Why Aggressive Rhetoric Hurts Real Dialogue

By Jason Soucinek 

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I debated whether or not to write this post.

I’ve sat on it for some time. However, the further I think about the ramifications of this political cycle on the dialogue we have with one another the more I feel compelled to share.

I am worried that we’ve lost the ability to have civil dialogue.

And why do I care about this as someone whose profession is to share a message of sexual integrity? Because I’ve seen this same thing happen around the topic of sex education. One person shouts their view and then the other shouts their opposing view even louder.

A barking dog only attracts more barking dogs.

I’ve learned over time and mostly from my own mistakes yelling louder doesn’t make our message more accessible. In fact, it usually misses the very people we are trying to reach.

I’ve watched both up close and from afar how those in the same field as myself, on both sides of the sex education issue, spend more time fighting one another than helping the students they want to aid. They spend more time telling others what they are against. I for one am tired of this. I’ve always believed telling people what we are for works much better.

A year ago I had the opportunity to sit down with several people around the country who opposed the work and the message I share on sexual integrity. However, I was not met with hate filled dialogue. Why? Because I was willing to listen and engage the points they shared. I sat side-by-side and built relationship.

My posture dictated the nature of the conversation.

In 2000 the Boston Globe conducted a “public conversations project” where they asked three pro-life and three pro-choice leaders to sit down and have conversations around the issue of abortion. This conversation grew out of a need to deescalate the rhetoric which had grown to a fever pitch after a shooting of an abortion doctor in the area.

The amazing reality of these meetings is that they worked! Posture changed what was said and how it was shared. Everyone who sat at the table learned to treat each other with dignity and respect. In fact, genuine friendships formed.

I find this radical compared to the world we live in at the moment.

Violence through our speech and especially through our action should never be acceptable. If we are going to contribute to a more civil dialogue we need to be willing to model it.

As a follower of Christ, I want my work to contribute to a more civil and compassionate society. This does not mean I have to compromise on my beliefs. In fact, the individuals who participated in the public conversations project grew more convinced of their own worldview, not less.

Our love for another should not be dependent on our affirmation of their worldview.

I don’t want to be another barking dog when it comes to sex education, nor politics for that matter. However, I do want to stay true to my convictions. I think both are possible and without violent rhetoric or action. But we must be willing to listen and sometimes that requires sitting side by side rather than going toe to toe.

 

Five New Year’s Resolutions That Benefit Our Relationships

By Holly Clark

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New Year’s Resolutions are mostly frustrating (1) because they make you focus on yourself and (2) because a lot of them are unattainable.

We would like to challenge you to think about aspirations that will affect you AND others in a positive way. We know that our actions and beliefs about ourselves do affect those around us. Here are five things to think about as we continue in 2016 that can help us throughout the entire year.

Being present.

We always want to get to the next thing – the weekend, a new job, spring, lunchtime (my favorite time of the workday). And while there is nothing wrong with being excited about the future, we too often miss out on what is happening right in front of us!

As we continue into the new year, remember to stop – remind yourself of what you have right now that you are thankful for and take advantage of the people and situations that are right in front of you. All we has is this present moment. So don’t miss out!

 Saying no.

If you are anything like me, you take on too much and often find yourself exhausted. I am in a season of life where I am physically, mentally and emotionally unable to do as much as I have in the past.

I’ve said no to some very good things in order to take care of myself. I have felt guilty or selfish because I don’t wan to hurt people’s feelings. But the truth is, I was hurting them even more by taking on too much and not following through. When we are able to say no, we free ourselves up for deeper relationships and more meaningful experiences.

Saying yes.

And while it is important to say no, it is just as important to be discerning of what we need to say yes to this year!

In the past, I’ve been nervous to jump into something because how do I know it’s “the right thing to do.” As I get older, I’m learning it is better to take risks and make mistakes, then do nothing at all. Listen to yourself – be discerning of why you want to say “yes” or “no” to something. If your reason has to do with pleasing other people (for example) then don’t do it! If you aren’t doing something out of fear, maybe think about taking a risk.

There will always be difficult choices in life and learning to be discerning of what to say yes to will lead to some pretty unbelievable experiences.

Listening more, talking less.

Some smart person once said, “When you talk, you are repeating what you already know. But if you listen you may learn something new.”

We are a part of a culture that is extremely verbal–arguing on Facebook, tweeting, and texting – we forget the importance of listening to others. When we listen, we learn and our relationships grow. And trust me, learning to be a good listener takes discipline and time.

Train yourself to really listen; don’t think of what you are going to say next – be present and listen. You might learn something new about a loved one.

Not letting social media take over.

I’ve had lots of conversations with friends lately who are overwhelmed by all of the engagement, pregnancy and marriage announcements on Facebook (I’ve been there!).

Social media sites make it difficult to feel confident about our own life situations. But we cannot let this information keep us from living our own life. We are all on a different journey. No two people are the same and there aren’t requirements of if or when you should get married, have babies or be in a relationship.

My encouragement to you is to spend some time away from social media if you find yourself overcome by it. Remind yourself that where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be. My new rule of thumb is if social media becomes an avenue for me to separate myself from other people (compare, judge, etc) then I need time away from it. We are meant to be in relationship with people, to be genuinely excited for people. Let’s not let the internet get in the way of that!

How Playboy Can Shape Our Conversations in Church

By Jason Soucinek

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Last week Playboy announced that it would no longer show nude photos of women. Apparently nude no longer sells.

And that is a big deal. Why? Because in our sex-craved culture, nude is not enough!

I’ve heard some rejoicing for this decision and I can understand why. These voices believe Playboy disappearing means the demand for pornographic magazines is changing. In some ways they may be right, but not for the reasons we might think.

As our culture continues to be exposed to more graphic and salacious images, Playboy just doesn’t fit the script any longer. What we are now exposed to on a daily basis is the same or worse than what just a decade ago people were hiding under our beds, away from the eyes of parents. We now live in a 24/7 porn-saturated culture. Whatever your passions could possibly desire we can now find online instantly.

Playboy themselves acknowledged this fact by admitting they have been overtaken by the changes the magazine itself brought to mainstream culture. “That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

Sadly, he is right. They have won and are winning.

In fact, Playboy reported an increase in online readership when they choose to remove nudity from their website last August. As a result the average age of Playboy’s reader dropped from 47 to just over 30, and its web traffic jumped from four million users per month to 16 million per month. 

I think the reason for this increase lies in our desire to reignite the imagination many have lost. Think about it: most porn today leaves little or nothing to the imagination. Today’s porn is raw, in your face, and incredibly unrealistic. Don’t believe me? Check out the multiple studies found here and here.

We are so over stimulated with pornographic images that when we are asked to use our imaginations once more, the rush and excitement feels new again.

Research is showing we are becoming more and more radical in our pornographic addictions. At some point our brain becomes numb to raw, little-left-to-the-imagination images. Playboy has figured this out and wants to once more entice an audience by showing less skin, leaving the reader to use their imagination once again.

Porn is not the same as it was. It has changed. And so must our conversations surrounding this topic.

We must be bold, in the church and outside of it, because if we don’t we are going to lose some great opportunities to bring light into the darkness of so many stories. The church, better than anyone, has the ability through the work of the Holy Spirit to spark the imagination of the human brain as it relates to sex in powerful and new ways.

But this can only happen if we are willing to talk about the difficult stories (including pornography use) that often come as we talk about our sexual brokenness. The only way someone trapped in the cycle of habitual porn watching will hear the good news of the Gospel is if we are willing to talk about this bad news in their life.

While Playboy is adapting to show less skin, we need to be more raw, open, and transparent in our conversations about pornography and sexuality. In order to heal, we need to expose our struggles in ways we might not have ever thought necessary (or possible) a few short years ago. It is only through bringing our own weaknesses to light that we fight off the darkness.

We can be the ones winning, if we only start the conversation.

Why Your Sex Life is Their Business

By Amy Juran

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Contrary to the words of Salt N Pepa, “If I wanna take a guy home with me tonight, IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” it’s actually really important that we talk to friends and family about our sex lives (or lack thereof).

The funny thing about sex and sexuality is that it’s always influencing our behavior and decisions, even in Christian relationships, and yet we rarely want to talk about it.

I would consider myself a pretty private person. This is not necessarily because I have much to hide, but because I think there are some things that are not anyone else’s business, and it takes a certain degree of trust between people to earn this kind of vulnerability. My view of sexuality used to be very much in line with this, considering how personal physical intimacy is. However, I’ve found being transparent with trusted friends and family about my sexuality is one of the healthiest things I could do for my romantic relationships.

In her book Real Sex, author Lauren Winner touches on the idea of “communal sex.” Communal sex does not mean sex between multiple people, but that sexuality is something meant to be talked about and worked through with other believers. Winner asks the reader the question of whether or not it’s appropriate to ask our Christian friends about their sex lives, and – on the flip side –  whether we should be talking vulnerably with others about our own physical intimacy.

God calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galations 6:2) and to speak truth in love to each other. Sharing in our personal lives gives us the opportunity to grow together and challenge ourselves. It can develop a beautiful community striving for God’s will, and can prevent and heal so much of the hurt that comes with isolation.

We’re all familiar with this situation: a friend starts dating someone, and they are happy and blissful at first, but little by little start to pull away from close friends and social situations to spend time with just that person. Sometimes this can be an indication of an abusive or controlling partner, but sometimes we tend to think our relationships and sexuality are our business alone.

When we believe this idea, we naturally start to isolate from others.

If you’re unmarried it’s important to set physical boundaries with your significant other, but when you are both being driven by emotions it can be easy to flex the lines. There can also be an element of shame that comes with crossing those boundaries. It can be easy to want to avoid the judgment of others by not sharing your struggles. But when you get other people involved, and they are able to ask you the tough questions and keep you accountable, they can restore the validity of promises you made to yourself, your partner, and to God.

If you’re married, it is still important to talk about your sex life. To some this might seem like a violation of the sacredness of marriage, but it’s actually the opposite. In James we read, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” By sharing in community about our struggles and our joys, we can build each other up and bring peace to the fact that everyone hits rough patches.

God never intended for us to do this life alone. (Tweet this!)

He desires rich, challenging and caring community, and this can only be accomplished when we are transparent with each other. The result of this community is a healthier view of romantic relationships. It allows us to see things from the bigger picture and keep God at the core of everything we do. From now on I’ve chosen not to shy away from conversations with trusted people about sexuality because I know healing, growth, and relational intimacy will come from it.

Four Things That Will Actually Help You Wait for Sex

By Julia Feeser

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Okay, so you’ve decided to wait to have sex.

Good for you! Ten gold stars for you!

Unfortunately (and fortunately!), there’s more to waiting for sex than just waiting for sex. 

And soon or later what you’re going to realize if you haven’t already is that waiting for sex is no picnic. It’s difficult, challenging, and will probably make you really, really frustrated and/or questioning your judgement at some point.

One of the most common questions I hear from students is, “How do you actually wait to have sex? What are the practical steps you have to take in order to make this happen?”

Luckily, although you will more than likely encounter a few convoluted and not so black and white situations when it comes to waiting to have sex, there are a few practical things you can do to help yourself and others along the way:

Date the right kinds of people. 

Waiting for sex doesn’t mean you can’t date! Seriously. It doesn’t mean you can’t hang out alone ever or kiss or even fall in love. You can do all these things, and sex doesn’t need to be part of the equation. However, part of making this happen is choosing people to date who feel the same way about waiting as you do.

If you’re working toward this mutual goal that you both have decided on, not contingent on simply just going along with what the other person wants, waiting for sex is going to get a lot easier. If you’re dating someone who is awesome but doesn’t necessarily want to wait, eventually what you’ll find is that you can only go so far physically before tension sets in.

Free yourself of this early on by being intentional about who you date and what values they hold.

Be honest about your frustrations. 

Yes, at some point, you will be mad that you are not having sex (especially if you’re waiting a long time). You will feel frustrated you can’t express your physical desires in that way, and you will probably struggle with the fact that you may be in a relationship with someone you love and you cannot have sex with them. Yep, frustrating.

So it’s really important to not gloss over these feelings. Be honest. Tell someone. Find a person you trust who is not your significant other and tell them what you’re struggling with. The longer we pretend everything’s all right, the longer we put off actually dealing with the problem and finding a solution or advice.

Plus, as with any type of long-term goal, you’ll need people along the way to keep you accountable and encouraged. You can’t go it alone, and you shouldn’t have to.

Know your boundaries before you’re alone watching Netflix. 

It’s pretty difficult in the heat of the moment to use your brain and say, “Oh, wait, we probably should’ve stopped somewhere around 10 minutes ago.”

If you’re someone who is waiting to have sex, you’re going to need to know yourself well enough to know how far you can go physically before you won’t be able to resist just going all the way anymore. Because the farther you go, the harder it will be to stop.

So help yourself out by thinking through where you’re going to draw the line. Will it be at kissing? Will it be at some touching? Know beforehand and don’t try to decide once it’s already happening – believe me, your boundaries will get blurry fast if you don’t have a clear picture going in of what they should be.

Oh, and this is the part of the relationship where you have to have a super-romantic conversation explaining in very clear language where your physical boundaries are. Not exactly a sexy conversation, but it will benefit you both.

Understand the purpose of waiting. 

If you’re waiting just because someone told you it was a good idea, or because you think you’ll get in trouble if you don’t, or your sole mission is, “I’m just going to not have sex,” you’re going to have a difficult time sticking to that commitment.

Waiting without purpose isn’t waiting, it’s just biding your time. (Tweet this!)

Waiting is so much more than just following a set of do’s and don’ts when it comes to sex. Waiting should be the outcome of a deep, personal desire to pursue life goals and love freely without the added burdens that sex can bring emotionally and physically.

When we choose to wait to have sex, we reflect who we know God to be – a God of love, trust, and intense passion for our utmost good. (Tweet this!) One who created sex to be experienced inside marriage because he knows that’s where true life and true sexual and emotional intimacy can be found.

If you’re trying to wait without this kind of purpose, you won’t wait.

Know that waiting is possible, even when it’s difficult. And having real, practical steps in place will make all the difference.

An honest and true life builds honest relationships

Our Development Coordinator and Administrative Assistant, Holly, shares her take on the benefits of vulnerable living:

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Growing up, I had a lot of anxiety and when I was overwhelmed the last thing I wanted to do was share how I was feeling.

When my sister would ask me to talk about it with her, I would close up and could feel myself bursting at the seams. But in the end, if I didn’t talk about it, I wouldn’t have to deal with it. And that for me was the easy way out at the time.

I think the reason why it is difficult to tell our stories and connect with others is because we haven’t been honest with ourselves and we hold things back that need to come out.

Maya Angelou explains it like this: “There is no greater agony than an untold story inside of you.”

 We have to remember that our story is significant and that we are created by a God who is writing the grand narrative. Our story is a part of the reconciliation of human relationship.

 As I got older, this tactic of holding things back, pretending, and bursting at the seams did not work on other people. In college, I had a friend who learned early on that I was hiding how I really felt and wouldn’t let me pretend. She forced me to be honest with myself and with her.

And opening up was completely freeing.

This was the beginning of building true relationships in my life. Yes, I had to be honest about not only the good parts of life, but also the parts that were messy and ugly. And even though this was difficult, I began to understand more of who I really am.

And as I began to be more confident in myself, it became easier to share my story with other people and ultimately started building healthy relationships with friends and my boyfriend (now husband).

Knowing our stories and being able to share them confidently will benefit both you and the people who are hearing it. But it takes time and trust to be able to do this well.

If you think about it, this is one of the reasons why relationships are messy. Two people who have parts of themselves they are ashamed of, parts of themselves they don’t even know and parts they have never shared with anyone else. In order to be in healthy relationships, we have to know our story, own it and share it with all of the good and the bad and the messy.

Relationships are lived out through our shared stories.

As you learn to share your story with people you trust, you begin to understand more of who you really are. You start to see what is important to you, if there have been any unhealthy patterns in your life, and what have been some of your darkest times.

Having confidence in who you are and accepting the messy parts of yourself makes it possible for you to accept other people for who they are. It also makes it possible for you to give other people grace because you know first hand no one is perfect.

Until we are able to know our stories, and allow other people to be a part of them, we cannot love other people well. Knowing our true identity, accepting our story and sharing it with others is the beginning of building true relationships with other people and living a true and honest life.

 Don’t be afraid to tell your story. It’s the beginning of something beautiful that plays a crucial chapter of this grand narrative.

Please…No More Answers

Always looking for answers

Always looking for answers

We seem to be living in a time where answers are plentiful but not very good. The missing Malaysian flight is proof of that fact. I turn on the news and it seems every single detail is shared, “this just in, a U.S. navy ship is now 400 miles away from a potential wreck site in the Indian Ocean. When we last reported they were 410 miles away. We will track this story as it unfolds along with every other detail.” Now this could be an exaggeration of how news works these days, but not by much. In our 24/7 news cycle we are constantly looking for new answers. However, in our constant search for answers we find that we are unable to be comfortable with the unknown.

Maybe that is why we see fewer and fewer young people who confess a faith in Jesus and even less in God. A solid majority still do – 86% – but only 58% say they are “absolutely certain” that God exists. That is lower than it has ever been according to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project.

This reality came to life this week like never before. For the first time ever, one of our volunteers was in a school classroom where not one student had been to church or confessed a faith of any sort. That has never happened! But I am sure it will happen more and more in the future.

Faith doesn’t play a part in our lives as much as it once did. But our search for answers only continues to grow.

Remember, faith is a belief in the unseen. That includes a belief in things we just can’t answer. And for this generation, heck, even mine, that is not a comfortable place to sit.

Levi's Ad

Levi’s Ad

That is why I was so intrigued when I saw the ad to the side. It reads, “#equipped to be true.” This is a tribute to the narcissistic world we live in. It says that what I believe is truth, while also pointing to the fact that truth is not found in God but in relationship with others and in material goods.

Recently I asked a professor I deeply respect what the different is between how he used to teach when he was younger and now. His response was powerful. He said, “When I was younger I wanted to teach everything that I knew. Now I only teach the things I think are important and equip my students to find answers to the rest on their own. Thus, allowing them to learn how to learn. I am teaching them that not everything needs an answer. Sometimes they just need to have faith and allow for time to reveal what is needed to be seen.”

Now I know that as we grow older our questions change. And if our past is prologue, these young adults may develop a stronger belief in God over the course of their lives, just as previous generations have. But we have to provide dialogue, not just give in to the temptation to always give answers.

As I speak to youth I am constantly reminded that in my own journey it was when I didn’t have all the answers and had to start living by faith that God became more real, not less. It began to influence decisions I made because He was placed above everything else.

May we not forget this truth so that a new generation can live by faith and not some made up answer to fill the void of the unknown.