In his newest book, Naked Spirituality, Brian McLaren does a masterful job of inviting us to enter into a life with God that is void of pretense or pretending. McLaren is one of my favorite writers, and his work has profoundly influenced the Christian, pastor, and person that I am becoming. In the preface he joins two words together that I would imagine most of us would intentionally leave apart. Those words are spiritual and pornography; and those two words elicit two completely different responses, don’t they?
In context, he is writing about a kind of spirituality that is essentially exploitative. The coupling of these two words together made me think of the way we often approach being a part of a faith community, a church. Pornography is essentially about taking something to meet your own desires, with no thought for the person being objectified or used to do so. Pornography is about isolation, it exploits others.
How is spiritual pornography any different? A spiritual porn user seeks to be part of a church solely in order to have their own desires met.
They are here to be fed and served.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that part of my calling as a pastor is to feed and serve the people who I am blessed to have in my community. However, spiritual porn users never move beyond the taking, the being fed or served. They most likely will not commit to a small group, or serve in a ministry. They are here to be fed and served at their convenience. They refuse to actually connect and be in honest community with others; they are isolated.
To be honest, there have been times on my journey when I have been a participant in spiritual porn–I have been more concerned with my own experience, without truly engaging with and serving the people God has called me to be in community with.
And what we don’t realize is that spiritual porn stunts our growth in Christ and with our community. To be a Christ follower is to engage in a specific kind or pattern of life. Paul, in Ephesians 4v28, describes the transformation that God longs for in us:
“Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
Did you notice the movement in this verse? We are called, as Christ changes us on this journey, to move from takers to workers to givers. Another way to put it would be that we are called to move from greed to generosity.
From being totally focused on being fed, to seeking [once we’ve been fed] to feed others.
From waiting on someone to serve us, to [since we’ve been served by Christ] serving others.
When the local church–and universal church–is at her best, she is engaged in this kind of life. A life of transformation and sacrifice that is lived in community and commitment with others.
So, have you ever been a user of “spiritual porn?” If so, how have you found your way into a real spirituality that is lived in service and community with others?