Chris Wiewiora lives up to these words by facing questions about God, porn, and accountability.
On my desk, under a coaster, is a page torn off of a legal pad with two reminders penciled for me:
What does a relationship with God mean to me?
Ask God what a relationship means to Him.
Andy, who is kind of my spiritual mentor, wrote those two things for me. Andy is a burly guy who looks like he could’ve been a linebacker for the University of Georgia. He was a cheerleader there and got married young. He wears wrap-around sunglasses, reads on a Kindle, and has a serious Southern drawl. Also, Andy is the campus minister of the group I walked away from after my girlfriend at the time said, “God is calling me to be single.” And Andy is someone I wouldn’t normally talk to, but because of that, I told him everything.
It started with paintings. My mom took me to museums and showed me the Impressionists. She loved how they hinted with their blurred strokes. She told me, “Your eyes will fill in the rest.” I would glance at the Masters’ (Renoir, Gaugan, Monet, Manet, et al.) paintings of seascapes and wheat fields and flowers on tables, and then squint at “the form” (a.k.a. naked women). I thought maybe Mom would think I was shutting my eyes, instead of trying to look closer.
The big leap from the blur of art to pornography came when I was home from high school and had the entire afternoons to myself with our family computer hooked up to DSL—that faster-than-a-speeding-bullet Internet access—and I looked at “free tours,” thumbnail pics, film clips, peer-to-peer shared videos, and then streaming sites that let users overlap their own music playlists for personalized soundtracks to their porn.
I masturbated to “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails off of their Downward Spiral album with the lyrics “I wanna to feel you from the inside / I wanna to fuck you like an animal / My whole existence is flawed / You get me closer to God.” It’s synthesizer sounded like a hydraulic hissing. The song’s industrial beat matched the video’s mechanical thrusts. And I considered layering “Praise You,” by Fat Boy Slim (“We’ve come a long, long way together / through the hard times and the good. / I have to celebrate you, baby: / I have to praise you like I should.”), as the soundtrack for my favorite video of a man ejaculating into a woman’s anus, while another woman licked his semen out.
I had sunken as deep as I could go with pornography. I wanted to make the fantasy a reality. I looked for a casual sex encounters online. After I had taken off all my clothes with a stranger for “no strings attached” sex, I felt like I had hit rock bottom.
I told Andy that afterward I had just felt alone and empty, wanting more. I didn’t know if that meant I was ready to come back. I had no idea what I meant by “come back.” I didn’t want to read the Bible, pray, or go to church. I just wanted something basic. Andy took out his notepad, and he wrote on the top sheet. “Think about this,” he said.
After meeting up with him weekly for almost a year, Andy texted me that he thought my story was worth sharing. He wanted me to give my testimony to the campus ministry. I had been thinking that Andy would eventually ask me this, and I wasn’t sure what I would do when he asked.
I thought how Andy had been the only person I had been able to talk to and now it was my turn to talk. I realized that my testimony would be the end of a transition. As cliché as it sounds, it felt like being in a tunnel that you’ve been in for so long. As you come to the end of and are about to make it out—where the light is blinding—you don’t know whether you want to get out because you’re so used to where you are, but then you remember how it was better before, and you know all you have to do to get out is go through; and so, you go.
The campus ministry’s first Tuesday service of the fall semester came around. After the greetings, some prayer, and Bible verses, Andy said that I was giving the message. With that, I stepped up and turned on the clip-on microphone he gave me.
I didn’t so much become a Christian as much as I grew up “Christian” [air quotes]. It’s hard to find your own faith when your parents’ faith overshadows yours. Your dad is a copy editor for Campus Crusade for Christ’s corporate magazine and your mom is a theology student studying for a Masters of Divinity degree. You’re not really allowed to do anything else other than believe. In the mornings before you brush your teeth, you read your devotionals. When you get home from school, you study your Bible. And you bow your head and pray before supper, and then every weekend you go to Sunday school and church taking notes; all along becoming a spiritual scholar. It’s true because it’s truth. There is no A-ha! moment of “this is real,” only a dull cycle of following what it takes to be Christian.
Don’t get me wrong, my Dad leads Tuesday and Saturday 7AM men’s groups, and my Mom mentors young women. I always respected and still respect my parents’ fellowship with other believers. Praying, reading the Bible, and studying the religion are important. But for me, for 18 years, it was just a routine. It wasn’t a relationship with Jesus; it was a membership. I had a Platinum Christian Club Card.
Even so, my freshman year, I joined a campus ministry—this campus ministry. Over spring break, I even went on a mission trip to Mexico and then decided to join the leadership team for my sophomore year. However, during the summer, I was in a relationship with a “Christian” girl from the ministry. I got hurt. She said that God called her to be single. I believed her, and so I believed it was God’s fault that my relationship with her ended. I thought, If this is His will, then I’m done with being a Christian.
In the spring, I called the pastor and told him I couldn’t be a part of the ministry anymore. I dropped out of leadership. By my junior year, I had unplugged from the “church,” and worst of all, I completely closed the door on God. I didn’t even go to Easter service. Students from the ministry who bumped into me on campus would ask me, “Where have you been?” Like I needed to give them a damn good excuse. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’m gone.”
In my senior year, an old friend invited me to the campus ministry’s men’s camping trip. I remembered in youth group how many Christian kids befriended new comers who they thought were “unbelievers,” so they could claim that they had converted them, and they’d show them off at church as the person they saved. But I really enjoyed being out in the quiet of a forest during the day and sitting around a fire at night. I decided to go, but I put my defenses up.
When I met Andy—he was all smiles and pleasantness—I couldn’t help but want to hear what he might have to say. Andy gave what I thought was a goofy message. It was about dropping our fig leaves and being naked before each other. Not literally, of course, but spiritually and in our faith. Andy shared how he hopelessly felt that he only had a spoon to shovel out all the pornography and sex he had dumped into himself, but then Jesus had a bulldozer that could clear that all away. I wanted to cry because I had a similar unmanageable pile of lust in my life.
One guy responded, and told his story of having the same struggle. Then another guy shared. As yet another guy in the group shared, I realized that it would whittle away to me. After all the other guys shared their stories, I clamshelled up. I’m strong willed, stubborn, whatever you want to call it. I wasn’t going to tell that group of Christian guys that I didn’t know what I believed, if I believed, and that it wasn’t important to me, and I was planning on sleeping with my girlfriend as soon as I got back from camping.
That camping trip could’ve been the point where I returned. But I didn’t know where to start with a genuine relationship with God that wasn’t my parents’ faith. I didn’t feel gone so much as I felt lost.
Then I bumped into Andy at the Post Office. He remembered me. He asked how I was doing and I said, I don’t know. Andy gave me his number saying I could call him whenever to meet up if I wanted to talk. It didn’t feel like “Where have you been?” it felt like “Come along.”
I was the person who could easily say, “I hate Christians.” But after meeting Andy, I wanted to add “There’s this guy and he really, truly believes….” I was curious how Andy was so real. When Andy and I met up, I talked to him about maybe coming back to faith.
I thought of what I believed like this:
It was like I was born into a family of runners, and I’d always go to the track, and do intervals, and time trails, and run, run, run. But I never asked, “Why are we running?” And when I had that question come to mind, it made me stop. But that’s not good, and neither is stepping away from faith. After talking with Andy about coming back, I wanted my faith to be like running without a stopwatch, without a mileage counter. Not a routine.
I started to pray to God about my life. I had prayed before: emergency prayers (please let me get an A on this popquiz) and demand-prayers (let that girl like me). I don’t think God would like to get talked at forever, I think He likes us to listen, and neither would He like to be ignored and me be deaf to Him. It should be a conversation, because it’s a relationship. All we can both say is, “Here I am.”