when did porn cost so much?

The Epidemic of Pornography

Back In The Day
I remember in the 9th grade, I could buy a magazine or a video for a few dollars from a kid at school who may have taken it from his dad.  Getting my hands on something pornographic wasn’t difficult at all.

It could have been on trading cards or something else gimmicky.  I even remember a pen, that when held upside down revealed a nude women inside it.  This cheap trinket was probably sold at a highway truck stop for kicks and eventually sojourned into the hands of eager adolescent boys who giggled and laughed at it.

It was peddled with cigarettes and marijuana.  It was stuffed in lockers and book bags, gleefully peeking out at anyone who dared look.

“Over time, the porn peddlers grew up…”

Then along came the internet – the discount retailer of pornography.  Every aisle has something different and something cheaper.  Like perusing the store and finding the most obscure items, the internet offers variety at a price everyone can afford: cheap.  Monthly subscriptions took the place of magazines and videos.

Over time, the porn peddlers grew up.  They graduated with business and marketing degrees to build an empire and pricing structure that everyone can afford: free.  Mark Zuckerberg may have transformed social media but it’s pornographers who pushed the boundaries of what the internet was even capable of in the first place.

The New Normal
Pornography is available in the living rooms, offices, bedrooms of anyone with an internet connection.  Locker room talk for adolescent boys turns into “no-talk” for adult men.  The stigma associated with pornography consumption is often masked with pubescent humor: seen Superbad?  It’s always easier to laugh away our shame than to confront its sources.

Porn consumption is not just limited to men either.  An increasing number of women are turning to porn to see their fantasies acted out, to avoid intimacy in a relationship, and simply to aid masturbation.  Imagery is increasingly replacing literature to enhance a women’s libido.

“The average age of first porn exposure is 11…”

Psychologists argue whether pornography should be diagnosed as “addicting” but the behaviors are remarkably similar.  With the same physiological effects of a cocaine high, WebMD offers this information:

“One of the key features of addiction…is the development of a tolerance to the addictive substance.  In the way that drug addicts need increasingly larger doses to get high…addicts need to see more and more extreme material to feel the same level of excitement they first experienced.

Jonathan Stone wrote an amazing post on the addictive nature of porn.  Here is just a sample of some of the statistics he gathered:

  • 90% of youth ages 8-16 have viewed porn online.
  • 63% of youth ages 14-16 say they can easily access porn on their mobile phone.
  • The largest single group viewing porn is ages 12-17.
  • The average age that children are exposed to porn is 11 years old.
  • Porn is often not sought when discovered the first time.
  • Porn gives children (and adults) unrealistic ideas about sex.

The True Cost of Porn
Please don’t mistake this post as a rant for the moral majority or ammunition for retaking the White House.  This issue transcends the cultural milieu of conservative versus liberal and speaks to the heart of humanity.

Pornography costs more than money to use.  It’s accessibility and legality offer it marketability that drug dealers could only ever dream of.  So how do we pay for our porn addictions?

Here are just a few ways:

  1. The illusion of control – Porn typically culminates in masturbation.  This is often less about feeling good and more about attempting to control our own lives.  It’s an escape mechanism.  It’s a way to deal with stress by employing fantasies that aren’t based in reality.  Had a bad day?  Things aren’t working out at the office or at home?  Relieve some of that pressure by indulging in pornography.  You deserve it, right?  Wrong – coping with the stresses of life outside of your identity in Christ can just as easily lead to a computer screen as it can to the bottom of a bottle.
  2. The objectification of people – My pastor recently helped our community to frame pornography as more than just a physiological issue but also as a social justice issue with the help of Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion.  By saying that pornography is OK, we are actively ceding to the commodification of women, men and children.  The human body is now something to be consumed rather than celebrated.  How can we teach our children that pornography is wrong?  By defining and respecting others as more than just a body but as a whole person.
  3. Our relationships – Husbands, do you want to teach your children the intrinsic value of your wife as a person and mate?  Then love her unconditionally and lavishly in front of them.  Porn used to just cost a few dollars or time away from other activities.  It now costs marriages and relationships.  Nobody likes to be compared to an unrealistic image or have to live up to an unrealistic expectation but that’s what pornography represents.  Even the cheap romance novels that capture the imaginations of so many women inculcate a notion of sex that real men can’t emulate.  Sure, porn is monetarily free…but it’s going to cost a lot more than time or money.

Where To Go From Here
I don’t write this post as a distant journalist watching the war from his hotel room.  I write this post from the trenches of my shame and my victories, with mortar shells landing all around.  Sometimes it feels like I’m gaining ground and sometimes it feels like the enemy is pushing me back.

I trust that my life is hidden in Christ and my righteousness is secure in the Cross but there is still a target on me.  I still get stressed.  I still want to cope with the ups and downs of life with my most basest of impulses.  I still want to hide my sin and shame behind the façade of religious perfection.

“You are more than the sum of your battle wounds…”

The only potential difference is that I have a family who loves me through their understanding of the Cross.  I have a band of brothers who hold my arms up when I want to quit.  I have a faith and hope that I am more than the sum of my battle wounds.  I believe the same for you.

Here are some weapons for the war:

confessions of a formerly-retired children’s pastor.

I came out of retirement this year.  Jonathan Stone helped to remind me of that, although I would argue that ‘retirement’ is a bit of a misnomer in that I did have intentions of returning to ‘work’.  That work, in the words of Frederick Buechner, is to “tell the truth of the Gospel, as tragedy, comedy and fairy tale.”

Telling that truth as a professional requires (or should require) degrees of pathos, ethos and logos and in our tradition, a piece of paper.  When the Gospel unfolded in my life as tragedy more than comedy or fairy tale, I surrendered that piece of paper and various pieces of myself in the process.

That was over two and a half years ago now.  My battles with cynicism volleyed my thoughts between returning to ministry as a professional and remaining hidden in the bulwarks of history.  Shame can do that to a man.  At the behest of wise counsel I stuck my big toe in the waters of ministry and rapidly found myself again swimming in the deep end.

Enter Jonathan #3.  Good grief, this literal giant of a man saw fit to make his church a home for my redemption as a man and a minister.  Renovatus, a church for people under renovation, is aptly titled via Latin, meaning “renovation, renewal, change“.  Jonathan Martin, of anyone I know, believes that the Gospel is told best through the tapestry of our lives be it tragic, comedic or ridiculous.

That being said, I must provide the caveat that returning to ministry (or any vocation) depends greatly upon the context of where one lands.  I publicly confess that Renovatus has largely restored my faith in an organized, evangelical, pentecostal community.  Thus, my learned lessons/confessions have a bent that are different from Jonathan’s Stone’s confessions or anyone else who might be reading this.

Alright Stone, so what have I learned since “coming out of retirement”?  I’ll pick three things than can be summarized in a blog post:

  1. My ministry, the summary power, manifestation and credibility thereof is directly correlated to how I treat and relate to my wife.  While I believe this to be true to all married ministers, in my case it’s especially important.  My betrayal of her trust was the capstone of my dis-integration.  If I am to be a whole, integrated “teller of the truth” then my soul is to be naked before her.  This has affected the time I spend at the office, the time I spend answering e-mails and making phone calls.  It’s affected how I spend my time off.  It’s also affected the integration of my ministry.  We don’t just meet with parents, we meet with couples.  Our volunteers are no longer commodities, a means to an end.  They are the end themselves. 
  2. I’ve started listening to the flock.  I had a mentor, Herschell Baker, who helped me understand that the voice of God can be discerned by the laity as much as the clergy.  Stone, you alluded to this when you said “I have come to realize that the things that build me up and feed me in church have very little to do with church service programming and sermon content.”  I used to drive to mega-churches and meet with their staff, go to their conferences and soak up their methods.  I’ve since learned that those churches (for better or for worse) are largely a mix of big personalities, large coffers and right-place/right-timeI’m not as interested as I once was in forcing “big-church” programming on people, especially those in exodus from “Egypt”.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an ideological discourse against the big churches of Charlotte.  I love their excellence.  I’ve simply become more interested in the voices right here vs. over there.  Bonus: It’s made me a tad more bearable to be around too.
  3. If I can plant any seed in a child, I want it to be a love for scripture.  Children learn best in play and they also learn best from a narrative.  The bible provides a context for children to read their own story into and from.  While “retired”, I spent my time working for Target, a corporation very good at what it does.  They are helping to define the next generation of children as mini-consumers.  Disney does a great job with this too.  If I see my job as anything now, it’s not to compete with the YMCA or Disney.  It’s to help families value liturgy, sacraments, worship and the beauty of scripture.  I want to affect a generation of children in a “new way to be human”.  If I can somehow hide any attempt at my legacy behind the story of reconciliation, then I’ve done well.

I completely resonate with Jonathan Stone’s confessions pre-, mid-, and post-retirement.  Going into and out of retirement under my terms, however, has me reflecting more introspectively than his questions originally warranted.  I know he’ll indulge me though.

Finally, Beuchner also said that if the truth is worth telling, it is worth making a fool of yourself to tell.  It is with the same hand that God uses to chastise his beloved sons and daughters, that he uses to usher them sweetly into his lap and embrace.  As you read these words, know that this fool is currently resting with bruised hips in the lap of his Lord.

the waiting room.

The young man sits and waits, with anxious thoughts and sweaty palms.  He was here last week and the routine is the same.  Come in, sit down, grab a magazine and watch the faces of people coming and going.

Very few make eye contact.  Nobody really wants to be recognized.  Anonymity is a strange solace.  The illusion of control has been shattered and we have all surrendered to the mercy of complete strangers.

Last week was hard.  The counselor probed into some sensitive areas.  It didn’t feel fair to experience such forced vulnerability.  Exposure of the soul always led to this same choice.  Tense muscles, clenched fists, gritted teeth, anger or the pain of honesty.

More than pride is at stake.  Marriages are on the line.  Some are in this waiting room because they put themselves in it.  Others are in this waiting room because they love that person who did.  For all, the question remains, “Why do I have to be here?”

The young man dreads the waiting room.  Just once, he would like to leave this place without crying.  For once he would like to avoid some painful memory or relive a poor choice.  Why do all his choices have to be held under a microscope? Haven’t we all made mistakes?

He looks over to the person sitting in the chair next to his and remembers why he’s here.

His tears will never match the number of hers.  His pain will always pale in comparison.  Self-inflicted wounds have a tinge of justice…a quasi-karma is attached.  Her wounds are just unfair.

How many times and in how many ways can an apology take shape?  The balm of confession is most effective in solidarity.  You just keep doing and saying what it takes until peace breaks through.  The broken ways are made whole again through time and trust.

The waiting room.  They’ve both been here before.

His name is called and he looks up.  Standing there is a very masculine man with a voice like thunder.  He just asks one question, “Are you ready?”  A deep breath is drawn in like a diver before piercing cold water.  It’s into the office and away from the crowd.  No more anonymity.

It’s time.  The young man says, “Yes, I’m ready” and steps into his office one more time…

leadership mistake #2: holding resentment.

Walter Gramatte: "Confession" 1920

Image via Wikipedia

I just had a conversation today with someone I would consider a dear friend after a silence of 6 months.  This quiet period bred two things in me: a wandering mind and the idea of bitterness.  Without even realizing it, I was building a quiet cynicism towards this persons intentions and even their abilities.

Amazingly after talking, we both admitted to harboring almost the exact same resentment toward each other.  The context’s were slightly different but the theme remained the exact same: injustice.  Essentially, we felt that what happened to one of us should have happened to both of us.

It occurred to me that resentment typically comes from a sense of injustice.  The notion that fairness should be an overarching theme to my life has rapidly revealed itself to be an illusion.  Just like the illusion of control this myth of fairness seems to offer a system of false hope.  Real injustice breeds social change whereas perceived injustice potentially breeds resentment.

I know I’m being somewhat cryptic here regarding my own situation but would feel it a betrayal to reveal our conversation completely.  Still, he made an astoundingly discerning statement: “I guess resentment crept in because our relationship never got beyond the surface.”  This saddened me…I’ve known him for 10 years.

How could someone I’ve known for so long so easily resent me?  I think it’s because we didn’t practice that most difficult of tasks: accountability.  In our professional and personal lives we never held each other to a level of accountability that would sustain our relationship through the rough times.

The fact is, all long-term relationships have good times and bad times.  It’s in those bad times that we have to polish our ‘confessional’ skills.  It’s hard to bear resentment toward your brother and sister when we’re accountable enough to confess those seeds of indignation.

The irony is that I think God is capable of handling our resentments toward him, justified or not.  I don’t think you or I are capable of holding resentments toward each other though.  It’s like trying to breathe through a straw when you are around someone who causes a subtle anger in you.

What are some triggers for resentment?  Recurring thoughts of injustice, unfairness, failed expectations and frustrations.  What is the answer?  Confession.  I use ancient and liturgical terms but their remedy is no less effectual.  From the CEO to the cleaning crew, the executive to the cashier, find relief from resentment.  Find healing and hope in your honesty.

Maybe your expectations were wrong.  Maybe you got passed on the raise or the position.  Or maybe, just maybe, you did do everything right and everything you possibly could.

My hope for you?  Don’t be resentful, be free.

why focusing on ‘platform’ might be your worst move.

preaching

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The retail buzzword is “brand”.  The health industry buzzword is “wellness”.  How about “postmodern and paradigm shift” for ethics or philosophy?  Or one of my personal favorites – “leverage” for business.

Relatively new to the scene is “platform” which by strict definition means “a raised floor or stage used by public speakers or performers so that they can be seen by their audience.”  Here’s the thesis: the greater your platform, the greater your influence.  According to this definition, the people interested in platform are public speakers and performers, but really it’s anyone who either has a voice or wants a voice.  I have this sneaky suspicion you’re one of the two.

I might compare ‘platform’ to “Search Engine Optimization“, the process of improving visibility of a website in search engines via “natural” search results.  SEO for websites and platform for speakers are increasingly synchronized in pursuit of that influential voice.  The difference (if there is one) is really only in your product, whether that’s a piece of plastic from China, a get-rich-quick scheme or some social justice.  My concern exists in the increasing dichotomy of platform and product.  The pendulum seems to be swinging from what we’re saying to how we’re saying it.

The potential danger intrinsic to this sudden and increased emphasis on platform is in exerting more energy and effort into the volume of our voice vs. what we’re actually saying.  Competition for your ear, your wallet and your vote is off the charts.  What we’ll see in this next presidential election is evolving socio-digital synchronization – where the candidate who stands on the most electronic soapbox wins.  Why not when you can actually pay for followers on Twitter?  It’s the new Direct Mail.  Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign proved it’s not what you say but how you say it.

So you want platform?  The first question to ask is “what are you actually trying to say” or “what are you contributing?”  This may sound like an old argument of chicken vs. egg or Jim Collins’ ‘get the right people on board before determining the destination.’  However you want to slice it, the bottom line is that our headlines are driving our business, not our content.  Do you want loyal customers and committed followers/fans?  Then build your platform on the content, not your content on the platform.

Your platform will grow and it will shrink with volatile markets.  Impulse will drive the consumer more than intent.  Is your product worth riding these storms?  Is your message changing lives?  Worry a little less about the size of your platform and focus a little more on quality product.  You’ll discover that this strategy delivers longer-term life-changing results.

leadership mistake #1: treat everyone equally.

A few years ago, I was asked by my direct boss (the administrative pastor) if I wanted to go play golf with him and another pastor on staff.  ‘This should be fun’, I thought, ‘hanging out with two cool dudes on the golf course.’  I reported to this guy so why not enjoy the moment with our guards down.  It was a Thursday morning and while we would have typically been in the office, here was a chance to bond with two people I respected and wanted to know better.  It was a great time too.  I’m horrible at golf, by the way.  I plan on losing a dozen balls each round.  In any case, the morning sped by as we shot the breeze (literally), chased balls and compared war stories.  I finished the day back at the office and left thinking this had a been a great day.

The surprise came on Tuesday morning at staff meeting when we were told that time sheets now had to be filled out for the work week.  Not just when we came in and when we left (which wouldn’t make sense on a salary anyways) but literally keeping a journal of everything we did during the week.  These reports had to be filled out and turned in at the end of each week, no exceptions.  Come to find out, the senior pastor was livid when he found out that three of his employees were on the golf course.  Now, I’m not saying we could or couldn’t play golf.  To top it off, I still don’t know the true impetus and intention of being made to fill out those sheets.  What I can say is that we now bore the brunt of the decision my boss made.  In other words, a knee jerk reaction translated into a blanket policy.

You know those policies right?  The crazy far out ones where anyone new to the scene can’t figure out why in the world this particular policy exists.  I’ll give you a hint: it’s when you’re asked to behave a certain way to avoid the mistakes of another.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes.  I’m not saying policies don’t have a place in every organization.  What I am saying is that treating everyone equally is not the same as treating everyone fairly.

There is a difference between fair and equal.  In fact, I’ll go so far to say that equality has nothing do with grace.  Equality is simply treating everyone they exact same way.  When a child points out that something’s not fair, it’s because that child doesn’t have a grasp of what they do and don’t deserve and grace will never be about what you do or do not deserve.  Thank God I’m not treated according to what I deserve.  Equal treatment denotes a sense of privilege.  Fairness, on the other hand, denotes a sense of grace.  You see, had I been treated fairly based on the anecdote from above, I probably wouldn’t have had to fill out those time sheets because technically I was doing what had been asked of me by my superior.

Unfortunately in this context, the need to treat us all equally came more or less from a sense of insecurity.  When I’m able to interact with my team or followers based on who they are individually, it’s because I’m secure about who I am.  I’m secure enough to let that illusion of control go.

This weekend, there were several challenges in our weekend services.  For each challenge, there was a situation.  For each situation, there was a leadership opportunity.  I came into this weekend knowing full well that a leader does not and should not pretend to know all the answers.  A leader should, however, be fully prepared to treat each individual fairly, with love and grace.  The only reason, and I sincerely mean the ‘only’ reason, that I have even a glimpse of what grace means is because it has been extended to me. That glimpse is but a drop of the ocean that is His love.

I’m not interested in blanket policies based on knee jerk reactions.  I know that quality is my M.O. but it will never be at the risk of losing a friend or follower, especially to produce a temporary result.  If you truly knew me you would know how hard it is for me to write these things.  However, I’ve learned (and am learning) that I’m far too in love with the One who is gracious and far too in love with those He has extended grace to, to ever risk equality for fairness.  Thank you God for loving me fairly.