Which Jubilee Will It Be?

. . . we have to find more ways to talk openly and positively about sex and bodies and spirituality

Malachi is on leave this month

Robin:

All justice is embodied justice; all injustice is embodied injustice.

Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017I was reminded of that maxim—which I long ago adopted as a central key to understanding how the world works and doesn’t work—when I encountered an article in Huffington Post, “LGBTQ Adults in U.S. Less Likely to Have Jobs and Be Insured, Study Finds.” 

It must be noted immediately that the title of the article is misleading in that it appears to include transgender persons in the study. However, the study itself dealt only with sexual orientation, and there is no mention of gender variant or transgender persons in the report. Nor did the study indicate any awareness of queerness. My guess is that were a similar study done for those categories there would be an even greater disparity of outcomes as regards employment and health. It seems clear that in the U.S. attitudes towards transgender persons are considerably more negative than those toward LGB persons. I doubt most people, outside the LGBTQ world, even know much about being queer (and of course, many within the community debate use of the term).

huffington-post-logo-e1467848295212 (1)Despite legal gains and significant shifts in public attitudes, the reality remains that being, or being identified as, lesbian, gay, and bisexual carries considerable penalty and loss for many (and in some places, there even have been gains for transgender persons but the penalties are far more pervasive, often involving violence).

It is in the everyday interactions among people, among living and breathing human bodies, where deep, negative, often unacknowledged, attitudes and practices remain operative.

The study described in the article, led by Brittany Charlton, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, confirms the results of earlier studies in showing that “overall, both male and female sexual minorities were about twice as likely to have been unemployed and uninsured over the prior year compared to straight peers. They were also more likely to report poorer health and quality of life.”

Charlton and her team also note that “Most of the study participants were white and their families had middle-to-high household incomes.” She says that this indicates “we may have underestimated levels of employment, being uninsured, and having poor health-quality of life.”

So, as always, race and class play a significant negative role.

LGBT-DiscriminationI doubt many readers here will be surprised by the results of this study, although maybe some might have thought that later results would be less negative than those from 1996 and 2004. That does not appear to be the case. This would indicate the depth of resistance that remains in the U.S. towards LGBTQ equality. And this study does not include the social attitudinal and legal effects of the Trump administration’s overt negativity towards those in sexual and gender minority communities.

Indeed, reports indicate that anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2017 nearly doubled from the prior year. According to a report by NBC News, “People of color were disproportionately represented in the findings and constituted the majority of victims. In total, 37 of the 52 victims were people of color. Thirty-one of the victims were black and four were Latinx. Twenty-seven of the victims were transgender women, and 22 of those victims were transgender women of color. Cisgender (non-transgender) men accounted for 20 of the homicides, most of which were related to “hookup violence,” the report states.

So what is my point? Again, we know we have a long way to go—that gains are not enough, and that some gains are already undermined, and more may be.

My point in highlighting this survey and other reports is simply this: we have to find more ways to talk openly and positively about sex and bodies and spirituality.

spiritual sexIt is especially important for us to link sex and bodies with spiritual life, if for no other reason than that so many retain old artificial divisions based on ancient understandings that the body is the site of unclean and even evil thoughts and acts while the spirit is pure and holy.

But frankly, we need to do this for a larger reason—namely that everyone will be helped when we, all of us, can see the divine in all things, including our bodies and sexuality. And we will not get there without also showing that the wide variety of bodies and sexual practices are good and blessed and holy (assuming there is always consent for any sexual activity).

I can say I am continually frustrated within my own faith movement, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), because of deep unwillingness to acknowledge and share our various sexual lives and practices. Indeed, this blog began initially by me alone, in response to that frustration, to try to start conversation. Few seemed to notice, especially within MCC.

Then, Malachi joined me and thanks to his openness and courage the range of experiences and topics grew significantly. Still, few joined the readership.

My frustration is particularly acute because we promote each of our blog posts through various MCC social media fora, and have been doing so the entire time. Still, few join.

Troy Quote 01What is particularly vexing is that MCC was founded on sex, namely to overcome the reality that open and self-affirming lesbian and gay people were regularly denied full membership and leadership in Christian churches generally and were often hounded out and deeply damaged. It was because of sex that the Rev. Elder Troy Perry called the first service on October 6, 1868.

Yes, it will be 50 years this fall since that first service in living room of Troy Perry’s little pink house (isn’t that delicious?) in Los Angeles.

Jubilee year Proclaim-LibertyIn the Jewish traditions out of which Christianity emerged, 50 years was the time of jubilee. At the end of seven cycles of Sabbath years, according to Leviticus 25:8-13, slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly evident.

That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you. In it you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself, nor gather from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat of its increase out of the field. In this Year of Jubilee each of you shall return to his property.(11-12)

What will Metropolitan Community Churches celebrate this Jubilee year? Will it be how we have survived (right now more or less by the skin of our teeth)?

Or will it be to return to the original vision God had for Troy and us—to truly blow the trumpet of liberation for sexual minorities and all people who see the divine in our intimate, embodied relationships, to become the teachers of the Church universal, the beacons of hope and joy, and justice, in and for all bodies?

Let us pray.

Get Out of Your Head!

The truth is we have to make room in our lives to say yes.

Robin:

Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017When I was a young man, indeed until last year, I never thought of becoming The Naked Theologian. And although I wrote a few poems over the years—often as a way to celebrate an event—I never thought of myself as a poet. And I did not think of myself as gay until I was 35—even though I had long had sexual fantasies about boys (when I was a boy) and men. And after I graduated from a Ph.D. program in theology and could not find a job teaching the subject, I thought I was done with that.

I never thought, I never thought, I did not think of myself, I thought I was done with that.

There’s a theme here: Thinking can keep you stuck.

I don’t mean one should never think, but over the course of my 71 years I have come to understand, albeit slowly and still imperfectly, that some good stuff happens when I stop thinking and start feeling.

Feeling certainly has a mental component, but when I don’t pay attention to how my body is carrying the feeling I miss vital aspects of myself. Indeed, my experience tells me that I often miss prompts, messages from God.

Jonathan and Robin wedding kiss
At our wedding outside the John Marshall Courts Building in Richmond, February 13, 2015

I love Jonathan, my husband of 20+ years, but our marriage might never have come about if I had reasoned away my feelings of anger and jealousy when he, as then my dear friend of six years for whom I had not felt any erotic draw, began chasing after a comely young man on the beach at Fire Island. Who knew Jonathan and I would become lovers and best friends for life? I think God knew we were a good match, but it took me, and him, some time to figure it out.

Or maybe it was less about figuring things out and more about allowing space for God to fill us with gifts.

Yes, for me, it’s about God, or if you prefer, the Universe. I believe, I know, God is always up to something new, something more. Life is so much richer than any of us can ever fully know, but then we, or at least I, work pretty hard to keep the riches within bounds, within the container of what I think my life is and should be, within the boundaries of the world within and around my socially informed consciousness.

YesI now realize that making room for new things, allowing space for new things to happen, getting out of the way for life to show us something new—or maybe even show us things that have been in and around us for a long time that we have been avoiding or denying—is the key to rich, vibrant spiritual living.

As some readers will know, I claim several identities. I am a Queer, or maybe just I am queer. I am a nudist/naturist. I am a theologian. I am a poet. I am a father and grandfather. I am a husband. And brother and uncle, and a cis gender male. I am even a Christian, and certainly a citizen. I am a gardener. I am a dog lover and owner.

Some of those identities may seem distinct from others, and some newer, some not so new. But they are all connected in the human person that is me.

The identities and their connectivity are still evolving. Indeed, the evolution that is me is ongoing. For instance, I only began naming myself as a nudist/naturist a year or two ago (I can’t be more precise because it was a process that I now realize began when I was a teenager). About the same time, I began to think about writing as The Naked Theologian.

TheopoeticsThis particular evolution also required that I reclaim an identity I thought (!!!) I had set aside: theologian.  And more than that, queer theologian. And even more recently, I have immersed myself in theopoetics–a way of theologizing that prioritizes the body, experience, and emotion–quite different from the classic discipline of systematic theology in which I was trained.

But I doubt any of that would have happened had I not listened to a voice I heard in 2014 at 10,000 feet in Yosemite National Park, a voice that told me, “The writing keeps crying out.” I have no doubt that God spoke through the trees who (not which) uttered those words, calling me home to what I now see as my vocation: writer. (Of course, that moment was preceded by many others that got me there.)

In the mountains, that call was not very specific. But two days after I came down and home to Richmond, I attended a reading and talk by Natasha Tretheway, then U.S. Poet Laureate. This had not been planned—I saw a newspaper item, and felt a pull to go.

I found a friend there, Dorothy Fillmore, who I discovered in that moment writes wonderful poetry. She and Natasha Tretheway challenged and inspired me to take my first poetry class (with Dorothy) and have not been the same since. I keep taking such courses today.

Natasha Tretheway
Natasha Tretheway

Why do I share this journey?  It’s simple really. The journey is not over, of course. And that’s the point.

I am not in charge of this journey and never have been. I have made choices, of course, and often I used my mind to figure things out.

But the real source of the power, and the wisdom is in my body, in the times when my mind let down its guard and I could feel the movement of the One I call God, Spirit, the One who stops me long enough to hear a voice while I sat naked on that mountain, to the voice I heard while sitting in Rosh Hashanah service at the Or Ami Congregation in Richmond telling me to step away from pastoring to engage in political organizing for equality, to the voice I heard while on retreat in the chapel at Richmond Hill to trust God to give me what I need to get through trying times at the church I served, to the voice I heard on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn in2002 to set aside my hurt and anger at the Episcopal church and accept my call as a pastor (in Metropolitan Community Churches), the voice I heard in Milford, Michigan more than twenty years before that told me to leave political life and go to seminary and serve God and God’s people, the voice I heard at the Episcopal Divinity School on Brattle Street in Cambridge  telling me to come out as a gay man.

listening earNot one of those voices, and others earlier and later too, was just in my head. In fact, my head had tried, and succeeded, and still tries and succeeds, in stopping them many times.

So I keep being reminded, praise God, to get out of my head and into my body—where God keeps troubling and guiding my soul, keeps speaking truth, keeps putting divine hands on and in my life. So it’s time to stop this writing for this moment. And listen. And feel. And live into the rich future God yet has for me.

Malachi:

As a highly analytical person, one of the things I struggle the most with is “getting out of my head.” Being present in the moment, not overthinking. Existing in my body instead of using my thoughts to disconnect from the sensations I am experiencing. I have a hard time relaxing and trusting my instincts- which is probably why, when I feel a pull of God calling in my life, I struggle so hard with it.

I appreciate and respect that calls to movement and change are never easy. In fact, I have come to believe that struggling with a call is part of the call itself. It’s part of faith- the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. So it makes sense to me that the movement of God in my own life comes in ways that are harder for me to trust. They’re intuitive, instinctive. They require me to “trust my gut” and, for all intents and purposes, “get out of my head.”

As we are transitioning from winter into spring and the weather gets warmer, this is something I have been thinking a good deal about. I’m not someone who deals with cold very well, and spend most of the winter trying to ignore the sensations of my body- which means getting deep into my head and focusing on the thoughts and internal contemplation as a means of distancing myself from my physical reality of being cold. But as it gets warmer, and my skin feels more comfortable again, it’s easier to be more present-aware because I am enjoying the sensations of warm on my skin.

Photo Credit

I’ve been thinking about this because it’s almost become second nature for me to distance myself from my body in different ways when the sensations my body is experiencing are uncomfortable. And by doing this, it also means that I fall into this habit during other periods of anxiety or discomfort- which includes sex, or moments where I feel the call of God stirring in my life. My default is to sink into my analytical mind and overthink everything, rather than experience the sensations of my body, however uncomfortable they may be.

It has been a period of so many transitions: seasonal transitions in tandem with life transitions. In particular, I have been at a place where I have wanted to make the work I do in the kink and BDSM community more sustainable and financially viable, but I haven’t quite known how to do that. As I was contemplating different ways to move out of food service industry and into full-time kink work, I was offered an opportunity to become a ropemaking apprentice with a friend who has been making and selling rope for over seven years and is a well-known ropemaker inside the kink community.

It’s not that I think that God is calling me to be a ropemaker, specifically. The call I felt stirring was subtler and much more powerful- follow your passion. It was a call to move beyond the “safety net” of food service industry jobs and take a blind leap, in some respects, into an opportunity that sets me on a path to making my life more sustainable. And I wanted to follow it, absolutely. But I didn’t want to give up my safety net.

I began the apprenticeship, but also maintained my outside job. Between the two, I ended up overworking myself, and got sick. It forced me to stop and reconsider how I was choosing to listen and follow this tug of opportunity that was presented to me. And in that moment I realized: I needed to make room in my life for the things I wanted, or I was distancing myself from this call as much as I distance myself from my body when I am uncomfortable.

There is a terrifying element of trust in all of this. The idea that “I don’t know where this is going or how this is going to work out, but I trust that you have led me here for a reason, God.” I wanted to cling to my own safety nets, maintain my other job (which, while I loved it, was emotionally and physically taxing as well as in the midst of many changes and transitions). The truth is, we have to make room in our lives to say yes. Getting out of our heads means taking risks sometimes. It means we do things- not recklessly, but without analyzing every possible outcome and conclusion. It means we trust that things will go well, instead of looking for every opportunity where things might go wrong. Overanalyzing is often looking for a reason to say no, rather than trusting our instincts to say yes.

Getting out of our heads means we have to be willing to experience our own discomfort. Our own fears and insecurities and uncertainties. It means that we have to let go of control, make space, and experience our lives fully- the good and the bad. It means we takes risks when our gut is telling us that’s the direction we need to move. It means being present, saying yes, and letting go of whatever safety nets we have built- because those nets are no longer a help, but a hindrance to our goals.

It means making room. When God calls us to move in some direction in our lives, sometimes we have to let other things go to make room. I needed to leave my other job; as much as I loved its goals and purpose, it had become and physically and emotionally taxing in a way that was not sustainable, it was a pull on my time that I couldn’t sustain, and I knew I would be leaving regardless. When I got sick, it was a moment for me to get out of my head, experience the sensations of my body, make some hard decisions, and follow my gut- wherever that leads me.

For me, I find that it’s rarely the thing itself that is the call, but the intention of the thing. It’s not about becoming a ropemaker (although I do love it and enjoy it and plan to do it for quite some time). It’s about setting the intention that I wanted kink to be more financially sustainable and was unsure how to do it, and the opportunity presented itself to me. I don’t think this is where I will end up “forever,” but I think it’s a step down a path that is built on following my passions. It’s an opportunity to move to a different place in my life, and that intention is perhaps the most powerful- and terrifying- part of all.

Getting out of my head isn’t easy. If I stop to think too hard, I think of every way this could go wrong and fail. I second-guess myself, my abilities, my contributions. I want to stay in the safe area of customer service- not because I love it, but because I’ve done it so long that I’m good at it. It’s comfortable.

But God rarely allows us to stay too comfortable for long. And when we state our desires into the universe, they are heard. So this season- this season of transience and transition- the themes seem to all interconnect and weave together into their own safety net of sorts: let go of control. Get out of your head. Say yes. Make room. Let go, and let God.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

How have your perspectives, your sense of self, your choices, changed over the years? How do you identify the sources which have helped you to change, have led you in new directions?  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.

Mark Your Calendar! June 13th (or thereabouts), right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

Summer of Transformations

Robin: 

revrobin2-023The three months since our hiatus began in late June have been filled with adventure and change for me.  I think of this as “My Naked Summer,” but this is about more than taking off my clothes. Another way to understand this time is to realize how much I have made friends with my own body, and in the process become more deeply connected with my soul.

I began this process with a four-day spiritual retreat at The Woods, an LGBT clothing optional campground near Lehighton, PA, in the Poconos. I packed gear and drove the 150 miles, excited to be on my way.  I pitched my tent, hiked trails and found secluded spots for periods of contemplation of nature, my life, and God.

Robin journaling at The Woods
Quiet time at The Woods

I had been unsure about why I desired a naked retreat, but as soon as I had a few hours of walking around sans clothes, with other people similarly undressed (and some dressed, too), I felt this great elation. I thought to myself, “this is the way I would like to live all the time.”  It seems clear to me that God called me there to learn this truth.

When I returned from camping, I knew I had to find more ways to be naked outdoors and among people. The ninth annual Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride in September beckoned. I am so glad I went—I experienced great joy hanging out with upwards of a thousand other naked or mostly naked folks, riding for more than two hours through downtown Philadelphia.

That’s me riding in Philadelphia, “Bare Is Beautiful” painted on my chest

There is a palpable sense of happiness and freedom in every group of naked people I have ever known, and this was no exception. It felt good to experience the approval of so many “textiles” watching us on every street, too. You can read more about it, and see a short video clip of me riding (note: you will see naked bodies) here as well as a reflection on the ride and my feelings before I went here

Again, I realized how much I yearn for nudity outside my home. So, right after I returned from Philadelphia I began learning more about several nudist groups I had joined but with which I had yet to connect.

The first result of that search is an event that sent my spirit soaring: standing, sitting, and lying nude in the studio of a photographer and artist. I was photographed extensively in various poses and then he spent an hour drawing my genitals. I loved the experience with the camera—my whole body felt alive, and I stopped worrying about my “Imperfections”—and want more, but watching him draw my dick and balls—he sat less than two feet in front of my sitting body—was fun and so very affirming. In that time, I shed more of my embarrassment (and shame) about my small “package” than in all the therapy and self-affirmation over many years. I look forward to more, even hoping to hire out for modeling in art classes.

Photo by J. Wayne Higgs (also shown drawing)

But this is about more than baring my body. Through that I am connecting more deeply with my soul. As I have become more comfortable with my physical being I have experienced a new sense of self as a gender queer cis gay male lover, Christian theologian and poet.

It feels like another coming out—there have several over the years in addition to coming out as gay in 1982—this time as a free, or at least freer, spirit, willing to move beyond a lifetime of obeisance to social norms. Even when I violated a norm, say sexuality in the 80’s, I compensated in other ways so no one would forget what a good guy I am.

I am still a good guy, at least I try to be, but that no longer includes hiding the beauty of my body, indeed the beauty of all bodies and it means being even more determined to talk about sex (and race, so connected to all this) in religious contexts—in fact, it means that I am becoming a more active, committed advocate for greater body and sexual openness in our society.  I am surely glad to continue this work with Malachi.

Soon I will change the name of my personal blog, “Make Love. Build Community,” to “The Naked Theologian.”  This new blog is not intended to focus on naked bodies, but it will not hide them (including my own) either.

My intention is to provide resources for an ongoing movement of free thinkers and free bodies, especially within, but not limited to, faith communities.  Liberation, justice, freedom are always about bodies. When our bodies are free, we have a better chance to be free in our whole selves, and to promote the freedom of others.

I recognize the risk of rejection and disapproval by some, but the call of God on my soul, and my body, is strong, and I am now, at 71, ready to respond to that call with renewed energy, joy, love and hope.

What a summer it has been, and what adventures lie ahead!

Malachi:

This has been a period of transformation. In many ways, this has been the culmination of lessons that began early this year and came to fruition throughout the course of the summer.

When Robin and I decided to take a hiatus from writing, I admit a sense of relief. This had begun to drain me more than feed me, and I had a summer of conferences and conventions looming that I knew would take every ounce of emotional strength I had. So I confess, I welcomed the respite, although I have missed the discussions Robin and I would have every week to reflect and prepare. As much as I needed the break, however, God does not. Though I wasn’t doing this particular work, I began to recognize that this may have been by design. After all, God had some work to do on me.

Much of what we have written about in the past is our own internal sense of our relationships with ourselves and the holy, how that manifests through the expressions of our bodies and the work of our hands and the exploration of our sexualities. For me, these things have come together in a singular way: learning rope.

photo by honey_bare

Rope (and rope bondage) is often portrayed as a sexual activity, a way to restrain a partner during intimacy. In reality, though, it is so much more than that. Rope can be performative (for those who are familiar with aerial silks, it’s not dissimilar). It can be meditative, it can be cathartic, it can be connective, it can be spiritual. For me, specifically, rope isn’t inherently sexual, but is a way for me to let go of anxiety around my body and body language. Because I spend so much time aware of my presentation- am I being open and accessible with my body language, or closed down and unapproachable? What do people see when they look at me, and is it what I want them to see?- rope gives me a respite from that. Someone else is arranging my body and positioning. Someone else is in control of what my body presents, how it moves, what it’s saying. It’s a specific type of comfort and freedom that’s difficult to explain, but it’s a place I have found a lot of peace.

This summer, I found connection unlike anything I have experienced in years with someone through tying with them. At one of the kink events I attended early in the summer, I met someone to whom I was immediately attracted who is part of the rope community, which is a subculture inside the larger BDSM community. He and I did a rope scene together in which he tied and moved me in various ways, and through that interaction, we both recognized a chemistry and connection that we both wanted to explore further. That dynamic quickly became sexual, and we have spent the summer building a relationship that feels mutual, balanced, and pushes both of us- both inside and outside of rope.

In August, I worked another event at which I was able to witness one of the most breathtaking rope performances I have ever seen. The performer took herself through a series of different body positions and manipulations through different ways of tying, creating an image of a chrysalis, and then cutting herself free. It was transformative- both the content of the performance, but also the impact it had on me.  Watching this ignited a passion in me- I wanted to learn how to do that– and I decided to begin-again- the journey of learning how to tie.

I’ve dabbled in learning rope before, but it hasn’t been the right time, and it’s never stuck. My own fears about being “bad” at rope often got in my own way, and I didn’t seek out the resources to learn how to be better. Immediately after watching the performance, however, I had a conversation with a friend who handled me a small length of rope and taught me two or three things to practice to get started, supporting my first steps in this journey. Not long thereafter, I had a conversation with someone who is the first person I ever tied with, explaining that I wanted to start learning, but I wanted to do so in a space that was more queer and femme-focused- voices that, much like in mainstream culture, are often drowned out by the voices of cis white heterosexual men. They concurred, and began organizing a monthly rope skill share at their home with a collection of queer and femme people who love rope. It has been in that space, more than any other, that I have found confidence, community, and support.

These interactions- meeting my now-sweetheart, watching that performance, and joining a queer rope group- have been the foundations of my explorations inside of rope. The performance was a catalyst to get involved in a community on which I have been on the periphery for years. The rope group gives me a safe place to learn and try new things without fear of judgement when I (inevitably) mess up. My sweetheart who, coincidentally, is also an engineer, built a rig in my home so that I could have a space to practice more. And through rope, I am constantly learning and challenging my own sense of perfectionism and fear of failure through the process of learning something new and very skill-based. I have found a deep peace when I tie, something that feels calm and meditative, something that feels like a way to deepen connection with my own body while simultaneously stepping out of self-consciousness. I am learning how to feel strong in my body, how to view my body as a source of strength and power.

Although in many ways, rope has felt like the catalyst, the reality is that there has been so much work to prepare myself to be open to new ways of engaging. Rope is a manifestation of openness and, while it is the most prominent, it is not the only one. New relationships, different means of understanding and articulating boundaries, and a powerful sense of autonomy and self-expression have all come from a sense of openness and willingness to be vulnerable and honest. That openness needed some time to settle and feel sustainable and safe, and for that, I am still immensely grateful that Robin and I took a period of time to pause and reflect. But we are- and I am- back now, and excited to push forward on the powerful and transformative journey of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you experienced transformation through your body? If not, do you want to? What does your body teach you spiritually? Have you experienced profound change due to taking a break from work or studies or some other activity? 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.

Mark Your Calendar! November 8, right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

How Resurrected (and Res-erected) Are Our Bodies?

we have perpetuated the violation of Jesus’ body by our insistence that his was not a real body

Robin:

revrobin2-023The Sunday of the Resurrection, AKA Easter Sunday, has come and gone, and in the liturgical calendar we are now in the season of Easter during which the Gospels record various appearances by the embodied Jesus.

The interactions can be confusing—ranging, in John, from Jesus telling Mary not to touch him because he has not yet risen to his slightly later appearance to a gathering of the disciples, showing his wounds, and still later inviting Thomas to put his fingers and hands in the holes in his side. Even then, he seems to go through walls to join them, thus causing many to question how fleshy and intact his body was. And in Luke, he appears to several of them on the road to Emmaus and then stands among the disciples in Luke and Mark, and in Luke he asks for and eats food in their presence.

Then there is Lazarus, who was not crucified and does not ascend, but whose body is resurrected from the tomb. He was all wrapped up in the tomb, and comes out at Jesus’ command, and then others peel the cloth from him.

resurrectionAll this raises some questions for me about post-resurrection bodies. I have wondered at times if Lazarus was naked under the burial clothes. What about Jesus? The gospels all say the soldiers took his clothes at the cross. Or did they each have a chaste covering of their loins? Jesus must have at least been uncovered in his upper body in order for the disciples to see and touch the holes.

At least one writer has speculated how rude and disorienting it must have been for Lazarus to be brought back after being at rest in the tomb. At least Jesus may have been prepared for something to happen after being crucified and entombed–even if he did not know what it would be exactly.

So how do we understand what constitutes post-resurrection bodies? What to make of this, in terms of our bodies? Are we ever resurrected?

St Thomas byCaravaggio
St. Thomas by Caravaggio

As I ponder these questions, I experience the gospel accounts taking pains to tell us Jesus was resurrected in his body, just as Lazarus had been. I hear yet again the theme of incarnation, that doctrine of theology that has long been difficult for the church to comprehend—God appeared in the body of one born of a woman, so the teaching goes, and the writers seem to say that “he” reappeared the same way.

It will not surprise regular readers here that this reinforces my belief in the centrality of bodies, my perception and deep conviction that spirituality is an embodied connection with divinity and each other, that it is not limited to our minds, our words, our thoughts but is as much centered in our bodies and in our embodied relationships (for example, check out my post in “WTF Do We Do with Lent?”).

A certainty has grown in me over the years that the church—really all, or almost all, of it—has gotten very far away from incarnation—not only do we fail to talk openly and honestly, and positively, about sex as part of our faith lives (God forbid we should talk about it in church!), we don’t even want to acknowledge that we all have bodies. That’s why, when I began this blog, I knew I had to include sex and bodies in the title—no circumlocutions, no beating-about-the-bush, just clearly sex and bodies, connected with spirit. They go together without qualification, without apology.

The Sexuality of Jesus by Wm PhippsBut that is not what happened after Jesus showed his post-resurrection body, and after the gospel writers included accounts of his appearances. Over the centuries theologians and popes and many others have expended considerable energy making Jesus less fully human than divine—while claiming he is both in all respects. Some writers have resisted this—William Phipps, e.g., has offered several texts, Was Jesus Married? and The Sexuality of Jesus that openly explored possibilities—but in reality few have raised these matters as part of our shared faith journey.

Of course, we have no images of Jesus’ body drawn in his own time, and he has been portrayed in all sorts of ways—too often as blonde and blue-eyed in Western traditions—but in all mainstream portrayals of him on the cross he has at least a cloth over his genitals. This seems to contradict the gospel testimony, as well as what we can assume would have been the intent of authorities to shame him through nakedness. In some ways, we have perpetuated the violation of Jesus’ body initially done by the authorities by our centuries of insistence that his was not a real body. It feels like sexual violence to me. I suggest one post-Resurrection way to begin getting real about bodies is to let Jesus have a whole one.

However, as interesting as it would be to see drawings of his actual appearance, the post-Resurrection bodies that most interest me are ours. I don’t mean just ours personally but actual bodies all around the world. All bodies.

Naked Jesus and thieves on the cross
http://www.wilgafney.com (and check out Rev. Gafney’s blog for March 28, 2013 for powerful analysis of sexual violence and the body of Jesus)

All bodies are sacred—that is a clear teaching of Jesus, which he enunciated many times especially in caring for the bodies of those at the margins of respectable society, and again on the cross by telling his neighbor (the thief, according to the story, also naked) that he too would be blessed.  So what are we doing to bring his teaching into actual practice?

Are we who have too much food giving some of it up that others may live? Are we who are protected by the world’s strongest military, telling our leaders to use fewer bombs and do more diplomacy and give more aid and provide more examples of peace to help victims of violence to be saved and healed? Are we who possess gender privilege—people with penises and all those whose gender identity already matches our genital configuration—standing up for and with people with vaginas and transgender neighbors, friends, and family members?

Perhaps we need to understand that the bodies that need resurrection are our own, that we need to do as Lazarus did in response to Jesus, we need to come out of the anti-incarnational tomb in which we have buried not only Jesus but ourselves.

soccer in cassocks
Couldn’t find any images of clergy in shorts!

I like to be naked, and hope someday to participate in clothing optional worship. But I know most people are not ready for that. A less daring thing would be for clergy who robe each week to cease doing so for a period of time, and talk about that how that feels. And perhaps, in warm months or climates, they could wear shorts or tank tops or both, and encourage church members to do the same.

Let us see and show that we have bodies that join in worship of the God who creates our bodies. Indeed, denial of our bodies dishonors the One who creates and blesses them. And for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, it is a denial of his embodiment, his teaching,  living, dying, and being raised in his beautiful body in the wholeness of God.

Malachi

This week, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the living movement of life triumphant over death, of truth persevering over falsehood, light victorious over darkness. We celebrate what is at the heart of our faith as Christians: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is here, and Christ will come again.

Easter is a holy time, a celebratory day for Christians. And yet, every time we approach and move through this season, I cannot help but laugh in memory of a story an old pastor told me about her first Easter service as a newly-ordained clergy, fulfilling her calling as an associate pastor. She was dressed in full regalia, walking down the church aisle and making her way to the front of the congregation. As she opened her mouth to welcome all and begin the service, in her nervousness, she proclaimed loudly that she was excited to gather in fellowship to celebrate the glory of Christ’s erection!

Whoops. It still makes me laugh to this day, partially because I know that every pastor and preacher has their own story of a time they humorously misspoke, but mostly because I can’t hear the word “resurrection” without boldly also hearing the word “erection.”

I wondered if the two words shared a common root; it turns out, etymologically, they don’t. “Resurrection” actually shares its origin and

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history with the word “resurgence,” which I think is a pretty powerful way to think about this time of celebration. A resurgence, movement, rising up in collective celebration.

But I can’t stop thinking about the phonetic connection between “resurrection” and “erection.” “Erection” is an interesting word, because when we think of it, we tend to think of the arousal of penises. But clitorises can also become erect with arousal. The concept of erection is not one that is solely the purview of assigned male at birth bodies; erection is a concept that can be applied to all genitals. Similarly, “resurrection” is not just for people who look, think, act, feel, or identify as certain way; it is for anyone who wants to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and ourselves in Christ.

During Lent, we focused on intentional contemplation. We made space for those things that are often neglected by removing or minimizing things in our lives that detract from our relationship with God. We sat still, cultivating patience, breathing through the discomfort. But coming through Lent into Easter, we celebrate resurrection, resurgence, momentum, exuberance. Or, perhaps, we celebrate re-erection, a renewal of arousal, awareness, pleasure.

In this week following Easter, I am led to think about our post-resurrection (and post-erection) bodies. I think about the orgasmic bliss that often comes post-erection: the connection we have with ourselves, with our partner(s), with something deep and holy. I wonder how we

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might embody that sense of connection in our post-resurrection bodies. How might we come to see the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection as a sense of (re)forming a connection, celebrating the orgasmic delight in life triumphant? How might we come to erect ourselves, our bodies, our postures, our spiritualties, in light of the risen Christ?

Coming through Lent, a time of deep meditation and contemplation and stillness, Easter is a time of celebration and movement. I can’t help but think of it like sex: slowly learning another person’s body, what works to build connection and what doesn’t, how you communicate with one another, verbalizing intention and desire to build connection. And while not all sex ends in orgasm, Easter feels like the release of orgasmic excitement: Christ is risen!

And now, we look at the work we have done over Lent and in the days leading up to Easter. What kinds of connections have we made? Have been honest with ourselves about our desires, our intentions? These are changed bodies, changed spirits; what have we learned in this process? Who are we and how do we move through the world?

Hopefully, we have learned ways that we feel connected and closer to one another, and to God. Hopefully, we have also learned some things that don’t work. There is space in growth for fumbling; in fact, learning what doesn’t work is almost as vital as learning what does, both in our spiritual

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and our sexual selves.

The period of Lent is over, and Easter has brought the culmination of this period of contemplation and reflection to a close. And yet, I hope that we find this to be truly a resurgence. I hope we find ourselves revitalized, connected, excited to move forward, rising up in celebration, rising up against hatred and injustice and social inequality. I hope we find ourselves eager to do the work that we have each been called to do.

But mostly, I hope that this period of post-resurrection finds us in a state of orgasmic bliss. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

Amen.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

As we celebrate the risen-ness of Jesus’ body, what do we experience in our own bodies? Can we allow the radical implications of divine incarnation to affect us, help us to experience God in all that we do and are? What resurrection experiences have you had? Can you feel the resurgence of God in your body? Do you experience physical/sexual erection/arousal and orgasm as divine? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, April 20 for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC.To access the call, please click here.

Our focus will be on these issues: How do we as people of faith learn to navigate the social stigmas and assumptions of sexuality, particularly in light of divergent gender expectations? How can we come to dismantle toxic masculinity and puritanical femininity to embrace and be empowered as healthy, sexual beings? How do we construct the ethics of our sexual practices in a world that shames us for acknowledging sexual desire? Join us Thursday, April 20 for a discussion aimed at opening dialogue and dismantling many of these assumptions and social stigmas that impact our abilities to live fulfilling, sexual lives.

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.

WTF Do We Do with Lent?

God isn’t something we can schedule in; God shows up when God is ready

Malachi:

We are a little more than halfway through Lent, a period of time which calls us each to reflect on our relationship with God, and what things we want to change in our lives to deepen that relationship. Often times, people will give something up for Lent- something they feel detracts or distracts from their relationship with God, in order to make space for these reflections.

I’ve never really understood the concept of “giving up something for Lent.” When I was in school, I saw kids giving up red meat, or chocolate, and I didn’t really understand. I interpreted it to mean that Lent was about sacrifice- giving up something you loved as penance or a means of sacrifice to show your love for God. As I got older, I came to understand “giving something up” as a means of creating space. The time and energy we would have devoted to whatever we were giving up, we instead used to focus on prayer or other things that we felt connected us to God and God’s calling in our lives.

But to be honest, I had a hard time with this interpretation and understanding as well. It still has a feel of impermanence to it- we remove something from our lives for a set, finite period of time to make room for God, but then we bring it back into our lives at the end (usually with some sense of relief or enthusiasm that we can have whatever the thing is again). By doing that, it sort of feels like kicking God out again- very

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much a feeling of “I created space and had wonderful reflections, but now I’m going to go back to how my life was before; this was just temporary.” I’m sure that’s not how it feels to those who practice it, but that’s how it has always felt to me.

Anyway, I say all this to say, I don’t really give anything up for Lent because, for me, I haven’t been able to do that in a way that feels congruent with my faith. And yet, here I am, in the middle of this period of Lent, and I find that I am working through many of the same struggles of loss, grieving, and temptation that come from giving something up. Because like all things that we give up, it feels good, initially, to make changes in our lives that are healthy and beneficial…and then we hit a point where it gets hard, and I feel like that’s about the mid-way point of Lent- where we are right now.

So far, this year (2017) has felt like a period of setting down old baggage for me. It has felt like- and continues to feel like- a time to look at my life and recognize those habits, behaviors, and patterns that have not suited me well, and work toward changing them. That’s a tall order, and not as concrete as giving up chocolate, but it feels authentic to my understanding of faith and God in a way that Lent never has.

It’s been important, I think, to do these things- and to continue to do them. I’ve been learning to be more transparent about desire, learning to state (and ask for) what I want from friends and partners, learning to be more vulnerable with people I care about, learning to be more transparent about things as they are happening (rather than jut in retrospect).

I’ve written lately about my life as a poly person, about going on dates with someone new, my issues with sex, and my struggles to be a real, authentic person. These, I think, are some of the culmination of this work I’ve been doing to try to be more honest and intentional about the relationships I have in my life and how I interact with them. I asked someone out on a date (asking for what I wanted) and told them beforehand, “I would be interested in fucking you” (claiming and stating desire). I’ve had a friendship transition into a sexual relationship, and was able to do so in a way that didn’t cause any issues in our polyamorous configurations (being transparent about things happening in the moment). I’ve let friends see me frustrated, sad, weary, but also giddy,

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excited, nervous, and looking forward to things- something I am usually not good at doing, because I don’t like other people seeing me disappointed if the thing I’m excited about never comes to pass (learning to be more vulnerable). I’ve written erotica and sent it to lovers. So many of these things are connected to my sexual and embodied self, but they are also connected to how I live in relationships with others, what I offer and what I give, what I allow others to see and how I choose to interact with the world around me.

And damn, I’m tired. I’m weary. My heart seems to be saying, “radical vulnerability is nice, but you’ve left me open and exposed for a long time now and I think it’d be just as well that we stop all this nonsense and go back to being safe and protected and guarded because I’m tired of being so open all the time.” It’s so easy for the old demons and insecurities to come to the surface. I want a finite period of time where I know I can go back to life the way I have always lived it, and I won’t be weary and tired and afraid of vulnerability.

But the truth is, I don’t actually want to go back. I want to move forward to a point where these things aren’t terrifying because I have moved through them. I want to create more permanent space in my life- to actually learn how to be authentic and lay down some of this baggage for good. I want the ways in which I’m shifting to stick around for awhile, even if the journey getting there is difficult. I don’t want to lose this period of reflection and contemplation. I don’t want to give up Lent after Lent.

The “moving through” part is the hard part. Being present in the discomfort of change. Allowing yourself to feel loss- even if the things that you are letting go of are toxic and unhealthy, there is still loss. Before we figure out how to do it better, before we figure out how to fill the space, there is an emptiness, a hole where we have set one thing down but

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haven’t picked something else up yet, and we realize exactly how tired we are.

It’s easy to cling to the devil we know. But in this period, we are encouraged to consider and contemplate how we might strengthen our relationships with ourselves and with God. And so, as I continue to put

down some of my old baggage, as I continue to intentionally work to change unhealthy habits, as I struggle to navigate situations in ways that are not damaging or toxic, I think about this period of Lent. The midway point. Because even though these things don’t stop for me when Lent ends, it’s a good reminder to me that change is not always easy, or comfortable.

At some point, things get hard, and that becomes the part where we are actually making space. Do we allow those things which are hard, which push us, which ask us to stretch and grow to move us further away from God? Or do we allow these things to change us in ways that deepen and strengthen our relationship with God? Do we move in ways that are authentic to our callings, or do we move in ways that are more comfortable to our habits? This period of Lent- or whatever period of time you take to intentionally reflect on your relationship with the Holy- asks that we create space in our lives with intention, and find ways to hold that space beyond just the time we have set aside.

Strengthening our relationship with God is not something we can do for finite periods of time. God isn’t something we can schedule in; God shows up when God is ready to. All we can do is work to prepare a place, to cultivate space in our hearts for when we feel that small voice stirring. Because before we can follow our calls, we must first be willing to listen.

Robin:

revrobin2-023In the past week or so I have been having trouble staying focused in my writing. I have felt pulled in several directions; I have more interests than I have time to write about them all, or at least that is how it feels. I had begun to feel overwhelmed, sometimes even despairing, wondering what kind of writer am I? What might be my signature, what subject or genre is most central to me as a writer?

A conversation with Malachi helped me see that this might be an outcome of my Lenten fast this year. I pledged not to partake of those internal messages that say I am not capable of responding to the call on my soul to be the writer God creates me to be.

What if, as a result of not letting old messages shape my life, my vision, I am becoming more open to all my possibilities?

This would surely reflect my long-time view of Lent as a time of growth rather than solely a time of penitence.  I am not opposed to penitence or penance, and certainly benefit from deep inner reflection and owning my shortcomings. But too often, in my experience, Lent is seen as a time of punishment—feeling often to me like a time of beating up on ourselves, even beating our bodies, for the guilt of Good Friday to come again, and our continuing participation, or at least complicity, in violence and oppression.

Be love for Lent
beloverevolution.com

Instead of punishment, however, I have found that Lent provides an opportunity to go deeper into spiritual truth, and to be changed by experiencing that truth. In my case, right now, I feel I am being given an opportunity to make conscious choices about the nature of my work as a writer.

That is an extraordinary gift for someone who has long been engaged in work that, while good and often productive and even satisfying in many respects, did not reflect who I am deep in my soul. As I continue to move more fully into claiming writing as my vocation, my ministry, my calling, it seems I am being given a menu of options so I can, with God’s help, shape my life to reflect more of what is most important to me. This may seem easy, but at the moment I am really having to probe deeply into my soul to learn what matters most. The reality, hard to face, is that I cannot focus on all the topics in which I have an interest, nor can I work in all the genres I might wish to try.

Your body is preciousLent this year, then, has become about discernment.  One thing that clear to me is that my interests—theological/spiritual, poetic, creative—center in bodies:  Feeling bodies, dead bodies, Black bodies, brown bodies, LatinX bodies, queer bodies, Trans bodies, male-born bodies, female-born bodies, white bodies, naked bodies, sexy bodies, Palestinian and Israeli bodies, Gazan bodies, Sudanese bodies, Asian bodies, Native bodies, aging and aged and wrinkled and sagging bodies, polyamorous bodies, young (younger than me at least) buff and not-so-buff bodies, skinny bodies, fat bodies, smooth bodies, suffering bodies, malnourished and distended bodies, hairy bodies, lesbian bodies, gay bodies, bi-racial and bisexual bodies, and the whole rainbow of precious, godly, human bodies.

And my body, too.

In that regard, I received a jolt. It began about ten days ago as a result of the nudist party about which I wrote last week (Can Prayer Be Erotic?)

The experience I described in that post as well as my reflection on it, touched and enlarged my awareness of how much nudism or naturism means in my life. A journalist visiting that gathering interviewed many of us about our attitudes toward and experience of nudism, and when I told her I am a theologian and retired pastor she probed me about the spirituality of nakedness. During our conversation I told her I had wondered if I might write as The Naked Pastor (or Preacher).  She asked if she could quote me, and do so with my full name (some at the gathering wanted her to use other names). I said “yes” to both. I have no idea when or where or even if her piece will be published.

And then, two days ago, as I read a blog post from a man who writes about being naked in a wide variety of situations (The Naked Jade), it came to me that what I might really want is to be The Naked Theologian.

The Naked Theologian? Yikes! Would that mean pictures of me naked, like The Naked Jade, while writing, speaking or teaching (where would that be)? And what would my husband, my family, say, and my church? Would they, the church, even let me in the door, let alone continue as Writer-Theologian in Residence? Would anyone take me seriously?

Prior Lake Robin
This is the body of a theologian

Such concerns, anxiety—okay, fear—arise from two sources. One is that my body, unlike Jade’s, is far from photogenic. I have wrinkles and sagging skin (I am 70 after all) and am very far from well-endowed. And the second may be even more fundamental: people, especially most religious people, are not open to nudity as an acceptable public presence (heck, a lot of people don’t even feel comfortable with nudity in private).

I do not know where this will end up, but I feel I need to stay in this exploration, this journey, to become the me I am called to be.  On that way, I am reminded of a Celtic prayer:

Awaken my senses this day
to the goodness that stems from Eden.
Awaken my senses this day
to the goodness that can still spring forth
in me and all that has life.

The goodness that stems from Eden . . . . hmmm . . . this contradicts what I learned in Sunday school and in the church of my youth. What I heard was that although Eden may have been beautiful, bad things happened there. Stay away from Eden.  In fact, much of the Lenten tradition that I identify with punishment seems to flow from that view of Eden.

However, perhaps I am being given a new view. Maybe Lent is really about rooting ourselves in the joy and hope and pleasure of Eden, so we can walk in wholeness and love with Jesus wherever he leads?

Happy Lent, anyone? Or Naked Lent? Or at least Loving Lent, Holy Lent, Joyous Lent?

Whatever. I hope your Lent is as interesting and filled with sacred possibilities as mine.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you experience Lent? Is it a time of openness to new things in your life, or a time to revisit comforting ideas or practices from the past? Does it feel like rules or a holy pilgrimage? What are you “giving up” or moving away from during Lent this year? What are you hearing from God? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th 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.

Intimacy Whiplash

Explore non-monogamy in action with Malachi as he talks about both the importance of connection and radical intimacy as well as the need for self-care

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nEvery so often, I am afforded the incredible opportunity to appreciate how magnificent and blessed my life is- the capacity to see the image of God in others, as well as catch glimpses within myself. This past week provided such an opportunity, and I want to take this time to share a bit about it- as well as some of the impact it has had on me in the aftermath.

I have referenced FetLife at other points in this blog, but for those who are unfamiliar with the site, it is basically Facebook for kinky individuals. It provides an opportunity to connect with other people, learn about local events, and share, read, and witness other people’s experiences through photos, videos, and writing.

I do a fair amount of writing on FetLife- some erotic writing, some writing about my journey, thoughts, and experiences. This past week, I stumbled upon a prolific writer who posted some things about power dynamics that resonated with me, and I messaged him to let him know that his writing had had an impact and to ask his permission to link his writing in a piece I was doing exploring some of my own thoughts. This began a back-and-forth public dialogue between the two of us, each writing inspiring a new piece by the other, and so forth, over the course of four or five days. We wrote about vulnerability and the process of writing, about transparency and fear, about how we relate to ourselves and the world around us. For two people who had never met before, it was quite an intimate exchange held over a public forum.

Prior to this happening, I had made plans to attend a BDSM party in Philadelphia on Saturday, and I noticed that the gentleman on the other end of the computer was local to the area. At some point, we realized we would be at the same event, and decided that an in-person meetup and handshake was in order. So our back-and-forth discussion built up into a climactic finale that lasted through Saturday, the last post going up just hours fetlife-logobefore we were planning to connect in person.

That experience colored most of my week in some way or another. I had a pretty full weekend planned, and the backdrop of writing so openly, vulnerably, and expansively impacted the interactions and connections I was having in real life, away from a computer screen. On Thursday, I spent time with someone with whom there has been mutual attraction slowly building. I went to her house and we hung out, got food, talked, smoked too much (at least, on my end), curled up and watched TV, and learned to be around one another outside of the pressurized space of conventions (which is where we usually end up connecting). It was a wonderful, connective time that didn’t include sex- and that was absolutely perfect.

Friday evening, a friend (and mutually acknowledged crush) was in town to work an event happening in Baltimore, and stayed over at my house- again, someone who I only see at conventions, normally. My partner was out of town visiting some sweethearts, so we had the house to ourselves and got to spend time together talking- again, outside of the pressurized space of a convention. We didn’t feel any pressure to have sex (although we interacted in sexual ways, certainly). I was excited to have them in my home and have the opportunity to let them see me in a new way- people in my home feels like a certain level of intimacy and vulnerability, and people sleeping in my bed feels even more so.

Saturday morning, after my friend had left, I collected my things and drove up to visit a dear friend with whom there has been some growing sexual tension. On the way, I was able to talk to my partner, who told me that he was comfortable if anything sexual happened between myself and this person. We talked about it for a little while, and I felt comfortable in the boundaries we established. When I arrived, I was greeted by my friend and his partner, as well as a person I had never met in person before, but had talked to for several weeks leading up to this weekend. We immediately connected and the four of us had a wonderful time cooking dinner together and sharing space.

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I then got some one-on-one time with this new acquaintance, and felt immediately at ease, comfortable talking openly with her about a plethora of things, from mental illness to sexual dynamics to poly boundaries to our shared overindulgence of caffeine. She and I made our way to the party together after checking into a hotel that she, myself, and our mutual friend had planned on sharing together (my friend’s partner was not planning to attend).

This felt culminating and climactic in many ways. I got to meet the person with whom I had been sharing so much writing intimacy and, while we didn’t get a chance to talk long, it was a wonderful introduction and, and I hope, the beginning of a continued friendship. I got to watch some wonderful interactions and bask in the sense of feeling connected and loved and cared for by people I know very well as well as people I am just beginning to know.

I gave my friend a blowjob in the car. It was the beginning of us exploring a sexual dynamic, and it felt fulfilling and satisfying and wonderful- particularly because I have shared so much non-sexual space with this person in the past, I feel like he and I have built up a level of intimacy that I don’t usually have with people prior to having a sexual relationship with them. We went into the hotel room, and then the three of us cuddled into bed together with no strange, hard, or weird feelings between us.

In the morning, I got up and drove a little further north- my partner was going to leave New York City that afternoon, and conveniently, a person that I have begun sleeping with lives within walking distance of a commuter line. So I planned to spend the day with them while my partner finished his trip, and then we would meet up and drive home together.

This particular person is someone I have been on a date with previously, and we are still in the stage of being a little awkward and clumsy around each other- but it’s also endearing and tender and sweet. And so when we spent Sunday afternoon in their bed, learning and exploring one another in new ways, when I saw them drop their guards and become tender and vulnerable and open, those moments felt like a blessing, and made me feel giddy and excited and so full of joy. I found that I have just as much pleasure in sleeping with them as I do watching them cooking. Both feel intimate in different ways, and both help me feel connected to this person in different ways, and I like the ability to share both kinds of space with them.

I think of all the work my partner and I do to make things like this possible. I think of thepolyamory-symbol-happy-parties-com fights and the long hours talking and processing. I think of the contracts we have written with one another for finite periods of time that are records of who we are in those moments and a safety net to fall back on when we disagree about the terms of our relationship. I think about the frustrations, but also the joys, of living poly. Of unexpected, spontaneous connections and hours talking about someone we’ve recently met that makes us feel smitten.

If I had written this Sunday night or even Monday morning, this whole post would be bursting with exuberant glee, with no negative feelings in sight. But I’m not. I’m writing this on Tuesday evening, and the reality is, I’ve actually had a harder day and a half than I thought I would.

There is something called “con drop,” which is an experience that people have after going to a convention and feeling so full, so present, so seen- and then returning to their day-to-day lives and noticing the ways in which that kind of intentionality and integration is not present. It affects people in different ways, but when I’ve felt con drop in the past, it usually makes me feel a little cranky, but mostly, I feel needy and insecure and frustrated.

So Monday, when I returned to work and found myself getting irritated over the smallest things, when I found myself checking my phone too often and feeling sadder than usual to have no texts, when I began to question and doubt these connections that I had felt over the past week, I was somewhat baffled until I realized that I was “dropping” from a weekend so full of connection and feeling seen and making intimate connections and being present with people, and I didn’t know how to make the transition from that back to my life, particularly my life at work. My newfound friend put it quite well when we were talking about this earlier (as she mentioned she was dealing with some of the same emotions). She said, “masking emotion feels so wrong post radical connection.”

And that’s the crux of it, I think. I’m feeling some intimacy whiplash but mostly, I’m

self care
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feeling like I need to mask my emotions (particularly working in customer service, and that feels disingenuous, particularly when juxtaposed against a weekend full of radical integration of self. And please don’t get me wrong: I think that that kind of radical vulnerability and intimacy is incredibly important, and I want to strive for more of that in my life, not less. But it’s also important to make space for self-care in all of this. It’s important that we hold these lessons- that we are valuable, that we are loved, that we are seen, that we are beautiful, that we are important, that we matter, that we are worthy of love and affection, in whatever forms that takes. But it’s also difficult when, for whatever reason, something in our life butts up against that in a way that we are not able to shift or change. And dealing with that self-doubt and confliction is an important part of growth in learning how to be whole, integrated people.

I have so much gratitude in my life right now- gratitude, first and foremost, for a partner that is able and willing and excited to navigate these spaces with me. For each of these people, who allowed me to be present with them in different ways throughout the week and met me wholeheartedly in those spaces. And for the hard feelings the past day or so, that remind me that we can appreciate great joy, expansive happiness, unexpected miracles, but we are able to appreciate them partially because they don’t exist all the time, and disconnecting from that is difficult, but it reminds us why it is so poignant in the first place.

I encourage radical vulnerability and intimacy, in whatever ways feel authentic to you: perhaps through creation of art, music, or writing, perhaps through conversations over coffee with an old friend, perhaps through sex (with someone else, or perhaps with multiple people), perhaps through worship. I think it is a powerful way to grow and allow ourselves to see and be seen. I also believe it’s important to take time after that to recognize that radical vulnerability can be difficult and scary, and that’s ok. When we open ourselves up in new ways, sometimes we have to take a little time to reassure ourselves that we are still safe, loved, and cared for.

That piece is an important part of my weekend I’m glad I haven’t missed, because it’s giving me a chance to learn to trust myself.Because part of radical openness, intimacy, and vulnerability isn’t just learning to be open with others. Part of it is learning love, trust, and care for yourself, too. We cannot allow others to see what we are not willing to see ourselves. And that, I think, is the greatest blessing of all- when we can see ourselves, made in the glory and image of God, then that is what we are able to show others. And in its many different names, faces, and manifestations, the image of God in each of us is a glorious sight to behold. May we all learn to see the God in ourselves and in others. May we all learn to share the God in ourselves and be open to receiving the image of God in others.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What would radical intimacy and vulnerability look like in your life? How can you find ways that allow you to connect both with the image of God in others as well as the image of God in yourself? 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.

third Thursday
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us on THURSDAY, March 16th 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.

Workshop description: “Creating Space,” particularly in worship is our focus: creating space for different ideas, beliefs, communities, and perspectives. Creating space can be a difficult process that requires us each to examine our own internal biases, prejudices, and desires about what we want from our churches  and communities. And yet, it is important that we start somewhere- and, for us, that “somewhere” is based in a firm belief in sexual and bodily liberation. So mark your calendar to be with us for this important conversation on March 16! 

Truths of Sex

focusing on liberating possibilities through sex contributes to living out divine commands to love and to do justice

by Malachi and Robin

Introduction:

Next Thursday, March 16th, we will co-host a discussion on Creating Space, particularly in worship: creating space for different ideas, beliefs, communities, and perspectives. Creating space can be a difficult process that requires us each to examine our own internal biases, prejudices, and desires about what we want from our churches and communities. And yet, it is important that we start somewhere- and, for us, that “somewhere” is based in a firm belief in sexual and bodily liberation.

So today, we offer these truths, not as a manifesto, nor as a comprehensive perspective, but as a starting point. These sexual truths for Christians (and all other humans) give us a place of common ground from which to begin, and provide a foundation on which to stand as we work to bridge those things that so often are used to keep us divided.

Some Current Background

We read a recent gruesome newspaper account of abuse by an English evangelical Christian leader, John Smyth (“Dozens Say Christian Leader Made British Boys ‘Bleed for Jesus’”).

revrobin2-023Once again, we learn of someone who claims to be spiritual using violence to enforce his version of sexual morality—in this case, beating boys bloody for masturbating, for watching pornography, for “having indecent thoughts.” And his reign of terror, while beginning with boys at the oldest boarding school in England, Winchester College, continued in Zimbabwe when he was sent away by the very Christian charity he ran because of an investigation into his barbaric practices, and more recently in South Africa.

He was arrested in Zimbabwe for homicide in the pool death of a 16-year-old boy at a camp he ran, but eventually charges were dropped. In February, he was removed from work with youth by a church in South Africa, following claims of inappropriate behavior (but without proof of criminal acts).

This story is not new, of course, but its gruesomeness is shocking, almost as much as the reality that once again church authorities are complicit, with law enforcement it seems, in covering up the crimes—until they have gone on so long and become global that denial is no longer viable.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nWe focus on it not because the story is new, but because it is depressingly familiar—and because it is not only Mr. Smyth and those who abetted his behavior who bear responsibility for the evil he has done. Frankly, it is a religious movement, our faith, Christianity, which continues to look the other way when it comes to opening a responsible conversation about sex and faith.

We don’t mean a dialogue promoting safe sex, although that is critical—any spiritual community that does not put condoms and dental dams in the restrooms and does not promote sex education for its youth (and even its 20-somethings) is guilty, in our view, of at least social/spiritual negligence.

What we are proposing, however, is a conversation that begins grounded in the truth that sex is not only good, but also is divinely created for our well-being and our pleasure. But it must be more than an affirmation of sex as a godly thing, more than offering a hymn or two to extol the beauties of creation and creating.

What is really needed is attention to specifics, to naming body parts, to sharing joys of sex acts, to sharing fears of sex acts as well—basically being very open and honest about the range of feelings, practices, and desires among us. We are beginning to think we need something akin to Luther’s 95 Theses, perhaps a list of Sexual Truths for Christians (and All Other Humans).

It could begin this way (please know we do not intend this to be comprehensive or final).

Sexual Truths for Christians (and All Other Humans)

  • ·         Open and honest conversation in religious and social settings about sexual desires and issues is the right of every person. It also is the right of any person to decline to participate in any part of such conversations that feel oppressive or harmful. However, objecting to the conversation on the basis of biblical teachings or some version of “God’s Law” is not sufficient to end the conversation, it is instead a beginning point for dialogue on the question of authority and self-realization in our sexual lives.
  • ·         Sexual positions are as varied and variable as the people who engage in them. None are right or wrong, only to be evaluated on their efficacy to produce pleasure and satisfaction for the parties involved.
  • ·         Ways of being sexual can change over time—persons who consider themselves primarily or exclusively engaged in different-sex sex or same-sex sex, or any other orientations or preferences, are free to try whatever option pleases them and helps them to become more the person God creates them to be.
  • ·         There are as many genders as there are people, and each one is beautiful and desirable.
  • ·         Masturbation is a God-encouraged way to love oneself, and even to do so with another or others.
  • ·         Nudity is beautiful and a way of praising God.
  • ·         There is no part of the human body that is not beloved of God, no part that is not beautiful, whatever its function(s). This includes the anus, a site of intense sexual pleasure for many.
  • ·         Consensual monogamy is no more moral than consensual non-monogamy.
  • ·         No person shall be denied the opportunity to engage in any sexual act or activity that they view as positive and life-affirming, provided such act or activity does no harm to others. This includes practices known as BDSM and kink, and all non-traditional forms of sexual living.
  • ·         No person shall be forced to engage in any sexual act or activity that is offensive to them or that they view as harmful to their physical, social or spiritual well-being.
  • ·         Neither the Bible nor God mandates only one way to be sexual.
  • ·         Every person can choose how they wish to live sexually, choices that may be made on an ongoing basis as more about sex is revealed in their lives and by others around them.
  • ·         God made us to be able to live as sexual beings, because God understands that the eros, the life energy, released and shared in sex can be an agent of communication, a way to bring people together
  • ·         Sexualized violence, that is, doing injury to another or others through bodily penetration, beatings, verbal attack or the like is not sex, it is violence and must be treated as such by legal and ecclesiastical authorities.

As stated above, this is far from an exhaustive treatment of our need to establish a new code of sexual living for Christians.

Both of us have a rich history in MCC—Robin as as an ordained clergyperson and Malachi as a member from a young age—proud to claim a heritage in a religious movement begun in 1968 to free lesbian and gay Christians from the tyranny of heterosexist, patriarchal views and rules about sexuality. And as believers and sexual beings, we have been agitating for many years for wholesale change in our sexual ethics and theologies.

We remain discouraged that even that tradition, with its rich history of teaching the wider church about sex in the 1970s and 80s, and showing the way in caring for those stricken and dying with HIV/AIDS into the 90s, has lost its way. We write this blog each week, and once each month, on the third Thursday, we offer online teaching about issues of sex, bodies and spirit. Our audience for both remains small. And few are clergy or other religious leaders.

In the United States we are going through trying times. We suspect that many think that talking about sex is not what is needed right now. Surely, we have much to struggle about, work against, in areas where the new administration is turning things upside down and backwards.

However, it is clear to us that focusing on liberating possibilities through sex in our lives can contribute to living out the divine command to love and to do justice, that indeed we can undermine all the historical forces determined to take us back to old days of narrowness and fear by claiming and proclaiming the freedom God gives us in our embodied, sexual, spiritual selves.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you wondered where God ends and sex begins? What if there is not really a boundary? What if God is part of, central to, our sexual pleasure? How do you experience sex as a force in your life that impacts your spirituality and your mental well-being, and how do those other aspects affect your sex?  And how can we find ways to talk about this in church, how can we bring God and sex and God’s people into the same space, the same sanctuary? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us on THURSDAY, March 16th 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.

Workshop description: “Creating Space,” particularly in worship is our focus: creating space for different ideas, beliefs, communities, and perspectives. Creating space can be a difficult process that requires us each to examine our own internal biases, prejudices, and desires about what we want from our churches  and communities. And yet, it is important that we start somewhere- and, for us, that “somewhere” is based in a firm belief in sexual and bodily liberation. So mark your calendar to be with us for this important conversation on March 16!