November 30, 2010 / Theology
This essay is neither for nor against Glenn Beck. The philosopher Michel Foucault warns us …
October 30, 2007
I want to thank Dan for writing such a well thought out and argued piece. The decentralizing call of sexuality has merit, perhaps most especially as we as a church and culture struggle to find our way to the experience of sexual relating that was intended when God gave us the desire to love and celebrate with and through our bodies.
Though we write from conviction and back it with research or other’s writing, like all writers we also write from our experience and our lived questions. Dan invites us into his questions and experience when he writes, “This faulty notion…took full blown modern form in the idea that human beings are fundamentally and essentially sexual beings. And it is in response to this distorted configuration of sex that I hope to make the case.” 1
Yet in my response, I will argue that though this piece has important considerations, it continues to be based on dichotomized thinking which is not, and has not, been historically useful. When we position an argument to state that something is not (in this case) essential, we bifurcate it from that which is essential. Further, when Dan presents as a critique the dichotomy that “the sexual self” is either experienced “within the confines of holy matrimony” or in the “coming out” form, through a person’s “desired form of exposé”,2 a further bifurcation is set up that continues to invite us to think about sexuality—even in our examination of the Church—through an either/or lens. At the very least, this is simplistic thinking and sets up a paradigm that excludes the complex and diverse lived experience of many people earnestly seeking an integration of their sexuality and their faith. Jesus as our prime example lived and died to expose those pious places in culture where leaders in power thrived and ruled inside paradigms of dichotomized ideas—leaving some in and some out. I will argue that we are as fundamentally and essentially sexual as we are embodied, spiritual, relational, and experiential. Any split of spirit from body defeats our efforts to heal the divide and interrupts our desire to understand the exquisite mystery and gift of a consecrated and integrated life.
To begin to understand the sacred gift of sexuality, like so much of faith and life, we must first be willing to shed light on those historical church teachings rooted in a human need or struggle and not in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. For example, All Sexed Up reveals many of the recorded sexual struggles, justifications and reasoning of the men in power who shaped our historical and cultural understanding of sexuality inside and outside the church. In order to begin to wrestle with the part sexuality plays in God’s gift of life, we must first expose human influences embedded in the teachings of sexuality. And we must be willing to stand back and critically examine what those faulty teachings have produced in the lives of people. All is not well in the area of sexuality in America—in and out of the church.3
Bodies may be problematic and hearts unpredictable, but they are core to our faith and to our lived experience of faith. Sterilizing Jesus, ignoring Christ as Lover, is to deny Him and us the mystery of being fully alive, fully embodied and fully committed to living out His practice of love. It is to cast body from spirit. To continue the dichotomizing is to continue to force sexuality underground where culture will feed it, objectify it and sell it. The ‘textbook’ Jesus has been studied as an historical event—safely enclosed in a time capsule, exhibited and examined, ensuring that our relationship with Him and with our bodies is scientific, orderly and safe.4 This reductionist view of Christ may have served institutional development, but it has injured our intimate embrace and understanding of Jesus and thus our faith.
Albeit messy and mysterious—the central figure of Christianity is Jesus, God made human, God in flesh, the Incarnation. And the central symbol is the Eucharist—Christ’s body and blood. Jesus’ healing miracles during His ministry were a call to human wholeness and He embraced the soul and the body.5Jesus attended to the needs of the flesh and nurtured them when he fed the five thousand, touched bodies healing disease and disability, and breathed life back into Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus.
Jesus ministry was also punctuated by His most counter-cultural mandates expressed with and through the body. For example, the image of Jesus as servant as he washed the feet of the disciples. Or His reaction to the woman who washed His feet with her tears. In fact, it is in response to this physically intimate outpouring of love, that Jesus bestowed the highest praise given to a person in Scripture: “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.”6 And it was the physical encounter with Jesus—His presence, breath, eyes, attention, and touch—that transformed the hearts and lives of those shamed and condemned since birth. Jesus was entirely Lover and Healer, just as He was entirely God in flesh.
We are as essentially our sexuality as we are bodies, hearts, minds, spirit, relationships and experiences. I have never walked into a room and left my sexuality behind, any more than I have walked into a room and left my body behind, my spirit behind, my experience behind, or my relationships behind. We are an intricate, artful, unique woven canvas. No thread stands alone. There is danger in under-valuing the intentional God-given gift of our sexuality, just as there is to under-value any part of our created body or history of life experience. If you have ever questioned God’s intention in our wrestling and celebrating the gift of our sexuality and the gift of pleasure, ask yourself why he gave women a clitoris. There is no other organ on the human body whose sole purpose is sexual pleasure. Hunt through ancient Hebrew mystic literature and ask yourself why the statues on the arc of the covenant were two cherubs locked in seated sexual embrace.7 God gave us our sexuality to give us a powerful, complex and often paradoxical glimpse experience of His love. When committed love is expressed with the kind of intention, presence, embodied compassion and love that Christ continually displayed to those who were disenfranchised children of culture, (as well as followers closest to him), we have the opportunity to experience a glimpse into the kingdom of God’s love.
The thin space, as the Irish call it, is the transcendent experience of the presence of God here on earth. When committed lovers come to each other intending to give and receive the gift of Christ’s embodied love, sacred erotic moments are experienced that far exceed the sexual experience of the body alone—a thin space is created. (This is and has also been true for saints, monastics, and singles who bring their body, mind, soul, and spirit in sacred erotic offering to their beloved God.) This kind of loving sacred erotic exchange exceeds in both behavior and actual soulful experience any kind of sexuality manufactured in our over two-thousand years of separating the spirit from the body. Sexual relating of this kind cannot exist in a dichotomized expression or paradigm. It is neither our culture’s disembodied objectified version of sex as product (porn, pill, position) or organized religion’s double knot of sex (Don’t trust your desires. And don’t be sexual before marriage. Then, magically be comfortably sexual after a forty-five minute ceremony). It is lived, textured, and nuanced. And unlike what the media might suggest, it is experienced most often by deeply faith-filled committed couples in their fifth through eighth decades whose bodies are not in magazines and whose stories are not on ‘real TV’, but whose sacred intimate encounters are deeply erotic and soulfully and relationally nourishing. This is where you will find those who have taken to heart the discipline and art of being lovers like Christ loved the church.
In All Sexed Up, Dan uses the word “sex” but fails to overtly define it, though I think he points the way when he talks about the history of sexual discourse in both the church and Greco/Roman culture.8 This generic use of the term “sex” is common in our society and especially in the church. “Sex”, “Don’t have ‘sex’ until marriage”, has come to mean ‘intercourse’ and continues to inadvertently punctuate the male patriarchal view of sexuality. As Dan aptly argues, the Christian historical sexual discourse is one centered around a man’s struggle with his libido and requires a woman to be seen as temptress and/or object to be penetrated.9 The idea of sex being equated with intercourse is a cultural patriarchal construction. It is not fundamentally Christian. It sets up men to feel entitled and women to feel obligated. This is not of Christ. What we do know about being a lover from Christ’s life is how to be fully present and intentional in our loving, touch, compassion, grace, and voice for justice.
Sexuality when experienced through the intended creation of God, manifested in seamless imitation of Christ’s presence with others, and with the intended purpose to produce for the beloved an experience of an encounter with Christ, is so much more than intercourse. For some it is holding hands; for some it is hiking to the top of a breathtaking vista; for some it is spooning in bed with their newborn in their arms; for some it is laying in the bed of a dying spouse; for some it is praying over and blessing with oil every part of their lover’s body; for some it is many and all forms of “making love”. It is not a particular behavior, or a particular part of the body. It is—in all forms—loving and serving with the kind of intention and effect that are demonstrated by how Christ loves the church. When we love our beloved (and/or our God) with our body, mind, soul, and spirit in such a way that we both receive and give ‘an encounter with Christ’, we are exercising our sexuality as it is intended and extending to ourselves and our partner an embodied human glimpse into the magnitude of God’s love.
Sexuality is essential to our human experience and it is but one thread in a magnificent masterpiece of our servant life. When we as Christians refuse to accept the ancient church’s misleading version of an untrustworthy body and America’s market driven cultural view of sex as an objectified arousal cycle for sale, we can begin the journey of understanding the greatest love story of all time and the greatest lover of all time. We begin to see the gift of the Incarnation, the miracle of Christ’s love and life. It is our very touchstone to all we need to know and practice as a lover and servant, friend, parent, and partner.
3. For a more lengthy discussion of the effect of sexual teaching in and outside the church in America see Tina Schermer Sellers. “Caught Between The Sheets: How an ‘Abstinence Only’ Ideology Hurts Us.” The Other Journal. Issue 7 (2006)
Tina Schermer Sellers
As a behavioral scientist and family therapist, Tina Schermer Sellers specializes in helping to craft relationships, organizations and lives that flourish. She draws from 20 years experience as a teacher, professor, consultant, trainer, and clinician. Ms. Sellers is a frequent national speaker and writer on family and culture, integrative healthcare, building and sustaining effective and innovative work environments, and the integration of spirituality, health and leadership. She is a clinical professor in the graduate Family Therapy Department at Seattle Pacific University and director of their post-graduate certificate in Medical Family Therapy. Ms. Sellers is also clinical faculty with the University of Washington Department of Family Medicine and director of Northwest Collaborative Health.