unchecked appetite

When I tell people I went to Cuba they assume that I went to a resort town on the coast, rather than an impoverished cattle town that is hours away from the nearest thing resembling a resort. I just spent seven days in Camajuani, Cuba. I can’t get the food out of my head. While we were there we had plenty to eat. Our Missionary to Cuba constantly reminded us, “remember, when you’re not here, they don’t eat like this.”

We heard a story of a Cuban Pastor who visited the US to speak at a church that was supporting him. The Cuban pastor went to a restaurant and a Wal-Mart and then spent two Woman Cubadays locked in his room. The family who was hosting him asked why he didn’t want to come out of his room. The answer was really simple. He was grief stricken. How could he go out and enjoy food when he wasn’t sure if his family had eaten that day? He spent two days fasting and praying for his family because he was so overwhelmed by our availability of food and goods. For anyone who lives in an economy of scarcity, coming to a place of plenty can be shocking.

On the flight home, I had the option to watch free TV. I found myself watching the Food Network for the first time. It was the week before Thanksgiving so I watched a food competition where the contestants prepared fancy renditions of the classic Thanksgiving meal.   It is so strange to come back home where food isn’t just fuel, it’s also entertainment. As each contestant revealed their final product for the judges, they lifted their lids; the judges either lit up or squirmed in disgust. I kept wondering how a Cuban who had never seen this kind of food entertainment would respond. How offensive it might be to their consciousness that we play with food on TV for the entertainment of the country while they starve. While watching this, I couldn’t help but think of the way that C.S Lewis used food to shine a light on society’s warped sense of sexual appetite. He said:

“Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country, something had gone wrong with their appetite for food?”

My trip to Cuba made me view our society a bit differently. Our addition to everything and our lust for plenty has had a tainting effect on our sense of appetite. Its no secret that our culture loves sex and has pushing the envelope sexually for years, and now most new TV shows on Netflix have some sort of nudity or graphic sex. I was watching a historical documentary and for seemingly no purpose there was a nude scene; this is simply the new normal. We have so sexualized our entertainment that it seems like any normal show cannot make it without a nude scene. It seems that our communal sexual appetite has grown to ravenous proportions.

Our appetites grow vastly with the availability of cheap goods. I admit that I am an avid Amazon Prime user. I love a good deal and free two day shipping is just amazing. But have we stopped to ask the question of how does this ability to get anything we want whenever we want shape us? Have we become a people who are dependent on instant gratification? Do our appetites grow to proportions that are impossible to feed? Are we a people who are slaves to this newfound hunger for cheap goods?

Being in Cuba revealed that our American culture has a ravenous appetite for anything and everything. Its not just food and cheap goods, but it is every little thing that we do. Its not enough to take a picture, we have to Instagram it and receive the heart shaped affirmation of people we may not even really know. Kids are being shaped and molded by their hunger for virtual affirmation. Vaping has revealed that the air we breathe is no longer good enough it must be flavored. TMZ is so successful because they understand that our cultural appetite for making fun of people can be packaged and sold to us in a way of which we feel like our hands are clean in the process.

All of these examples and many more make me wonder what is the cost of an unchecked appetite to a free society? First, when our appetites grow in all areas, we have to feed them; they will become monsters that demand to be fed. We run the risk of surrendering our free will so that we can fulfill whatever desire is most pressing. We run the risk of our desires dictating our budget and our time, rather that what is good or useful. Some desires are natural and healthy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my need for a 3pm caffeine boost is neither natural nor healthy. (Cuba ruined me on coffee…but that’s another story)

When our appetites become unchecked, we become adverse to anything that requires a commitment. Commitment requires the endurance of suffering. This is why in one of the most fundamental of commitments we vow to stick with each other in rich and poor, sickness and health, the good times and the bad. I think our regular commitments like church attendance form us in powerful ways, but sometimes you will wake up and not want to attend, the question is are you a slave to your desires and appetites or will you do something even if it is hard?   There is a glaring conclusion to a world where we either wittingly or unwittingly allow our appetites to go unchecked. That is, we will stop doing anything that costs us anything. Our propensity to keep a commitment will dwindle; we will keep the commitment so long as it is beneficial to us. It costs something to love your neighbor; there is an inherent sacrifice in it. Yet in our desire to fulfill all of our appetites for goods and technology, I wonder if we have engineered our way out of need for genuine and authentic community. Lastly, when we are so concerned with fulfilling our own appetites, then the side effect of self-centeredness is hard to ignore.

It seems like in our push away from modernity and into post-modernity we have communicated that our feelings and our desires are the truth. I am a novice in philosophy, but this seems to be the point of many post-modern authors. If this were the case, then I would reject that thought entirely. I would argue, the Apostle Paul’s point, many feelings, desires, and appetites are natural but they are not always beneficial, and they are certainty not the truth. For example, people have natural sexual appetites that are good for a marriage and for procreation in general, but I have seen the unchecked sexual appetite of a person ruin a marriage. I have seen where pornography has absolutely wrecked relationships. I would argue that the viewing of pornography falls into a sexual appetite that has gone amiss. I would suggest a search for truth. Where can it be found? What is it? Are my wants and desires good, are they true?

Just as a fish may not notice the water it’s in, you may have never seen our nation through the lens of crazed appetites. I want to invite you to examine your own appetites. Has your lust for food changed the way you live? Has your hunger for electronics made you a slave to credit card payments? Have your sexual cravings benefited you? Maybe you have seen yourself in the midst of reading this. Maybe its time for an appetite re-set. It isn’t hard. I suggest just eating what you need, nothing fancy, just good healthy food. Maybe you don’t buy anything that you don’t absolutely need? Perhaps you’d willingly sacrificed yourself for the sake of others. Maybe there is an elderly neighbor in need of your during the holidays. Perhaps you think of how you can serve your spouse. Get imaginative with your kids to get them off the electronics and out of the real world.

There is much that could be done about our unchecked appetites. But the biggest thing that you can do is to realize that your appetites are shaping you more than you are shaping them.

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thoughts on homosexuality, tolerance & christianity

A while back I sat and had coffee with an 18-year-old boy who had huge questions about gay_marriage-wedding_cake11life.  He had been thrown out of his house, his mother had died and he had been neglected and abused by his father.  With tearful eyes he told me that his treatment by his father caused many questions in his sexual orientation and that he now considered himself gay and was dating a man.

That same year I was working with a single mother who was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder because she grew up homeless.  She routinely had little sleep, feared for her life and was robbed and beaten.  When she found herself pregnant and eventually with a toddler, she found herself zoning out as a result of her posttraumatic stress disorder.  Her child was placed in foster care for the safety of the child.

I dedicated a lot of time to helping the young mother.

While this woman eventually got her son back, I am now faced with a dreadful question of my own morality.  Why did I rally more around this single traumatized mother than the 18-year-old kid who was hurting just as bad?  Neither of these people chose the state of which they were living, rather, admittedly it was from their experience in life.   Both were abused.  However, some would feel compassion for one and judgment for the other.

It is both bad science and bad theology to say that people are born gay.  It is bad science because science relies so much on proof and bad theology because we place a limiting factor on God when we assert this.  I believe that having posttraumatic stress disorder and being sexually confused are both distortions of God’s intention for us.  Both are a result of a fallen world.

Being a pastor at a church I get asked all the time what my position is on gay marriage, and more in general, homosexuality.  My position is that first I have some repenting to do for treating this young man any differently than the young woman.   While I never ditched him, my fear of dealing with the issue paralyzed me.  PTSD just seemed so much easier to deal with.

I will always handle anyone with the dignity that their humanity demands.  Regardless of the cultural labels people pick up along the way, people deserve to be loved.  This is a truth that I believe to be self-evident.  Gay or straight, your humanity means that you have dignity and deserve love.   I cannot tolerate the poor treatment of the homosexual community by anyone in the church.  It seems unthinkable to me that someone who had their mind centered on Jesus would offer hurtful and judgmental words to someone who doesn’t think like them. Unfortunately the organization that I am a part of has made mistakes over the years.  However I believe in the beauty and redemptive potential of this organization because ultimately Jesus is the head of this group.

Just as much as I feel sex outside of marriage is not God’s design for marriage, I also believe that homosexual unions are not God’s design for marriage.  As I have studied the entire narrative of the Bible I think it is exponentially clear that God’s design for marriage is between a man and a woman.  Not only does the original marriage highlight God’s love for us but also a biblical marriage will put the gospel on display.  While traditional marriage is failing at an alarming rate I have also seen the statistics that show that marriages between very committed evangelical persons who report a personal relationship with Jesus have about a 75% success rate.  Traditional marriage is still failing at an alarming rate and will fail for the same reasons why gay marriages will fail.  Because, love is not all that you need (Sorry, Paul, John, Ringo & George).  You need trust, commitment, consistent belief, a growing selflessness and a host of other things.  Either way you slice it, people are flawed in their humanity and when two selfish people get married, they are going to have problems.

I believe that what the gay community wants me to say as a pastor is that homosexuality is not sinful.  I can’t say that.  Because I think that homosexuality is not God’s design for human relationships, I know what is in store for me, I will be branded as a bigot and as someone who hates. I think that many have bought into a cultural lie that says if you don’t fully accept everything about me then you’re hateful.  This is simply a juvenile way of thinking.   There is no logic or reason attached to this argument. I love and want to include anyone.  Jesus himself did not tolerate sin, he ate with sinners, met with them, healed them and loved them, but when it came down to business, he had an agenda, he said go and sin no more.    An encounter with Jesus changed everything about who these people were.

I reject the notion that supporting traditional marriage is somehow hateful or discriminatory.   This kind of thinking is the opposite of tolerance.  Tolerance is the ability to listen to another person’s beliefs, respectfully disagree and still love someone.  I think that in order for any healing to be done between the church and the homosexual community, there needs to be more real tolerance and repenting on both sides.  Being called a hateful person because of what I believe to be true is just as intolerant as being called a slur because of one’s sexual orientation.

My aim in this post is not to start a fight or to alienate people.  I simply want to respond to all of those who have candidly asked me what I think on the issue.  Know that if you are reading this post and cooking up a firestorm of a comment, I probably won’t respond.  I don’t want a fight and I don’t need the last word.  I hope you can tolerate my beliefs.  However if you would like to have a civilized conversation, please leave a comment and I will be happy to reply.

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the wrong goal

Building community seems to always be a goal of the church.  However that is not the right goal of the church, it is a byproduct.  I confess that the community-building goal has been my goal for the church for the past couple of years. I am man enough to admit that I was wrong.  Building community is great but as I said before it should be the natural overflow of a healthy relationship with Christ.

I have been highly influenced by a sermon given by Dr. JoAnne Lyon at an ordination service over a year ago.  The message was on a passage of John 6.  The passage is where Jesus is talking to his followers and he said that when he is lifted up then all men would be drawn near to him.  My goal to build community overshadowed the goal to lift Jesus up so that all people would be drawn near.  Wow…what happened there?

www.drawnbyerik.blogspot.com

So here is my plea to other church leadership.  I have never built a movement of thousands.  From scratch I’ve built a service of around 50, and I wouldn’t stress the word “I” there because of an amazing team.  But my plea is to not build community as your number one goal.  You should be able to look at your ministry strategy and say, an indication that church is going well is that we have naturally built some Christ centered community.  I would suggest that your number one goal is to lift Christ up.

Take a minute and evaluate your ministry goal, life goals, family goals, etc.  What do they include?  Are you operating under the wrong goal?

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