“do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” –Philippians 2:4
While in Bolivia, I was convicted by how difficult it was for me to look at the problem of poverty. It was humbling in the most intimately embarrassing way for me to admit that I refused to look at poverty because it meant admitting my own misuse of money.
The United States is just 5% of the world’s population and yet we consume 25% of the world’s fossil fuel resources. In 2002, new U.S. homes were 38% bigger than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household. Something is not right, here, and I am a part of that problem.
I feel good giving aid to the poor. But examining the causes of poverty is uncomfortable because it forces me to look in the mirror and acknowledge my own complicity in the vicious cycles that keep people trapped in poverty.
I think there’s a connection, here, to pornography. For one thing, both poverty and pornography ruin lives. Poverty literally ends physical life and pornography destroys relationships.
It’s easy for me, as a Christian, to decry pornography. But it’s more difficult to examine the ways I’ve perpetuated the proliferation of a pornographic mindset. Some of you thought I was being judgmental when I wrote about the Pornification of Marriage. If that’s true, it’s only because I’m asking myself the same questions. I’m re-examining the ways I’ve approached sexuality with a self-centered, consumeristic attitude.
Henri Nouwen writes:
The way one lives in the body, the way one relates to, cares for, exercises, and uses one’s own and other people’s bodies, is of crucial importance for one’s spiritual life…The abuse of the body–whether it be psychological (e.g. instilling fear), physical (e.g., torture), economic (e.g., exploitation) or sexual (e.g., hedonistic pleasure seeking)–is a distortion of true human destiny: to live in the body eternally with God. The loving care given to our bodies and the bodies of others is therefore a truly spiritual act… ["The Essential Henri Nouwen," p. 38, 39, 40]
Despite being a devout Christian for all my life, I’ve unwittingly adopted certain pornographic ideas about sex and it’s telling how those ideas have been influenced by a consumeristic mindset.
Here are a few excuses I’ve used and it’s scary to me how the same excuses can be used for how I use my money and how I engage in sex:
How I spend my money is a matter of personal preference.
Sexuality is a matter of personal preference.
How I spend my money doesn’t affect other people.
My sexual preferences don’t affect other people.
As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, any sexual act is OK.
As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, anything I buy is OK.
One thing Bolivia taught me is that how I live my life, how I spend my money, how I spend my time really matters! Furthermore, my life definitively affects other people. The only question is: am I adding to the suffering of the poor or am I creating positive change?
I think perhaps the same idea can be applied to sexuality. What I do in the privacy of my bedroom does affect the world outside it. The only question is: am I adding to the suffering of the world outside my bedroom or am I creating positive change?
It is simply untrue that what we do in the privacy of our bedroom or out in the market does NOT affect other people. We are social beings, made for community. Whether we like it or not, we are interdependent.
I have to be honest, I hate where all this is leading me. It’s way too inconvenient.
I wish I could go back to just cavorting freely in my bedroom without ever thinking about how my actions affect others. I wish I could go back to shopping sprees at the mall without ever thinking about how my buying affects others.
But I can’t.
I affect you and you affect me.
And all of us affect future generations.
How do we create positive change?