Thinking Out Loud

October 3, 2013

Sexual Expectations

sexual expectationsSometime last week I was reading an article that used a term that is probably widely employed in online articles, but I had simply never run across it: Porn sex. As you can guess, the article was about the fact that many men — and some women — have expectations based on things they’ve seen online that aren’t being met. There is a very real sense in which some people view internet porn as a marriage textbook and think that it models the way things are supposed to happen.

It’s not fair however to blame this phenomenon on recent technology. In a pre-online era, there was movie sex. While the line between the two is probably now blurred — unlike my Evangelical blogger counterparts, Mrs. W. and I don’t really go to movies — I’m thinking that the movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s probably presented a surrealistic image of sex that might not reflect reality for the average Joe and Joanne.

But if you think of it, expectations — both in the bedroom and in terms of what’s being served for dinner — have always been a consequence of lack of communication in marriage. Perhaps one of the couple believes that to talk about something that should be spontaneous spoils the experience. Some might even say that to set a time makes it sound clinical, like an appointment. My suspicion is that marriage counselors would lean toward the idea of more communication. If only, for example, he would say to her, “Honey, do you think tonight you can do that thing where you…

“…put raisins in the brown rice with sweet and sour sauce, and add some chopped radishes to the salad?” (Ha! And you thought I was going to say something else, which is the expectations thing happening again.) Perhaps the supper table conversation is a barometer of what’s happening in other rooms in the house.

I think the problem is that when you focus on the expectation you ruin the process. Reality isn’t always the same as what happens onscreen at the cinema, much less what happens on the smaller screen in your home.

August 13, 2013

Keep the Story, Lose the Illustration

This is a rebroadcast of a piece from September 2011…

Having become previously acquainted with the addictive properties of the internet’s dark side, I can identify with the AA mantra that “one drink is too many and a thousand drinks are not enough.” I have experienced moments where one online image essentially gives you permission to then delve deeper into more of the same, a task easily undertaken when you have the road map memorized.

Of late, this has not been an issue. Facing job uncertainty, the loss of a friendship, or a medical challenge has a way of keeping you focused on things that matter, and making a renewed commitment to purity of thoughts and actions. For me, anyway. I know there are others for whom the same stresses are what drives them to find a way of escape. But lately I have been relatively detoxified and in fact, there are parts of the above-mentioned roadmap that start to fade over time.

But it can only take one idea, one article, or one photograph; and the process can start to unravel. I know this because, about a week ago it happened to me

On a Christian website.

The woman in question, who I believe has written some Christian books, had posted to her site/blog an article about a particularly disturbing trend taking place. I won’t name it, because I don’t want to drive anyone to find it. She posted a number of pictures including one that I don’t feel was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, in the limited internet exploration which did follow, I discovered she had posted a picture that many secular bloggers and media sites had shied away from.

And then, there was the temptation to go back and see how some hold friends are faring, if you get my drift. Heck, I had already started down the road, and I might as well see how the old neighborhood was doing.

But instead, I just sat at the computer, not once, not twice, but several times with my hands hovering over the keyboard, but unable to complete any actual keystrokes. Some would say there was a battle raging. If so, the battle probably stretched out over about three days. In the end, while I somewhat danced around the outskirts of what is for me, the internet’s forbidden zone, I did not actually revisit the old haunts.

But none of this — absolutely none of it — would have happened if a certain Christian internet writer had been content just to report on a problem without feeling the need to add pictures. It was just completely unnecessary. And it was, to at least one person, a huge potential stumbling block.

We all want more readers. We all want to think our particular blog or website is a relevant source of breaking trends and opinion on current issues. The stats provide that affirmation.

But not at any price.

August 8, 2013

Thursday Link List

linksHere’s a few things that just missed being in yesterday’s list. I may add them to next week’s for the wider audience at Out of Ur; then again I might forget.

  • Bene Diction Blogs On has a good follow-up piece on the huge credibility gap with Tony Anthony’s book Taming the Tiger, which has culminated in the closing of his ministry.  Click here.
  • Who is Samuel Williamson? The name doesn’t register, but his blog, Beliefs of the Heart gets a lot of comment action. In a recent piece he suggests that Sunday School with its simplified-message Bible stories possibly does more harm than good. Click here
  • This is not a current link, but the above reminds me of a piece we did here about ten months ago about The Bible Story Handbook, by John and Kim Walton. See below for a quotation.  Click here.
  • I’m sure that when the Bible speaks about wives submitting to husbands, nobody had in mind the type of things Lee Grady has witnessed. Click here.
  • Rocky of Ages:  This is a current link, but pertains to some old information. An email is making the rounds about the conversion of Sylvester Stallone. Unlike many religiously flavored email forwards, this one actually made it into Snopes.com. Click here.

“If we present something as God’s Word when it is not, we are misusing God’s name. Students of the Bible expect their teachers to present the authoritative teaching of God’s Word as given by the inspired authors. If we substitute this teaching for some idea we think is important, students don’t know the difference. We are then violating the third commandment because we have attributed God’s authority to what is really only our own idea.” (John & Kim Walton, The Bible Story Handbook; p. 25)

July 31, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Bible for Christmas

We scan the internet so you don’t have to!

Got a suggestion for a link here? Contact me through Thinking Out Loud before 6 PM Eastern on Mondays.

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

April 10, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Community Baptist Church

I’m a success at blogging but a failure at Twitter. Please follow me… please?

Any one of this week’s links could have been its own feature article.  By the way, I’m organizing a travel opportunity that begins in a Wesleyan college in western New York and ends in Jerusalem. I call it the Israel Houghton Tour.

Explaining Present Technology

April 4, 2013

A Lesson Learned Too Late is Still a Lesson Learned

Was this the one time we disobeyed God? …Okay, maybe there were lots of times…

The time in particular that I’m considering is the time we moved to the city where we now live. It was 22 years ago, and we came with some “push” factors (wanting to get out of our 9th floor apartment in the city of three million) and some “pull” factors (liking the look of the town, as seen from the highway).

Later, I would write a song with an opening sentence that talks about the “pull” factors:

The part of the town that you see from the highway
Is never the part that the people there know.
The smiles and hellos that are so superficial
Filter the feelings we never let show.

When the business we were going to start in this town didn’t happen, we got caught up with the momentum of the “push” factors and decided we would move anyway. We would go into this foreign place and trust God to work out the details for employment and income. Not so smart.

(Tangent/aside: Never move to a town where you plan to raise a family if you don’t know anyone and therefore don’t have your potential babysitters or family supports lined up ahead of time. Ours included teenage girls who were (a) completely inexperienced — “You mean I was supposed to change him?” — with kids, (b) dealing with medical crises, (c) dealing with severe emotional breakdown.)

I think there was some element of God’s leading us to where we moved. We thought we were moving to start a business, but instead, we ended up getting involved with a church that really needed us. I got to write a newspaper column every weekend for ten years which paid for our groceries. My wife got to raise her boys in a house and not the apartment in the big smoke. I got to teach a year at a Christian school. My wife got to start a number of ministry projects which have made a big difference in the lives of people.

But did God just allow us to “make the best of it?” Was there a principle we missed?

I think there was, but I didn’t know the particular chapter and verse at the time. The verse is found in Proverbs 24:2 –

Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house. (NLT)

First plant your fields; then build your barn. (Message)

Fix your business outside. Get your fields in shape and then build your house. (rough English translation of Louis Segond translation in French)

In other words, get a job, know where your mortgage payments are going to come from. Heck; know where your next dollar is coming from. Settle your career in that place first, then talk about your residence. Don’t move to Dallas, or Lisbon or Sydney without having a job waiting.

But we were young, we were idealistic, we were acting on a mix of faith and foolishness. I think we prayed about it — a bit — but earnestly praying together as a couple hasn’t been our strong suit. If you’re a younger married couple, and the shoe fits, take that as a personal admonition to do better than us when it comes to prayer. Starting now.

Joshua 9:14 — the story of Joshua’s ill-advised treaty with the Gibeonites — makes an even stronger case:

The Israelites … did not inquire of the Lord. (TNIV)

So the men … did not ask counsel from the Lord (ESV)

I really feel that God has journeyed with us and blessed us so many ways. But there have been some uphill battles that I believe trace back to not adhering to a basic scriptural principle. In many ways we’ve lived like monks who have taken a vow of poverty, nonetheless we’ve been blessed with some family circumstances that made it possible for us to live what appears from the outside to be a comfortable lower-middle-class life.

But my advice to people today is always the same: Prepare your work in the fields and then build your house.

January 18, 2013

Me Live: Saturday on the Drew Marshall Show

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:13 am

Vanity compels me to mention that on Saturday afternoon, I’ll be the “God Blogger” of the week on Canada’s most-listened to spiritual talk radio show, The Drew Marshall Show. (You get to hear the nasally voice that goes with what you read in print, but fortunately, the God Bloggers don’t have to submit a picture for Drew’s website!)

The show runs from 1:00 – 5:00 PM EST (New York City time) and my segment with Drew will occur probably around 2:00 PM.

No matter where you live you can tune in to a live stream at this link:

http://drewmarshall.ca/livestream.html

If you live in greater Toronto area (from Kitchener to Oshawa) you can also listen live at JOY-1250 (AM) radio.

Interestingly enough, other guests this week include Justin and Trisha Davis. When I was asked by Drew to compile a list of some of the things that have attracted the most interest here, I added the WordPress top posts list to the bottom of the sidebar and noted that number one presently is a compilation page of an eight-part article by Justin and Trisha, The Eight Things That Destroyed Our Marriage. I knew the piece was attracting traffic here since it was posted here in 2009, but didn’t realize it still draws so many readers. There’s some great advice there, and you’ll want to stay tuned for the interview to hear their story.

Whether or not Drew and I will get into the Louis Giglio thing — he’ll probably deal with it in the first segment with his co-host — I’m really enjoying following the discussion at Todd Rhoades’ blog. I really appreciated this reader comment today:

There is an unintended consequence of Louie’s withdraw. A precedent has been set. There is a new standard of who is and who is not allowed to participate in public events. The new standard is that those who hold the Bible’s view of homosexuality are not welcome or allowed to participate. Though not the intent, the withdraw inadvertently concedes that those that hold the Bible’s view of homosexuality are just as bad as those that would discriminate on the basis of race.

The draw for yesterday’s contest to win a copy of When Donkeys Talk by Tyler Blanski won’t happen until later Monday; so there’s still time to leave a comment — any comment — on yesterday’s item and be entered. Be sure to indicate your country as instructed.

December 29, 2012

Men and Pornography: Keeping the Discussion Going

In July, 2008, I posted a draft version of The Pornography Effect online, and spent a great deal of energy trying to increase awareness of this plague which has spread via technology and has had particularly damaging effects on men. A few months later, popular blogger and writer Jeff Goins interviewed me on the subject, and today I can’t honestly recall where the interview appeared; but after finding a copy of it yesterday, I thought it helpful to spread this message yet again. Besides, we need to keep this discussion going. This is the first time this material has appeared at Thinking Out Loud.

You can read The Pornography Effect here, it uses a blog format but reads like a book with the chapters in proper order and a ‘next page’ type of click necessary to get to the second of the two screens.  It takes about 55 minutes. There’s also a ‘Cliff Notes’ version of the key points here.

The Interview

What is your personal experience with pornography? What did your own struggle look like?

We owned a computer that was connected online for about ten years before anything remotely pornographic ever crossed the screen.   Up until that point, I would say I was probably in the “This could never happen to me” category.   One Saturday afternoon doing a relatively random search, I ended up in the middle of an erotic novel.   A few days later I decided to read the whole thing from the beginning.   When I finished the story, nearly two weeks later, a link took me a site which contained photographic porn.   At that point certain walls of resistance had already collapsed.   Like the proverbial “guy with a remote control” who “wants to know what else is on,” I was determined to explore this alternative universe.   The internet was more than willing to oblige.   Even though I was leading worship in my church on Sunday, I was on the way to becoming a hopeless slave to internet pornography addiction.   But I rationalized that I was balancing the two worlds quite capably and getting away with it.

After what I consider a wake-up call several months later, I was able to break free for several months.   And then I went back for several weeks.   And then broke free again.   Today, there is a short-term freedom in being able to honestly say I’ve forgotten the internet addresses of most of those sites.   But in the long-term, the fact remains I know the search criteria that got me there.   For anyone, the internet’s dark side is never more than a few clicks and keystrokes away.

When did you realize that this was a systemic problem in a lot of men’s lives?

After remaining free for a longer period, I decided to (a) go public, and (b) create a forum for women to know more about the mechanics of how the internet porn industry functions.   There are millions of pornographic web pages, but each has one thing in common:  They were all put there by someone.  That person had a reason, a motivation, and I thought it would be helpful to create more understanding of why the stuff is there in the first place.   Perhaps I’m wired to want to share and apply knowledge once it’s acquired.   Perhaps I was trying to redeem a bad personal experience.   I just figured there were already seminars for men who were dealing with a multitude of addictive behavior, but nothing for the women who were, as I termed it, the collateral damage in the sphere of internet addiction.

teen with computer I found out really fast that this is truly “the elephant in the room” both within and outside the church.   Tell people this is what you want to discuss, and the room gets really quiet.   Plus, I’m in Canada where there isn’t the same transparency about personal struggles.   We don’t talk about our spiritual lives here in the same way that people do in the U.S.  I have always know that this was a hot topic, but once I was trying to create open discussion, it was initially the silence that told me I had struck a nerve more than anyone’s particular admission or confession.

For a younger generation of internet sex addicts, though, this is a non-issue.   Images of naked people — even images of their classmates — have been available online all their lives.  An entire generation is being raised without a sense of shame.   It was once the case that humans distinguished themselves from the animals by our ability to blush, but slowly, an entire generation is losing that.   They would say there is no problem at all here.

How does pornography affect men’s relationships with their wives, family members, and God?

I don’t think anyone who has had exposure to pornography is ever the same.   Over an extended period, I think exposure rewrites the brain programs of our minds, to the point where, for guys, any female is just a body to be exploited.    I don’t think any man who is deeply hooked can look at his wife or girlfriend, his sister, his daughter or even his mother the same way.   Yes, I’m saying it changes all relationships that a man has with all females.  The girl serving at the fast food place.  The woman in line at the bank.   The kindergarten teacher at the elementary school.  All females. 

In terms of spousal relationships, the problem — and fortunately this wasn’t exactly the issue for me — is that men are intended to find sexual fulfillment in their wives. (And likewise, wives in their husbands.)   So immediately the relationship is encountering damage.   But where the internet habit is also a secret habit, there is an additional wall of separation building between the husband and wife.   Trying to get “alone time” on the family computer can also cause friction between other family members.

Spiritually, sin is sin.   While we can admit that God probably ain’t too happy, we can use all kinds of rationalization to justify that what we’re doing isn’t such a big deal.   After all, aren’t a lot of popular songs played on radio somewhat pornographic when you read the lyrics?    If a person is really tuned in to their own spirit, I think they’ll recognize that, like Adam in Eden, we’ve somewhat hidden ourselves, and hurt the relationship in the process.   There are other indicators of spiritual life and growth that will start to flash warning lights.

 Have you encountered women who have struggled with porn?

Once I went more public with my desire to speak to this subject, I had a number of women who came to talk me.   While at first discussing a husband’s or a son’s addiction, they eventually shared with me that they had struggled with this themselves.   Yielding to female stereotypes of soap operas and romance novels, I assumed they were speaking of text pornography, like the novel that had initially hooked me.   But they were saying no such thing.   They were into the pictures just like the guys were, and one woman in particular hinted at a very deep addition that had tied up hundreds and hundreds of online hours.

However, one of the main ideas I want to advance is the idea that text pornography is every bit as dangerous and harmful as drawn or photographic pornography.  It is able to convey ideas that either (a) cannot be expressed in a picture, or (b) would still be considered taboo graphically.  Text pornography, which includes but is not limited to erotic literature, puts forward ideas which in some cases are intended to change societal norms.  It ought to be the focus of more concern.

 What does it mean for a porn/sex addict to discover grace? What does that look like?

I think that the grace of God comes in the form of the strength that we don’t have within ourselves to walk away from the internet, either figuratively or literally.  Apart from Christ’s power working in us, there’s no compelling reason to break free, let alone the strength to do it.   But with Christ’s power, I believe that breaking free of this particular addiction can be a relatively painless process.   If we see our sin as being sin against God, we will strive for holy living.   The man who desires to do the will of God positionally does not sin.  

Grace can also appear in the form of a friend who has walked the same road, or a friend who is simply brave enough to wade into the topic with you.   Grace can be a pastor willing to devote a Sunday morning sermon to the topic; and grace can be a congregation that doesn’t judge when you walk towards the altar at the pastor’s invitation.  Grace can be an understanding spouse who desires to encourage you towards freedom from addiction.   Grace can even be a young daughter who catches a glance of an image on your computer screen and asks, “Daddy, how would you feel if that were me?”

Can you share at least one story of someone you know who was able to break out of a porn addiction?

It’s interesting to think about that question apart from the various things I’ve read in books and magazine articles that were all U.S.-based.  The Book Porn Nation by Michael Leahy, and the book I Surrender All:  Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography by Renee and Clay Cross share two stories that I believe to be representative of stories that are common to so many.  In my country, what I’ve experienced is hushed voices, speaking in low tones, whispering, “Been there.  Done that.   Free now.”  

I think the curiosity factor engages a great percentage of men at one time or another, particularly as the computer changes the way pornography is accessed.    The question is how long are you going to stay in Sin City?   Some stay a long time.   Some reading this are there right now.   No… make that many reading this are there right now.  Thankfully,  I think there are probably more stories of spiritual victory out there than we realize, but far too many men are afraid to admit the problem existed in the first place.   A person has to simply determine not to go back there. 

What resources are available for those who are struggling?

If a person has a trusted friend who can serve as an accountability partner, I think that accountability software like Covenant Eyes is probably the best resource we have right now.   I know pastors who serve as accountability watchdogs for each other.   If a person is really fighting the addicitive nature (which can be part of the human condition) then a program like Celebrate Recovery is also helpful.

October 3, 2008

November 28, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Some extra graphics this week for your Facebook page or tumblr blog.

  • UPDATE from yesterday’s post here concerning Two-and-a-Half Men actor Angus T. Jones: Journalist Maria Cowell has asked all the right questions in this interview posted at Christianity Today.
  • Christmas songs: How soon should they start and how many should you do? For worship leaders, Jason Hatley offers a programmatic approach to building Christmas music content. (Mainline churches don’t have this problem as tradition pretty well dictates content.)
  • Or you could do this song. (Nobody would ever forget it.)
  • Which reminds me, our 2010 post, Should Audiences Stand for the Hallelujah Chorus still gets a lot of readers and the odd comment. (But you should probably stand for And Can It Be and All Hail The Power, too.)
  • Lots of music-related stuff this week, like Rich Kirkpatrick’s list of questions about worship ministry that weekend service attenders might like answered. (Some of which I hadn’t thought of before.)
  • Of course you can’t please everyone with church music; here’s a classic Perry Noble response from 2007 — five years ago — about loud music in the church.  (He’s running a top ten list from each of the last seven years of blogging.)
  • Or you might prefer Perry’s 2006 post on seven reasons why Jesus wouldn’t qualify as a pastor in most of our churches. (He’d certainly be under review by now.)
  • Mark O. offers some great advice for the parents and youth leaders of middle-school teens on how they see themselves.  (It actually does involve using a mirror.)
  • I’m not sure why I made this a ‘page’ and not a ‘post’ — probably the extreme length of it — but we still get lots of hits on The Eight Things That Destroyed Our Marriage, culled from eight different blog posts by Justin and Trisha Davis. (I think Justin turns up occasionally on Pete Wilson’s Sunday service online feed.)
  • Sometimes the things that turn up in a week of faith-based web-surfing are just bizarre, like this April-released movie, Seventh Gay Adventists. (I think it’s more about gay than the SDA church.)
  • Greg Boyd — a major proponent of what’s called ‘open theology’ — defines the phrase in terms of ‘unrealized possibilities’ in this four minute video.  (But does God know if you’re going to click on this link or not?)
  • Here’s another review of a 2009 book that is proving to be the sleeper title of 2012: The Lost World of Genesis One. (Note to friends and family: Since you can’t get review copies of 3-year-old books, this one is at the top of my Christmas list.)
  • A word of the week for preachers and public speakers: Fermata.  (Hint: It’s a music term.) (HT: Darryl Dash‘s Saturday Link List for pastors.)
  • Ken Ham responds to a website written for teens who need encouragement in living as atheists, including a section on how they can ‘come out’ to their parents. (He encourages parents to have a counter-response.)
  • There’s an app for The War Cry, the Salvation Army magazine that traces its history back to 1879 enters the digital age. (Canadian readers: Ours is a different edition; not sure if it’s online.)
  • Are there people at your church you try to avoid? Just asking. (Maybe I’m the guy everybody else is avoiding.)

I love this well-marked Bible; it’s my current desktop theme.

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