2 Peter 2

With an online reading group I have been reading and studying 1 & 2 Peter. Two of the readings provoked a very strong emotional reaction in me — strong, sudden, and surprising. I thought I’d write a response to both events here to try and tease out what happened and why.

In both cases, the reaction didn’t come on my initial reading. With the reflecting perspectives between my reading, the reading notes, questions, comments, … I was being made to look at the Scripture in new ways, and finding it confront me in new and surprising ways.

The two readings were:

  • 1 Peter 3:3-4
  • 2 Peter 2:20-22

I’ll write about the most recent first:

2 Peter 2:20-22

[20] For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. [21] For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. [22] What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

(ESV)

These three verses are the last verses of chapter 2. The chapter is a unified whole and it felt as if the force of the whole chapter hit me with this last reading — especially the repulsive image of the dog returning to its vomit.

It’s a very angry chapter, and the anger builds. The anger is clearly aimed (on a calm and careful reading) at the “false teachers” mentioned in 2:1 but (a) in a way everyone is a “teacher” — each of us stands as an example to those around us, and (b) reading slowly a verse or two at a time, that context recedes into the background.

I increasingly read passages, and the anger, as being directed at me. For example (these are Revised English Bible):

2:10 Above all he will punish those who follow their abominable lusts …

2:12 These men are like brute beasts, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed.

2:12 … They will perish like the beasts, [13] suffering hurt for the hurt they have inflicted.

2:13 … while they sit with you at table they are an ugly blot on your company …

2:14 They have eyes for nothing but loose women, eyes never resting from sin.

2:14 … God’s curse is on them!

2:15 They have abandoned the straight road and gone astray.

2:19 They … are themselves slaves of corruption, for people are slaves of whatever has mastered them.

2:21 Better for them never to have known the right way, than, having known it, to turn back and abandon the sacred commandment entrusted to them!

Looking back on the chapter from the end was suddenly very upsetting: the anger, the accusation (I have abandoned, I have turned back) even rejection (it would have been better for me never to have tried).

Well that was a fortnight ago and I have calmed down a bit. Reading now, from a distance, I can see Peter’s special anger directed at people who were leading others away from the light. That invites me to think about how I am leading people (mainly my son, I suppose) astray by my example or the things I say — and whether I can help lead people towards the light.

I also notice (or plead!) the difference between purposely abandoning the way, and falling or straying by accident or weakness. I sometimes think of sin as weakness, illness or confusion, while evil is a more conscious turn not just away but against the light. I am having trouble extricating myself from sin, but I don’t think I am evil. I think Peter’s anger is directed at people who are evil.

But … I had a very successful Lent, and I continued the regime afterwards as the “new normal”. In mid-May (just before the reading group started 2 Peter), I was away on business for a few days, and I *decided* to give myself a “break” from this new normal. I have been struggling to get back into it ever since. I turned away.

Jesus Inside

In How can I be a good husband? I wrote:

Jesus is inside her and when she speaks to me, Jesus speaks to me. Loving and supporting my wife is loving and supporting Jesus.

What do I mean by that?

First of all I use it as a metaphor to promote a way of treating people — how to listen or attend; how to value them, even in their weakness.

But I do think it is more than a metaphor, that it is true in some way.

Here are two ways:

  • I think of the “body of Christ” as humanity as a whole. So every person — Christian or not — is part of the body of Christ.
  • One way I think of Jesus is as the perfect human. Jesus is the ideal in whose image we are all created, and which we strive (knowingly or not, Christian or not, consistently and effectively or not) to realise.

In both senses every person has Jesus inside them in some way.

The force of the argument is similar (imho) to Romans 2:15 when Paul writes of the Gentiles that, “the work of the law is written on their hearts”.

I would say the Holy Spirit inspires everyone too (to a greater or lesser extent, etc.). This is manifested in the “striving” I mention in the second point above. Sometimes I think of the Holy Spirit as a kind of force, like a force of gravity, that wants to pull or turn us toward the light.

Obviously God acts on everyone too.

Part of “being a Christian” (imho) is being conscious of this reality — while secular thinkers will be unconscious of it, or describe it in other ways, or deny it — and to try and live in accordance with it.

How can I be a good husband?

How can I be a good husband to my wife? (Not that I am a complete disaster of a husband at the moment.)

When I am with her I should listen to her, look at her. When I speak I should use her name as well as endearments.

When I am up first in the morning, I should think of her and prepare for her presence. When I am returning from work at night, I should think of her and prepare to meet her.

Every night I should pray about her. Having someone to pray about has been a good reminder to pray. I like the idea of thinking about my wife with my “prayer mind” as I fall asleep.

I should remember that she loves me, she loves me, she loves particular things about me. I should remember that she looks to me for support and love. I should take pleasure in giving her love and support.

Jesus is inside her and when she speaks to me, Jesus speaks to me. Loving and supporting my wife is loving and supporting Jesus.

I am a body. My wife is a body. We make a body together. I want to strengthen all of those bodies, so they can be vibrant and flourish.

I lust for my wife. I enjoy her, and she enjoys my attention (or she used to, …). I should train my lust on my wife. I should find good ways to show her my desire for her. I should give her all the love and support and comfort and space she wants. My lust is to find her desire, to fan her desire, and to become her desire.

New goals

This might be premature, but I feel as if I am in a new phase of my journey. I seem to have broken the bad habits that triggered this persona and this blog in 2013. At least, I feel ready to aim at some new goals, and to orient this persona and this blog around them.

I have three largish goals I’d like to aim for. They are more like states of affairs than events.

  1. Be a good husband (and father)
  2. “Come out” as Christian
  3. Have sex with my wife

The first has to be achieved before the other two I think.

I’d like to achieve the first goal this year, and then aim to achieve the other two in 2018.

By being a good husband I mean being a source of stability and strength for my wife. Also a source of good vibes and happiness of course, and a source of feelings of calm and safety. I want to establish that before demanding special treatment or “recognition” (2) or special favours (3).

I don’t quite know what I mean by “coming out” as a Christian. It might mean “declaring myself” to my wife. It probably does mean going to a church semi-regularly, and meeting other Christians In Real Life.

Another Church

At my bedtime prayer last night I felt I’d had a good day and was thankful to the Lord. I couldn’t think why the day felt so blessed, so I traced back over what I’d done. A reasonable day: ups and downs, but nothing special. A couple of points to be ashamed of. In the end I did find something.

I was in town to do some errands. I arrived at the library five minutes before it opened. Usual practice would be to go to one of my usual cafes, get a coffee, write some diary and watch the world go by (actually just the babes and milfs). The weather was exactly right. However, I dithered, I wandered, undecided without knowing it, like Buridan’s ass.

I found myself at a church. It was open but quiet. I walked around for a bit enjoying the atmosphere. I found a pew and sat down and prayed. Not for anything special. Not my bedtime prayer or my morning quiet time prayer, an extra unscheduled prayer. Sat calmly for a while. Made a donation. Left and got on with my day.

Bad Habits After Lent

I was really stimulated to embrace Lent this year. Since reading about “turn away” I have been much more mindful of where I am casting my gaze. After reading Ugochi’s two posts on masturbation (Is it sinful?, How to stop) I decided I would cut out pornography and masturbation completely. As is my wont I have monitored everything closely.

  • “Turn away” has been very effective and has even affected my mood generally
  • Pornography I haven’t missed at all. Odd how sometimes a habit will just fall away without a murmur.
  • Keeping my hands off myself was harder, and by mid-March I was seething with lust and wondering if I could last till the end of the month, let alone Easter. However, I made it!

During Lent, the duration of 40 days seemed like a target. Now I am on the other side of it (especially perhaps as Easter had that special landmark), it feels more like a door I have walked through. I have no desire to watch pornography. I am quite horny most of the time but I don’t want to masturbate, and I feel in control of that.

I used to have pornographic sexual fantasies running in my head almost all the time. Now, they rarely pop up, and when they do they are so obviously weak echoes of habitual reflexes. My horniness and lust is undirected and kind of purely sensual.

What now?

The obvious thing would be to pounce on my wife, but I think I should take that slowly.

confirmation

I had a work meeting in County Town and I decided that while I was in town I would find time to go and pray in a church. This would be a first for me.

Aside:

I have been trying to establish a habit of daily prayer, with intermittent success. However, on 8th March I decided that I would say a special prayer daily for a friend. Among other things, this desire to pray specifically has reminded me to pray at all, and after saying my special prayer for the friend, I go on to say my “normal” prayer. So now I am safely praying every day (at bedtime, or at my morning quiet time when I arrive at work, or both).

The cathedral where I was planning to pray is a bit of a tourist trap and they have a greeter on the door doing triage. When I arrive the greeter asked brightly “Are you visiting?” and I said sheepishly that I was coming in to pray. Because the cathedral is such a tourist trap they have special areas set aside for private prayer (they do do normal services there too, it is a functioning church), and the greeter described the way to get to the chapel: in a corner, up a stone spiral staircase, …

(click for bigger pics!)

I realised I had no idea what to do. I lit a candle as a way of starting. I knelt on that little red cushion. I said my prayer out loud.

Praying like this — aloud, so I could hear my own voice; in public; in such a place; and of course for the first time in my life — was a powerful experience. I asked myself later why I didn’t pray my “normal” daily prayer or even a special prayer for myself. Perhaps I didn’t want to unleash too much emotion.

There was nobody else in the chapel while I was there. Mid-prayer I did hear footsteps come up the stair and into the room, shift about and then leave. Perhaps security or a stray tourist. I didn’t turn round to see and I kept praying. So — a complete unknown stranger saw and heard me praying!

A couple more pics of around the cathedral:

On the way out I thanked the greeter and we talked about what went on at the church. It became clear that I knew little about services, whether Easter Saturday was a special day, etc., and I found myself saying, “I’ve only recently got into all this”. I don’t know why I didn’t say something like, “I’ve only recently become a Christian”.

Samuel

Walking around the cathedral afterwards, I came across two pleasant surprises from Samuel. Firstly this mural of 2 Samuel 18:33

Then the gift shop had a copy of Straight to the Heart of 1&2 Samuel by Phil Moore (I’ve linked the Amazon page as it has a “look inside”; there’s also the author’s home page).

I bought the book obvs, and I am enjoying reading it.

Confirmation

Also in the gift shop I bought this Confirmation card:

I don’t know what “Confirmation” is in the Church of England, but coming here and praying felt like a confirmation (with a small ‘c’) and another step towards a real confirmation.

I know that real confirmation will involve “coming out of the closet” to my wife about being a Christian, and finding a local group to join.

First Steps (good habits)

I think focussing so much on sin and on stopping my bad habits has been affecting my mood. :(

At least with all that I have made a start. For notes on this chapter I’ll think about good habits I’d like to cultivate.

good habits to start

A habit is a means to an end — e.g., I’ll exercise daily because I want to get/stay fit. Come to think of it, that will go for bad habits too, though the end might not be conscious (but that’s a story for another time).

More generally, keeping good habits — as long as they don’t interfere with each other — can lead to an orderly and harmonious life.

I have three areas to work on:

  • I’d like to incorporate study time into my day. Three languages I am supposed to be good at have rusted away to almost nothing.
  • I’d like to be fitter. I get plenty of aerobic exercise cycling to work, but I am not very flexible. I used to go to yoga classes so I’d like to bring that back. Also, yoga would give an outlet for my “sensual side” that can be public and not sinful.
  • I’d like to pray every night at bedtime. I enjoy it and it helps me sleep better, but I often forget, even if there’s something specific I want to pray about.

ideas from the book

There are a lot of good ideas in the chapter. Two are particularly relevant.

start small (study, yoga)

The theme of the chapter is “start now” — don’t put off starting your new habit until the “right time”. One way of doing this is to start small, even find the smallest thing you can do that “counts”, and do that every day. Finding and doing “the smallest thing” can have other benefits: it’s a good practice in computer programming for example and can make for modular, flexible and reliable design.

Following this idea is helping me spend time with my languages more often, and I’ve discovered I do have time for a short study session every day after all. With yoga, I can fit in a few stretches before breakfast or after cycling to work (and I’ve already noticed an improvement in my posture on the bike).

marker activities (prayertime)

Rubin gave the example of brushing her teeth in the evening. She wanted to stop snacking in the evening so, instead of brushing her teeth at bedtime, she would brush her teeth soon after dinner. Because of the strong associations already set up, brushing her teeth meant “no more eating”.

I thought I would make Scripture my bedtime reading, or at least the last thing I read (I have a small pile of books by my side of the bed, and most nights I will dip into a couple). The Gospels especially I find very relaxing. That will be a very easy habit to pick up, it will put me in the right state of mind, and in turn it will (hopefully) remind me of my desire to pray.

Accountability

A brief note on the Accountability chapter.

I think of accountability as making sure I am following the rules I have set myself. It might also include things like: whether I am cheating, or exploiting loopholes; whether targets are too hard/easy. So, like a coach or a trainer.

Rubin discusses four types of accountability:

  • self
  • public (e.g. I announce at work that I don’t drink)
  • group (e.g. Weight Watchers)
  • partner (e.g. a coach or a trainer)

Really I think self-accountability is not like the other three. (i) it is not an external source of accountability like the others are, so in a way it’s weaker and less reliable; (ii) even with the other three, self-accountability must still be there as a kind of bedrock — otherwise you will find a way to play the system.

An external source of accountability is obviously a Good Thing, as long as the type of source fits the type of person (Rubin has Four Basic Personality Types) and the type of project.

I am not going to announce at work that I don’t want to wear frilly knickers and bras any more. I am not going to tell my wife that I want to stop watching porn.

An accountability partner must be the “gold standard” but that would mean a professional service or some kind of reciprocal relationship (you check I’m doing my French homework; I check you’re doing the knowledge).

A group, an online forum could be ideal. I have looked in the past and not found anything. In a recent comment, Beth provided the phrase “bouncing your eyes”. I did a web search and that came up with a lot of promising links I hadn’t seen before.

A forum or group might be more trouble than it’s worth — and I think I do have quite strong self-accountability. OTOH it might give me a space to delve into the gruesome details, leaving this blog for my more general Christian exploring. (unless separating like that would be unhealthy?)(in any case, I’ll see what there is.)

Four Bad Habits: progress review

Lent might be a good time to review progress against my bad habits.

It’s four bad habits now. I haven’t gained a bad habit. After reading Is It Sinful to Masturbate? recently, I decided to change my attitude to masturbation (the physical act itself) and think of it as a sin and a bad habit. It obviously “goes with” the other bad habits on the list.

wearing ladies lingerie

I threw out all my clothes and things last August and I haven’t shopped or browsed since. I have turned down perfect “opportunities” to return to the indulgence. So I think this habit is behind me for the time being.

I still like the idea of it, all the things I wrote in my review of Wearing God, but I don’t want to go down that road again.

Also I should say that the “new crowd” that has emerged in the last decade — the highly politicised “trans” activists — are inadvertently helping me keep away from dressing up. I don’t like them at all: politically, psychologically or aesthetically. Part of my not wanting to get back into dressing up must be not wanting to be associated with them.

using pornography

From say the late 80s until very recently I would look at some porn almost every day. First magazines, then pictures on the internet and latterly internet video (very rarely bought videos or DVDs). Last August, as well as throwing out all the clothes, I deleted all my porn. From then till Christmas I didn’t look at anything, but this year it has been making a comeback.

I have these slumps where I am drenched in porn for a few days at a time. It can be there all the time on my phone or iPad. Sitting in the same room or even lieing in bed with my wife while she reads I might be watching porn. I created a special twitter account for it, in case I RT’d or faved some porn using my work account.

These binges last two or three days and happen two or three times a month.

The porn binges tend to happen after I haven’t masturbated for 4 or 5 days (yes I am keeping a log).

masturbating

Because of the way I watch porn, my masturbating is almost completely disjoint from my watching. I go without for as long as I can. Then when I can’t any more, I grab whatever safe quick opportunities I can — in the loo or shower at home or at work.

The way I’m working at the moment, I’m not having business trips away to visit clients, so no scope for long all-evening sessions (which in the past would incorporate watching pornography and/or wearing lingerie).

ogling women

After discovering “turn away” I feel good about making progress on this one, and this is my main focus during Lent.

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