Note: Malachi and Robin are taking a break next week, in service to caring for our own sex, bodies, and spirit. We return January 4.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays! Joyous Yule!! Beautiful Solstice!
“Tis the season of merriment, love, joy, singing, overeating and drinking, and exclamation points. I mean, it’s Christmas!
And yet, not everyone is feeling the warmth or blessing. There is stress, and worse. For many, going home for the holidays is fraught with anxiety, a time to have to deal with alcoholic or abusive or just unpleasant relatives. And of course, many people have no home to go to—whether homeless people seeking shelter under a bridge or on a heat vent, or Queer youth have been kicked out of their homes.
I don’t mean to be a downer, a Scrooge—Jonathan and I are blessed to be spending about a week in Brooklyn with our three daughters and their families—but at Sex, Bodies, Spirit, we are aware that there are bodies who are not so warmly embraced by the Spirit of Christmas or the lights and latkes of Hanukkah.
First, there is the War on Christmas, now won, by his own declaration, by President-elect Trump. Some people may feel relieved, or even safer, by this “victory,” but even now I tend to steer clear of Starbucks from October through December. I worry, too, when I go to Target and other big name stores. There’s nothing like the spirit of Christmas to get people arguing about important things, such as the greetings of store clerks and coffee containers. My body carries a certain level of anxiety about all this whenever I go out into the world of commerce (including my refusal to give money to the Salvation Army, despite their good work, because of their institutional homophobia and transphobia).
But of course, my friend Tyrone the Pennyman, who panhandles at the Greenbelt Metro Station, knows a lot more about embodied anxiety. He sits many days on a ledge outside the station, saying, over and over, “pennies, pennies, pennies” to the streams of riders coming and going. Occasionally, someone stops and gives him something—and he has some regulars, like me, who stop to chat, providing encouragement and a buck or two, or perhaps five.
He has been doing this for some years he tells me, after his career as a merchant failed, and the evidence—ragged clothes, torn umbrella, many missing teeth, a tattered bag or two—seems clear: he is not making a killing no matter how high the market goes. Ho! Ho! Ho! sticks in my throat, my heart.
And yet—despite what seems to be a ravaged body—his smile, his warmth and grace, as we greet each other reflect what I experience as the beauty of Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Yule (and Ramadan, which sometimes comes in December) all rolled into one. Every body, every single body, no matter how tattered and worn, carries God’s beauty.
As I reflect on Tyrone’s beauty—and tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of others struggling to stay alive on our streets—I think of the paintings of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, and the shepherds and angels, the cattle and sheep, the whole cast. The family was not exactly homeless, but they did not have a hospital bed for the birth, and no one in the neighborhood knew them. Still, they were all beautiful, including the innkeeper and all those unnamed, unknown folks living nearby.
I went to a holiday party last weekend at the home of someone I had never met. I had a wonderful time, having found the party on Meetup. The group, Birds of a Feather, is a clothing optional/nudist group that gathers monthly for social time (not sex). All those bodies, men and women, gay, straight, bi (don’t think there were any trans folks but the host is hopeful someday), were beautiful.
I confess I was sad to put my clothes on when it came time to leave. I like being naked. I mention this because during our eight-day holiday trip, I will not be naked—other than in bed. Going home, or gathering with loved ones, can sometimes carry a price—this one quite small compared to the joy we will share.
But as I reflect on that, I think of the young woman who wrote for advice in the Washington Post about how to balance her love for her live-in boyfriend and the condemnation by her parents and her pastor of their “sin.” She comes from a fundamentalist Christian family, and she had not yet told her parents about the change in her life. She was afraid, so she procrastinated. Then, her pastor found out, and, behind her back, told her parents. Now, she is faced with choices: kick the boyfriend out, continue “living in sin” and be tried by the church, or leave the church on her own.
Leaving aside the unprofessional—I think outrageous—conduct by the pastor, I mourn how little Happy Christmas there will be in that family. How many homes are there like that? So many.
For example, this week, a friend of mine, who volunteers regularly at a homeless shelter in northwest D.C., told me that one of the social work interns, a young man from New York, told him about Catholic priests in his hometown who counsel families of LGBT youth to kick their children out of the house. I knew several young people selling their bodies on the streets of Richmond, victims of this by their families in other parts of Virginia.
This is undoubtedly the main reason LGBT youth, and older folks too, constitute a higher than expected proportion of street people. I just wonder if the priests, and parents, have really read either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures. Or thought about how they act in a way contrary to Joseph and his response to Mary (first by declining to have her stoned, and then, listening to divine inspiration, marrying her and helping to raise their son)?
According to the gospel writer Luke, Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem in order to be registered, or counted, in the first census, ordered by Emperor Augustus. We in the United States may think of the census today as a rather benign thing, unless, of course, we are undocumented persons. In some ways, in the days of Jesus, most people were undocumented, at least by the lights of the Roman occupiers. Every body needed to be counted, to make it clear that Rome had control. Bodies were under threat all the time.
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem may not seem that far, but for a woman in late pregnancy, riding on a donkey, it cannot have been easy. Nor is it today, pregnant or not. Journeying from Nazareth in the nation of Israel to Bethlehem in the West Bank is not without hurdles, always the potential for trouble, especially if your papers are not right, or even if something over which you have no control goes wrong. Bodies are still under threat today.
So, as I ponder this holy and spiritual time for so many, and feel some joy myself, I am simultaneously aware that the only justice that really works is that which is abundantly and equally for all holy bodies created in the image of God. With my Jewish siblings, I celebrate that the oil lasted for eight days, and pray somehow the light never goes out—that all bodies will be seen and touched and healed and cared for, and loved as Jesus was loved, in all their glory.
Tis the season… of Yule and Chanukah, of Christmas and gift-giving, of a time when we are encouraged to think of those around us (with our wallets, certainly, but also in a marked elevation of kindness and goodwill toward others). It is a time intended to be celebratory and full of laughter, but more often than not, leaves us feeling somewhat stressed and (although we rarely say this out loud), wishing for the season to hurry up and come to a close.
And so, as we draw ever-closer to our celebrated holiday(s) of choice, the time seems to move far too fast (we need to pick up those last-minute presents and clean the house and wrap the gifts and…and…and…), for many, this time can also bring a level of dread and stress that is not necessarily associated with the pressures of living in a capitalistic economy.
I remember Christmas with my family growing up. As a child, I was immune to many of the microaggressions my lesbian parents experienced, including one aunt’s tirade against the sinful nature of my mothers’ relationship and who bought presents for whom, depending on whether they were considered “real” family or not. My parents worked extra-hard to make the holidays perfect; they made up for the awkwardness by being super-hosts. The tree was trimmed and underneath was bursting with more presents than any family needed; the family recipes were made to perfection; the house was spotless; and I was cleaned up and in some appropriately-adorable seasonal attire, walking around ensuring everyone’s drinks were full and passing out presents from under the tree. Hello, lesbian Hallmark dream.
As a parent now, I understand the pressures of trying to do these things with a child, struggling to remain authentic while wanting her to experience the magic of the holidays. Our tree has been up and trimmed since early December, and I have watched (and contributed) to the growing piles of presents under the tree, torn between joy at recreating the beautiful moments of my own queer childhood and struggling with the myths that are perpetrated in this recreation.
We are not a wealthy family, but we are able to make ends meet, for the most part. Buying presents is certainly not the easiest thing to budget in, but we have tried. This year, we (myself, my partner, and our 8 year old goddaughter) will be spending Christmas with my lovely sister and her wife, their two children, and two of my mothers. And as overjoyed as I am to have this time with them, I also feel the anxiety building. They live an entirely different type of life than we do, and I wonder about the awkwardness to which I am no longer immune: bringing a child (who is not my biological child, but still my child in every other sense of the word) to my family Christmas, a child that will blurt out things that will most likely make me stutter and blush, that doesn’t really have a grasp of table manners or indoor volume or general neatness, who my parents are (understandably) struggling to understand their relationship to her…
Whoever said we recreate our childhoods must have been laughingly looking into the future of my own experiences.
And yet, I am blessed beyond belief. I am blessed with assurances of a roof over my head and (awkward or not), my chosen family welcomed with open arms. I think of those who cannot or will not interact with their families of origin because they have been kicked out or refuse to be inauthentic. I think of those who disguise their lovers as “friends” or “roommates” (as my parents did for many years) in order to maintain a family connection. I think of the child whose family cannot afford presents this year, or the child who doesn’t get to see their family much because they are working multiple jobs to keep the lights on and the heat going. I think of those who are on the streets as the weather turns cold, whether by their own choice or because they were kicked out.
This blog is a blog on sexuality and bodies. And while it may not seem relevant to the despairing hope and unexpected blessings of the holiday season, our bodies, our queerness, our sex and sexuality are an integral part of who we are, and we can’t just leave that part behind when we are with family. It’s having a couple split up, one in the spare bedroom and one on the couch, because “we won’t tolerate sinful behavior in this house.” It’s packages addressed to the wrong name containing clothes that are for the wrong gender because “you’ll always be my daughter.” It’s the stutter and questioning face a family member makes when they go to introduce your partner: “This is…uhh, well… this is Joe’s, ummm… this is Joe’s friend.”
Because after the holidays are over, and the thank you cards are written, and we return to the quiet normalcy of our homes (having now stuffed more stuff into dusty corners)… we look across the room at our partners. We look in the mirror at ourselves. We watch our children, and we sit in our homes and we feel the sense of sadness and loss. If our own families cannot give us unconditional love, how do we come to understand God’s
love for us?
Many have come to understand the story of the birth of Jesus as a miracle of God: a savior born of a virgin. I, personally, do not see the story that way. For me, I see a powerful lesson in this season: that those who have strayed from the expectations of society are unconditionally loved. That a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock bore a Savior in her womb. That regardless of the conditions under which she came to conceive, she was chosen to bring light forth into the world.
This is the season of the outcasts. This is the season where people from different religions, class systems, sexual practices, ages, abilities, and possessions come together to celebrate life. So for those of you struggling with no room at the family inn, this season is for you. For those of you who live outside the expectations of sexual expression, this season is for you. For those of you who are working jobs that most people disdain (be it shepherds or fast food workers or sewage cleaners), this season is for you. For those of you who come together to celebrate community and togetherness, regardless of your religious and spiritual backgrounds, this season is for you. Celebrating the birth and story of Jesus is radically embracing the crossing of social norms- something Jesus himself came to embody in his ministry.
So to all of us, and to all of you struggling this holiday season, this season is for you. Not because of gifts or awkward in-laws or uncomfortable conversations with the Republican cousin, but because, from birth to death, Jesus crossed nearly every social norm he could, and God continues to claim him as God’s own. I am reminded of the Avalon song, “Orphans of God.” I close with the chorus of this incredible song, reminding us that there are no orphans of God.
“There are no strangers,
There are no outcasts,
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah,
There are no orphans of God.”
We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!
What do you think influences your sense of your own body, your relationship with your body? And what influences how you see and evaluate the bodies of others? What bodies are most sexy for you? Is your own body sexy for you? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Join Us Third Thursdays!
Please join us THURSDAY, January 19th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.
Sacred, Not Secret, Part 3: Beyond the Norm
We invite you to join us on Thursday, January 19th for the third part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On January 19, they will continue to explore non-normative relationship structures and practices, focusing this time on kink and BDSM. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of these sexual activities, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to practitioners–because do not doubt that you know and interact with them, in church and elsewhere.
Recordings of the workshop presentations by Malachi and Robin are being made available periodically.
- October 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 3, is available here
- September 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 2, is available here
- August 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 1” is available here.
As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.