What I Want More Than an End to Porn

A friend told me recently about a kid in third grade who was having behavioral troubles: saying and doing weird stuff, relating oddly to his peers. A little sleuth work from adults who love him revealed why: he’d been exposed to—and nearly devoured by—porn on his phone. He is eight years old.

EIGHT.

This story was shocking because of the age of the person involved, but sadly not because of the content. More and more I hear from pastors and friends and wives-of-husbands and mothers-of-teens about the soul-destroying , imagination-crushing, joy-sapping and trust-smashing effects of pornography. In their homes. Classrooms. Churches.

And, more recently, I’ve had young men (and women, because this is not just a men’s issue) tearfully confess to me how they feel like they’re drowning in this addiction. They know they shouldn’t, but they just don’t know how to stop. They can’t unsee what they’ve seen, and somewhere deep inside them there’s an insatiable visceral growl to see more, and more, and more.

I feel their despair and some of their hopelessness: addictions are so hard to break. Will they ever be able to have healthy sex lives? Is it really that bad? If they’re Christians, will God forgive them? Will they ever be able to go to sleep and not be assaulted by mental images that tantalize and torment them?

Of course, there’s all the research out there that says STOP, JUST STOP using porn. It’s bad for you: it’s rewiring your brain, wrecking adolescentsdestroying your capacity for intimacy in relationships, underpinning human trafficking, and more. Heck, even manly man magazine GQ has a list of reasons why you should stop watching porn, including that it declines arousal rates, increases rates of erectile dysfunction, and leads to all-round lower energy and productivity rates.

Stopping such high-sensory-feedback, addictive habits is notoriously difficult, particularly when there’s the cloak of shame that makes community support and encouragement (often the bedrock of any addiction recovery plan) all the more difficult. But the good advice and necessary steps to stopping remain important and true:

  • find a buddy/community who can help you identify when you feel weakest/most likely to indulge.
  • take practical steps to make access more difficult for you: alcoholics purge their homes of alcohol. Porn addicts  need to get their screens the heck out of their bedrooms and enclosed spaces. Put your phone and laptop in the living room. Keep the office door open. Install software that flags porn and give someone else the passwords to check it.
  • Look for the encouragement from people who’ve walked this road before you, whether in person or online. There are stories of people who’ve come out on the other side. These are important for the wisdom they give as well as for cultivating hope. We *need* to hear stories of people who will say “I used to have these images in my mind ALL the time, but it’s been a year and I’m not so haunted anymore. It gets better.”
  • Celebrate little victories. A year without porn doesn’t happen until you’ve had a day, two days, three days, a week without it. Each of these is worth celebrating.

But the more I listen and read and pray over this situation, the more I realize that I want more for people than for them to stop using pornYes, I want them to be free of the entrapment and shame and damage that it does – but I want more for them than freedom. Just like I want more for a caged animal than for it to be let out of its cage: I want to see it run free in its habitat. I want to see it flourishing in the areas it wasn’t able to before.

This is what I want for a generation trapped in porn addiction: I want them to be free, but I want more:

  • I want for you to have a network of healthy, rich, rewarding relationships with men and women of different ages. I want you to be able to laugh, work, partner, play, and grow with men and women in friendship and companionship, without it being weird or erotic. I want for you, young men, to have female FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I want for you, young women, to have male FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I don’t want you to be afraid of your own psyche or taunted imagination: I want you to be able to share a story or a project or a hug or whatever with freedom and joy with men or women around you.
  • I want you to kindle your creative imagination: to use your time and energy to devote to something you love and can do well. Hours of addiction, particularly addiction which rewires our brain with (terrible!) narrative plots, kill our imagination. I want you to invent something, build something, write something, chase after an ambition, run a 10k race, take up rock climbing, adopt a puppy and train it to do amazing tricks. Whatever. I want to see you experience joy and fulfillment in something you put your energy into.
  • I want you to experience your sexuality – your maleness or femaleness – as something good, beautiful, and true – not terrifying or debilitating or depraved. We are not androgynous personalities, we are male and female in all our relationships and endeavors, and I want you to know that being a woman is good and being a man is good and to think and pray and explore what that means. Our sex-crazed society has eroticized all of our gendered conversations and I want us to reclaim that good and holy ground: what does it mean to be a BROTHER and not just a sibling? What does it mean to be a DAUGHTER and not just a child? How is it unique that you are a GUY-friend or a GIRL-friend to your community? How do we experience being sons and daughters of God, and brothers and sisters in the church?
  • I want you to know the powerful and healing good of non-sexual, physical touch. Greet one another with a holy kiss, the Apostle said; and Jesus—while totally able to heal with a word—repeatedly TOUCHED people in his dealings with them. I want you to be able to give and receive hugs, handshakes, and the laying on of hands in prayer in life-affirming ways.
  • I want you to know, both in conviction and hopefully one day in experience, the richness that married sex can bring. It’s so much better, so much more rewarding, so vastly different from the sex that is peddled online. I want you to know that it’s possible and doable, even for broken people. I know, because I’m one of them.

Thinking through this list gives me courage, though. Because while there’s not a lot I can do to help people STOP using porn, there’s a lot I can do to help be part of a redeeming and healthy community of men and women. I can invite men and women over and be a healthy female friend to them. I can ask questions about people’s interests and hobbies and encourage them in them in creativity: attend that art exhibition, cheer them on in their first race, post a picture of their cool art on instagram. I can notice and affirm healthy relationships where I see them – for someone who’s internally feeling that they are not a safe or worthwhile person to be in a relationship with the opposite sex because of their internal shame struggle with porn, perhaps it could be life giving to have someone else affirm: “you were a good friend to her when you said/did x,y,z.” And, of course, we can be healthy touchers. I’m a believer in hugs and handshakes and words of affirmation. And, as readers of this blog know, I’m a believer in sharing hopeful, redemptive stories about marriage and sex.

There’s a battle going on for the hearts, minds, and imaginations of this generation. I can’t be the 1am gatekeeper or take down the porn industry; but this much I can do:

I can pray.

I can encourage.

And I can help be part of the forgiven and flourishing community of women and men that God intended for us, and keep inviting people to experience True Life there.

This much, I can do.

 

 

A Moment for the Middle Child

DSC_2005_2

Seven years ago today, I woke up with a back ache which wouldn’t go away. It got worse and worse, and after an hour of shifting positions, it dawned on me that perhaps—just perhaps—I was in labor. I was 40 weeks pregnant, after all. It shouldn’t have taken me that long to work out.

A very hurried two hours later, I held our newborn boy in my arms: slick white, chubby, cooing on my breast. My body was in shock and I, shivering, had a wild, lucid thought flash through my mind:

Pay attention to this moment. Remember the details of this birth, so that it doesn’t get blurred between your first and your last baby. 

I remember the thought as a shock: I’d been a mother of two for barely ten minutes, and yet a voice—whose voice?—seemed so confident there would be a third. So, pay attention to this one, the one in the middle, for he is unique. special. God’s good gift to you this day.

This morning, I held that much-bigger-but-still-sweet boy in my arms, whispering Happy Birthday and telling him—as I do every year—the story of his birth. I remember the details and honor him, just like the voice told me too. My second-born, and in no way crowded out, precious middle child.


My friend Kate Motaung hosts a wonderful community of writers who take on a five-minute writing assignments on a Friday. This week the prompt was middle, so how could I not take her up on this? Five minutes of writing to remember, and honor, my boy on his special day 🙂 You can click over to Kate’s lovely site and read more.

On Adulting, Growing Up, and Turning 40.

1460048015441

Along with “woke” (aware of societal injustice, especially racism) and “coulrophobia” (fear of clowns), adulting made the 2016 Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year list. I like word lists, and I’ve done an awful lot of “adulting” lately, and so perhaps it was inevitable that at some point my jumble of thoughts would turn into a blog post.

The Word of the Year list defines “adulting” this way:

The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.

These last six months have been very busy for us. I didn’t write most of the summer and then wrote a hello-its-me-I’m-back post in September, and then pretty much fell off a cliff immediately afterwards. There are many reasons for this: within a week of the school year starting up, we decided to buy a house and got word that our permanent residency application had been approved (This is HUGE. Here’s backstory if you need it!) This triggered an avalanche of paperwork, and I dutifully donned my administrative SCUBA gear and dove headfirst into the depths. Six weeks later, my kids were falling apart at the seams from neglect, and we still had to finish packing up and moving house. Our new house is wonderful in most every way, except that what we had hoped would be a minor “updating” of the kitchen turned into a complete-gutting-and-remodel when we found some structural problems that needed to be addressed. For the record, we’ve been in our house for 7 weeks now and still don’t have a kitchen. Not a sink. Not a countertop. Not a single working outlet in that room. sigh.

In the midst of this, I turned 40 – a milestone I wish I was cool enough and mentally healthy enough not to have dreaded as I did, but whatever. Turning 40 is like a mean game of hide and seek: no matter where you hide, the countdown continues and it’s coming whether you’re ready or not. But being found by the big-four-oh wasn’t as bad as I’d feared (the build-up is always worse than the thing itself, I think.) Mostly, I’d been afraid that the big milestone birthday would include some sort of reckoning of my worth: if I wasn’t wildly celebrated would that mean I didn’t have friends? If I still didn’t have a work permit and closed out my thirties without having had a paying job for a decade, did that mean I’d wasted it? These are silly questions when you speak them out loud, but they can shout quite loudly when you’re up at 3:30am contemplating kitchenlessness.

I hate 3:30am.

This is what happened on my fortieth birthday: I canceled brunch with a friend because I needed to troubleshoot a crisis with the countertop installation in the kitchen. I then sat at home and paid bills and did laundry. I shampooed marker out of my son’s carpet. I answered the phone. I read two hundred Facebook messages and smiled at each and every one of them. I drove carpool, picked my kids up from school, and they had piano lessons. I adulted.

And I was okay with that.

Part of the reason I was okay was that I had received the perfect card from my husband that morning, and I read and re-read his words multiple times throughout the day. He acknowledged that he knew I’d been anxious about this birthday and he wished we’d been able to do something really big to celebrate: something on our bucket list like a trip to Italy! But, he said, when we look back on this season of our lives, perhaps it won’t have been the most fun birthday, but it was a season in which we bought a house we love, raised children, and changed countries. “Perhaps we will look back on this as the time we finally became grownups,” he said.

I laughed through tears as I read that. How ridiculous that we should be in our FORTIES before we were ready to acknowledge we were grownups. But therein lies the paradox of “adulting”. Unlike a student card or a drivers’ license or a passport, nobody issues you were a “Grownup card” to make it official. We feel for years and years and years that overarching sense of continuity between our teen selves and the person we are now. Surely we would know we were adults because we would feel different? And yet we don’t feel different – the evidence of wrinkles and a spreading butt notwithstanding – and so it seems somehow strange to have crossed that threshold without it being official in some way.

And so it is that when we are adults who somehow still vividly remember being 20 and on-the-cusp-of-adulthood, and we find ourselves filling our days with mundane but necessary tasks, we need a word to describe it: “adulting”. As if these were activities abnormal to our true state of (carefree, youthful) being. As if we were really big children playing “house” where I pretend to be the mom and he pretends to be the dad and we pretend to go to the store and make dinner.

Nope. We’re not adulting. We’re adults. This is not a dress rehearsal. As it turns out, we’ve been adults for a while. And maybe turning 40 is not so bad when I realize it is not an unfair number to slap onto a feels-much-younger self. It’s exactly the right number for someone who has lived and loved and learned for 40 years.

After my ordinary day of regular tasks as an adult on my birthday (note, I didn’t say adulting), my husband took me out for dinner. Towards the end of dinner, two friends—dressed like clowns!—rapped at the restaurant window and kidnapped me for a surprise birthday party, complete with chocolate fondue and the world’s largest balloons. We drank liquor without being carded, and at the end of the evening we all headed home to our love-and-responsibility-filled-houses. This, too, was adulting: the up-side of having responsibility and freedom and choice… and luckily no-one with coulrophobia.

Ask Me: “Should I go to grad school if I want to be a mom one day?”

should-i-go-to-grad-school-if-i-hope-to-be-a-mom-one-day-2

Dear Bronwyn,

I finished college and have been working for a few years. I love my job, and pursuing graduate school feels like the logical next step for me and had been a part of my original plan. Yet I strongly feel that if I have children, I want to raise them. My question is this: is it wise to continue to go to school and invest time and money in advancing one’s career if one’s eventual hope is to be a mom? Advancement may make scaling back hours or taking a few years to raise children difficult, and taking time off to raise kids may result in slacked skills/practice upon re-entry into the working world.

There’s a second part to my question: if one isn’t even dating anyone and not currently bearing children, is it wise to make decisions on something that may never happen? I feel that we as women are not supposed to sit back and twiddle our thumbs until/if we get married, yet there is a reality to consequences from decisions made.

Do you have any thoughts?

Sera Sera

Dear Sera Sera,

As the old song goes: “Que Sera Sera; whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” That’s all fine and well, but the question remains: so, if I don’t know the future, what should I do now?

My advice: make the best decision you know now based on the information you have now. We don’t know what we don’t know, and when we do know better/more, we can adjust accordingly. Or, to put it in Christian parlance: be faithful with the opportunities and talents you have now, and entrust the future to God.

It sounds like God has given you the ability and resources to serve him and others in your career, and if you have a desire to pursue that more, I want to encourage you to pay attention to those desires. Jen Michel’s book Teach Us To Want is so helpful in this, as it teases out what life and ambition in the life of faith could look like. For us to learn how to name and ask for what we want—acknowledging that our interests and longings and skills are part of who God created us to be—and to prayerfully and faithfully pursue those while simultaneously holding outcomes with an open hand (“thy will be done”), is a mark of deep maturity in faith. If you feel a calling to specific, further training in your profession; I’d encourage you to press into that and see where it goes.

The second part of your question has to do with the bigger issue of whether (and how much) to pursue a career if you hope to be a full-time, or most-of-the-time mom, in the future. To this end, I want to highly recommend Katelyn Beaty’s book A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the WorldBeaty spells out that as image bearers of God, women are called to be flourishing culture-makers alongside men. That deep need we feel to make an impact for good on the world is part of the way God has wired us, and the hundreds of women (including homemakers) she interviewed bore out what my testimony is, too: staying at home to raise children can be exhausting and fill every second of every minute of every day… and yet somehow we still feel we were “made for more” influence than just the walls of our home.

So… all of that to say, I would want to encourage you to think about the fact that even if The Guy walks into your life right now—the one whom you will relate to face-to-face, and then also side-by-side in service of the Kingdom— and even if you have a whirlwind wedding and a baby within a year (go ahead, snicker. But these things happen)… I’m betting that the longing you have for developing your passions and serving in your area of training and gifting is not going to magically vaporize should you become a Mother. Even as a Mom, you will still be you, and you will long to make a difference and you will still be interested in the things that interested you before… and the task then will be figuring out how to pace your interests and responsibilities for each season of life.

So I want to encourage you to take the next steps to living out your calling as you have opportunity now, whether that be taking a career risk and trying something new, or pursuing grad school, or whatever. Sitting around and waiting feels a lot like the servant who buried his talents to me. My one caveat would be this: if taking this next step involves such a huge financial commitment (like medical school, for example, which is not only a commitment to 6 or so years, but a further commitment of 10 years at least to pay off the debt that most people incur!), take more serious counsel. That’s a BIG commitment, and not one you could walk away from 2 to 3 years down the line. But if the opportunities before you have a much shorter commitment in both time and money, then maybe consider that this might be God nudging you to be and serve just as He intended you to be.

Oh, and one more thing: just a reminder that even in the absence of an exclusive dating relationship with marriage potential, all of us are always called to a life of increasingly deep, intimate, loving and others-centered relationships with the people around us. No matter whether you study or stay or marry or move… committing to loving those around you better and growing in depth of relationship is something you will never regret.

All the best,

Bronwyn

 

Got a question you’d like to ask me on my virtual couch with a virtual hot beverage in hand? Contact me here….

 

 

 

Crossing the Waters: Me and Zebedee teaching our children to fish (a guest post by Leslie Leyland Fields)

Leslie Leyland Fieldscrossing-3-d-small is an award-winning journalist and author of ten books; which should be reason enough to commend her writing. But I also get to call this women I admire and appreciate a friend, which is a heaping bounty of grace to me. Her writing is beautiful, and her photos are beautiful… and even those are just a snapshot of this radiant, fierce, gracious woman. I’m thrilled to share an excerpt from her latest release: Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt the Seas. (It’s a good one, you’re going to want to read more. Trust me.)

 

 

This work doesn’t make sense. Why are we here? I glance at my son Elisha, 19, here beside me in the skiff, and then at Micah, my youngest son, 11. We work too hard out here on this ocean, our piece of the Golf of Alaska. There have been summers when we worked unending hours every day of the week for four months—and earned nothing.

dsc_0881

Still, we came back to our fish camp island the next year. And the next. I’ve been out here for 39 summers now; my husband for 53. It’s a sickness. It’s a disease. It’s love. It’s hope. Once you have spent any part of your life on water—living throbbing thrilling liquid moody dangerous unsinkable water—you cannot turn away. It gets inside you. No, it’s already inside you. We are made of humus, it is true, of the soil itself, but the ocean roars in our chests, pulses through the river of our veins. And there, on the sea, blown about by winds, floating between sky and earth, working by tide and by fish instead of time, fishermen feel a kind of freedom from those who live on land, punching a daily clock. We are slaves to sea and fish, but somehow, paradoxically, we feel a strange sense of freedom. Why would we give this up?

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1449.

But they did, those fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Those four, or perhaps even six of the twelve, dropped their nets to follow this new rabbi. Why did they do it? The gospel account makes it all so simple, so immediate, and their obedience so unquestioning. “At once” it says, “they left their nets and followed him.” But they weren’t just leaving the nets behind. They were leaving their family business. They were leaving their father. “At once.” That fast.

noah-pulling-in-skiff-in-storm

I turn and look at Elisha, 19. His young beard is sparse, his eyes are half-lidded against the wind and spray as he shakes out finger kelp from the net. His face is neutral though I know he hates this—a whole carpet of kelp clings to the meshes and must be shaken out. We all hate it. I automatically help him, my own arms raising and lowering the net with him. Micah, 11, beside me, follows suit. I am standing between them, my youngest son on my right, my middle son on my left. The three of us now, arms out, waving and vibrating the net in perfect unison. I glance at them and almost smile. I know they do not see this, the wonder of it.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1330.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1304.

dsc_0346-1

And this is just what those men left behind. They left their father, and maybe even other brothers. And this business they had worked in together all their lives. How do you give this up? I have some idea what those years looked like, those years of training since they were small. First, where to sit in the boat, how to stay still and keep your place and not get in the men’s way.

dsc_0681

dsc_0685

Then how to pull on the net, where to pull, how to extract the fish, how to tie up to another boat and not get your fingers smashed between them. And among all this, all of us parents watching these little boys and my daughter making a way to play in the boat while the men work: the fish recruited as talking puppets, the bull kelp carved into flutes, the games and stories and falling asleep in the stern when the hour got late.

For Zebedee, the patient teaching on the oars, how to position them, how to dip them efficiently. For us, the gradual move to running the engine, the intricate steering and landing. Then teaching how to mend the nets. Then working in storms. Until the day the son or the daughter stands in the stern of their own boat, only fourteen, but on the water they’re adults now, teaching their crewmen all they know, and driving out onto the ocean ahead of you or beside you. You still work together on the same nets, in the same ten miles of ocean, but now in separate boats. You still have to hire workers to help, but no hired men can replace your own sons and daughters.

dsc_0687

I know how this feels, to be Zebedee, and to see your children called away from the nets. He could not operate without them. Nor can we. My children leave fishing early to return to school—first elementary, then high school, then college. Duncan and the rest of the crew stay another month to finish the season. My kids leave for internships, to do research with a professor. Some do not come back, except for a short visit. And after college, what then? One does not come back, except for short visits. Another son says he won’t come back after he graduates. Will they leave fishing forever? I know how it feels, the empty place at the table, their skiff run by someone else. It’s a loss. An aching loss. Will they come back, any of them? That’s all we want to know, Zebedee and I.

dsc_0199-1

 

Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas  is Leslie Leyland Fields’ tenth book. Others include Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, and The Spirit of Food. When she isn’t fishing, speaking or writing, you’ll find her on her island picking rose petals for jam or creating a new recipe with her favorite food—Alaska salmon.

In Crossing the Waters, you’ll be swept up in a fresh experience of the gospels, traveling with the fishermen disciples from Jesus’ baptism to the final miraculous catch of fish―and also experiencing Leslie’s own efforts to follow Christ out on her own Alaskan sea. In a time when so many are “unfollowing” Jesus and leaving the Church, Crossing the Waters delivers a fresh encounter with Jesus and explores what it means to “come, follow Me.” 

I’m in a Weird Place about The Good Place

2016-0513-nbcu-upfront-2016-thegoodplace-shows-image-1920x1080-jr

Among the list of exciting new premiere’s that the TV execs would like to introduce us to this year is one from NBC: The Good Place, starring the sloth-loving and most wonderful Kristen Bell and the  hilarious, everybody-knows-his-name Ted Danson. This is how NBC describes it:

The show follows Eleanor Shellstrop, an ordinary woman who enters the afterlife and, thanks to some kind of error, is sent to the Good Place instead of the Bad Place, which is definitely where she belongs. While hiding in plain sight from Michael, the wise architect of the Good Place (who doesn’t know he’s made a mistake), she’s determined to shed her old way of living and discover the awesome (or, at least, the pretty good) person within.

It is, at its core, a show exploring what makes a good person. Or a good enough person, at least. And, true to its billing, it is a comedy. For example, The Good Place (naturally) cannot countenance any swearing, and so Eleanor’s outbursts come out as “that’s so forked up!”, and “bullshirt!”, which are just so obviously not rude I couldn’t help but laugh.

did laugh, but I was also very uneasy watching it – and I’m still processing whether I’ll go back and have Episode 3 keep me company while I scale Mt. Laundry in my living room tonight. I’m thinking probably not. I’m thinking this show may land up in the pile of “I started the series, I saw why people liked it, and I chose not to keep watching”. [For me, this virtual heap of discarded shows includes Breaking Bad (couldn’t stomach it… that bathtub!), New Girl (sex deserves more respect and it wasn’t funny any more), 24 (season 3 broke my heart. I need one redeeming character in a story), House of Cards (again, I need at least one person in the show I can root for). I choose books in lieu of any more hours with these shows.]

So what is it that rankles about The Good Place? It’s that both the premise and point of the show deal with two topics that I care very much about: questions of eternity/the afterlife, and questions on the development of character. What happens after we die? And how do our character choices affect that outcome? On both of these questions, The Good Place posits a theory that is diametrically opposed to what Jesus told us is the truth:

What happens in the afterlife?

The Good Place: If you’ve been a really good person; you get to go to the Good Place. Very few people are good enough to get in.

Jesus: There’s lots of space in my Father’s house; and I’ve gone to prepare a place for you. I’m the way, the truth and the life. Believe in me and I’ll take you there. (John 14:1-6, summarized)

How good do you need to be to get to the good afterlife place (wherever that is)?

The Good Place: Really, really, really good. As in, humanitarian-award-winner good. Better-than-average goodness isn’t good enough. 

Jesus: You need to be perfect. And no-one is. But that’s why I came: to live a perfect life and then die the Bad Place’s death; and offer to take your place. I took death so that you could gain entry to the Good Place. So the answer is: no one is good enough for the Good Place. And yet anyone and everyone is welcome through me. (Matthew 5:48, 1 Peter 3:18, John 3:16)

Of course, the plot of the show is about morally-worse-than-average Eleanor, who lands up in the Good Place by accident, and whose eternal soul mate (I’m not even going to comment on this aspect of the plot) is roped into helping her reform her character there. Now the thing is, friends—unlike Firefly or StarWars or The Hunger Games or any other variety of shows where I step into the world of fantasy and suspend disbelief for a while to enjoy the story—this story is just too important, and too close to home for me to ignore the glaring issues and just “escape” mindlessly into it.

Because, despite the show’s claim in Episode 1 that “the Christians only got it about 5% right on the afterlife, as did the Hindus, and the Muslims…”, Jesus was emphatic that he was the only one who had come “from above” and could tell us authoritatively what it was like (John 3:13). And the rest of the Bible is emphatic that Jesus was the only one who experienced death and came back to tell us how to get “through it”. The Christian claim on the afterlife—founded on Jesus’ resurrection—is more than a 5% gamble. It’s what we’ve staked our entire lives on.

Amy Simpson notes*, “many believe God is so impressed with our efforts at the soup kitchen that he could never bear to dish out anything but indulgence and a wink toward “good people” like us.” The Good Place plays headlong into this belief: if you’re good enough, the Powers That Be will be impressed and you will be Eternally Rewarded. The question is: who is good enough? The answer is: only Jesus, a message The Good Place rejects outright.

“But it’s just a show, and a funny one,” – I hear you say. “Why do you have to be all kinds of Christian uptight about it?”

Fair question.

I suppose the answer to this has to do with bananas and tweezers. In particular, the teensy little rubber bananas they sometimes lay out at my son’s preschool, in front of a mini cardboard box with a monkey face on it and a bright yellow pair of plastic tweezers. Next to it is a similar cardboard box with tiny, blue rubber bones and a cardboard box with a doggy’s face and a pair of blue tweezers. These “toys” are laid out as a treat, and the kids can choose which of the animals they’d like to feed today. Of course my son chooses the monkey, and screws up his face in concentration as he feeds the tiny bananas into the hole-that-is-the-monkey’s-mouth and counts the bananas: one. two. three. Afterwards, they sit on the mat and hear a story about llamas and their pajama drama. Hilarious. So fun. So funny.

“Mom! I fed the monkeys!” he says, and from his perspective, he did. But from his teacher’s perspective: he practiced eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills in grasping the tweezers, and worked on numeracy skills. He was also developing social and communicative skills in negotiating with his peers which of the activities they would work on and in which order. And then they listened to stories that weren’t just entertainment about llamas, but share a script on how to handle bedtime without making excuses. How to be patient when your parents can’t respond right away. It’s social scripting, the behavioral therapists tell us. It’s not just entertainment.

He comes home from school thinking he played all day… but his parents and teachers know it wasn’t all mindless fun. He’s been learning-through-play all day. We all do. We absorb lessons through the play we engage in and the stories we expose ourselves to. We learn about life (and the afterlife) and about love and loss and relationships and reality through the play and stories of our lives. None of us are neutral to the stories we surround ourselves with, and so I’m wary of stories like The Good Place which deliver spoonfuls of untruth and mask the taste with comedy. 

But then again, maybe that’s only really dangerous if we’re watching TV mindlessly. Perhaps, for some, The Good Place is exactly the show they need to be watching. Perhaps if it’s more than mindless entertainment, it might cause people to stop and ask themselves how they might fare in the Great Hereafter. If their lives were being assessed, how would they stand? Does that thought make them nervous? If they were Eleanor, and all of a sudden there was a reckoning on their choices – what would they be ashamed of? What would they wish they had oriented their lives around?

Asking those kinds of questions is, I think, a rare and critically important thing. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that one of the excellent reasons people should go to funerals is because it forces them to think about eternity:

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. (Eccl 7:2)

And so maybe there’s an argument to be made that it is better to watch The Good Place than to watch…. So You Think You Can Dance, for example. For death is the destiny of everyone, and there is a real Good Place to come, and we the living, should certainly take this to heart.

The Good Place is not a show I really want to keep watching: I think the answers it gives are wrong. But maybe, just maybe, I should be excited about it because at the very least, it’s asking some of the right questions.


  • Amy Simpson, “Doing Good for All the Right Reasons”, devotional on Isaiah 64:6 in NIV Bible for Women (p 1024.)

 

“How can I cope with my sexual feelings when I’m single and there’s no end to my celibacy in sight?”

%22how-can-i-cope-with-my-sexual-feelings-when-im-single-and-theres-no-end-to-my-celibacy-in-sight%22

Dear Bronwyn,

I read your article on sexuality when you’re single  and the importance for me as a guy of developing gendered friendships with both men and women; but I’m not sure what that looks like. What do you mean by “embracing sexuality as a man” while remaining sexually pure in friendships with women?

I am 26 year old Christian man, trying to “wait until marriage”, but I’m struggling with feelings and needs, and the older I get, the more worried and sad I get about it. I don’t want to sin, but I feel the need to do some things I shouldn’t, and I just wish I could marry and fulfill these desires in a non-sinful way. I’ve tried eliminating thoughts of sex from my mind, but it isn’t working. I feel so guilty and unclean about these desires, and I’m lonely too because, while I make friends easily, I’m shy with the girls I’m interested in and nobody seems to like me enough to be my girlfriend. The fact that there are no dating prospects in sight (and so, no foreseeable end to this frustration) feels like an unending burden.

Can you help?

Lonely and Longing

Dear LaL,

Here’s the challenging thing about talking about sexuality these days: instead of sexuality referring to our identity as men and women, and what that means for us relationally; we almost always associate sexuality with SEX. This is very much a feature of the age we live in: we’re saturated in a sexualized and sexualizing world – where women are viewed as sexual objects: in obscene and awful way (like porn), but also in a zillion other ways that happen so frequently around us that we think it’s normal. “Getting the girl” is the plot for umpteen stories: a couple landing up in bed is the closing scene—the climax!—of narratives from TV to movies to music. Sexily clad women are in the media all around us: selling cars and web host services and beer and soap to men, and selling beauty products and dream vacations and who knows what else to women. The world we live in puts a CRAZY amount of pressure on men and women to direct their thoughts and goals towards landing up naked together.

I think the church has, in some way, drunk the Kool-Aid. We, too, have focused our conversations regarding sexuality on what you can and cannot do with your genitals. We haven’t left a lot of room for conversation and imagination on what it means to be men and women apart from being sexually active. We have bought into the lie that we are supposed to function as androgynous/asexual Christians in all our friendships and relationships; and then expected people to “flip a switch” and suddenly turn on their sexuality and express their maleness and femaleness safely once they’re married.

This doesn’t work. But of course, you know that. This is exactly what you’re struggling with. We are not asexual beings who suddenly get permission to inhabit our sexuality once we get married. We are, for the entire length of our lives, sexual beings. There is no way of being human without being male or female. It’s part of who we are, and so we need to think about what it means to live as a healthy MAN or a healthy WOMAN in all our relationships, in every season of life. And friend, in a world where the images and stories and sounds around you keep directing your focus towards the erotic, that’s a SERIOUS challenge.

But it’s a challenge you need to face.

You need to learn how to be friends with women without the glaring awareness of them as potential sex partners. You allude to struggling with masturbation, and I’m not really going to comment on that except to say that if porn is part of that struggle, it is making things exponentially worse for you. Porn hardwires the brain to see women and sex in an objectifying way, and with each participation in that body-brain experience, it puts more distance between you and the possibility of a healthy sexual relationship with a woman in the future.

However, even if porn is not part of the issue, it’s still a real challenge to learn to see women as whole, complete, made-in-the-image-of-God partners in life in a world which sees them as sexy bodies. You say you make friends easily but get shy when there’s a girl you’re interested in…  I strongly suspect that’s because all of a sudden you’re hyper aware of her as a potential sexual partner, and that distracts from you getting to know her as a person.

You need to learn how to be a guy who can talk to women, to listen to them and learn from them and work along side them and appreciate them as essential partners in life, and to be your full self in these relationships (not just a guy hoping to get a date). Are there opportunities for you to participate in group efforts where you work alongside women? Maybe serving in some capacity at church, or volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity project, or making sure you’re plugged into a small group that has both men and women talking about the big issues we face disciples of Jesus (and not just an accountability/confession group)? These kinds of scenarios are important: they shift the focus from the “small talk” of social meet-ups where the unspoken-but-desired-for-outcome is often romantic/sexual/dating interest; and instead have you working shoulder to shoulder with women.

If there are opportunities to laugh together, to get your hands dirty together on a project, be an environment where there is healthy hugging and touch. Doing these things might go a long way towards your relaxing around women and expanding your view of them… and in the process, you may well find yourself developing some new intimacy in friendships with the men and women around you… and maybe one day, one of those might lead to marriage and sex.

Your sexual feelings won’t be disappearing any time soon, but I do think there are ways you can pursue rewarding, affirming, healthy touch and intimacy in relationships without those needing to be sexual. Can I recommend Wesley Hill’s book Spiritual Friendship to you? He is a celibate gay Christian, which is not the struggle you’re facing, but his insights on deep, fulfilling relationships and stewarding our sexuality well while we’re celibate are really helpful and healthy. Even as a married, straight woman (and he is none of those things!); I’ve found a lot in his words to encourage me (as a woman, and inherently sexual being) to relate deeply and well to the men and women in the family of believers in a holy and wholly intimate way. Even once people are married, there may be seasons where sexual feelings can’t be expressed (due to illness or extended absences or childbearing or aging…), and so the question of learning to pursue healthy and holy intimacy in the face of pent of sexual tension is one all believers have to grapple with at some stage. You’re not alone in this. God knows us and will help us as we continue to ask Him for help in stewarding—rather than suppressing—our sexuality.

Blessings to you,

Bronwyn