own blog.

It went up and I waited for the first comments to come in. It was going to be flooded with admirers and the site was probably going to crash, so incredibly fresh and innovative were my ideas.

Then the first comment finally arrived. Here it was. My life was going to change forever.

“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”

Obviously I must have clicked on the wrong post. But no, that was definitely my picture in the top corner and those were definitely my words in the post.

This was not the initial reaction I had anticipated or indeed hoped for. But there it was.

Looking back, I am incredibly grateful that this was my first comment. Who wants people to like what you do anyway right?….RIGHT?! I have written many more blog posts since then and I’ve received probably a 50/50 split between positive and negative comments.

I’ve been called arrogant, dumb, a heretic and many other names.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how often you receive criticism, it’s difficult to not let it stick. I can receive ten positive comments and one negative and it’s that one negative that sticks with you.

It hits you in the gut. It doesn’t matter if it comes from someone completely anonymous; you know, those Twitter egg people. It still gets me every time. I overthink it and spend far too much time mentally getting back at them and putting them down with a quick witted response that there will be no coming back from.

It consumes me.

Slowly though, I’ve been learning there is a better way to react to criticism. First it’s important for me to sit with whatever it is I experience when I’m criticized. You see I’ve started to see that facing criticism is actually a healthy endeavor. That ultimately there is no positive or negative criticism, just transformative.

What would happen if instead of seeing praise as positive and criticism as negative we see it all as an opportunity to learn something? When I say this, I don’t simply mean that criticism keeps us humble. I mean that criticism gives us a chance of responding with Grace to the critic.

Because for anyone who has ever worked in customer service will attest, the customer is not always right.

For me at least, criticism doesn’t exist in a vacuum but amongst an experience of addiction, co dependency and fear.

Here’s what I mean by that.

As a former addict, an addict who is a Christian at that, anytime my addiction took a hold of me it evoked strong feelings of shame and guilt. These feelings similarly didn’t exist in a vacuum but in the middle of relationships and how I responded to everyday life. So you know, everything. It produced a strong co dependency in me where I needed others to be cool with me, since I was definitely not cool with myself.

Which means criticism took on extra power. Even if I knew deep down that the criticism I received wasn’t true or that the critic didn’t really know me and my intentions; my co dependency wouldn’t allow me to truly believe that. Furthermore, I wasn’t even able to split the honest concern from the trolls. All I knew was that I was being “attacked” and because I was an addict and carried huge amounts of shame with me everywhere, it was probably justified.

troll-thumb

Yes, this is the creepiest image I could find.

They were probably right.

This occurred in every single sphere of my life.

Our ego kicks in heavily when we’re criticized. Now, I’m not simply talking about the typical idea of ego in terms of thinking “I’m great” or “I deserve to be respected because of how awesome I am”. Those are simply symptoms of the larger psychological idea of our ego’s job as a protection from pain.

We don’t like criticism because it threatens our very understanding of the world and our place in it.

Take for instance, how anytime a traditional Christian belief is questioned and the reaction that provokes. It’s ultimately a reaction of fear. What if my understanding of God and the world around me is a little shaky? It doesn’t help that this often occurs in a sub conscious way. If we’re so sure that our beliefs are correct there is no need to react with fear. It doesn’t have to hit us.

But it does. Every time. Right in the gut.

And if you’re an addict also, that punch in the gut is also a line of people taking their turn slapping you in the face.

So everything suffered. My relationships, my creativity, my self esteem. The criticism of my beliefs or words even when they were supplied from people who I know love me and care for me, were taken as a damnation on my very existence. Under everything was a deeply engrained belief that I am a bad person, so any criticism was just a timely reminder of this ‘truth’.

Even praise or affirmation didn’t help, not only because shame was so deeply engrained but also because when shame is a constant voice whispering into your ear, praise is seen as misguided or uninformed.

Criticism stifled my creativity because it reminded me of how much of a horrible person I was.

Praise and encouragement stifled it because shame knew better than the person offering encouragement. Like searching for an exit from a maze, only to find yourself back in the same spot 20 minutes later.

Now I allow myself to enjoy praise and criticism. They don’t have to be my enemies. I can dance with them.

Inevitably, as the shame and co dependency from my addictions began to heal so did my creativity. It came from a purer place. I was able to be proud of my work even if some didn’t agree with it. I didn’t and don’t have to be correct all the time.

We don’t need to be afraid anymore. We can develop a greater capacity for Love.

Many Christians misconstrue the idea that we need to be humble as meaning not being proud of our work or being excited that others are benefiting from it.

And for a long time that was how my belief functioned.

Yet my beliefs about the world instructed me to react with my back up anytime some one disagreed with me too. Whether that was my theology, views on justice, politics or anything else. If one part was wrong, then everything must have been wrong so I carried a huge pile of guilt and a deep feeling in the pit of my stomach full of anxiety and worry. Instead of trusting my gut, I assumed that it was lying to my face.

The secrets of addiction, compounded with any inkling of criticism led to me shutting down. I stopped enjoying music, art, relationships, life. The real me, the one I recognized from a distant past became ever more a blip on the horizon. It dawned on me that there are groups of people in my life who don’t know me at all. On one hand that makes me sad but honestly, mostly excited for what will come from this day forward.

Now, things are different. As I’ve healed from addiction I am learning to accept that being wrong does not require me to give up on my journey. I am beginning to view Grace in a new light too. It’s not about saving me to go to Heaven, rather it’s a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors that allows me to interact with everyone, no matter who you are or where you’ve been.

Regardless of your political or theological views.

It even makes room for Arsenal supporters.

I don’t need you to like me or like my work anymore. I’m ok with you calling me a heretic. I’m ok with you not getting it. I don’t need to persuade you. It may just not be for you right now.

If my work helps or encourages you I am thankful and grateful and I would love to continue that with you. I want to help you explore your own journey and discover your own creativity.

Because I don’t think I’m an asshole anymore, it means I don’t have to think you are either.

I am ready to move forward.

My gut was once my enemy.

Now it’s my best friend.

God hates click bait (or how we don’t need to please God anymore….no really)

I’m tired of click bait. I get it of course. We want people to visit our sites and our blogs and if we simply offer them 5 easy steps to achieve their dreams or suggest we have video footage of the most amazing goal we’ve ever seen, it’s hard to resist.

But rarely do any of these things live up to the hype that they promise. (Scoring from before the half way line into an open net is not that difficult).

Those 5 easy steps you’ve been given are actually extremely difficult. Simple maybe, but extremely difficult. So after all that, I want to share the one piece of advice I heard this year that I’ve been thinking about ever since I heard it. I truly believe it could be life changing but remember, simple does not mean easy.

Now before I get to that one piece of advice, based on my previous paragraphs, I want to be completely forthright. This won’t be new to many of you. You’re going to be extremely disappointed actually. This is not going to turn your world upside down.

So I heard this piece of advice in a sermon given by Pete Rollins, a Philosopher from Northern Ireland but who lives in LA. He was speaking at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he said this right at the end.

“You don’t need to change, none of you need to change”

That’s it. Thank you and goodnight.

So, ok. There’s a lot more to this but actually, no there isn’t. You don’t need to change. You’re fine as you are. Stop trying to change anything. Stop trying to iron out the crinkles. They’re not part of you, they are you. It’s all going to be ok.

But in the words of Father Fitzgerald, the priest with the most monotonous voice in the world, “What’s the catch”?

77b3996c-26f6-4977-94cc-e5351c856527Well there isn’t one. At least there shouldn’t be one.

I’ve had enough experience being part of the Christian world and church to know that despite our message of acceptance and unconditional love we spend a lot of time and resources on showing people how to change. Heck, my job last year was leading groups full of men who desired to change.

But somehow I believe we’ve lost the true message that we don’t need to change.

What if we stopped there. “You don’t need to change”. Not, “You don’t need to change….but…”. Just.

You

don’t

need

to

change. (Damn it Rob Bell)

There is a reason obviously so many of us feel the need to change. Perhaps it’s because we’re stuck in an addiction of behaviors that are slowly ripping our soul apart. Or we think we need to look sexier, sound smarter or work out more.

But there is a huge difference between needing to change and wanting to change.

Take addiction for example. In fact, take a Christian who is addicted. It doesn’t matter what to. Does that person feel the need to change because they believe that somehow their addiction is jeopardizing their salvation or love? If that’s the case, which I believe for so many of us it is when we really start to be honest, then they don’t need to stop looking at porn, or overeating or drinking.

Remember? Unconditional love. There is no “but” to unconditional love. It’s either unconditional or it’s not. And we all know that. We all claim to believe in the inability to earn God’s love.

So why do we try?

Before we get there, try this for one day. Every time you think about that thing about yourself which you want to quit or change, tell yourself that you don’t have to. You can go crazy and do it all day if you want.

Look at porn. Overeat. Don’t workout. Don’t do your taxes.

Also, ask yourself why you want to change. Here are some answers which are not acceptable, if you truly believe in unconditional love like you say you do. God will be angry at me. Nope. God will be disappointed at me. Nope again. God will be frustrated….You get the idea.

The reason that none of those answers are helpful is because underneath them all is a belief that God needs us to change. But why would He? What effect would it have on God if we changed? Does He suddenly love us more if we change? Well if that’s true, then we don’t believe in unconditional love. Which is fine. But don’t pretend that unconditional love is any real force in your life if any of those beliefs about God are true for you.

If we spend our lives constantly trying to please a God who we claim loves us unconditionally we’ll end up going a little crazy. How will we know if we’ve ever achieved enough? What if we change that one massive thing that’s weighing on our shoulders but start doing something else that’s not quite as “bad?”

The God’s aren’t angry.

Of course change is an important and natural part of life. Change can be good. If I’m using a behavior that is causing me massive amounts of shame then that behavior is not healthy. But a more pertinent question, than how do I stop or start doing something is, Why do I feel shame?

Shame arises out of a deep belief that we are a bad person. A bad person because we’ve set ourselves up and consequently failed to live to a standard we were never supposed to achieve.

Perfection.

This is the question that God asked Adam and Eve. Who told you you were supposed to feel shame?

When I took the decision to stop viewing porn I set myself up for failure. Because I was doing it out of a false belief that God needed me to change. That was the operational belief in my life and so every decision, moment, success or failure had it’s value based solely on how it had lived up to that belief.

I believed God loved me more when I abstained from porn. I believed He wanted me to burn in Hell if I didn’t.

The problem is that for us mere humans, this all plays out subtly in our subconscious. I don’t really think God wants to send me to Hell but I do. I don’t really think that if I view porn today I’m a horrible person, but I do. I don’t really believe that God’s love is conditional on my obedience but I do.

This is why, when my friend Seth meets with guys who are dealing with addiction he tells them to go all out. Have at it.

When I took the decision to stop viewing porn because it was damaging my life and causing me to disconnect and feel like a shell of a human, things changed.

I was changing because the alternative was just so horrible, not because I needed to meet God’s standards. I felt Grace properly for the first time in my life.

Pete Rollins in a recent episode of The Deconstructionists podcast explained Grace wonderfully. Allow me to butcher it for you. (Or you should probably just listen to it yourself and save me any embarrassment)

We tell ourselves there is something we need to change. Another more subconscious part of us protests against that voice by pushing against the change. How Grace works then is to come in and dismantle that first voice telling us we need to change by reminding us that we don’t. With that, the protest voice inside us also falls away allowing us to truly change.

Not because we need to but because we’re free from having to.

I know this doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t. Which is perfect for us because we need it to not make sense. Because for so long we’ve heard the messages of Grace from our pulpits but we’ve never truly experienced it. Which is why a daily routine of spiritual practice is so important for everyone.

If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of God, think of it as a Higher force. Something that desires us to move forward and live in peace with ourselves and others.

I would go as far as suggesting that for you right now, you don’t really believe in Grace. Not in a real way. I say that, knowing for me and countless others I’ve worked with, Grace was something we understood but never felt.

None of this matters unless we go through a new experience of course. “Understanding” this won’t change anything for you. You’ve understood it for your whole life, I’m guessing.

But now is the time to feel it.

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