Converge Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:57:41 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 It’s ok to fail at being Christian Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:54:57 +0000 It’s ok to fail at being Christian by Becky Hansmeier

“Are you a Christian?”, asked the woman as she scrubbed and trimmed and polished the impurities from my nails. Our conversation...

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It’s ok to fail at being Christian by Becky Hansmeier

“Are you a Christian?”, asked the woman as she scrubbed and trimmed and polished the impurities from my nails. Our conversation had suddenly shifted from friendly formalities, of where I lived and what I did, to something of deeper significance.

I immediately questioned just how deep I should let the conversation get (granted it was still very much surface level). On the one hand, the woman’s genuine interest intrigued me, and I myself was curious to learn more about her religion. After all, questions and conversation create understanding and mutual respect.

As an introvert, having meaningful, deep conversations one-on-one with individuals is my forte. At nail salons, with virtual strangers, not so much. But I decided to let me guard down, just to see where the conversation might lead. She wanted to know what branch of Christianity I was involved with, and she gave me insight into her own religion—a form of Buddhism. We talked about cultural and religious holidays, such as how her family was celebrating Chinese New Year. And she wanted to know about Lent.

More specifically, she wanted to know what I had given up for Lent. When I told her I hadn’t given up anything, there was no look of shock or horror. However, her continued questions told me she was very curious—curious as to why I had not given anything up. Her Christian friends had told her this is what Lent was about—why hadn’t I? Well… because I had been there and done that.

Yes I could have told her about my 9th grade year in high school when I gave up eating sweets for Lent.—the same season in which my grandfather passed away. Their home was filled with temptation as neighbors brought endless trays and of desserts, goodies and sweets. I could have proudly told her that I never touched one.

I could have also shared about my junior year in college when I gave up Facebook. 40 plus days without a single daily update about my friend’s social lives and relationship statuses. Been there and done it.

I could have told her all about my Lenten triumphs—these seasons of excelling at being the “good” Christian (or the better Christian). But had I decided to tell this lady all about my successful Lent seasons, I likely would have omitted the fact that during each of those periods I never once felt closer to God! I had thought I growing closer to God through the self-inflicted fasting and repenting. But instead I remember drawing on my own strength during these times—exerting my sheer will power to make it the 40 days without cheating. I was living out of my self-centeredness—my egocentric mind had me thinking I could do things without really drawing strength from God. I had completely missed the point. I had failed even thought it looked like a success from the outside.

To top it off, I think I failed at my conversation in the nail salon. I failed to articulate why, as a Christian, I purposefully chose not to give anything up for Lent. I failed to reveal that I am still fully engaged in the season of Lent—by trying to be more intentional in my relationship with God. Praying. Reading devotionals. Drawing on God for strength instead of myself.

But I didn’t say any of these things. I failed. I was more worried about my nail polish drying without any smudges, than really delving into the conversation.

But strangely, I am okay with failing.

I am sinner, after all.

I was born to sin.

And my failing is the exact reason I need Lent. The reason we all need Lent.

It means that Easter is coming.

It means that Christ died on the cross to save me and you and the world from our sins. To save a world full of failures just like me.


Photo by (Flickr CC): Drew Herron


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Why I Won’t Wear White On My Wedding Day Wed, 01 Apr 2015 04:48:58 +0000 Why I Won’t Wear White On My Wedding Day by Emily A. Dause

If you came to this article thinking you would read a scandalous confession about my virginity (or lack thereof), you...

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Why I Won’t Wear White On My Wedding Day by Emily A. Dause

If you came to this article thinking you would read a scandalous confession about my virginity (or lack thereof), you will be disappointed. However, I hope you will stick around. The fact that the title enticed you is exactly what I want to talk about.

In much of the Christian world (and outside of it), wearing the color white on one’s wedding day is taken to be a symbol of purity, meaning the bride has not engaged in sexual intercourse before her wedding night. (We have no such symbols for the groom, but that is another issue for another time). For example, the title of Dannah Gresh’s popular book, And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity, is based around the idea that a white dress indicates the bride’s sexual purity. Growing up, I remember hearing stories about Christian brides who chose not to wear white—or whose mothers forbade them from wearing white—because they had lost their virginity before their wedding day. When one of the notoriously conservative Duggar daughters (of 19 Kids and Counting reality TV fame) chose to wed in a pink dress, one media commentator wondered if the Duggar parents did not allow their daughter to wear white because of premarital sexual behavior. Regardless of the truth of that situation, the fact is, when a bride does not wear white (especially a Christian bride), we start wondering about the status of her virginity.

However, did you know that less than 200 years ago, most brides in the western world did not wear white? They wore a color that made practical sense or that they simply liked. Some wealthy brides chose to wear white to show off (white was a luxury; it is difficult to clean, after all). However, wearing white became a trend because Queen Victoria chose to wear white when she married Prince Albert in 1840. We must really love and respect Queen Victoria, patterning ourselves after her. I am sure the billion dollar wedding industry appreciates her, too.

At some point after white became a popular wedding dress color, someone decided that the white wedding dress stood as a symbol of the bride’s purity. It is uncertain how this came about; some believe an influential social magazine pronounced Queen Victoria’s white the color of innocence for brides, while others see a religious connection to white robes of clergy and white christening gowns. However the link was born, the veil (originally a superstitious method of warding off evil spirits) was pushed into this purity box, too, and together they create excessive visual emphasis on the bride’s virginity. Altogether, the purity culture implies “that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity [can] be measured by whether or not a man has touched her” (Elizabeth Esther). As blogger Samantha Field points out in this video, in ancient times of arranged marriages, a woman’s virginity was completely tied to her economic worth as a bride. As far as we have come, and as removed from these traditions’ origins as we may be, we are still attached to these remnants of a woman’s worth and identity being grounded in her sexual activity, importantly solely for the purposes of her pleasing a man.

I do not want to be part of any so-called tradition that has been morphed into yet another representation of a woman being given to a man. I do not want to be walked down the aisle to be “given away” as if I were a piece of property. Similarly, I do not want to be presented in a white dress as though I am an object prepared for sale. If I marry, the wedding will be an act that shows our mutual commitment to and acceptance of one another, sexual history and all. You see, regardless of virginity, we all have a sexual history. As blogger Emily Maynard has so aptly stated, “Whether or not you’re a virgin at your wedding, you will still have unique sexual baggage to navigate, because you are a sexual being and you exist before marriage.” God created us all as sexual beings, and it is not a switch that turns on and off. Whatever choice we make about our sexual behavior before marriage—even if that choice is to completely repress our sexuality—we are making a choice about something that is part of us. The white wedding dress contributes to the mentality that one’s sexuality somehow lies dormant until marriage, and it takes away from the full story of who we are as human beings.

Furthermore, wearing a white wedding dress is seen to set a bride apart as a moral success or a moral superior. It communicates that some personal choices are better than others, that some sins are worse than others. Elizabeth Esther   that because she was a virgin at her wedding, she “felt superior to ‘damaged’ women. The purity culture showed no compassion for me so I had no compassion for myself or women who had ‘chosen’ to ‘give away’ their virtue.” That is not a message I want to risk communicating to female friends who attend my wedding, regardless of their personal decisions. I would rather my choice of dress be a statement about the grace and freedom Christ extends to us, no matter our situation. You may wonder if anyone would still really be thinking about what a white dress symbolizes. However, even secular Dr. Oz’s website found it necessary to address the “scandal” of non-virgin Kim Kardashian choosing to wear white at her wedding. How much more, then, would Christians, most of whom still adhere to virginity before marriage, associate a bride’s white dress with her virginity?

Honestly, even aside from all these reasons, if I marry, I am not going to wear white because I simply do not want to. God created all kinds of colors, and I think he would enjoy me choosing whatever color I like. If you want to wear white, go for it. But wear it because you want to, not because someone says you have to or because you want it to represent something it simply cannot. I, however, will not be wearing white. I am fair-skinned enough as it is. I think Queen Victoria will be able to handle her disappointment.


Photo by (Flickr CC): Qsimple


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Pornified Relationships Wed, 01 Apr 2015 03:00:11 +0000 Pornified Relationships by Donna Chapman Jones

Porn. It’s become a hot button issue for more and more people, whether they are coming from a Christian perspective...

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Pornified Relationships by Donna Chapman Jones

Porn. It’s become a hot button issue for more and more people, whether they are coming from a Christian perspective or not. Both individuals and organizations, like Fight the New Drug and XXX Church, are emerging to expose and stand against the ugly truth.

Although pornography is a predominantly male-marketed industry, women make up about 30 per cent of pornography viewers. And the average age of first exposure to online hardcore pornographic material is 11 years old! So many men and women carry their struggle around like a shameful secret every day.

Addiction to porn isn’t something that just affects the addict: it has damaging ramifications on a person’s life and his or her relationships. It’s not just a men’s issue. It’s a relational issue.

It’s time to openly talk about the issue of porn, its addictive nature, and destructive effects.

After discovering how common pornography consumption was, I found myself not being able to trust any man’s glances or wandering eyes. I obsessed over what men around me must be thinking or what they did in their spare time. I felt exposed and vulnerable to attention for which I hadn’t asked. I felt overwhelming insecurity over my body and I became increasingly protective of the women in my life. I felt bitter and I felt wronged. It took me a long time to get over these feelings, or at least to get used to them.

Many young people get into porn by accident. It’s so easy to stumble across it now, but they often keep coming back because they long to connect, to fulfill unmet needs, or to self-medicate because of broken beliefs about themselves and expectations of their gender. Pornography isn’t a healthy sexual outlet. It’s a place where broken people search for wholeness, and are left still incomplete.

From a Christian perspective, God created sex as something that is to be enjoyed and shared in a specific context: within a marriage relationship. Its purpose is for a husband and wife to become more intimate with one another, and to learn more about sacrifice and oneness than through any other shared experience.

But in pornography, sex is separated from intimacy, and instead becomes focused on maximizing your own sexual pleasure. Instead of submitting yourself to your partner and learning how to please one another, you become an expert on fulfilling exactly what you want, exactly when you want it. There is no self-giving, only quick, cheap pleasure.

In many ways, porn is easier than real relationships. It includes none of the vulnerability but promises all of the reward. It offers the idea of sexual fulfillment and freedom, but ironically so many end up enslaved to the pursuit of their own satisfaction. By gratifying your own desires, you train yourself to become self-sufficient when it comes to your sexual needs, and you rob your partner of the privilege of being the only one to fulfill you – to truly know you. Porn deprives relationships of deep intimacy.

In his book Wired for Intimacy, William Struthers says that pornography encourages the lie that the “most important thing in life is sexual gratification.” Porn teaches that sexual fulfillment is the center of — or even a substitute for — a relationship, and that it is the answer to our insecurities and problems.

When your partner discloses pornography addiction, it destroys the trust that has been built with sweat, tears, honesty, and love. It so quickly crumbles with the click of a mouse. It’s hard to forgive and find grace when there are deep feelings of betrayal. The person confessing may have had years to process this addiction, and the other person is left trying to catch up in a few hours. Overcoming pornography addiction in a relationship involves two people with many ups and downs, and a lot of uncomfortable vulnerability on both parts.

But porn isn’t just damaging for people in relationships. Struthers says habitual use of porn incorporates its images and messages into the way its viewers think, actually changing the fabric of their minds. Pornography powerfully impacts our worldview, whether we’re in a romantic relationship or not; it changes the way we see and experience one another.

We live in a sexually saturated society, one that encourages men and women to view women as playthings for men’s personal sexual fantasies. Most of us are taught from a young age that a woman’s value is found in her looks and sexual potential. Building on this, porn encourages fantasy. It’s about a world of control, where you can manipulate images to suit your sexual fancy.

Pornography also changes men’s expectations of women, women’s expectations of men, and our personal expectations of ourselves. It exploits the selfish tendencies of our hearts to be focused inward, so much so that each relationship becomes like a transaction, in which we are constantly evaluating what we get out of it.

Not only that, I believe that porn dishonours the image of God. It teaches men to see women as sexual objects to be evaluated and consumed. Women also learn to subscribe to this idea when they buy into the lie that sexual objectification is empowering. Through habitual pornography consumption, men become unable to see women as they should, reducing women down to their body parts, and valuing sex appeal over all else. Men, in turn, develop a false sense of entitlement to visually consume women sexually. The bottom line is that women are degraded in pornography, not held up, loved or respected.

The truth here is that God’s image demands dignity and respect; we need to unsubscribe from the pornographic mindset, the one convincing us that a woman’s value is based on her attractiveness, her sex appeal, her body.

Porn is anything but benevolent — it adversely affects our brain, our eyes, and our hearts.

It’s time for our over-sexualized brains to be rewired. We need to see each other as people created in the image of God, not as commodities and sex objects. But to do this requires incredible amounts of grace, patience, determination, and forgiveness.

Although it is painful, it is possible to work through these issues in your relationship, and it is possible to see men and women for who they have been created to be: as God’s image bearers, intrinsically loved and infinitely valued.

This is the third in a five-part series on pornography.

Part One : The History of Porn

Part Two: This is Your Brain on Porn

Part Three: Pornified Relationships


Photo by (Flickr CC): Tom Simpson

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8 ways to find adventure at home Tue, 31 Mar 2015 11:00:13 +0000 8 ways to find adventure at home by Katerina Heese

When we hear “adventure” we usually think of crossing oceans or continents. But what about finding some excitement closer to...

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8 ways to find adventure at home by Katerina Heese

When we hear “adventure” we usually think of crossing oceans or continents. But what about finding some excitement closer to home? When you’ve been in one place for a long time, it’s easy to forget how great that place can actually be. There’s joy to be found in being content with where you are, even if you’ve been there your whole life!  Here are 8 ways to find adventure at home, wherever your home may be…

1. Volunteer for a great cause

If you know where to look, you can actually find a lot of worthy local causes looking for a free hand. Food banks, shelters, community centres or even farms and gardens can be a fantastic way to break free from the mundane as well as meet some new great people.

2. Join a club

Whether it be books, hiking, home business, or board games, you’re bound to find a group with similar interests to yours in your area. You’ll never know who you’ll meet, or what you’ll discover. At the least, you’ll be doing something you enjoy even if you don’t enjoy the company!

3. Check out tourist hot-spots

Just because you live somewhere, doesn’t mean you can’t pretend you’re seeing everything for the first time. Go to your local tourist information booth and see what they recommend you check out. You will likely find several places you didn’t know existed, or rekindle your childhood love for the zoo (it’s all about the lions, right?).

4. Visit the park

Doesn’t sound very exciting, I know, but hear me out. As kids we made the most of empty spaces, so why not as adults as well? Bring a picnic, something to throw, and some friends — maybe a dog or two — and enjoy the simplicity of a good old outdoor excursion. If everybody’s busy, then just go by yourself and do some micro-habitat exploration, or bring a good book and your imagination and just let yourself relax.

5. Try a new hobby

Maybe your friend invited you check out her Pilates class, or you’ve been curious about vintage car models. It never hurts to try something new — so stop procrastinating and sign up!

6. Redesign your room

It can be as simple as moving your furniture around or as grand as a new colour on the walls, but nothing makes you feel more accomplished than rearranging your living space. You never know, you might find something that you thought you’d lost forever. Even just cleaning up can be enlightening as you rediscover space you forgot you had, or finally decide to get rid of something that irritates you every time you look at it.

7. Discover cool local events

Of course summer is the best time for this, but there’s always something going on at any given time of the year. Live music, food festivals and run-for-a-cause are just some examples. If you’ve never attended before, all the more reason to go. Check out the community notice board or get online and find out what’s happening!

8. Go for a sweet drive

If you’ve got a day to spare and a car in reasonable driving condition, just spend some time being aimless. Take a few wrong turns and discover a cafe you never knew existed. If you don’t have a vehicle, the same principle applies to cyclists and pedestrians, though your exploration radius will be considerably smaller!


Originally published in Issue 19 of Converge Magazine.


Photo (Flickr CC) by Adam Lerner.

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Katy Perry, Jesus, and loving yourself Mon, 30 Mar 2015 05:15:56 +0000 Katy Perry, Jesus, and loving yourself by Sammi Feliciani

Katy Perry has a Jesus tattoo on her wrist.   Now, I’m not trying to judge her, I can get...

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Katy Perry, Jesus, and loving yourself by Sammi Feliciani

Katy Perry has a Jesus tattoo on her wrist.


Now, I’m not trying to judge her, I can get down to some California Girls, but I’d say Katy has strayed a bit from her Christian upbringing, or at least the way she used to define it.

And yet, she doesn’t hide the tattoo. She’s proud of it, actually. She said in an interview, “I knew I wanted this on me because no matter how much changes around me or how much I change, there’s not really an eraser for this… I think I’m not exactly what I was born into, but I still have my roots. I appreciate it and respect it to the fullest.”

I have no plans of rising to international pop-stardom anytime soon, but I totally resonate with her statement. Like Katy Perry, I’ve stopped believing some of the things I used to believe. My tendency has been to look back on who I used to be with chagrin, often calling up scenes from my past while thinking, “If only I’d known then what I know now.”

I used to be a long-haired, minivan-carpooling homeschooler.

Joshua Harris books used to guide my dating philosophy.

I used to be a side-of-the-road-sign-waver for republican causes and candidates.

Posting cheesy Christian lyrics as Facebook statuses used to be my favorite.

I used to be a complimentarian, a Calvinist and a John Piper groupie.

Today I’m an online-dating site user, a feminist, a political moderate, and a Christian progressive.

But who I am today can never change who I used to be.

The big epiphanies I’ve had over the past few years, the times I have said, “Oh my gosh, that way I used to think was SO messed up,” sometimes make me want to interpose my new feelings onto my old self. I want to believe that as a complimentarian I felt oppressed. I want to believe that as a conservative I hated everyone who was different from me.

But when I look back on college, I don’t remember feeling oppressed or hateful, though in retrospect I know some of those feelings were hidden beneath the surface. Mostly though, I remember feeling happy. If I could go back to college now, of course I would do things differently, because I’m a different person. But I love 18-year-old Sammi. She could be very judgmental, she was naive and she was ignorant about a lot of the things she took loud positions on. But she was also beautiful, outgoing, willing to be vulnerable and had an incredibly stupid but also incredibly still hilarious sense of humor. She was excited about her new-found faith and wanted to chase as hard as she could after it–whatever that meant. Sometimes she did “Christian” things in order to be accepted and popular, but many times she did those things because she truly wanted to obey God.

I’d love to go back in time to tell myself through the years which guys not to waste my time on, which friendships to invest in, which ugly handbags to stop carrying, and to, for goodness’ sake, GET OFF OF MYSPACE AND GO READ A BOOK OR SOMETHING.

But who I am today can never change who I used to be. There are pieces of my old self that I have set down that I might one day pick up again, and pieces I have picked up that I may later set down. I can only make decisions about how I live my life today based on the truth I know today.

In my past I have been insecure and confused. I have been self-righteous and closed-minded. I have trusted people who let me down and I have been hurt. That’s all true. But there is more to the story. There always is, isn’t there? In my past I have also been loved. I have felt safe and sure and protected and a part of something. I’ve had bad experiences–terrible and devastating, even. But even in my darkest seasons there was also light shining. I want to remember both.

Having peace with the old me helps me to have grace with myself today and also with the people around me. I don’t want to be an enabler and I do want to be a truth-teller, but I want to go through life remembering that we are all just doing the best we can.

Let’s take lessons from the bad, have gratitude for the good and have peace with the fact that all of it is part of us.

Then let’s all get matching Jesus tattoos.


Photo by (Flickr CC): NRK P3



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Women, it’s time to come alive Thu, 26 Mar 2015 17:26:21 +0000 Women, it’s time to come alive by Allyson Portee

March is Women’s History Month in the USA, UK and Australia. As it comes to an end, let us be...

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Women, it’s time to come alive by Allyson Portee

March is Women’s History Month in the USA, UK and Australia. As it comes to an end, let us be reminded that what the world needs is for more women to come alive. I can imagine that God is searching the earth, looking for His daughters to wake up and come alive—to go out with confidence and use the skills and talents that He has given us to make a greater difference in this world.

I’m not saying that women need to become the next Angela Merkel, Condoleezza Rice, or Mother Theresa. These women are remarkable! But, we can start small and aim big, to do the good works and desire of our hearts that God has put on the inside of us—to go out and make a difference in our communities and our world. As Christine Caine says, “We have been given gifts and talents for the purpose of serving our generation.”

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman

When thinking of a woman who came alive in a mighty way, Queen Esther, from the Bible, comes to mind immediately. She was used by God to save her people from annihilation by the scheming plans of Haman, an anti-Semitic man of prestige and honour in King Xerxes’ court.

The ultimate test for Esther was to go before her husband the king and beg that her people might be saved. She was fearful because if she appeared before King Xerxes un-summoned that could mean losing her life. But, it was her uncle, Mordecai, that helped Esther push through her fear and go forward with confidence:

“When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

(Esther 4: 12-14).

And Esther responded:

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16).


What a response! What decisiveness and courage! Here are three things I think women can learn from Esther example:


  1.  If you remain silent, God will find someone else to do His bidding. Don’t ignore the opportunities that God places you in and in front of you.
  2. God did not reveal to Esther what the outcome would be. God will often ask us to step out into the unknown in faith, without guarantees.
  3. When God opens a door, no one can shut it or scheme against it, and  succeed. Despite Haman’s attempt to exterminate the Jews, he failed.


I think that at times we women don’t have the confidence in ourselves to do what we know is in our hearts to do. Or, we may simply feel unequipped with the right knowledge or tools to move forward with confidence. It seems to me that many women still find it difficult to take on leadership roles or start initiatives because they have struggled to believe in themselves. Myself included. Stepping out of your shell takes time. It’s not easy. And there’s going to be times when you feel alone, like you’re stepping into foreign territory. But keep moving forward and trusting in God. He is asking you to come alive, and that He wants to use you to make a difference in the lives of those around you.


“The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng”

— Psalm 68:11


Photo by (Flickr CC): Chris Chabot


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This is Your Brain on Porn Wed, 25 Mar 2015 06:21:43 +0000 This is Your Brain on Porn by Karol Boschung

  “…For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today,...

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This is Your Brain on Porn by Karol Boschung


“…For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” – Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf’s statement is striking. It reveals to us just how far porn has distorted the modern view of sex. In Gail Dines’ Pornland and a similar book by Pamela Paul called Pornifiedwe hear more stories of both men and women whose sexualities have been disfigured by porn. Men who cannot help comparing their wife or girlfriend to the porn they have recently watched, and find that the real woman in front of them inevitably comes up short. Women who feel pressured into having “porn sex” with their partner, taught that the only way to be desirable is to demean themselves. There are even some who can no longer have sex with their partner – real sex, with a real person – without watching or fantasizing about porn.

So what are we to make of this – of the way porn seems to be changing people? Perhaps there is more to porn than simply spiritual wrongdoing. After all, we are not just souls but bodies. According to the Bible, our bodies are meant to be tools for righteousness, but there is growing evidence that porn is re-sculpting our bodies — and specifically our brains — into tools for unrighteousness.

Our bodies and our brains are one of God’s most incredible gifts to us, yet we don’t often think deeply about them. In fact, we far too often downplay the significance of our bodies. But consider this: we are embodied creatures in the sense that everything we do, we do with our bodies. They are the way we act in the world. If we didn’t have a body, we couldn’t eat, we couldn’t run, nor could we think, pray, or speak (at least in the way we do now). What we do, therefore, affects not just our souls, but our bodies and brains also.

In his book Wired For Intimacy, neuroscientist William Struthers explains what pornography does to our brains. There are a lot of details about hormones and neurotransmitters, but to put it simply, pornography exploits our brains like an addictive drug.

What makes pornography so addictive is that it takes advantage of the brain’s pleasure and reward circuits. These are the parts of the brain that get used for the enjoyment of good things like food, drink, and (real) sex. Just like a drug, pornography overloads these circuits and creates desire, dependence, and desensitization.

For instance, when someone looks at porn, and especially when they masturbate to it, there is a combined release of many important hormones and neurotransmitters. Some especially powerful ones that Struthers mentions are dopamine (which creates focus, and desire), norepinephrine (which helps form memories), serotonin (which helps modulate your mood), and various endorphins (which create a feeling of euphoria). These chemicals combine to create a very strong experience, carving the memory of it deep into the very stuff of thought. Oxytocin and vasopressin, chemicals that help create bonding and attachment, are released especially strongly at orgasm.

Unfortunately, instead of bonding us to the partner whom we love and cherish (which is what would happen in real sex), these chemicals bond us to the viewed representations of sex. These pornographic representations are most often degrading, cheap, and unrealistic. As more and more porn is consumed, the brain and body become more and more desensitized. The hunger for greater stimulation grows, while more and more extreme situations are needed to get that same rush — the classic addict’s trap.

Struthers also mentions what he calls “mirror neurons.” These are part of a brain system that mentally mirrors the actions we see, and helps us to imagine ourselves in that same situation. When we see someone do something, it’s like our mirror neurons say “I can do that!” and then act out (in the brain) how they would do it.

When it comes to porn, this is especially insidious. Since porn is, for many, their most accessible window to sex and sexual pleasure, these mirror neurons ensure that porn becomes vicarious sex ed. When it comes time to actually have real life sex, our mirror neurons expect an over-the-top, degrading, and often violent and aggressive sexual experience.

When real sex fails to deliver, confusion and disappointment ensue, driving the viewer back to their old habit, in a vicious cycle.

Repeated porn use acts like a river flowing through a valley, carving deep channels that redirect nearby water through its banks. Since every interaction in porn is sexual, all our interactions with the opposite sex get funnelled into this same rut, and soon it is difficult to have any normal interactions that are not sexually charged. Sexual thoughts and fantasies hover constantly at the edges of thought, at the periphery of almost every conversation.

It is important to know that pornography is a growing problem for both men and women. However, what porn can do to men’s brains is especially insidious, because the women they desire are almost always the most objectified, demeaned, and dominated party in a porn scene. Pornography presents them as nothing more than sex objects, and that is how the viewer is trained to see them. By hewing this channel in their own brains, Struthers says men have “unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image.”

“Responses to pornography,” says Struthers, “flow through the neurological viaducts through which feelings of love, longing, need, and romance are expressed.” Porn gives to the viewer (at least at first) the neurological rush that accompanies the amazing gift of sex, but without the vulnerability, mutuality, and love that are meant to be a part of it.  Under the influence of pornography, these mirror neurons, hormones, and neurotransmitters, meant to bring us joy and deep human connection, become a potent cocktail of dependence, frustration, and isolation.

This is a bleak picture indeed, but Struthers says there’s hope. Just as pornography can sculpt our brains into instruments of unrighteousness, prayer, community, and a change of habits can re-sculpt our brains towards the service of God. The same mechanisms that bind us so strongly to pornography can, over time, work towards our sanctification and freedom from addiction.

It is possible, by the grace of God, to carve new channels for the rivers of our thoughts—new channels that flow towards healthy sexuality and away from the counterfeit. It is in this spirit, the spirit of Romans 12, that you can “present your bodies (and especially your brains!) as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. It is possible, in community and with the help of God, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

This is the second in a five-part series on pornography.

Part One : The History of Porn

Part Two: This is Your Brain on Porn

Part Three: Pornified Relationships



Photo by (Flickr CC): Allan Ajifo


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4 Ways Fear Disguises Itself as Responsibility Tue, 24 Mar 2015 13:00:09 +0000 4 Ways Fear Disguises Itself as Responsibility by Chelsea Batten

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and...

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4 Ways Fear Disguises Itself as Responsibility by Chelsea Batten

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and anyone who fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4.18

The Western church has nearly always struggled with interpreting earthly safety and prosperity as a thumbs-up from God. I’d lay money that this fallacy is what perpetuates many of the church’s chronic problems: divorce, materialism, gossip, abuses in leadership.

If people were to quit chasing comfortable, one-size-fits-all lives in the name of holiness, and instead seek God’s will in the desires and talents He gave them, they’d be forced to refine their recognition of His voice in their lives. Rather than rely on the assurance of conformity, they’d have only His Spirit to guide their choices.

I’m saying “they;” I should be saying “I.” In fact, I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post for most of the day, because it seemed more prudent to comb through LinkedIn for the kind of work that I loathe, but which pays a lot more than the work I love.

Join me in raising a big, collective glass to the obliteration of fear as a basis for making life decisions, starting with stripping it of the spiritual language it uses as a hiding place.

“I don’t want [fill-in-the-blank] to become an idol in my life.”

I’ve long since stopped being surprised at how I, and others I’ve seen, get right up to the porch of what we’ve always wanted, ring the doorbell, and then run away. Blame it on the lizard brain, or on some deep masochistic instinct planted by the Fall. Everybody seems to have this cut-and-run reflex when presented with the answer to their prayers.

Disposable things — iPhones, jewelry, mediocre jobs and relationships — are easy to lose. Annoying, sure, especially if losing them hurts our pride. But such things are infinitely replaceable.

But when you get what you really want… well, there’s only one of those. Screw that up, and what do you have left?

Put another way, if the donkey reaches the carrot on the stick, does he quit walking?

So we find ways to keep that carrot leading us forward. We can couch it in spiritual language, calling a desire an “idol,” or saying that we’re giving something up for God’s sake.

Of course, these can be genuine acts of faith. But sometimes they’re just an excuse to forego God’s purpose for you because you’re freaked out by your own inadequacy.

“I don’t want to store up treasures on earth.”

What do Bob Dylan, Switchfoot, and my dad all have in common? They’ve made famous the phrase “Happy is a yuppie word.”

To which I’d respectfully respond, “Whatever, guys.”

I vaguely remember hearing of a precedent in church history for feeling guilty over one’s happiness. (I hate to blame things on the Puritans, but I feel like it might have been them.) Anyway, it’s still fairly rampant in the church, the mentality that our happiness pisses God off.

If we really knew God, we wouldn’t be afraid of this. Which leads me to believe that we’re not so much worried that we’ll offend God with our happiness, as we are afraid that He’ll take corrective measures by taking what we love away from us because it makes us too happy.

So this leaves two options. We can try to have a relationship with someone who we secretly believe hates to see us happy (meanwhile dealing with the impulse to blame Him for our unhappiness). Or we can make strides toward happiness at the risk that God might take it away/let us ruin it. (Which, if you believe in the sovereignty of God, kind of amounts to the same thing.)

The advantage of going the second way is that you’ll find out the truth, about yourself and about God. I think that’s healthier. You could also end up living in a way that you truly enjoy.

“I’m preparing for marriage/kids/the ministry/[fill in the blank].”

Some very godly people will disagree with me on this. They can write their own blog posts.

A friend of mine was recently agonizing over the decision whether to stick with his grad studies at a very expensive university, or to take a job playing music on the other side of the country.

“So are you going to take it?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I want to. But I keep thinking that this degree would be a really good thing down the road, if I get married and have kids.”

Here’s the DL on my friend: he’s very musically talented, he’s sick of the finance job he’s held down for a number of years, he wants to get away from the area he grew up in, and there’s nobody in his social circle that he’s interested in dating. I cannot stress enough how theoretical this marriage and kids are, for which he’s delaying this exciting risk. Yet there are people around him that call what he’s doing “wisdom.”

I don’t care how church-friendly your goals are. Making decisions solely on behalf of something that doesn’t exist is irresponsible. It’s like keeping your car parked out on the street, to make room in your garage for the boat you can’t afford to buy.

“I’m waiting on God.”

Nobody waits silently. Some defer their dreams with an aura of cheerful peace that even they hardly understand. Others sigh and moan their way into the hearts of a hundred other frustrated church folks; together, they may even pool their sense of entitlement into an accountability group.

The difference between these forms of “patience” is something that an elder in my church calls “holding God’s goodness hostage.”

Basically, it means stiff-arming all of God’s other possible blessings for you, until He gives you the thing you want right now. Think of a kid opening a billion presents on Christmas morning, then refusing to play with them because he didn’t get a pony.

Personally, I prefer not to take a step forward toward what I want without a fail-safe guarantee of the results–preferably, good times and easy money. All this “patience” yields is a lot of shoegaze blog posts about my noble frustration that God is holding out on me, responding with silence to my prayers of “when” and “why?”

Really, though, these weren’t prayers. They were the terms of a standoff.

While I can’t find a verse to back this up, I feel confident saying that I don’t think God does standoffs. He has nothing to prove.

People talk about this moment of clarity that comes after they have a near-death experience, where they realize that, despite all their precautions, they have no control over the moment of their death. The only thing they can control is the way they spend their time until it comes.

At bottom, every fear is rational. Whatever it is, it could happen, you know. How would you prefer to live, until it finally does?


Photo by (Flickr CC) chandrika221

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5 clues to solving The Christian Dating Dilemma Mon, 23 Mar 2015 05:24:07 +0000 5 clues to solving The Christian Dating Dilemma by Hannah Collins

First, can we all take a moment of silence for the Christian male population? Fellas, I am so sorry. Lately...

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5 clues to solving The Christian Dating Dilemma by Hannah Collins

First, can we all take a moment of silence for the Christian male population? Fellas, I am so sorry. Lately you’ve been scrutinized both online and from the pulpit about how singleness and the lack of healthy dating is ALL YOUR FAULT. Christian culture loves to point the finger at men and shame them into “manning up”, whatever that means. We tell them they need to step up or step out; we put some rather unrealistic expectations on their shoulders. I’m not saying the guys are totally blameless here but I do think it’s time to cut them some slack.

If we are expecting guys to own up to their side of this apparently sad story, then it’s only fair for the girls to do the same. It’s time for us to admit that we have some skin in the game as well. Both parties are stuck spinning their wheels and pointing the finger — and this, since the dawn of time. You barely get into Genesis before it happens — “It was this woman you gave me!” cried Adam. “It was the serpent!” excuses Eve. It’s called blame shifting.

It takes two to tango. And it seems like we’ve been stepping on each other’s toes a lot and no one is having fun dancing anymore. Now, I’m no relationship expert. I too have received ambiguous texts and gone on confusing friend/hang out/coffee dates. And yet, I too am part of the problem. Girls, it’s time we stack hands and change some things:

  1. Say Yes: Do you want to know why “guys just don’t ask girls out anymore?” Because we have been saying no. It’s time to start saying yes, and I’m not talking about the ring. This is not a lifelong commitment, it’s a date for goodness sake! If he does his part and actually asks you out, then do yours and give it a chance. No wonder it’s all gotten so muddled and confused. Say yes! Let him take you out, buy you dinner, ask you questions. Answer the questions. Let your guard down, be vulnerable, speak your mind, be yourself.
  1. Say Yes Again: Is it just me or is anyone else incredibly awkward on a date? No, I know I’m not alone in this. No one is their best on a first date. It’s uncomfortable. You have to make eye contact, you don’t know if you should order the pizza or the salad, your lipstick is probably on your teeth and it feels like you’re playing 20 questions all night. We assume that if sparks don’t fly and the conversation isn’t flawless, then it was a terrible date. If you’re being honest with yourself you probably weren’t knocking it out of the park either. Give it a few goes, and if it isn’t working after that, then your free to go.
  1. Just Friends: Stop using the line “Oh, I thought we were just friends.” Or even worse, “I don’t want it to ruin our friendship.” Odds are if you’re friends you will probably have a great time on a date and it might actually be less awkward. One dinner does not mean you are committing. Go on a couple dates and if you’re still not feeling it, be honest and say so. Your friendship doesn’t have to end just because you found out you’re not soul mates.
  1. Too many Texts: What is this sick and twisted game we play? If he texts us we respond a convenient 1 hour and 26 minutes later so that it looks like we’re busy and not anxiously awaiting correspondence. Just stop texting game in general — it’s kind of cowardly, on both ends. Pick up the phone and call if you want to hear about their day. If he calls you, call him back. If he asks you on a date via text then say, “sounds good, give me a call and we can set something up.” If he likes you, he will call. Stop enabling and hiding behind your phones — both of you!
  1. No Trivial Pursuit: We are not talking here about the game. Authentic pursuit is alive and well if we would get real. We claim that we want a direct, honest, driven, guy. And yet when a guy asks us out, shows interest, or does a good job at those things we are quick to say he’s clingy. No wonder guys think they have to be passive and sneaky about it. Allow yourself to be known, appreciated, and fought for. Don’t make a guy feel less than or creepy for trying. Our words and actions have fed the flame of guys being non-committal. Be kind, be honest, and let yourself be open to the possibility of being loved.

It’s time to own up. It’s time for both of us to cross the street and meet in the middle. We can’t keep shouting to the other side waiting for the other to fix it. The only way it will change is if we both take a few broken, messy, hard steps and find each other in the in-between. Let’s be honest, let’s be open, and let’s have soft hearts. Just maybe, we will get somewhere along the way.

Photo by (Flickr CC) deborah is lola


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Know what you believe and why it matters Sat, 21 Mar 2015 12:23:02 +0000 Know what you believe and why it matters by Randy Frazee

What you believe drives everything. The way you behave, the habits you form, the character that defines you at your...

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Know what you believe and why it matters by Randy Frazee

What you believe drives everything. The way you behave, the habits you form, the character that defines you at your core, all are driven by what you believe.  Admittedly, we are in an age where post-moderns believe in everything and skeptics believe in nothing. So, how strongly do we “believers” believe our beliefs? Can we articulate what we believe, and why it matters?

Believe teaches the big ideas of systematic theology without the four years in seminary! These ideas have been around a long time, and a surprising number of people really want to learn them, but the notion of digging them out of the Bible and trying to understand them can be daunting. Believe boils it all down to the top 30 ideas in the Bible, using only text from the Bible to teach the 10 key beliefs, 10 key practices, and 10 key virtues of the Christian faith.

The true power of Believe is in moving the beliefs from our heads to our hearts. Rodney Stark, a renowned sociologist, observed the power of transformative beliefs in his book, The Rise of Christianity. He was mesmerized by how Christianity grew from one man, Jesus, to a movement that by A.D. 350 had reached 56.5 percent of the western world. His analysis of the Christians’ radical response to epidemics and social issues led him to conclude that these people actually believed the teachings of Jesus. They believed them in such a way that they took on flesh, and they literally changed their world. When people grasp not only what they believe, but why it matters, this could very well be the key that opens the door to a new “rise of Christianity” in our generation.

My prayer is that the readers of Believe will understand and believe in our great God and his calling on their lives, and be able to declare, “I know what I believe and why, and in God’s strength, I will seek to live it out all the days of my life.”

It could change the world.


This post is sponsored by Zondervan

Featured Photo by (Flickr CC): alexcoitus


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