Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beyond Exhibitionism to Healing

So, I want to make something clear about yesterday's blog post (and as a side note, this post will go beyond sex into just open discussion).
This is was not the intention of yesterday's post.

This is more like it.
What I mean when I say we need to talk about sex is that we need to remove the shame and guilt and condemnation of sex. It really is that simple. In some ways we need to remove the mystery of sex. That said, there will always be mystery with sex. It is alluring. But it doesn't have to be forbidden fruit cast before us that we seek out in dark corners and shady alleys. It needs to be something that we can talk about with others. But here's the transition for this post to the broader sense: in good, safe, pure environments with people we trust.
Healing doesn't mean that we must bare our wounds to everyone....This doesn't mean that we should constantly tell the world how much we are hurting. This can become what (Henri J.M.) Nouwen calls "spiritual exhibitionism." - Rabbi Ruth Gais
I came across this while I was looking for a Nouwen quote on spiritual exhibitionism. It pretty well sums up where I am headed. We need to become a people comfortable with our brokenness, comfortable with things we normally try to cover up, and bring to light topics that we reserve for the darkness. But we also need to be weary of being exhibitionists. In our quest to becoming open people, we need to find the balance of sharing, but not too much.

This was something that my friends and I back home in Texas really strove for. The word we used at the time was vulnerability. I like that word. It implies a certain amount of trust with the person you are sharing. It implies that you are willing to expose your weakness, because there is safety. And that is what we were striving for. We were trying to expose those rough places in our lives. At times, we probably went too far, but we really did strike a great balance.

I often think back to a classic picture that we all have some feelings toward. The picture of a confessional booth. I think a lot of Protestants get pretty skeptical when it comes to confessionals. We really take to the "Me and God" concept. We ride that horse into the ground. But there is good biblical precedent for confession of sins to one another, and not just to God. It is a practice that I think many need to take part in.


Not just because it is good to follow Scripture, but also, and many of us know this, it is good for the soul to relieve ourselves of burdens that we have kept hidden. When you are known by others, for better AND worse you are able to stop hiding. There is a lot of power in that. Starting that process is a most difficult thing. But once you begin confessions seem to flow out of you. It is pretty interesting.

But that is also the place where we have to guard ourselves...and protect others. So, just for the sake of illustration, I'll present a conversation that is good to have, and show how it could turn the corner into exhibitionism.

Two guys (or girls if you want...I don't exclude) are pretty good friends. They do the church thing. They try to be faithful, but one in particular is struggling with an addiction to pornography. He asks to meet with the other for some conversation and prayer. The two meet at one of their homes (because let's be frank here, Starbucks may not be the best place for that convo. Speaking of Starbucks, have I got a story for you sometime!!! Just ask me). The two decide that they are going to do some sort of accountability and begin to share.

It comes time for the dude with pornography issues to share. He confesses that he is struggling x many times a day/week. These are usually the reasons why. This time of day is particularly difficult. These are the feelings has toward himself...toward others after...toward God...toward those he has seen in the videos. He then talks about a history that led him to this place. He talks about why he wants to quit. He talks about what he has tried to quit. He may talk about a few other things as well. And I would say all of that is good healthy conversation.

But the moment the conversation dips into the types of porn and descriptions of the porn, or even, and this would be real disturbing, his physical experience when watching porn it has gone too far. That is what Nouwen refers to. That is spiritual exhibitionism. And it is where we pass the lines of healing, and is actually a form of emotional sadism. It becomes a place where we derive satisfaction from inflicting pain and shame upon ourselves. And that my friends, we must avoid. And, even as I write this it is almost like history just unveiled herself a little. These are probably the things that helped create our shame-based purity culture. Because in the process, both friends get a little slimed here. And in the long run, healing is left in the dust in the name of exposure.

So, let's move past the illustration and to the heart of what you may be feeling now (because I am feeling this way a bit myself). That is kind of scary. I may cross the line. I will never feel that kind of trust. I don't even know who I could talk to about these things. I don't think my problems are that bad. All of these thoughts are valid. But I would say, you know your heart. You know your soul. You know those feelings that nag at you. You probably also know some men or women that you could talk to. The problem is choosing to engage in confession.

And in the words of my friend Jon, you will mess up. You will go too far. But we learn through process. Doctors don't just study theory. They don't just read books and then all of a sudden they are a doctor before they ever see an actual human body. It wouldn't work. In the same regard, we don't study all about being vulnerable and get it perfect. We are human. We make mistakes. But, we trust that it is best. And we learn to confess. And that is what brings healing. Shame can't attack what is in the light. Sure, you may be ashamed for a week or two, and may even try to dodge your friend. But what that friend is still there, and may even have similar struggles, that shame starts to remove itself.

So, what is the conclusion? How does this end? With us learning to share ourselves with community. Learning that we are not so alone. But also learning the boundaries that protect us and keep us from compounding the problem. Will it be messy? Most definitely. Will it be worth? Again. Most definitely. So, here's to healing friend.

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