Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Other L-Word: Do We Really Know Lust?

Recently I did some art for a church series that paired vices and virtues. It’s an interesting concept– I like the idea of looking at both together and trying to see what is real between them.

Of course I chose to do a piece on lust and chastity, because why wouldn’t I? No one else was jumping at it, from an artistic perspective it has the potential to be edgy and interesting, and come on! What church kid isn’t going to choose lust and chastity. Seriously.

I was one of two artists who braved this pair and now that it’s lust and chastity’s turn in service they’ve asked us to each create a video describing our inspiration for the art and to speak specifically about one half of the pair. *I was asked to cover lust.

I have to admit that when I found out I needed to make this video and speak about lust on it’s own I initially felt unexpectedly vulnerable. I mean, sure, give the single girl in her 30’s lust and chastity to the married woman with kids. I highly doubt that it was intentional, but right at the beginning I felt a little… singled out for lack of a better term. And then I got over it.

If I’m being honest, the subject of lust really drove my piece (which I will eventually post a picture of). I very much wanted to take the opportunity to take lust and chastity out of their usual context and look at them in a less obvious sort of way. Christians get really specific when we start talking about sex. We really think we have a handle on what lust is. I’ve also noticed that with those very specific ideas, by and large, we target men and women on opposite ends of the spectrum– we associate men with lust and women with chastity. Even if we aren’t necessarily accusing all men of being lustful, or assuming that all women are naturally inclined to chaste behavior, we use the lenses of lust and chastity to speak to men and women differently about sex. I don’t think I can comment on this point as to whether I think that tendency is necessarily right or wrong, however I do think it’s short-sighted if nothing else.

Stepping away from the traditional definition of lust, which is almost exclusively viewed as an intense sexual desire, I have to ask myself, “Is intense sexual desire the problem itself, or is it symptomatic of the real issue? And if it is a symptom, is it the only symptom?”

I strongly believe that physical lust is symptomatic of what is at the core of all sins: a void that we are trying to fill with something other than God. There is a difference, I feel, in how lust effects us compared to other symptoms like greed or gluttony, however.

With greed the void is filled through the rush of having in excess and gluttony fills its void through wringing more pleasure out of a thing than it is meant for, but both of those function externally. With lust the void is filled by consuming and making the object of our lust a part of US. We conquer and devour what we lust after in a way that forces it into our spiritual and emotional DNA. With that in mind physical lust is an easy example, but I think it’s important to understand that it doesn’t stop there and that just because you may not struggle sexually doesn’t mean that you do not struggle with lust.

One of the defining characteristics of lust is its ability to dehumanize. This comes up a lot when we talk about porn, for instance. The process of possessing and devouring takes a person from human to object and we see clearly how this happens with porn. What we fail to see is how it also happens all of the time within causes we “fight” for.  I’ll use the pro-life movement as an example because I think it’s the most ironic. A cause, the purpose of which is to protect human life, can often be found demonstrating outside abortion clinics in a way that completely dehumanizes the women walking in the doors. In our lust for moral vindication and power we stop seeing people and only see objects. It seems counterintuitive to put pro-lifers and porn addicts together, but lust can manifest itself just as powerfully in good causes as it can in licentious acts.

Lust is insidious, we allow it to creep into the areas of our lives where we least expect it and the fact that we think we know lust just to be related to sexual desire makes us easy targets. Any time we try to make something a part of our identity and create objects out of people in the process, lust is showing up.

The great danger of allowing lust to creep into our lives is so much more than the obvious risks and consequences emotionally and physically of promiscuity or porn. The only thing we are created to fuse our identity to in such a deep way is the Holy Spirit. When we try to make these other things a part of ourselves, we’re not only dehumanizing others, we are being dehumanized ourselves.

Goodness, what a lot to think about.

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Explosions

Trust.

It’s a word we all use a lot.

We build trust, we lose trust, we crave trust-worthiness, we look for something to trust in, we break trust, we don’t trust…

It’s as though we have emotional tentacles that are constantly reaching out in search of something solid, something to give us a guaranteed foothold for our next step in the dark.

I started thinking maybe I didn’t have a clue what trust actually was all about when I read Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning and passages like the following sunk into a dark, quiet place in the pit of my soul that longed for something radical, something wild and untamed to take over my life,

The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise

We have this chance to take a deep breath and step into the unknown and we can’t know what trust means until we’ve actually done it. Until we’ve taken the courage to say to God, “Your will be done” and mean it. I’ve only begun to taste it and it’s unlike anything you can imagine until you’re there.  It never stops being terrifying, but somehow knowing that all that has built up to create that terror in you is nothing compared to what God can do with the next moment, the next hour, the next day, month, or year. In this free-fall we begin to understand what we were created for, something reaches into the core of your being and says, “THIS IS WHAT YOU WERE DESIGNED FOR”, but it’s so hard getting to that place because everything about this world tries to tell us that that’s the last place we want to be.

I have only just begun to understand how I am designed for the explosions. I have spent so much time hiding from the bombs going off in my life, not understanding that every explosion creates something new, it makes more space for God to move and I can move with him if I can get myself to stop looking at my wounds and trying to find new places for shelter that might totally prevent further damage.

Don’t let fear back you into a corner in a world that needs your courage. Don’t be so distracted by “every day life” that you miss the many opportunities you have every day to trust God in a way that creates explosions in the world around you.

 

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No Fear In Love

love:fearA couple of posts ago I mentioned Project Just As I Am . Sunday will be our first live photo booth event at NewChurch Georgetown. I think we’re all pretty excited about it.

Since the beginning of the project I keep finding myself drawn back to certain passages of scripture, actually, in a lot of cases whole books of the bible.

In the last couple weeks the words “No fear in love” have been playing on repeat in my head. They’ve popped up as I’ve faced difficulty in my relationships, they’ve been echoing through my mind as I’ve listened to students tell me about different situations going on in their lives. I’ve heard those words loud and clear as I’ve thought about what life is all about and how I should be treating the guy serving my coffee or the lady bagging my groceries.

1 John 4: 18 says,

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 

I’ve always thought about this verse from a first person perspective. don’t have to be afraid when I am grounded in God’s love for me. And I believe that’s true and it’s a place to start, a jumping off point for this verse. It’s extremely important that we know ourselves through the eyes of the unconditional love God has for us. Brennan Manning says in The Raggamuffin Gospel, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” If we ignore internalizing how we are loved by God we inevitably will spend our entire lives trying to earn something that is already in our possession and miss God’s calling for us. Thank God for grace.

All of that said, in the last couple of weeks as the words “no fear in love” have been the background music for all of my thinking and living, I began to wonder what it would look like if I applied this verse, which I had only been applying to myself, to the way I love others. It opened up a whole world for me, which I have to admit wasn’t exactly comfortable at first.

Without intending to, I think, we practice a lot of fear in the way we “love” others. I mentioned that several days ago in this post. We have our Christian disclaimers because we’re afraid of what it will look like we condone, or believe, or have taken part of if we just love people as they are. We constantly want to spell it out for people, “I MUST REMIND YOU THAT YOU ARE A SINNER” and then we wrap ourselves in turmoil over how to relate– Do I go to the gay wedding? Do I give the homeless guy on the corner money? Do I baby-sit for the teen mom?

And most of the time we DON’T– whatever our specific question is– because we’re afraid that the most loving thing we could do will be enabling, or condoning, or supporting something that we are morally opposed to. And I get it. But I think collectively we DON’T get IT.

Over and over again the bible says, “Love God and love each other”. I don’t see anything that says to make sure we stand daily on our moral soap boxes or that it is our personal mission to convict the sinful pants off of each other. Instead of being “salt and light” we Christians seem to be in the constant business of isolating ourselves and alienating others. It’s wrong, it’s backwards and it makes zero sense if we pay any attention to Jesus.

Jesus made the first move every time. He reached out and touched the dirty, he approached the prostitute, he surrounded himself with the broken, the outcast, the rejected, and then he DIED for all of us. ALL OF US. Without any promise that we would even understand what that gift meant, without any down payment from us. He said, “You know what, they are mine, make me liable. I claim them.”

If there is no fear in love then there should be no fear in how we love others. Jesus set the bar really high, so I feel like it’s safe to say that we cannot err too far on the side of love, because love is the point. The whole entire point. What do we really think all of our “good” and “moral” insistence means if we are missing the point? St. Paul says it pretty clearly in 1 Corinthians 13,

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If we love without fear we change the world. Because that’s what Jesus did and the more we do it, the more we become like him… “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: In this world we are like Jesus. ” (1 John 4:16-17)

I know this is a lot.

Trust me, I’ve thought through the ramifications– it means self-sacrifice, and going out of our way, it means not caring what other people think, even other Christians, it means taking risks, taking personal hits, it means giving ourselves away… any of that sound familiar?

We can do this.

We have to do this, the world desperately needs it and so do we. I heard Rebekah Lyons say recently that anxiety is the result of unfulfilled purpose and I believe that’s true. It seems to me that the majority of the Christian community is experiencing a great deal of anxiety.  Could it be because we are not fulfilling our purpose? I think so.

There is no fear in love.

Let’s begin loving fearlessly, church.

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Why Do We Sing?

worship3I recently asked social media for inspiration because I needed side project to sink my teeth into for a while. In response I received the following question from one of my students,

On the subject of Hymns: What’s your opinion on the modern day version of “church music”. Which is to say, do you think that the music has become more representative of the modern church and, if so, is that something that should be avoided?

Great question and timely.  I’ve been thinking and talking about worship with some of my close friends lately and wrestling through my thoughts on the subject and what I want to role model to the young adults I lead as a person who believes that worship is very important.

I’ve experienced worship in many different settings; from the extremely conservative to the rock concert variety to the ancient traditions to the super emotional… I could go on…

If I’m being honest, I have to say that I have a lot of frustration with the idea of boiling worship down and making it all about music and singing. That’s not to say that I don’t like music, music is a very important part of my life, it’s essential to my personal creative process when it comes to writing, and God has often used music, with lyric and without, to speak to me in ways that have pulled me out of very dark places. Music is powerful, it’s a language of its own and it’s something that, I believe, is linked to the soul of humanity and the essence of being made in God’s image.

That being said, I strongly believe that worship is something we do with our lives and not just about the songs we sing on Sunday morning and how we sing them.  And I know that’s not exactly addressing the question being asked here, but stay with me, I’m going somewhere.

The biggest complaint I hear from young people about current praise and worship music is that it’s self-indulgent and too emotional, and I get it. I do. And I have been right there with them at different points in my life thinking, “I’m singing ‘it’s all about you Jesus’ but it sure feels like it’s all about me and what I’m getting out of this whole thing.”

The truth is, at least in my opinion, even when you look back at old hymns, and I love old hymns, if you consolidate them into everything that encompasses worship, then they don’t really come out looking much less indulgent than the stuff we have today. So there’s this thing that happens in Christian music where we work out what we’re going through in these songs and it is emotional. I found it really hard to relate to until several years ago while I was living in Dallas and going through what were some of the most desperately sad times in my life. I’d lost my mom, my job was falling apart, and I was facing people saying horrible things about me in a way I had never experienced before in my life. And in that pit of a place that my life was then I started reading through the Psalms and where I used to think David was the whiniest guy in the bible suddenly he was reading my mind. And at that time in my life those songs that had seemed indulgent and over-emotional to me before were suddenly my prayers, they gave me words when I didn’t have them and God spoke back to me through them.

So after that I couldn’t see those songs as not having a place and I couldn’t honestly say at that point if I was worshiping God so much as having a conversation with him through song.

In the midst of that time I also was introduced to ideas about worship being a way of life, worship being something we do with our time and our attention and our obedience, worship being about our lives.

So maybe this doesn’t answer the original question at all, maybe it does, but I don’t think, if worship is only going to be about music, that we can get it right. There wont be a type of song, or a way of singing that will be holy or reverent enough.

Yes, there will always be crappy Christian music. And it’s just crappy because it’s poorly written or maybe it’s intention is to force you to cry. That happens and I support people avoiding crappy music as much as possible.

What I know is this, personally I can’t tell you what kind of song God prefers coming out of your mouth more… traditional, mainstream, chanting, or anything else you can think of.  For me whatever the words or style, worship has a lot more to do with why we’re singing and what we’re doing with our lives to honor God, than it has to do with the style of our songs.

I hope that in some way answers the question. =)

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Love Without A Disclaimer

A photo from ProjectJAIA

A photo from ProjectJAIA

Today is my first official day of not being an employee of retail cosmetics. The decision to leave a job that has held me financially steady for six years was a scary one, possibly one of the hardest easy decisions I’ve ever made.

I say “hardest easy” decision because knowing that my time with the company I was with was over couldn’t have been more clear. Everything going on in my heart and my life pointed right towards the door, but taking the actual steps to walk out and facing the fear of all of the “what ifs”, took every bit of guts I have.

And here I am.

I jumped with both feet because I couldn’t not.

My constant prayer these days is, “Here is my life, God. Wreck it. Ruin it for your glory.” But don’t go thinking I’m super brave because most of the time I have to choke the words out in between sobs. I oscillate between terror of the unknown and a sense of adventure unlike anything I have ever experienced every day.

A big part of what has driven this big change in my life has been trying to wrap my head around how I am loved by God.  I realized that I was living a huge lie. My mouth claimed that God loves me just as I am while my heart believed that there were parts of me that were unlovable and I was in constant turmoil trying to cover, hide, and mask those parts. I could logically understand that God sees everything, but it didn’t stop me trying to block him out of the dark parts of my soul or pretending to others that those parts didn’t exist.

About a year ago in a moment of divine disaster God’s voice thundered through my head and my heart and said, “I see you Katie Elizabeth Brown and I LOVE every piece of you. ” And for the first time in my life that truth felt like a refuge in a storm instead of a threat.

The world needs THIS kind of love.

The answer is love and it always has been because God IS love.

I am determined to love without a disclaimer because I am loved without one.

A disclaimer is a statement that denies something, usually responsibility. In Christian culture we are used to “loving” with disclaimers that say things like, “I love you, but I don’t accept your sin”, “I love you, but only when you do what I think is right”, or “I love you, but don’t hurt me and or I will cut you off”. We are fearful of guilt by association when those we love fail, get dirty and maybe don’t get right up. We don’t want to be stained by their sin, hurt, or have to sacrifice anything in the process of helping them up so we hold these disclaimers up so we can deny responsibility and make it understood that our love only reaches as far as their ability to deserve it.

God’s love doesn’t do this to us.

God’s love took responsibility for us on the cross. God CLAIMED us as we are and I believe with all of my heart that he asks us to do the same for each other.  1 Peter 4:8 says,

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

How would the world change if we loved like this? If we claimed each other in love, if we didn’t hold anything back, if we took responsibility by going all-in for one another?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to put my whole life into finding out.

One of the ways I’m committed to “walking as a child of Light” (Ephesians 5:8) is by working with a bunch of students on a project called Just As I Am. ProjectJAIA is an opportunity to come forward with those parts of ourselves we’ve worked so hard to hide from God and everyone else and to step out into the light of God’s unconditional love for us. Through our pictures we hope that ProjectJAIA will encourage us all to let God and  his love for us into the places we feel the most vulnerable and that in the process we will learn to see each other the way he sees us.

I hope you will check ProjectJAIA out and if you’re feeling brave add your own photo! What have you let make you feel unlovable? Bring it into the light.

You can follow ProjectJAIA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. If you have questions, comments or would like to email a photo submission for the project you can contact ProjectJAIA at projectjaia@gmail.com. You can also participate by hashtaging your photo #projectJAIA on any of the social media sites mentioned above. 

 

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