Tag Archives: Addiction

90 M.P.H. Down a Dead End Street

Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.
Romans 6:19 (NIV)

It is one of those moments in life that is indelibly etched in my memory. Madison was about six years old or so and was sitting next to me as I shuffled through some new photographs that I’d just picked up from being developed (before digital cameras, we had to take rolls of film to get developed and wait for them). There was a photograph of me in the stack and Madison picked it up and held it up with a loud giggle. “Look,” she said. “It’s FAT DADDY!”

Ugh.

Throughout this life journey I have warred with my natural human appetites like every other human being on the face of the planet. I have lost many battles along the way. As a child I was exposed to pornography, and it secretly fed the seemingly insatiable cravings of a young man’s sexual appetite for many years. As a young husband and father trying hard to suppress and control my sexual appetites, I began feeding a different appetite. This time it was my craving for food and for sweets in particular. The result was Fat Daddy.

Through my battles with personal appetites I’ve experienced the reality that the pleasure from indulging my appetites is subject to the law of diminishing returns. I’ve observed this to be true no matter which appetite I indulge: my taste buds, my sex glands, my adrenaline glands, my need for security, my desire to control, my need to be loved, or any other appetite known to humanity.

I start with a craving. I indulge that craving and I feel a burst of pleasure. My craving is satiated for a moment. Slowly and subtly, the law of diminishing returns set in. What was such a blissfully guilty pleasure for a moment now feels, well, normal. My natural craving ups the ante. My brain and spirit collude to agree that if a little guilty pleasure didn’t do that much harm, then just a little more can’t be that bad for me. This cycle slowly repeats itself until I find myself way down the road in a place I never expected, nor wanted, to be experiencing really negative consequences for myself and the ones I most love in the world.

This is the very thing that Paul is addressing in today’s chapter of his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He uses language and an analogy that all of his readers could understand. Slavery was a common, everyday reality in the world at that time. It was an essential part of the economy in the Roman Empire. There were even “white collar” slaves as former soldiers, physicians, and accountants were often slaves. One could even offer oneself to any number of slave positions in order to have work and the security of basic needs met. All you had to do is give up your freedom and subject yourself to being the controlled property of another. Of course this included your master’s legal right to punish you, torture you, sexually exploit you and summarily execute you at will. A person offering themselves into slavery would end up in very different circumstances depending on the master to whom they offered themselves.

Now Paul tells his readers “you’ve offered yourselves as slaves to sin and to ever increasing wickedness.” There’s the feeding of natural appetites and it’s law of diminishing returns that I have experienced multiple times with very different appetites. Every person I’ve ever known who has followed the path of indulgence and addiction will also tell you that they ended up enslaved to their appetite(s). One of my favorite lyrics is from Bob Dylan describing a person following their amorous appetites into a marital affair:

I took you home from a party and we kissed in fun
A few stolen kisses and no harm was done
Instead of stopping when we could we went right on
Till suddenly we found that the brakes were gone.

You belong to someone else, and I do too
It’s just crazy bein’ here with you
As a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat
Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.

There is “the cycle” speeding me down the road to a place I never expected, nor wanted, where I will experience really painful consequences for myself and the ones I most love in the world.

Paul now urges me to make a different choice. He urges me to offer myself to God to be controlled by righteousness which leads to increasing measures of Life.

This morning in the quiet I can’t help but find myself looking back with regret at the foolish ways I have repeatedly “offered myself’ to my appetites along my life journey, and the dead end streets where I crashed. But, it doesn’t end there. I am also looking back at the crash sites where there stands one of those little wooden crosses to mark the spot. This cross marks the place where I followed Paul’s words from today’s chapter: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

To what, or to whom, am I offering myself?

Featured photo courtesy of Bob Dass via Flickr

Well…Sh!t

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.
Romans 5:12 (NIV)

I had a friend hit rock bottom. I’d suspected it for some time. In fact I had just mentioned my fears to Wendy a few days before. I could hear it in the voice and in the things that were said, and left unsaid, in our conversations. I sensed the spiritual tremors before the big one hit. I got the desperation call while I was standing on the jet bridge getting on a plane. My friend’s life was spiraling out of control.

Millions of people have reclaimed various forms of sanity, sobriety, and life through working what’s known as the Twelve Steps. It’s famous for people who are dealing with addictions in various forms, although I’ve known several people who have walked the Twelve Steps journey simply to experience it for themselves, and have found it profoundly profitable in their lives and relationships.

The first step of the Twelve Steps is simply this: “We admitted we were powerless against [insert your own tragic weakness here] – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Sin” is such a hard word to wrestle with in today’s culture of perpetual positive reinforcement. We like to gloss over, excuse, diminish, contextualize, ignore, and deny. Perhaps it’s the sense of judgment and the fact that it’s quite often been weaponized and used by the minions of legalism [see yesterday’s post] to assert power and control. Ironic, isn’t it? “Sin” can be leveraged for purposes that are, well, sinful. (I think there’s a good script waiting to be written on that theme!)

If it’s possible, I’d like to lay aside our preconceived notions of sin, for a moment. In fact, for the rest of this post I’m simply going to substitute the word shit for sin. Along my life journey I’ve found that the path of following Jesus and the journey of the Twelve Steps both ask of followers to begin by owning our shit:

  • I know the right thing to do, but I don’t do it.
  • I know I should quit, but I can’t.
  • As hard as I try to love him/her, I end up hurting him/her instead.
  • I’ve been hanging on to a secret that’s eating away at me from the inside.
  • I keep making the same mistake and ending up in the same shitty place.
  • I repeatedly use [choose from list below] like a drug to give me a moment of feeling good (or feeling nothing); Anything but the shit I don’t want to feel, face, or deal with:
    • Food
    • Alcohol
    • Drugs
    • Sex/Porn
    • Nothing: passivity, sleep, zoning out
    • Ceaseless entertainment
    • Acquisition of money and wealth
    • Acquisition of things
    • Acquisition of attention, popularity, and/or “Likes”
    • Success, career
    • Power and control
    • Anger
    • Relationships
    • Adrenaline and thrill-seeking
    • Vacations or travel
    • Hobbies
    • Sports
    • Religion
    • Appearance
    • Physical fitness, health

I could go on. Most of things on this list can be good, healthy, and Life-giving in proper doses and in a healthy context. I’ve observed along my life journey that most of the shit in our lives comes from taking a natural appetite and indulging it to unhealthy proportions.

So what do we do with the shit in our lives? Because we all have our shit. I can, perhaps, manage perceptions and appearances for a period of time, but the shit starts piling up and, at some point, life gets unmanageable. Which is when we have to honestly own our own shit, and admit that it’s not working.

Now we’re at the first step.

In today’s chapter Paul begins to help us understand how our shit fits into the Great Story and exactly why Jesus came and sacrificed Himself.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded of Jesus’ first encounter with Simon Peter on the shores of Galilee. Having experienced a miraculous catch, Peter falls to his knees in front of Jesus and says, “Stay away from me. You have no idea the shit in my life.”

And I imagine Jesus smiling as he whispers to Himself, “Oh yeah. I can work with this. He’s one of mine.”

Contrasting Rulers

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Matthew 2:16

In recent weeks the world watched on video tape as two females approached the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jon Un in a Malaysian airport and, wiping a nerve agent on his face, assassinated him. This is the dark side of worldly power, and it has been this way since people began ruling over one another. Once you ascend to power you have to figure out a way to stay there, which means eliminating those who might try to take your place.

What a powerful contrast Matthew provides us in today’s chapter. Herod had qualities not unlike the North Korean dictator. A regional monarch put into power by the Roman Senate, Herod “the Great” murdered his own wife, three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, his uncle and many others whom he suspected might try to rob him of his position and power.

Contrast this with the infant Jesus, who…

had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG)

This morning I’m thinking about my place in this world. It’s easy, even in relatively small ways, to succumb to the desire to gain,  keep, and cling the things this world has to offer. As a follower of Jesus, the example I’m given is to embrace an eternal mystery of kenosis: in order to have anything of eternal value, I must let go of everything and empty myself.

Herod’s slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem, commonly referred to as “the massacre of the innocents,” stands as a horrific testament to the lengths one minor regional ruler will go to maintain his addiction to power, and it stands in stark contrast to the baby who emptied Himself of omnipotence to show us a better way.

I’m continuing to seek after the way of empty.

Getting to the Root of Things

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?
James 4:1 (NRSV)

The further I get in my life journey, the more I have come to understand that I, as a human, am led by my appetites and cravings. The institutional churches I have attended my entire life do not talk much about this. There are the behavioral prohibitions (e.g. “don’t do [fill in the blank]”) but we don’t talk much about understanding and addressing our underlying appetites, and I find it both tragic and fascinating.

Appetites and cravings are actually Theology 101. They were there in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden when the whole thing fell apart:

So when the Eve saw that the tree was good for food (appetite to fill our basic physical desires), and that it was a delight to the eyes (appetite to covet & acquire what delights our eye), and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (appetite for power and elevation of status) , she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to Adam, who was with her, and he ate.

Looking back, I can see the parallel to my own journey. When I sit down and give consideration to the rotten behaviors which have continually tripped me up in my pursuit of Jesus, when I trace those behaviors back to the branches of wayward thoughts, to the trunk of ill begotten desires, I will eventually dig down to find them all rooted in rotten appetites:

  • The appetite to indulge natural human appetites to excess.
  • The appetite to crave what others have and acquire what I do not
  • The appetite for god-like power and control over others

This morning I’m thinking about the ways I need to make positive changes in my own life. If I’m going to address the rotten fruit that plagues my life, then I have to dig to the appetites in which they were rooted. If I don’t allow God access to dig out the root appetites in my soul, then I can’t expect to see a change to the fruit that is evident in my day-to-day behaviors.

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Haunted by a Seemingly Simple Question

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
John 5:6 (NRSV)

As I journey again and again through God’s Message, there are certain words, phrases, and stories that haunt me. Every time I encounter them they impact my spirit in a profound way. I can’t escape them. They come to mind at random times. And, despite the perpetual impact I always sense that the full truth of them continue to elude me.

In today’s chapter, it’s the simple question Jesus asks of a paralytic who, for 38 years, had lain on his mat next to a pool that was rumored to have healing powers.

“Do you want to get well?”

Really, Jesus? Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me? I make my family carry me here every day for 38 years hoping for a miracle. I sit here every day. This is my life. And, you want to know if I want to get well. What a silly question.

But it’s not silly at all. I have learned along life’s road, and from my own experience, that my true motives are often hidden beneath carefully crafted appearances. I say I want healing, but the truth is I am content in my sickness. I complain about our sicknesses, weaknesses, and shortcomings , but I’ve become so used to living with them that I’m secretly afraid of life without them. I complain about my paralysis, but if actually do learn to walk my family is going to expect me to actually get a job. Hm.

Being a victim comes with addictive perks that we don’t really talk about.

“Do you want to get well?”

There’s a lot more to that question than it seems. There are layers of questions in those six words. Many of them are uncomfortable questions I’m not sure I want asked. Today, I’m once again haunted by a seemingly simple question Jesus asked.

Servant of One Master

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.
Romans 8:12 (NIV)

Yesterday my friend, Matthew, and I shared the third of four messages we prepared for our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on the topic of shame. Not coincidentally, Paul’s letter to the Romans which we are currently journeying through on our chapter-a-day sojourn figures heavily in the teaching. Without mentioning it, I chose to read through Romans as it dovetailed nicely with what I’m already pondering and sharing on Sundays.

We have a group of prayer warriors among our local gathering and it is customary for one of them to pray over those who teach after worship. Yesterday as our friend, Vicki, came to pray for Matthew and me she said she had been given a vision for me and wanted to share it.

She saw me on a dark stage. Small lights began to twinkle and swirl around. The number began to grow until they lit the stage. Tear streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees feeling the “freedom and love” God was pouring into me.

Our series on shame largely focuses on the dilemma that many of us feel. Our core sense of shame leads us to feelings of condemnation which then lead us to behaviors and “covers” (think fig leaf) to feel better about ourselves until those behaviors become addictive and deeply rooted patterns to which we become enslaved. Followers of Jesus know we are to be obedient to what we Jesus calls us to do, which is often contradictory to the deep-seated behaviors to which we feel enslaved. As Paul put it in his letter: The things I don’t want to do I end up doing, and the things I want to do I end up not doing! Who will set me free from this?! 

What was fascinating about Vicki’s vision yesterday is that she was describing, in detail, the opening scene of a play Wendy and I attended in Minneapolis a few years ago. The dark stage, the little twinkle lights swirling and growing in number until the stage was lit. Wendy and I often talk about it as one of the most breathtaking experiences we’ve had watching live theatre. The name of the play? The Servant of Two Masters.

Those who follow Jesus often feel the chaos of feeling like we are stuck trying to serve two masters, both the flesh and the Spirit. The point of today’s chapter and of the series that Matthew and I are teaching is that Jesus came to set us free from being “chained” and “obligated” to the flesh. We don’t serve two masters, but One.

This morning I’m thinking about Truffaldino, the lovable and comic trickster trapped by his own devices in Servant of Two Masters as he gets caught trying to serve two very different masters. I’m wondering if God sometimes finds it comical the way we foolishly swear obedience to serve Him and then sneak around trying to serve our own earthly appetites as if we’re being secretive about the whole thing. As Vicki envisioned, I drop to my knees in acknowledgement of what I have come to know: Jesus’ shed blood and resurrection set me free from any fleshly obligations. As Jesus said, “If I set you free, you are free indeed.”

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The featured image on this post is a picture of a Zanni mask (source: wikipedia) used in a genre of historical theatre called “commedia.” Servant of Two Masters belongs to this genre. The Zanni mask was worn by the dispossessed immigrant worker, often a trickster, like Truffaldino who finds himself trying to serve two different masters at the same time.

Personal Captivity

Source: Doug Floyd
Source: Doug Floyd

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Psalm 142:7 (NIV)

The key to understanding David’s “prison” is by reading the liner notes to this particular song’s lyrics: “A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer.” The fact that the note is specific in mentioning “the” cave means that it refers to the Cave of Adullam which was a secret fortress and a bandits hideout. David was on the run from King Saul who unjustly wanted to wipe him out. There was a price on his head. For David, as time passed, the cave transformed itself from a place of refuge into a personal prison.

One of the definitions of “prison” is “any place of confinement or involuntary restraint.” Our prison can be any number of places that have nothing to do with steel bars and razor wire. Our prison can be a house or a room within a house. For a weary traveller, an airport, airplane or auto can become a prison. Relationships can become tortuous places of confinement. For those struggling with addictions, disorders, disease or handicap, our very own bodies can become our prison cell. Any who have struggled with the weight of guilt and shame know that our very soul can become our personal penitentiary.

David’s song is a wailing blues number and a desperate cry for salvation from his intensely personal problems. Each of us experience our own places of confinement. Sometimes we have been placed there involuntarily. Other times we find, like David, that a place we once ran for refuge has become a source of torment. Crazier still, we sometimes choose to stay in our personal prison because the torment we know seems less fearful than the freedom that is available to us.

I am reminded this morning of the quote from the prophet Isaiah which became the core of Jesus’ first public teaching:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [emphasis added]

Today, I am praying for myself and all those who know the pain of captivity in all of its diverse and personal manifestations. My prayer is rooted in Jesus’ words: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

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