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.

Can Prayer Be Erotic?

By not entering into communication with God with our whole bodies, what are we missing in the conversation?

Robin:

I remember a time more than 20 years ago, when, as a striving doctoral student in systematic theology, I gave a paper at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. All I remember are comments from two more senior people in the academy. They both said, rather vehemently, that “desire” is not a theological category.

AAR logo_slideshowI was surprised. I did not make such a claim overtly in my paper. But as they spoke, it dawned on me that their analysis of what underlay my argument was correct, even though I thought they were wrong in their judgment. Desire is a theological category because desire is of God.

Let me quickly add this caveat: not everything we desire is godly, part of God’s desire for our lives, any more than everything we claim is love actually meets God’s understanding of love. But the activity and reality of desire are gifts from God.revrobin2-023

I will now fast forward to a time several weeks ago when I was enjoying an evening with nudist friends—a social group that gathers monthly for a party in a private home. I have met some lovely people through this group, including a young man who is becoming a dear friend.

The rules of the group preclude sexual activity—this is true of almost all nudist, or naturist, groups—and as one happily committed to monogamy in my marriage, I would not participate were it otherwise. And yet, I find desire.

The people, perhaps numbering 30, come in all shapes and sizes, colors, nationalities, and sexualities. I am not aware of transgender people, but I could be wrong. Certainly, all genders are welcome.

nude dinner groupSome of the body appearances are more appealing to me than others. I have my gay tilt toward the male ones, of course, but as nudists often say, all the bodies are beautiful, just as they are. And in some way or other, I desire connection with them all. Not sex, but desire.

Frankly, I find it easier to start connections with new people who are naked than with people who are clothed.  Naked people have removed a layer of protection, we’re more vulnerable. Vulnerable people make connections more easily.

Here’s where my theological point comes in: In my experience, God wants us to connect more—with God of course, but also with each other. That’s why I think naked bodies—the ones God gave us for which we eventually become responsible—are beautiful, powerful  expressions of the divine. Each human body is an image of God, and more than that, each is a means, an opportunity, to create connection.  I call this connectivity “eros.”

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde

Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde first introduced me to the erotic as something more than physical sex, calling it “an assertion of the lifeforce of women.”  I think that is true of male-identified persons, too. I know it is true of me.

Lorde also said “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.”

At this party, I also witnessed a sign of eros. Several of the men, at various times in the evening, exhibited full or partial erections. I do not know precisely what they were feeling, but imagine they found some other body alluring, or perhaps something someone said or did gave them a charge, or perhaps they were just feeling happy. Who knows, maybe all of the above?

What I know is that such a beautiful sight touched me. I’ll admit they were good-looking men but my reaction was not so much about them, or even wanting them, as it was about me. What I felt, rather keenly, was my desire for an erection of my own.

Regular readers of this space know of my erectile dysfunction and issues related to my prescribed treatment of testosterone replacement therapy. Erections are not very common for me.

erectionsBut then, even when earlier I could more easily get hard, I never did except during sexual encounters or solo masturbation. For a long time, I carried shame about my small cock, and even as I worked at shedding that I still felt an erection was only for private times, only for having sex. I had bought into our culture’s view that bodies are mostly meant to be hidden, and certainly male bodies with visible erections.

But as I gazed upon these men I realized the truth of Lorde’s observation. I was experiencing myself—feeling my own embodiment in a deep way (partly through something I could not achieve then)—and experiencing strong feelings of desire, of connection, feelings that in that moment felt chaotic because I was being drawn simultaneously more deeply into myself and toward others.

I did not seek sex with them, or they with me, and yet I wanted to connect with them. I wanted to talk with them, I wanted to learn more about them in general as well as to learn more about what caused them to get hard in that moment.I wanted, and I still want, to see the world through their eros as well as my own.

I am not sure I am explaining this very well, because I think I am still trying to figure it out. But as I continue to reflect, I am coming to understand that my erotic feelings—certainly those I share with my husband, but also those I experience at other times by myself and with others, too, including in more common moments like feeling the sun on my body or the touch of soil as I dig in the garden or observing or participating in a moment of human connection or human/animal connection—are a form of prayer. Eros is for me embodied prayer, a prayer for connection with myself, with others, and with God.

upraised hands prayerI have read a number of articles and books about body prayer. None of them mention the genitals and anus. It is as if we cannot mention that part of God. But God will not be stopped or ignored.

The good news for me is that whether I get a really good erection ever again (and I’m working on it—more about that another time) or not, God continues to desire me and I God, and others, too.  I know I will continue to call out “O God, O God,” when I ejaculate (dry or wet) because God is in that moment of chaotic, exuberant joy. And I know I will continue to be blessed by my own eros and the eros of others—with and without obvious arousals, just by being open to, and desiring, each other, the world, and God.

Let us pray.

Malachi:


When I think about prayer, I have the quintessential image in my mind of someone kneeling by their bed, hands folded, head bowed, saying their prayers before bed. I must have gotten this image from pamphlets and movies because that’s never something that was a part of my life or experience growing up, nor is it something I really do now.

Thinking about prayer makes me think a little about worship, and how the image in my mind of worship is also very different than my physical experience of worship. The word “worship” brings to mind the image of being in church on a Sunday morning, perhaps hands raised, in celebration of God. And while I have worshiped that way at different

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points in my life, I don’t currently have a home church I am attending…but I certainly still worship.

I can’t help but think about the intention of these ideas- the intention of prayer and the intention of worship. To me, the intention, the purpose of worship is to celebrate: to celebrate a God who loves and cares for us, to celebrate that we are made in God’s image and that God is in each one of us. “The God in me recognizes and honors the God in you.” We can worship with our whole bodies. We can worship through dance and singing, through cooking and sharing conversation, through cultivating gardens and protesting, and yes, we can absolutely worship through sex. If our intention behind our actions is one of honoring and celebrating our creator, then I call that worship.

So what, then, could be said about prayer? I believe the intention of prayer is desire and connection: we want a shift in something in our own lives, or we want someone we care about to be lifted up, or we just want to put something out there, outside of ourselves, because it feels too big for us to carry alone. And if those actions we take outside of church that are done with intention of celebration can be worship, can’t those things done with the intention of desire and connection be a form of prayer?

It’s something I haven’t thought much about before, to be honest. I’ve certainly appreciated sex as an act of worship, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of it as a form of prayer. But it makes sense to me that

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prayer is something I have often felt disconnected from- I have a hard time, sometimes, sitting with my own desire. And I’ve learned to listen to those things that are mirrored disconnections in my life, because they are often related. If I am feeling disconnected from my own ability to name my desires, then prayer becomes that much more difficult because I’m not always sure what I am bringing to the conversation.

Prayer is, to me, an active conversation. It’s one in which we bring ourselves and our desires and lay them out honestly- both with ourselves and with God. I don’t think prayer requires us to know the answers- in fact, many times, I think we come to prayer because we don’t. But I do think that we have to have the awareness of what we want from ourselves, from one another, from God, to be able to name it in some capacity. It’s vulnerable. We may be saying, “I can’t do this alone.” We may be saying, “I need help and guidance.” I think about the times- particularly this most recent time- where I have struggled with my own sexual relationships, and how thinking of my own needs and desires as a form of prayer might have helped in those situations.

I also think of how many people will have sex following the death of a loved one. It’s often called an affirmation of life- in our grief of losing someone, we affirm that we are still living, still capable of feeling connected and good in our bodies. I wonder if that, too, can be thought of as prayer- raising up our grief, our desire for healing and wholeness and connection.

Prayer can also, of course, be celebratory, coming from a place of gratitude and thankfulness. Prayers of connection and reconnection.

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Prayer is hope. And worship and prayer are intrinsically intertwined, I think. We can act out of a place of celebration and desire simultaneously: celebration for what is and desire for what comes.

But prayer is, I think, a conversation we have with our whole bodies- not just with bowed heads, speaking words aloud or in our minds. That is absolutely a form of prayer, and a valid one, but I think we miss something of the conversation if that’s the only way we can envision prayer.

I think about conversations and communication styles. A vast majority of our communication is non-verbal: facial and body expressions are a crucial part of how many people communicate. By not entering into communication with God with our whole bodies, what are we missing in the conversation? What are we holding back by viewing prayer within such rigid parameters? How might we envision new ways of praying that include the use of our bodies, minds, and spirits- a conversations from our whole selves?

I know, for me, that I’m going to struggle with this idea for a while. I’m going to have to think about what it means to communicate my desires as an act of prayer. I’m going to have to think about what it means to have conversations with God with my whole body- to do so with intention and purpose, instead of thinking arbitrary thoughts toward God when it’s convenient for me. So I am thinking more about how to relate to and connect with the idea of prayer- one that fits with how I worship, rather than something I saw in a movie. I don’t have answers, but I do have a fervent desire to be more connected. And it seems desire is a good place to begin.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your desires? Do the sexual ones feel holy? Do you recognize any type of eros in your life? 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? Can you imagine sex as prayer? Do you think God participates in your sexual life? Does your sexual life connect you with 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.

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! 

When Bodies “Betray” Us

Sometimes our bodies, our hearts, and our minds are working on different wavelengths, and we have to figure out how to sync them all up.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

I haven’t spoken much about it, but over the past year, I’ve had some serious issues in my sexual life.

These issues were not specifically related to my attraction to anyone else. My sex drive simply… shut off. Things that used to feel pleasurable simply… didn’t anymore. It’s not that they felt bad, exactly (although the longer it went, the more guilt and shame I felt, and those feelings began to make sexual touch feel bad). It’s that things that used to feel sexually arousing had about as much sex appeal as scratching my elbow.

I still don’t know what caused this or why. I also don’t know what made my sex drive turn back on, or why- it was like a switch got flipped and suddenly, I had interest in sex again. In fact, I had interest in sex AND interest in all the sex I hadn’t had over the last 10 months. It was sex over-drive.

Until the switch flipped back on, though, the truth of the matter was, I could barely have sex with my partner, and it was incredibly difficult on both of us. Perhaps the only thing that made it easier on him was that I also wasn’t having sex with anyone else- myself included. I masturbated when my body simply demanded an orgasm as a basic necessity- much as you use the bathroom when your body informs you that you need to go. But I didn’t really get any pleasure out of it- sex with myself or with others felt more mechanical than connective.

I am terrified that that will happen again. That I will wake up tomorrow and find no interest in sex. And the next day, and the next day, and so forth. My partner is wonderfully patient with me, for which I can never be grateful enough, but I know this long stretch of minimal sexual interaction was incredibly difficult. It was incredibly hard not to take it personally, or feel like I just wasn’t attracted to him. And as much as I tried to explain that it wasn’t about him, it was still an understandably hard time for both of us.

I wanted to fix it. I felt incredibly broken and felt an immense amount of pressure to fix
my sex drive, fix myself, fix our relationship. Every night, we would go to bed, and I could loss-of-libidofeel him wanting to ask, but holding it in. I could feel myself trying to pep-talk myself into it: “You love him. He’s beautiful. You are attracted to him. You want to be intimate with him. You want to, dammit!” But try as I might, I couldn’t feel connected to my sexual self… which also meant I couldn’t feel connected to his sexual self. And so I would hold him, and think, “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I can do it tomorrow.” And I would feel how much it hurt him, and I would think, “You’ve got to fix this. You’ve got to do this. Tomorrow. You have to deal with this tomorrow.” But tomorrow would come, and it would happen all over again.

Sometimes, our bodies do things that we don’t understand. It can be their way of telling us that something’s up. Our connection is broken, somewhere, and it’s trying to mend, but it needs our help. Sometimes there is something we aren’t focusing on that we need to- sometimes, it’s our mental health (I started seeing a therapist partway through this process, and it has helped immensely), or physical health. Sometimes, our bodies are changing, and those changes impact our ability to be sexual. And sometimes… sometimes it’s just that there is a lot of tension, stress, and pressure and our bodies are energetically exhausted.

Sometimes, our minds really want something and our bodies won’t cooperate. On a more lighthearted note, I recently began sleeping with someone who was designated male at birth, and interacts with his penis in a sexual way. We were fooling around a bit, and he looked at me, somewhat sheepishly, and said, “I think I’m having a bit of…performance anxiety.” And then we spent a few minutes talking about how “getting hard” isn’t necessarily the same as “being aroused”- that he was incredibly turned on, he just couldn’t get hard in that moment.

Oh.

I didn’t even know that was a thing that could happen. I knew, of course, that it was possible for people with penises to get hard without necessarily being aroused, but I never realized that the opposite could be true. I also know that it’s completely possible to want to want to be sexual, but not have the energy for it.

The point of all of this is that sometimes, our desires and our actions don’t always match up. Sometimes our bodies, our hearts, and our minds are working on different wavelengths, and we have to figure out how to sync them all up. And that can be incredibly hard- no pun intended.

passionAnd there isn’t an easy answer for these things. The breakdown and disconnect comes from different places for different people for different reasons. Figuring out how to reconnect with ourselves can be a difficult process- especially when we’re exhausted, or don’t have the time or the energy to deal with it right now.

From someone who went through a 10 month dry spell, I highly recommend dealing with it before it becomes a prolonged thing. Because at some point, you’re not just dealing with a disconnection within yourself; you’re dealing with a disconnection from your partner(s), and you’re dealing with the guilt and shame that goes with that.
I wish I knew an easy way to do that. I wish I knew what really caused the disconnect for me in the first place, and what helped bridge it, so that I don’t fall back into that place. It’s not a place I want to be. So while I am feeling strong and connected and sexual and in touch with these parts of myself (and my partner), I am doing the work I can to maintain and strengthen that connection. I am doing the work- difficult as it may be- to understand what broke down in the first place. Our sexual selves are an extension of ourselves, and sometimes the breaks have nothing to do with sex, exactly… the break is simply an extension of brokenness somewhere else inside ourselves that we need to address.

It’s a poignant reminder that taking the time to heal the disconnections within ourselves can also help strengthen the intimate relationships that sustain us, and remembering that our sexual connection with ourselves enables our capacity for a sexual connection with others. For some, they do not want, seek, or desire a sexual relationship with others- and that’s totally fine. But for others of us, who do desire those things, we have to constantly do the work of being whole, real, connected people, and listen to what our bodies are telling us.

revrobin2-023Robin:

The old adage, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” feels increasingly apt as I age.

I am reminded of this sexually when despite almost a decade of TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) intended to help me cope with ED (erectile dysfunction)—ever notice how we make initials out of things as a way to code them, for ease of communication to be sure, but also perhaps as a way to avoid saying certain words in public—I continue to experience a lack of penile hardness far more often than I want.

I have alluded to this in this space before, but it seems like the right time to explore what for me is a sensitive topic, and to include how physical limitations can impact emotions—for in truth, there are times when even the spirit can seem weak.

I don’t think I am alone among those born with penises when I say I have a complex relationship with mine. As I have said  before, I have struggled (and do still to some degree) with its small-ish size.

I used to comfort myself with the knowledge that when erect it measured 5.5 inches (yes, many, perhaps most, of us, measure), which is the average length of an erect penis according to those who study these things. But now, sad to say, it is more like 4.5 inches. I have moved to below average.

banana erections healthtap com
healthtap.com

But my husband has never complained and seems to like my little guy. So, all should be well, right?

Well, not so fast. TRT helped overcome ED at least a little for a year or two. But hard still was not really happening. So I tried pills, a pump, even injecting something into my cock just before sex (so romantic to say to my husband, “Okay, dear, I’m done, can you please take the syringe to the disposal container in the kitchen? Then hurry back!”). It didn’t do much either. Cialis on a daily basis  (unlike ingesting it just before sex) worked wonders, but then it lowered my already low blood pressure to dangerous levels. No more Cialis.

Herbs seem to help a little, maybe, and walnuts are said to be good for erections. I like walnuts, so I eat some most days (have to watch how many, however, due to fat content). So we “limp” along.

I did learn from a wonderful doctor I saw once in Richmond that my little guy was suffering from disuse. So I began to masturbate regularly (have written about this here before—“It Gets Better”).  And that can help in sex with my husband, sometimes as well.

But lately, I have not even been that keen on jerking off. What’s going on?

uses-of-testosterone-ageonics-medical
Ageonics Medical

And the last several times he and I have made a date for sex I confess I did not feel much of the usual anticipatory arousal. Nor did I have much luck getting hard—a little when he stroked me, but it did not last when he stopped. Even his penetration, while feeling okay, did not get my juices going or my guy to rise to the occasion (being fucked is usually a turn-on for me and I get hard and often ejaculate with great joy).

I am writing this history about my flesh not simply to confess or even to ask for sympathy (although it would be accepted). I am writing because I know I am not alone among men with these issues, and because I believe talking openly about sex is vital to survival, indeed to thriving. I know that is true for me, but I believe it is true for others, too. I also know men are not the only part of the human race with sexual issues.

I also feel quite sure that all this is having an impact on my emotions, as my emotions are having an impact on my physical self—and all of it is having an impact on my spirituality, my God connection.

This embodied self which is me—sexual body, spiritual body, emotional body—is subject to analysis from different disciplines, different perspectives, but it is at the same time a unity in which the various parts interact to create me at any given moment. Of course, this creation is not affected only from within me and my parts, but also by the social body/bodies of which I am a part.

prayer-patheos
patheos.com

But here’s the deal for me, at least as I see it. This recent lack of sexual interest is linked, I believe, to my lack of interest in a daily God connection. I am having a dry spell, and it is not just in one of my private parts.  My focused prayer life, like my sex life, has been off-balance.

What makes this really interesting, to me at least, is that another part of my life—my writing, especially poems—has been more lively of late. I may not be expressing much through my genitals or through prayer time, but I have been really enjoying written ejaculations. In fact, poetry composition requires considerable foreplay and massaging to find just the right word, and the process often feels very erotic to me (no matter the subject of the poem).  So maybe I have been more erect than I knew?

Is this just a question of balance—pulling back (or out) just a bit from writing and inserting a bit more God time and/or sex-play—so that the various parts of me receive adequate attention and produce appropriate levels of expression?

writingpoetry-tl-shreffler-1
TL Shreffler

It sounds too simple, frankly, but I know it is not easy. What is easy, because, it is well-learned from our culture and religion, is to separate these aspects and treat only one at a time. I have spent a lot of energy trying to find a pill or cure for ED. I often turn to some new prayer or practice or commitment to make time for God. I engage a therapist to figure out what feelings need to change and how to change them.

What I do not often do is explore the links among these parts (and others), and certainly not to explore how they could help me to be more me, more potent, in all parts of my life.

I really like using the word potent, or potency—because it has two fields of meaning. The first is about forcefulness, effectiveness,  persuasiveness, cogency, influence, strength, authority, power.  Those are aspects I want associated with my poetry and other writing, and also descriptive of God’s place in my life (and my place in God). The second meaning, according to the dictionary, is “a male’s ability to achieve an erection or to reach orgasm” (I want the “or” to be “and”).

I want a potent life. God wants that for me, too. And for you, for all of us. That’s my belief, my truth.

aliveOf course, there is a limitation in this word, in the second part. But I know many potent women, and I trust you do, too. Some of them have been, and are, my teachers. And I sure know potent trans folk, whatever their genital configurations (some teachers here, too)! They may not achieve erect penises or ejaculate semen, but they do stand very tall and they certainly give forth powerful self-expression.

I am a whole person, continuing to come into my wholeness, my potency. I hope and pray, and believe, that is true for you, because that is what God wants for each, all, of us. And if you don’t feel it right now, stay open, there is always more with God.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you had sexual “dry spells?” How did it feel? Did you do anything to move out of it, or did change just happen? 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?  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.

polyamory-symbol-happy-parties-com
happy-parties.com

Workshop description: We are still working out the precise content, but we will be discussing how to help church leaders and congregations open up sexual conversations, and to be open to people of differing sexual practices. Stay tuned for more specifics, and in the meantime mark your calendar to be with us on March 16!

Celebrating All the Holy Bodies

This is the season of the outcasts . . .

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. 

Robin: 

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays! Joyous Yule!! Beautiful Solstice!revrobin2-023

“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.

starbucks-red_holiday_cups_2016_resizedFirst, 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.

penniesHe 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.

meetup-logo-fontI 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.

bible-thumper
pilgrimgram.com

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.

homeless-youth-on-street-flick
flickr.com

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.

israeli-checkpoint-2The 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.

Malachi: 

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nTis 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.mommy-mama-and-me

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.

640_thumb-gayrights
http://www8.gmanews.tv/webpics/v3/2012/12/640_thumb-gayrights.jpg

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

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twt-thumbs.washtimes.com

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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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.

Workshop description:

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.

Is Your Body a Wholly Presence?

The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality . . . we give thanks for the ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

At the recent MCC General Conference in Victoria, BC, Canada, Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache and Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos co-hosted a workshop, “Hooking Up: Frank Talk About Sex and Spirit.”

Rev. Dr. Thomas Bohache
Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache

Five panelists shared for about eight minutes each on particular topics. They were Rev. Miller Hoffman on sex talk and ministry to survivors of sexual abuse, Rev. Victoria Burson on issues that sex talk might raise in the black church setting, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline on aging and how we might talk sex cross-generationally, Rev. Kate Rowley Harford on how body imagery and shame impact sex talk, and Rev Dr. Edgard Francisco Danielsen-Morales on talking polyamory.

Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos

The workshop was well attended, discussion was lively, and there was considerable energy in the room. The session ended with Tom and Kharma leading the assemblage in the liturgy we reprint below (with permission of the author, Tom Bohache).

 

TOM
Source of Love
Savior of Wholeness
Sustainer of Passion

KHARMA
We thank you for this time of sharing, of questioning, of seeking.
Help us to live into all of who you have created us to be.

TOM
Teach us to expand our comfort zones and to deal gently with one another as we do so.
Hear us now as we offer our very selves to you.
The response is “Bless them, O God.”

KHARMA
We offer to you our sexualities.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our spirits.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our minds and our intellect.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our bodies in all their beauty and in all of what we see as flaws, in our abilities and our limitations.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our heads–our eyes with which we behold your creation, our noses through which we smell what arouses us, our ears with which we hear endearments and sighs and moans, our mouths with which we kiss and lick and bite and suck.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our hands and our feet, with which we seek out and caress objects of our delight.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our breasts and our buttocks, our nipples and our armpits.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our vaginas and clitorises and labia, our clits and cunts, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our penises and testicles, our cocks and balls, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our sex toys and our erotic costumes, our slings and our harnesses, our gels and our lubricants.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our lovemaking and our self-pleasuring.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you all of who we are, even as we are still discovering the fullness of who we are and are becoming in you.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
Now dismiss us with your blessing, God of Pleasure and Power. Carry us forth from this place to be all of who you have created us to be, and more.

To which your people say…AMEN!

Robin: This is not an ordinary liturgy. I can hear people commend Tom’s candor while saying there is no way they can share it during worship at their church.

revrobin2-023Of course, it contains terms we do not ordinarily use in church—not only clinical language for body parts but also “street language” as well. But is that all that is troubling? How often do we so clearly pray, and give thanks, for our bodies? And when was the last time we raised up our sexualities, our spirits, and our minds and intellect in prayer?

And maybe we are even surprised to pray to expand our comfort zones?

Admittedly, this liturgy was not offered on a Sunday morning, but instead was shared during a workshop where all participants knew the topic would be sex and sexuality as well as spirit and spirituality. It was a self-selected group.

I suspect most people present felt safe participating in the liturgy as a blessing on our time together and an encouragement to go forth and be as open as possible. Some of us, certainly me and several of my fellow panelists, even felt celebratory. How wonderful to speak this language in a religious setting!

However, I may be imaging this, but it seemed to be that I heard a few intakes of breath as we heard parts of the prayer (we did not have copies to read along), and it seemed to be that in a few instances the responding voices were softer. Although my eyes were closed, I had the sense several people left (of course, I could be wrong, and it could have been for other reasons).

disciplesonthejourney.org
disciplesonthejourney.org

I encourage you to read it aloud, not just read it silently. It would be even better if you could share the reading of it with another person, or persons, perhaps even so you could simply hear all the requests and then respond as suggested, “All: Bless them, O God.” Liturgy, like poetry, is meant to be spoken and heard to achieve its full impact and meaning. We need to hear this one especially, to be able to really feel it in our bodies.

love is free weheartit com
weheartit.com

If this liturgy feels beyond what you can use, can you adapt it, modify or eliminate some of the terms so you and your community can pray for our sexualities?  How far do you feel you could go? Could you name some sexualities and sexual practices? Could you go beyond different-sex sex (heterosexuality) and same-sex sex (homosexuality)? Could you mention polyamory (multiple-partner sex) or BDSM (known by many specific names, such as bondage/domination or sado-masochistic sex)? If you feel you can’t mention these non-mainstream sexualities, could you at least use a phrase, such as “all other ways of loving” that would acknowledge that they are options beyond hetero- and homo-sexuality? Would that be a way to begin engaging people? Would someone ask what you meant by that, and would you be comfortable giving examples?

Also, I did notice that there was no mention of gender here, except indirectly in the mention of body parts. And those body parts do not necessarily correspond to gender—there are transgender men (male-centered persons) with vaginas/cunts and transgender women (female-centered persons) with penises/cocks. I think it might be helpful to acknowledge some of this as well.

human-body-combinations_f wired com
wired.com

The liturgy is not about gender, of course, or race, but it might be useful to incorporate some language that recognizes that sexual practices are affected by communities of which we are a part, and even those from which we may be absent. The power of genderism and racism is real everywhere, including in the bedroom (or wherever we have sex).

Malachi and I are trying to open dialogue with religious people about sex, bodies and spirit, especially Christians because that is our context and the context in which we see such great resistance to sex talk–and certainly not only exploring but even admitting there is connection between our sexualities and spiritualities.

This liturgy makes that claim of connection by assuming it, and praying from that location without question or condition. That is why we asked Tom if we could publish it here. We believe it is a good place from which to start, if not in your whole church, then perhaps in a small group, or even just by yourself.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

Think what God might do for you and the people in your community, even in your family, if you gave thanks every day for the genitals and/or the sexualities and/or the heads, eyes, ears, noses, etc., of all—naming them—and asked God’s blessing that all be used to promote love and peace, joy and harmony, growth and justice. And then maybe you will feel willing to risk sharing this with another, and another, and they too share, and over a time you have a community engaged in praying for real about our bodies, our sexualities, our embodied spiritualities.

That is a revolution, as it will be a revelation for many. And we will be better for it, better citizens and better worshippers, and perhaps most important, better children/beloveds of our God who never denies us love and gives us limitless ways to receive and share it.

Malachi:   Although I wasn’t able to attend MCC’s General Conference (and thus not able to attend the paneled discussion Robin referenced), I am grateful to have the opportunity to read and reflect on the liturgy presented.

Malachi GrennellThe truth is, it can be hard to fathom something like this being read in a place of public worship. It can be difficult to imagine people sitting in church, murmuring in unison, “Bless them, O God” as each call and offering is presented. Perhaps a child fussing in the background, someone waving a fan through this blistering summer heat, the rustle of clothes and a periodic cough punctuating an otherwise still sanctuary as we hear each affirmation and call to blessing and respond in kind.

Yeah, I can’t really picture it either.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We can’t picture such conversations, such language, such call-and-responses happening in our churches. It makes our skin itch a little. It’s uncomfortable, and we’re not even the ones saying the “hard” words. We’re just the ones responding, “Bless them, O God.”

It seems a bit…ostentatious, doesn’t it? And in fairness, the group with whom this was recited is a self-selected group, comprised of individuals who chose and consented to participate in a paneled discussion on sex and spirituality. They had a sense, perhaps, of what they were walking into and were (hopefully) mentally prepared for such conversations.

the2seasons.com
the2seasons.com

Liturgies like this remind me of the books we hide on the back of our bookshelves when our parents come to visit. Copies of “The Whole Lesbian Sex Book” get pushed under our beds, frantically trying to make the house presentable. Or perhaps that copy of “The Best Gay Erotica” is always hidden in the drawer of our bedside tables, taken out for a bit of “motivational” reading, and placed back in its hiding place.

We hide these liturgies. We read them, hear them, and feel a blush rise to our cheeks. “Did they really just say that?” we think. We want to put it away and not think too much about it (or, at least, not get caught thinking too much about it). It feels embarrassing and we’re not sure why. And we get so caught up on the language and the words, the audacity of saying such things in public that we often miss what is being said.

Celebrate our bodies. Celebrate the capacity for our bodies to feel pleasure. Some sexual, yes, but think of small, non-sexual bodily pleasures: getting a haircut, getting a massage, having a pedicure, giving a hug. Things that make us feel connected to one another. We give thanks for community, for being in shared worship space together. When we say, “We give thanks for this community of people,” we are not just talking about the people present but about our body’s capacity to experience joy.

buzzfeed.com
buzzfeed.com

That is the piece that I think we so often miss in our worship and liturgies. We are not only grateful for the opportunity to be in relationship with one another, but we are also happy for the experience in our bodies, the feelings of pleasure and excitement and joy when we connect with another person. That is part of the celebration! We feel good when we are connected in community. We feel good when we are connected with another person. We feel good when we have intimate encounters with one another, when we experience pleasure in our bodies. In the case of this liturgy, this call and response, this context, the focus is on the pleasure we experience as sexual beings. But even if this particular liturgy is not one that we would feel comfortable reading word-for-word in a worship setting, the broader meaning is an important step on the journey to full love, acceptance, and celebration of our sexual selves: the idea that we must celebrate ourselves, body, mind, and spirit.

So how do we translate this liturgy in a way that is more appropriate for a worship setting (as opposed to a workshop where sex is specifically the focus)? We are capable of celebrating our bodies as the vessels through which we do God’s work. We can celebrate our hands and feet, our eyes and ears and lips and tongues, our backs and legs, our genitals and buttocks, our shoulders and armpits, our noses and stomachs. When folded into the entirety of celebrating our bodies, those words which blatantly speak to sexuality are incorporated as part of our bodies: not omitted, but not the focus, either.

pinterest
pinterest

We can celebrate our minds: creative and logical, thoughtful and contemplative, erotic and playful, analytical and relaxed.

We can celebrate our spirituality: encompassing and vibrant, the ethos and eros of our being, present in our every word and action.

We celebrate the totality of who we are- not focusing on one aspect, but not ignoring any aspects either. Our sexuality, while vital and crucial to who we are, while important to celebrate in and of itself, is all too often wrapped up in a lack of capacity to celebrate ourselves outright.

It goes beyond simply celebrating these aspects of self in the abstraction, though. It also calls us into conscious awareness of each part of ourselves as we give thanks and celebrate our bodies. Take a moment in reading to focus awareness on each body part. Focus on your feet for a moment, and take the time to be consciously aware of how they feel. Are they tired from working? Are the strong? Numb from poor circulation? How about your legs? Your arms? Your genitals? Your ears? How does each aspect of your body feel as you give thanks and celebrate it? And then, as a unit, the different pieces working together: how does your body feel?

You can do the same with your mind. Are you anxious? Distracted? Calm? Struggling with mental health? Quiet and focused? How is your connection between your mind and your body? (E.g. is your mind racing but your body is still? Or are they reflections of one another; calm mind, calm body?)

newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com
newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com

And the spirit… how is your spirit? Is it aching or joyful (or both)? Weary or rejuvenated?

We cannot simply give thanks for these aspects of who we are in abstraction. This liturgy (and ones like it) call us to be fully, wholly present in our bodies, minds, and spirits as we celebrate and give thanks- not just for each individual piece, but for ourselves as an integrated whole.

We are all- each of us- made in the image of God. The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality, and we give thanks for the many ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits. Thanks be to God!

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

What do you think? How do you feel about liturgies focused on bodies, on sex? What are some ways we can help open the dialogue about sex and spirituality through worship and small groups? 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.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

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