‘Go Play Golf, and Sin No More’

'Go Play Golf, and Sin No More' for urban faithBefore they called it an “addiction,” plenty of biblical figures fell victim to the same snare that took down Tiger. But where was their rehab?

Now that Tiger Woods is returning to golf next week to play in the Masters, does this mean he’s cured of sex addiction?

By now you know Woods was caught cheating on his wife, Elin, with multiple women, so he checked into sex rehab. Other high-profile people have done the same. Just today, it was announced that Sandra Bullock’s allegedly unfaithful husband, Jesse James, is taking his turn.

So I guess the biblical King David, who had multiple wives but just had to have one more who was already married, should’ve cried “sex addiction made me do it” too.

Face it. People cheat. Men do it. Women do it. Celebrities, politicians, executives, homemakers, and ministers do it. Crying sex addiction is not about seeking help, but saving face. It’s a weak excuse that does a disservice to people who truly have hypersexual disorders because of childhood abuse or other sexual trauma. It can also deceive the rest of us into thinking we’re immune from adultery.

There’s a debate among psychiatrists as to whether sex addiction actually exists. The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t list it in its mental disorders manual, but may add it to the 2013 edition. Experts say hypersexual activity is so difficult to manage that it interrupts everyday life functions. Like an alcoholic, gambler, or crack addict craving the next fix, it’s difficult for someone who craves sex to focus on anything else. I doubt Woods could’ve dominated golf while battling a major addiction.

During his televised confession and apology, Woods reaffirmed his commitment to his Buddhist faith. He wisely identified the problem dead on.

“The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior,” he said. “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.”

Right. Not sex addiction. Sin.

The thing we are all susceptible to.

Sexual sin has been around since the beginning of time. It’s documented throughout the Bible. Mainly it’s us guys who have had trouble keeping our tunics and zippers up, but women cheat too. Take, for example, the desperate housewife that hit on Joseph (Gen. 39:13-16). Joseph, at twentysomething-years-old, displayed the character and discipline that few men of any faith would have. He jumped up and fled. I wouldn’t dare deceive myself by guaranteeing that I would’ve chosen the same.

Anyone who has been married for a while knows the journey has rocky turns and hills. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And without God at the center, the covenant can become a labor without love. So as a married man in the middle of a 17-plus year marathon, I feel for Woods and his wife, Elin. Things go wrong. Sin makes justification appealing. Mistakes are made. Feelings are hurt and ripped. But a couple, even a celebrity couple, ought to be able to work things out before God without cameras rolling and flashing.

That’s the advantage King David had. After impregnating Bathsheba and having her husband killed to cover it up, he eventually confessed his sin to God. He suffered the consequences — the lost of their newborn son. He mourned and moved on. No sex addiction excuse to save face. God’s grace was sufficient rehab.

When a person falls, hypocrites gather stones. Then later it’s often unveiled that they were hiding their own rocks. For example, former Sen. John Edwards condemned President Clinton during his impeachment tied to Monica Lewinsky, though Edwards voted to acquit.

Now he has a love child and is in divorce court after his affair during his own presidential run. The next time you hear someone who is adamant toward a particular sin, realize they’re probably a closet sinner.

Jesus counsels on the matter in John 8 where accusers brought an adulteress before him.

“He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” Jesus told the accusers, before offering forgiveness to the woman. “Go and sin no more,” he said to her.

“Go play golf and sin no more,” is the cure for Woods.

Tiger Woods photo by Keith Allison from Wikipedia.

Jaime Escalante: He Delivered

Stand_and_deliver-poster130.jpgWe’re sad to hear about the passing of Jaime Escalante, the visionary teacher who transformed a tough East Los Angeles high school by pushing and inspiring struggling inner-city students to master advanced math. An immigrant from Bolivia, Escalante’s story was immortalized in the hit 1988 film Stand and Deliver. He died yesterday at age 79 after a long battle with cancer.

Actor Edward James Olmos was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Escalante in Stand and Deliver.

“Jaime exposed one of the most dangerous myths of our time — that inner city students can’t be expected to perform at the highest levels,” Olmos told the Associated Press. “Because of him, that destructive idea has been shattered forever.”

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The Art of Ministry

The Art of Ministry for Urban FaithA growing and diverse movement of urban Christian leaders reminds us that the beauty of art is also an effective instrument for sharing the Good News.

In his memoir, Make the Impossible Possible, entreprenuer Bill Strickland (left) describes the images of his earliest memories. He writes, “What I saw as I walked to school each day was an unbroken landscape of decay that taught me indelible lessons about hopelessness and defeat no matter where my gaze fell.”

Home was different. There Strickland’s mother enlisted her children’s help in keeping their simple abode neat and clean. In high school, a teacher named Frank Ross introduced Strickland to the art of making pottery. It changed his life. With the support of patrons, Strickland founded the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild when he was just 19 years old.

Today Strickland presides over the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, a gleaming, expansive community arts and jobs training center in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Of this space he writes, “Anyone who knew me could see straight off that the place was built to offer our students the same rich experiences that had turned my life around. There was clay. There were art and photography. After a while, there were gourmet food and flowers…. And it was all housed in a sleek, clean, sunlit space that had been meticulously designed down to the last detail, to give our students the same sense of self-worth and possibility that Frank Ross’s classroom had nurtured in me.”

The Art of Ministry for Urban Faith

Bill Strickland instructs a group of students at the Bidwell Training Center in Pittsburgh.

Strickland knew from experience that a person’s environment shapes who they are and how they see the world. Decay fills us with despair while beauty inspires us to hope and dream beyond our circumstances. He says his vision for the center was “met with a lot of skepticism and doubt” in boardrooms where he tried to raise funds. But as word spread through the corporate community in Pittsburgh, an influential patron saw the potential in Strickland’s vision and motivated others to support it.

Earlier this month, at the International Arts Movement’s Encounter 10 gathering in New York City, philanthropist Roberta Ahmanson echoed Strickland’s theme when she put forth a convincing apologetic for patronizing the arts. In part, she said:

“Though my husband has long been involved in supporting the work of groups such as Food for the Hungry and World Vision, we have also been involved with the arts. Why? First because we believe God is in the universe business. He didn’t create the universe and retire into full-time Christian ministry. And, we are called to be part of God’s program in the universe business. Second, beauty provides a living and visual witness to the glory and goodness of God. And, finally, beauty is an attribute of God himself. We are created in his image both to create and to enjoy beauty for our pleasure and his glory.”

Ahmanson and her husband Howard have commissioned many works of art, including those that make the Village of Hope homeless facility in Tustin, California, a refuge rather than simply an escape. There are ceremonial iron gates that provide a sense of safety, stained glass windows in the community chapel and a towering sculpture with a water feature in the courtyard. “The idea behind it all,” said Ahmanson, “is that beauty is part of healing for every human being: rich, poor, or in between.”

So often we think of ministry in pragmatic terms. We think of feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. We think of teaching people skills with which they can support themselves and their families. We think of communicating principles by which they can live. Ahmanson is right, though, about the power of beauty to heal.

The Gospel of John, chapter 12, tells the story of a dinner that was given in Jesus’ honor. In attendance were Mary and her newly resurrected brother Lazarus. Imagine their awe and gratitude at this miracle. The Scripture says, “Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Judas objected, saying, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ ”

We recognize in Judas’ statement a poverty of spirit, even as we empathize with his question. After all, isn’t outreach to the less fortunate one of our primary calls as followers of Christ? And, with that in mind, shouldn’t we be more discriminating with our resources?

But Jesus is not tripped up. He says, “Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

He is reminding us not to be shortsighted. There is a place for beauty in our lives. In our budgets. Even meager ones. More than that, though, as the house filled with a luxurious aroma intended to cover up the smell of death and decay, it may have given Jesus hope as it foreshadowed the glory that would come after the agony of the cross and the grave.

Those of us who minister to the needy follow in the footsteps of giants when we see the beauty in our charges and reflect it back to them in and through our ministry. It won’t always look like serving up meals at the soup kitchen or rescuing orphans in Haiti. Sometimes it may look like supporting Christian musician Joy Ike, who was struggling to get an album made and went directly to fans for support, or booking spoken word artist Amena Brown (see video above) to perform in your church or coffeehouse. The beauty of the gospel is revealed in many shapes, sounds, and forms.

To learn more about Bill Strickland, visit him at Bill-Strickland.org.

Photos by Germaine Watkins, MCG Photography.

Understanding Clergy Sexual Abuse

Understanding Clergy Sexual Abuse for Urban FaithWith the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse back in the headlines, we’re once again confronted with questions of power, dysfunction, and deception in the church. Here’s an inside view of why the matter continues to plague churches, and why our thinking about the issue needs to change.

The sex abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church simply will not go away. Even the Pope himself is not immune. Recent stories have focused on his alleged complicity in transferring a known pedophile in his diocese to another parish after he had been caught in sexual abuse. This happened around 1980 when the future Pope Benedict XVI (then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) served as archbishop in Munich.

That this happened then and that it continues to take place is not a surprise. Much has been written about troubling revelations and staggering numbers of clergy, Catholic and Protestant, who’ve been caught in the snare of sexual misconduct. Little has been written about why sex. Why not, for instance, kleptomania?

A few years ago I participated in a writer’s conference, sitting at a table to represent my publication, when a disproportionate number of aspiring authors who came for critique ended up being pastors’ wives with narratives and poems in hand, their faces wide with tragic optimism. As I read their stories I quickly laid aside the manuscripts and looked into their sad eyes. We ended up discussing not the writing but what had gone wrong in the church that these isolated women must resort to “fictional” narratives about sex and betrayal of clergy husbands. I too had been married to a pastor. I understood them.

One woman at the writer’s conference told me that the man who had been her senior pastor and personal friend had “impregnated a woman he was counseling.” She said, “If I weren’t married to someone I knew to be a man of God, I don’t think I could ever listen to another preacher again. God calls unusual people to ministry. I think you’ll find they usually have family issues.”

Indeed.

Hard numbers are nearly impossible to come by since the nature of the problem is so deeply personal and compromising; those who confess usually do so at the point of being found out rather than volunteering a confession. I dare say that the gifted, devoted, and disciplined men and women who lead religious communities with humility and integrity greatly outrank the number of the fallen. That said, numbers of the fallen are greater than one might presume.

I have written extensively on the topic and cannot include all my research in this post. However, in the course of my work, I spent many hours with a former Catholic priest who had been caught in predatory sexual abuse of young men in his parish. He freely and openly told me his story. Below I render a small portion from an on-the-record interview that explains, twisted though it may be, why the clergy abuse issue is about sex and not kleptomania:

I perverted my own neediness into the delusion that I’m giving something incredibly special to these human beings. Some of the youth themselves felt that way at the time. It was the only kind of love they had ever received. The hardest part of their recovery has been their recognition that, as a man of God, my relationship with them ended up being a form of abuse.

A priest or minister is given constant adulation for the smallest things they do. The minister can easily take on a youthful charm and use it seductively. Even if the seduction is focused on an adult, the minister can be living in an adolescent kind of world. When you do that as a priest of God, you can do immense harm.

Struggles against lust of the flesh in the imaginations of the godly are not new to the landscape of church history. St. Francis of Assisi exhorted his brothers a few years prior to his death: “Don’t canonize me too soon. I’m perfectly capable of fathering a child.” His personal remedy for “impure desires” was to plunge himself into snow banks or freezing streams. (He guaranteed the results.)

Francis knew well the weakness of the flesh. He also knew the temptations of the office. He imposed rigorous disciplines on his brotherhood, understanding the need both for external constraint and internal resolve in order to battle and overcome fleshly forces that assault the spirit. He and his clerics faithfully recited liturgical readings at regular points of the day and night; he ordered them to confess and serve and discipline one another; to do penance and to absolve; and to work with one’s hands to avoid idleness.

We cannot all take the Franciscan vows. But one can, and indeed must, recognize that humans are weak. Men (and women) need constant reminding of that weakness, before God and one another, in order to stand strong against the “heady wine” of spiritual power they exercise over others’ souls. They ought not “to accept any office that may give rise to scandal or bring about the loss of one’s soul,” echoing Francis, who was not speaking in abstractions.

“Clergy sexual abuse,” says hospital chaplain Beth Darling, “comes down to being a matter about the role, nature, and purpose of the church in this world.” Maybe the church today has built itself around a model that is flawed, a model that foists upon mere men the burden of being the sole procurers of grace and bearers of God with no one to answer to. That burden can crush a man. Churches, large and small, Catholic and Protestant, are adept at creating “stories” around personalities and office, and at living those false stories regardless of shadows that may haunt the protagonist.

In all things we, as a believing people, must uphold the promise that God himself chose human flesh to bring amnesty to his fallen race and thus imbue it with beauty and dignity and purity. Despite our temptations and weaknesses, his Spirit empowers us to overcome.

Marvin Sapp Makes and Breaks Records

Here I Am CDIt seems Marvin Sapp, the talented singer and pastor who scored a huge gospel/R&B cross-over hit a couple years ago with “Never Would Have Made It,” is still making it — big time. Last week his latest CD, Here I Am, debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 charts, just below Lady Antebellum and above Ludacris.

This is a record-breaking achievement, according to Gospel Pundit and all the chart-tracking music blogs, as its the first time in Billboard history that a gospel album has debuted so high on the charts. Aretha Franklin, Kirk Franklin, and Mary Mary established the previous benchmarks, but Sapp has taken it to a new level.

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