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.

Old Story, New Threats: Creating Responses to Religious Oppression

Thank you for stopping by. Due to the press of several projects, we are not posting today. But we do hope you will join us for a timely discussion of religious liberty and oppression tomorrow, May 18–the next in our monthly series of Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online, sponsored by the Office of Formation and Leadership Development of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Please join us  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 or after the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

As noted above, our topic will be . . . .

“Old Story, New Threats: Creating Responses to Religious Oppression”

Not welcome matThe growing movement to claim “religious liberty” as a way to discriminate is not new. The history of Metropolitan Community Churches reflects decades of LGBT people being kept out and kicked out of churches which claimed that our sexuality and gender identity and expression offended their theologies. In a new era of discrimination masked as religious liberty, LGBT people are not the only groups experiencing religiously-based oppression. As we seek to come together and unite, our responses in this historical moment are critical to the future not only of our faith but also our country and wider world. Malachi and Robin intend to draw on the experience of MCC and others to suggest ways we can work together to promote true liberty and justice for all. Join the conversation!

And stop by here again next Wednesday, May 24, for a new blog post!

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

http://www.ltocz.com/easter-good-friday-2014-770×449.jpg

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

https://bthomaswriter.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/0451de6a985bed1173e770666fda1c68.jpg

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

http://www.dfumc.com/reg/easter/lent.jpg

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.