It seems to me that much of what we are struggling with in ministry today is the dominant narrative of the romantic hermeneutic that tells us every single moment of ministry ... Is to be both productive and fulfilling and dramatic and life-changing. It simply is not nor can it be true. The challenge is to keep on keepin' on and to not subscribe to the romantic notions of ministry that surround us and ultimately disable us.I'll pause here for full disclosure and admit that I come from a faith tradition that is steeped in the dominant narrative of which Dr. Nishioka speaks: The Pentecostal movement of the 20th Century was built on signs and wonders. Of the Assembly of God's Four Cardinal Doctrines, three refer to the productive, fulfilling, dramatic and life-changing (Salvation, as defined, is more a theological construct, something believed more than experienced). It isn't such a harmful thing, to believe in the demonstrable power of God in the life of the church -- and if I thought it were, I suppose this ordained minister from the AG would have found a different peg from which to hang my ministerial stole by now.
What I do think is dangerous, however, is the hyper-spirituality that can be cultivated from the notion that every moment in life should be saturated with climactic transcendence. I realize even as I write this that I am skating on thin ice, and I'm appropriately discomforted by the line I'm attempting to draw. Perhaps a crude and deceptively simplistic comparison will help.
Hyper-spirituality is a kind of pornography of the soul. It's the tendency to kick down the door and demand to experience the fullness of God with the proverbial (or literal, in some cases) click of the button: the right song, the right chord, the right mood lighting, the right crowd, etc. The healthy compulsion for increased intimacy with our Creator becomes perverted in the nature of the pursuit, becoming more about meeting the demands of the worshipper than in becoming immersed in the object of worship's affection.
This is the mystery of worship and sexuality: that we are made whole by giving up what we sense is already ours. My body, my personhood, my will are brought low in honor of the Other as a prerequisite to true intimacy. One can't experience intimacy without trust, and one can't trust without taking the path of serving and becoming less. We are given life by giving it up, and are freed to be identified and cherished without holding anything back for ourselves.
The etymology of the term pornography is "a catalog of prostitutes." In much the same way friends are asking how seemingly unrelated activities contribute to the corrupt global sex trade, I am beginning to ask how I might be a Soul Pornographer -- an unwitting contributor to prurient self-interested consumers flippantly approaching the Holy for a spiritual fix; a pimp for nothing-deities of self-help or emotionally-overflowing yet spiritually empty exercises in self-gratification. In what ways do I communicate quick, easy access to the marriage bed when a healthier perspective might admit that worship, like sex, begins with the routine motions of daily life?
I'm not much for the common prescriptions in dealing with pornography, which is usually something along the lines of "shame on you, shame on your sexuality, pray harder and stay away from porn." Such approaches contribute to the vicious cycle of shame, guilt, personal diminishment and seeking out secret and ultimately unhealthy expression. Instead, I encourage the guilt-ridden to experience the power of confession, forgiveness and community on the path of re-engaging healthy life patterns and appropriate relationships. The same can be said of Soul Pornography: let's recognize the bright light of Christ's love surrounding us, inviting us out of the dark corners of addiction to hyper-spirituality, re-learning how to love and be loved, rejecting shortcuts to intimacy and discovering the depths and thrills of God's sacred love hidden like breadcrumbs in the mundane as we keep on keepin' on the path toward fulfillment.
Image Courtesy of xxxchurch.com.