catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 5 :: 2012.03.02 — 2012.03.15


Confession is optional

It’s been 32 years since I took in my first taboo image. John and I were sitting beside each other in the overgrowth on the hill of the school playground. I can still see the warm, shadowed pages. I can still see the centerfold. She was beautiful yet perplexing. What is she doing? I wondered. That was many years and many images ago, but introductions tend to leave unusually strong imprints on the mind.

As an oldest child, a pleaser, and a long-standing card-carrying member of religious piety (once having the official youth group title of “Spiritual Emphasis Leader”), confession never came easily to me. I cared too much about public opinion and was convinced that I could handle both the intake and purging of anything taboo on my own. Confession would only worsen the situation.

Like all hiders, I learned to value my public identity more than my personal health. I knew about the God-stamped, biblical version of the word identity, but when I could only see it as related to preserving an idealized public image, it lost its promise of liberty and instead drove me inward toward further enslavement. After all, what was I to do if that outward self were damaged, or, God forbid, removed?

The files of taboo material took up so much space within me (purging was harder than I believed) that identity suffered under the inescapable threat of losing value — value that it didn’t believe it could afford to lose. And so the files stuck around. And they grew. Eventually their occupation slowed down the whole system, altering God’s intended reality and shifting the identity being protected into something less human, which, of course, made the files grow, and which, of course, caused humanness to diminish even further.

None of this is written in the fine print of Axe ads, GoDaddy links, Playboy covers, and worse. All smoke and mirrors there, like pimps with free samples. Part of the problem is that addictions’ beginnings are the endings of emotional maturity. Start at 13, stop growing at 13. Find a fix at 22, stop facing life at 22. The entrenchment in underdeveloped thinking ends up running so deep that even if the smoke and mirrors clear for a moment, no feasible escape appears. The patterns are shaped; the path carved. Years passed and I realized that I only had the emotional maturity of my last full dealing with a challenging situation. 

Ironically, it was the fear of others’ opinions that began to redeem me. We grow up being taught that God loves us regardless of public opinion. We grow up believing that peer pressure is a shallow threat under which only the weak and hungry respond. But without external expectations — perceived or real — who wouldn’t be a criminal of some sort? The old super hero question comes to mind on this point: “What would you do if you could be invisible?” It’s no doubt a popular choice, and choosing it raises important questions about the intention of the choice, and even more important questions about what the most pious among us would do with such ability.

But I don’t have that power. I am visible, which leaves me with the limited choices of disclosure or delusion. Disclosure runs the risk of irrevocable damage to identity, as I clearly feared. Delusion results in swelled files and a fabricated life. Regardless of which I prefer, I’m convinced that to the degree I am known, I am held in check. Only part of my temperance is influenced by the desire to follow in the footsteps of Christ; the rest is by peer pressure.

Statistical variations and limited information keep me from reporting with confidence, but one poll revealed that more than 50% of Promise Keepers had viewed pornography within a week of the conference they attended. That’s half of the men in an evangelical Sunday School class. Silence keeps the invisibility cloak in place; confession removes it. Of course, some from Plato’s cave have trouble ever letting go of the false reality they’ve come to believe. Years ago, I wrote about a post-cave place called the middle ground. It was in the context of keeping up with fashion trends, but maybe I wrote about it subconsciously applying it to my own self-deception. The middle ground appears when we finally desire to escape the false reality. The middle ground is impossible to avoid, and is characterized primarily by a lack of confidence in whether the new reality actually exists and, if it does, how long it might take to get to.

Facing my own middle ground, I had to ask, What ensures that moving from this polished, well-managed image will lead me to a better, more authentic one? What ensures that anything worthwhile remains under this long-constructed façade if I should dismantle it? There comes a point when a person has invested so deeply in a task or behavior that the fear of abandoning it exceeds the promise of what a replacement might offer. In my clearest moments, that was the extent of hope. Not much to go on, it seemed, which gave me plenty of reasons to stay put.

And so porn culture grows inside of us, not outside. We, the curious ones, place it in public. We, the hiding ones, fill the magazine racks. We, the truly hungry for good things of God, grow it, unable to see or own that our hunger contains remarkable disorders and employs an intentional blind eye to what we surely know lacks any legitimacy as a solution for that hunger. The business thrives on us.

So what is needed? I’ve asked that very question for years, each time on the heels of another slip. I’m a master of attempts and a genius at discovering what doesn’t work. I don’t simply know Brennan Manning’s Imposter, I have its ear. Architect of straw houses. Engineer of sand foundations. Marketer of illusions. Yet somewhere beneath these hollow vocations lay the remnants of a boy interrupted. I’ve now reached mid-life, and as is often the case with its way of calling members to renewal, mid-life invited me to go back to that boy and figure out what may have stunted him. Some buy Corvettes or exotic hobbies to feel alive again. I simply awoke one morning with the desire to clean house. I didn’t care whether it shined or showed dents in the end; I just wanted to know that the rest of my life would be marked by more transparency and a clearer conscience.

Maybe not everyone needs peer pressure to straighten them out. I did. I do. And I don’t mind if that turns out to be the key in unlocking my full passage of the middle ground. I’ll take it, and I’ll say thank you Jesus all the way across that mysterious in-between space.

In the meantime, we will keep wearing our Sunday Best. We will keep slinking away, or signing up to be Spiritual Emphasis Leaders, as personalities dictate. But I’ll also be working on something new. I have a lot of inventory to wade through, to re-file, and to discard. I have a lot of hunger to suffer that I have for decades staved off with fatty snacks and cheap alternatives. I have a lot of life to enjoy.

Taboo has too long kept me impotent. It’s time to return to being me. It’s time to return to being human.

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