What Is a Boundary?

Some of you may be very familiar with the concept of interpersonal boundaries. Others may be familiar with the concept of a physical boundary such as a fence, but not as clear on the idea of boundaries as they apply to relationships. And others may not be aware of the concept of a boundary at all. Well, interpersonal boundaries are extremely important, I believe, to living a functionally healthy and mentally stable life. One of the leading experts on the concept of boundaries is Dr. Henry Cloud. He has written various books on the subject of boundaries, such as boundaries with children, leaders, and dating, but I suggest his classic book written with John Townsend as a good place to start with learning about healthy relationship boundaries. Here is a brief video from Dr. Cloud on what boundaries are and why we need them.

If the concept of boundaries is new to you, I highly recommend picking up Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life and give it a read today. And for further reading on the subject, consider the coinciding workbook or Dr. Cloud's books pertaining to boundaries with dating, leaders, and kids.

Domestic Violence in the Church

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Brandi Hunter. Brandi publishes her a blog featuring faith based news and information with a particular focus on the Greater Memphis Area. Her particular focus in this interview was the church's response to issues like domestic violence and how the church handles issues that need to be addressed in counseling, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, and many others that are looming in our culture. What do you think about handling issues like domestic violence, mental health, etc., in the church?

Also, to read more from Brandi, check out her posts on Faith 901 or follow her on Twitter @_Faith901.

“Denise is missing.

What do you mean missing? That was my reply to a text I received mid-October 2012.

What it turned out to mean is that about a week later I would use some bereavement days at my job in Arkansas to go home to Memphis to attend the funeral of a dear family member.

Police charged her husband for her murder.”

— Brandi Hunter

Take a look here to read more and please share your comments.

 

Taking the Low Road: The Neurobiology of Sin and Brokenness

Ever wondered if science can actually validate or stand side by side with issues of faith, particularly when it comes to the nature of sin and relationships? Well, if you have, or even if you have not, the video I am posting this week will hopefully get your mind churning about the relationship between our sin nature and science. This clip is from one of my favorite neurobiologist, Dr. Dan Siegel, who has written some great books (The Developing Mind and Parenting from the Inside Out ) on understanding the mind and the development of the brain, specifically how our emotional systems develop in the brain. In this clip Dan is describing our neurobiological response to receiving what may be an insult, judgement, or some other negative message from a person we perceive as caring for us. This response is commonly referred to as "the low road", which is a neural circuitry consisting of mostly "reptilian-like" responses to our perception of threat. These responses work great when we are facing real threats, like a poisonous snake or some other threat, but not so much for building relationships with people we love and care for, and want to be loved by.

At one point Dan describes these responses as the activation of "an evolutionarily ancient circuit of self-defense that may have no boundaries". As a Christian, I would refer to this as "sin", particularly when it involves another person. Though Dan is not a believer, I think a great deal of his research actually points to the truths outlined by Scripture about our defensive, boundary-less system that causes relational disconnect. Furthermore, I think that his answers and methods for handling these issues can be a fantastic, practical addition to what we already know about dealing with relational sin by way of the Bible. If you are dealing with issues of defensiveness, criticism, and other forms of negative communication in your personal life, your marriage, or your family, I can help. 

Jerry Maguire Was Wrong

You've seen the movie. You know the scene. Jerry Maguire, played by Tom Cruise (prior to his Oprah couch surfing days), bursts into the room right on cue to save the male species from the grip of death by the insults of women. While the scene is certainly romantic and inspiring, it is also responsible for leading many to endorse an unhealthy relationship disposition. Jerry falsely leads us all to believe that another person can "complete us", and though that thought does send a warm and fuzzy sensation through our soul - to be "completed" by another - it is the cause of much relationship dissatisfaction.

This faulty manner of thinking generally starts when, out of an inner emptiness, we seek out another to "complete" us, and when we find this person, they become our world. It sounds nice, right? Well, it usually is, right up until there is a moment of difference, a moment when suddenly you don't complete me anymore because I did that or saw that differently than you. The unraveling begins with the discovery of differences that are not encouraging differences, but points of tension that create wounds. These wounds fester for years, if allowed, never really healing properly as the seeds of resentment have been sown and sprouted saplings of hate and bitterness through the open sore.

The formula of relationship is not 1/2 half person + 1/2 half person = 1. No one should "complete" you. You are a complete being, made in the image of God. You are made for relationship, not made by having relationships. Relationships are more like 1 whole person + 1 whole person = 1 healthy relationship. So, to the unattached, do not go looking for another half; start looking to become whole. To those considering becoming permanently attached,discover your relationship equation before making that commitment.  And to the attached who are finding that they their relationship is composed of halves, there is still hope.

What Is a Healthy Marriage?

If we are honest with ourselves about the subject of marriage, many of us may admit that we do not really know what a healthy marriage looks like. And if we are really honest, we would admit that most of what we do and how we act in marriage is based mostly on how we saw our primary caregiver(s) behave in relationships. Our honesty about what we do and where we come from would allow us to step wholeheartedly into the grace that comes with acknowledging this truth- that in one sense, we are just doing what we saw, but in another, what we saw could be incredibly empty, painful, and damaging, and furthermore, attempting to get our spouse to do and be just like us in our dysfunction might just be the most damaging thing of all! So then what does a healthy marriage look like? Well, in this brief clip, Dr. Sue Johnson expounds upon what I (and many others in the Marriage and Family Therapy world) think is the key defining element in relationship success: emotional security and responsiveness. That's right. Not agreement, not similar interests, not lack of conflict. Rather, it's the freedom to express oneself and know that one's spouse will listen and respond to us, not necessarily how we want on a content level (meaning just doing what we say), but will respond nonetheless with concern, with an interest in what he have to say. What do you think? Take a look. 

The Demise of Guys

This is a brief 4 minute video on the "The Demise of Guys." Dr. Philip Zimbardo identifies the intimacy disorder that is taking down our culture, particularly because the male segment of the population is struggling to connect with women.  Zimbardo, an evolutionist, makes compelling points about how the brokenness that has plagued men for thousands of years has been drastically intensified by our technological age. I think this video is a great illustration of how the intimacy issues in our culture are not just an issues of morality or faith, but a place in which scientists, Christians, evolutionists, pastors and many other types are united around in saying that men being mature men is very vital to the sustainability of our culture. What do you think?

Belle Knox: A Response

Who She Is

As you may or may not have heard, Duke University has several students doing almost anything to get that diploma debt free. There is this guy, who chose to live in a van to avoid the high costs of school housing while in Durham. And then there is a freshman young lady, going by the film name of “Belle Knox", who has decided to shoot pornography as a means of providing financial support for her schooling. Knox states that this is her “artistic outlet” and “a home for her”, and appears to find nothing wrong with shooting pornography to pay for school.  Yes, we are in a culture where sex is being leveraged to the tune of four years of schooling at a high-quality institution. 

Now, a lot of folks are coming out in various critical attacks on this young lady, from the religious right to the feminist – everyone’s upset. However, I think this needs to be a sobering wake-up call to us in America. 

Why She Is Right

In an interview with CNN’s outgoing late night man, Piers Morgan, Knox states several things of which I am inclined to agree. She does point to the fact that in America, we do not deal very well with our sexuality. We hide our views of sex and our discussion of the subject, leaving many bumbling around in the dark (both figuratively and literally) attempting to figure out how to have sex. We are uncomfortable with our sexuality, especially in the church. I do a great deal of marriage and premarital counseling and my unscientific data gathering generally points to the fact that those who grew up “churched” rarely had anyone educate them about sex in their household. Some never heard the word "sex" said by their parents. What a shame. Literally. That is one huge factor contributing to the shame felt around our sexuality as Christians.

But she is also correct in that there is something freeing and empowering to owning one’s sexuality; that we are often shackled by our shame and ignorance, afraid to even let someone know that we actually have sex, married people often being the worst at admitting it. She speaks of being “naked and unashamed”, which sounds strikingly similar to something we read in Scripture- that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. My goodness, this girl is on to something Biblical, but she would not know it because we as Christians have painted such a different cultural picture of sex and subsequently, someone is using our language to define their justification for the pornography we find abhorrent! Anyone else thinking we have entered the Twilight Zone? 

What She's Got Wrong

Now, while I am a big fan of some of what miss "Belle Knox" has to say, I do think she is incorrect in stating that those who bring up the negative sides of those in the pornography industry are only doing so for a political agenda. I find her a bit naïve to the reality that many people’s human rights are violated in order to allow her sexual freedom to exist, and her participation in such an industry, regardless of her entrance on her own volition, still allows for the arena of sex trafficking to exist. 

Second, whilst she may be on a mission to empower women, or all repressed Americans as she says, her participation is only feeding that repression. It is only pulling more men and women away from healthy sexual intimacy with each other and into the hidden repression that is pornography. If she wants to empower healthy sex, it should not be at the expense of those who are unwillingly forced into the sex industry, nor as a detriment to healthy sex in a committed relationship. 

How We Can Help

The easy answer is stop looking at porn. But, if that were as easy to do as it was for me to type, I would not be typing this in the first place. Porn is often labeled as the “Christian cocaine” because it effects the brain just like cocaine and is often more acceptable in Christian circles, as rarely does one show up to small group and confess their struggle with cocaine, but often people confess a struggle with porn, but that is for a different post.

The real issue is that Christians have got to start talking about sex to all ages, stages, and sexualities, as well as having more of it in committed, covenant marriages.  But our secretive, shame-based approach to sex and sexuality actually creates the large cultural vacuum in which porn is created and thrives. By not using the words God gave us to talk about and view sex, we have allowed others, such as pornographers, to use our language to justify their practices, while we are still having mediocre sex in the dark! What a real shame. And again, it is a shame because we feel the shame, probably even right now as you are reading this. Something about it feels “wrong”, but it is not.

So, we can help if we are willing to help ourselves and start getting real and honest about our sex lives. Married folks, does someone in your life know about your sex life with your spouse? And do you know that the Puritans actually kicked men out of the church for not having sex with their wives? I am not talking about “duty sex”, but I am talking about an intimate, passionate, sharing of whole self type of experience. Non-married folks, regardless of your sexuality, relationship status, or future intent- is someone aware of your struggles in your sexuality and are you building a healthy view of sex?

No matter who we are or what our status is, our responsibility to God’s creation is to reclaim sex and sexuality from the pangs of our post-modern “as long as I am not hurting anyone who should care (but I am always hurting someone anyway)” culture. We need to get to talking more about sex and having more of it, not reacting from our own shame on the subject with more restrictions, laws, and legalism. We need to get active and get real with portraying a view of sex that aligns with the Gospel and with what God intended when he set this thing in motion. What will you do today to build and express your sexuality?  

For more information on some suggested readings on sex, check out a previous post I made on sex. If you are in need of help with this subject, either ceasing pornography use, building a healthy married sex life or non-married sexuality, I would love to help. If I cannot personally be of help, I am glad to offer a confidential referral to someone that I trust and know can be of help. Please feel free to email me at tyler@christcitymemphis.org

Dr. Rogers Quoted in Counseling Today

Dr. Tyler Rogers was recently quoted in an article published in Counseling Today titled, “Premarital Counseling: Clergy or Clinician?”

In the article, written by Kathleen Smith, Rogers shares a few thoughts on the optimal timing for premarital counseling.

Other professionals take issue with the assumption that counseling should only occur before marriage. “I leave my door open for counseling beyond the wedding day, primarily because many issues in premarital [counseling] are discussed in the abstract,” says Tyler Rogers, who is both a pastor and a recent Ph.D. recipient in counselor education. “I find that couples’ expectations and reality never quite intersect as expected, so I find it helpful, though perhaps counter-cultural, to encourage couples to pursue some follow-up meetings beyond the honeymoon.”

 

Click here to read the full article

The Construct of Porn

In our last post on Pornography we examined "The Cruelty and Compassion of Porn" and prior to that, we examined The Conceit of Porn. I want to remind you that the purpose of this series is to expand the discussion of overcoming pornography beyond a “slaying of sin” to a more holistic understanding of the subject. It is my hope that each post will allow those of you who have encountered porn, either as an issue of your own or of someone you love, more freedom than you are currently experiencing.

And so we move on to the final post in this series about the construct of porn.

Now, this is not a post about how porn is constructed. If you are reading this, you may already know plenty about the construction of a pornographic movie, unfortunately. However, the struggle with with porn often comes from a lack of having two key constructs. The first is an understanding about what makes porn so attractive and the second is a healthy and biblical idea of sexuality and intimacy.

So what is it that makes porn so attractive and addicting?

Simple Answer: Triple A, neurotransmitters, and false intimacy.

Pornography pulls in viewers based heavily on the three A’s, and I am not talking about a minor league baseball team or a car service. Pornographers rely on keeping their product accessible, affordable, and anonymous.

Essentially, by releasing pornography on the Internet (often times tagging it or putting on domain names commonly misspelled by children), it remains accessible to anyone, and mostly to the target audience: young kids.

Also, by keeping pornography free on the Internet, it becomes affordable for anyone that has a device that can access the Internet. And since pornography stimulates the brain in the very same way as a dose of cocaine, it becomes a more economical option.

And finally, the use of the Internet allows one to engage in viewing and acting out to pornography without anyone else knowing. Using other drugs and mind/mood altering substances almost always requires at least one other person to know, but pornography can be completely anonymous. And these are the three elements that make pornography so addicting.

Aside from that, the release of neurotransmitters in the brain that occurs when viewing pornography feels good because it is supposed to. The issue is that those chemicals in the brain are designed for intimacy and intended to bond one to another person. It works great when we experience that release with a person that 1) actually knows us and 2) will be there for us in the future.

When we experience the release of neurochemicals while looking at porn, we are binding ourselves to our fantasy. What a tragedy. We are the most likely people to let ourselves down. We can feel even more depressed when we realize this fact, sensing the deep shame. And so what do we often do? Go right back to pornography, not because we want to, but because that’s all we know how to do to get the relationship we desperately need in that moment. However, it is also tragic because our idea of the relationship we need is broken. It is a false intimacy, constructed out of our high expectations from our own fantasies that no real person could ever live up to. And subsequently, fearing rejection and disappointment from real people, we turn to porn.

There is a need to deconstruct that fantasyland, as well as build a true story about human sexuality and intimacy. If the reconstruction does not happen, then one will become sexually anorexic, or what some may call a dry drunk, which is simply running away from sex altogether rather than engaging it in a healthy way.

On to the second construct that is missing: a healthy view of sexuality and intimacy. It is not nearly as accessible, but is hidden and challenging. It is not anonymous, but actually quite revealing, and it is in not nearly as addicting. In fact, we can be quite averse to real relationships, along with the pain and joy they bring.

A healthy view of sexuality and intimacy starts with the realization of that real relationship is built out of emotional intimacy and commitment, not one-sided fantasies with people we do not know, and who do not know us. Healthy sex is when you and a partner, in a committed relationship (marriage), decide to share your bodies in a healthy, selfish way- i.e. this is what I need or want, and it is the joy of my partner to meet that need, not something that is done to “keep the relationship alive.”

I say this must happen in marriage because anything else communicates “I’m not sure I’ll keep you”, which is not intimate at all, but quite the opposite. Commitment comes when we can say “I see you, everything you are and are not, everything you are afraid of, and great at, and I am staying.” That commitment is genuine intimacy, and is allows us to continue to share our shortcomings, failures, and fears in a place where we are loved, accepted, and known, and it is representative of the love that Christ has for his children. When we engage in sex with a real person that we are married to, it is a renewal ceremony of that commitment we have made. And that is real intimacy. And that is what drives healthy sex. Any other type of sex is meeting a biological need, but only meeting that need. When we only meet that need, we fall way short of the glory for which we were created. What a poor stewardship of the human body and soul!

What you and I all need is to know we are loved and accepted by someone other than ourselves. When we look at porn, we are only saying that we are accepted by our fantasy, and when it goes away, we feel awful, and we do not even accept ourselves. We hate ourselves. And subsequently, we do not allow others to love us.

So what do you do? Find someone that loves you and accepts you as you are today, and has the ability to see your potential. Don’t have anyone? Wrong. His name is Jesus. He loves you. He promises to never leave you. He sees what you are now and what you could be. And until you get that, you’ll never let anyone else see or know you. But start there. Start with Christ. Acknowledge that he already sees you for you, pornography and all. Once you begin to see that, the scales will fall off your eyes, and you will see that others see you and love you for you too. And that opens up the possibility of engaging in real human intimacy, true connection, and unleashing the potential to have deep, life-long sexual intimacy, far more satisfying than any pornography.

The Cruelty and Compassion of Porn

In the first post, I examined the conceit of pornography and explained how this pride and self-focus often leads us back into pornography, not freedom from it. Now I want to expound another perspective of pornography that is often ignored in evangelical circles: The performers of pornography. Now you may be wondering what the purpose of such would be, so allow me to explain.

In order to be released from the grip of pornography, we must not only stop our selfish pride and self-pity. We must see the reality of the pornography industry because we often only know the actors to the extent of our own fantasy we have constructed in our minds. However, if we gain empathy for the victims that make these films (and yes, most are victims), it is often easier to stop seeing the actors, or just people in general, as objects for our own gratification.

Most people are unaware of the cruelties that underlie the life of most pornographic film stars, but many are bringing those into the light to reveal the vile and inhumane conditions of the industry. Nate Larkin, author of the book Samson and the Pirate Monks, uncovers the truths about the porn industry in a new film entitled Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth. Nate’s book is great and though I have not seen the film, I imagine it does a great job portraying truth about the cruelty of industry and growing compassion for those that work in it.

So what is the truth? In a two part post by Shelley Lubben found here, the former adult film star discusses many untold truths about the industry. Shelley now has a ministry formed to help many of the hurting souls trying to leave the business find a refuge. But what is most interesting about the industry? Here are a few fun facts:

  • Performers typically get paid between $400-$1000 per film and see no proceeds from sales- a multi-billion dollar a year industry.
  • Nearly every performer (reports range from 80% to 99%) has an STD, more than likely herpes.
  • Most women actors are used as prostitutes and have passed along STDs to others.
  • Many performers are on drugs, only because they know no other way to keep doing what they are doing.
  • Physical and verbal abuse is rampant. Actors, especially women, are often beaten and berated.
  • Trafficking: Many pornographic actors are women and young girls that were kidnapped from their homes overseas (usually Eastern Europe or Asia), drugged, and brought over to the US to perform acts of prostitution and pornography.

Now, that is a small taste of the truth, but it definitely effects the desire to click that next link when we realize that the person in that film is not some man or woman that thinks you are amazing, or that everything you do is amazing, and wants to do amazing things with you. It is quite the opposite. He or she is more than likely an underpaid, abused, drug addicted, kidnapped STD infected victim that is someone’s brother or sister, son or daughter. They need to be redeemed by being set free from this slavery, and from the whip of our mouse clicks that continue to drive the sex for sale industry. We feed the demand and we justify horrific acts by continuing to invest our time, money, and energy into pornography. And if we are feeling low at this point, I urge you again to reread the previous post or this one from the Desiring God blog about seeking humility and accepting the forgiveness we have in the Cross.

And finally, look at Jesus’ disposition with the Samaritan woman (John 4) at the well. He loved her and her saw her as a human when he engaged in conversation with her. He did not see her as an object for the gratification of others. He freed her from being seen as such by treating her as a human with compassion. This is a posture we must grow in if we want to be free from pornography. True freedom will come when not only we are set free, but those young women and men that make up the industry are set free as well. Will you take time to see your issue not only as a personal problem, (again, our conceit at work), but one for the actors as well?

The Conceit of Porn

It is another evening and you are reluctantly heading to meet with your “accountability” group once more. The setting sun only slightly reflects the dark overcast you have been carrying for the past few days. You’ve been hashing and rehashing your contrite confession. You rehearse and rehearse. “I looked for fifteen…well wait, more like five….well ok so I looked for it for ten, but only actually looked for five once I found it….yea…that’s what I’ll tell them…”

All men and an increasing number of women have been there and are going there even today as you read and I write. And since pornography is such a growing epidemic, the “Christian cocaine” if you will, I want to provide some differing ideas and thoughts to launch this discussion, both publicly and in your pre-group confession session, beyond the realm of a simple “slaying of lust” and into the comprehensive picture of our problem. This is simply because our view of God is often too small, hence our view of our sin is too small, as well as our view of redemption.

First, I want to tackle the issue of conceit, or pride in pornography. Pride is an element of all sin types, though it has a nuance within various forms of sin. In the instance of porn, I have seen pride manifest differently in a boastful, high “I am better than thou” type of pride only to be shortly followed up by the other form of lowly “I am the worst of the worst” type of pride.

Let’s take the high road first- no pun ended. Typically, I see this form of pride appear when searching for porn and looking to act out sexually. It has this particular sentiment, whether it is a conscious thought or a feeling: “I deserve this,” or “I will only say it was for a few minutes and I’ll call it a slip.” Or “I do not really have to tell about this one.” If not one of those, I would bet there is a moment in which we construct a tagline to soothe the guilt and shame we are beginning to feel.

So what is really going on there? Well, God’s word answers it first in Genesis 3. We wanted to be like God, so we ate the fruit. And now, we still want to be like God, even in these moments of boastful conceit. What we are truly doing has multiple layers. First, our pride is allowing us to pretend as if God cannot see us because we are, in that moment, our God, and constructing our excuse that makes sense in our universe. Second, in our pride, we attempt to dismiss the Holy Spirit from our universe, as if that was ever actually possible, believing we may be beyond God’s realm.

And on the low road, we exhibit pride and conceit in a greater “self-pity” form. This type of pride tends to creep up after the “deed is done”. We feel the sentiment of “I cannot be forgiven” or “I am dirty”, or even “I do not deserve to live or have friends”. It is quite a yo-yo, going from “above” God to suddenly “below” humanity, but have the same root issue of wanting to be God.

Now, you may think I am slightly off on this, but allow me to explain. Our pride is coming out in these moments in as much, if not more, of an integrated expression of exercising “dominion” over our tiny, insignificant, imaginary kingdom of the internet and thought life. First, we are being proud in our intense self-focus and refusal to accept forgiveness, conceited with ourselves instead of truths about who we are, who Christ is, and what he has done for us. We are denying the sufficiency of the Cross, lowly boasting about the gravity of our sin, as if the Cross of Christ cannot cover such things. Second, we are still elevating ourselves to the position of God because we are appointing ourselves to the seat of judgment over who?….ourselves. We are pretending in our conceit that we are in charge of exonerating ourselves from our sin, rather than seeing God for who he truly is, creator and ruler of all, (whether we acknowledge it or not) and what Christ has done for us, which is atone for our sin and free us from it.

So what do we do with this? Begin to repent of our pride. The next time you are dragging your feet to your “accountability” group, preparing your contrite confession, consider confessing both your lowly and boastful pride, rather than how many minutes you “sorta, kinda” looked at porn.