Talking about sex is one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of things.
The images and lyrics and jokes and stories that fill our culture place sex at the forefront of practically everything we see and hear.
But when the church tries to speak about sex, it often does so badly, earning it the dubious honor of being the only voice in the culture told to shut its mouth when it comes to sex. Why should pastors be considered sexperts? Stick to what you know, please!
And yet, a strangely religious claim has crept into our culture. In order to free ourselves to have the sexual experiences that we long for, we have as a people decided that sex is a purely private affair, not the sort of business that is the business of the church–or anyone else for that matter.
We adopt a strange gnosticism here, dissociating ourselves form our bodies, claiming that what we do with our bodies does not impact or reflect what kind of persons we are. (Assuming here consensual encounters between adults.)
But this week, the folks at ReImagine did a brave thing: they hosted a discussion about sex. Brave, in that they called a meeting for conversation and listening rather than mandating. Brave, in that the people who did speak told their own stories.
And the stories were honest, raw, humorous, and beautiful accounts of where sexuality fits with their spirituality.
That night of conversation was tremendously valuable; it created a virtual tidal wave (ok, that might be an exaggeration) of people who wanted to go next; it did leave people clamoring for more.
People need to talk about sex in ways that are true to our own experience. And people need to have space to figure out how their sexuality can be conducive to, and an overflow of, spiritual health.
Body and soul come together, as humans our parts are not hermetically sealed.Hearing the stories was freeing. Storytelling is powerful. It can create a new normal. And, in fact, I would say that this is part of what our culture needs with regard to sex: a new normal.
To take but one example: to a person, I think, those who told their stories expressed some experience of shame in their struggles to get comfortable in their own skin sexually. Gay and straight, single and married, virgin and sexually active and currently celibate. The struggle to find freedom from shame is normal.
Another point where we need a new normal: more isn’t the way to healthier sexuality, and less isn’t the road to dysfunction. Appropriate sexual expression requires what the Bible calls wisdom: knowing what is right for who you are at a given time.
The question of how sexuality influences and is influenced by your spirituality is likely to have as many answers as there are people who take up the question.
But here’s where storytelling is so helpful: it lets us see and hear that it’s complicated. Living as an integrated person is not simply about following a simple rule of no sex until after you’re married and then as much as possible from that time forward.
The “no judgment zone” is not a place where many evangelicals are comfortable. We want to assess, size up, and judge the stories in order to immediately point people toward what we understand to be the way of holiness.
And pursuing holiness in our sexuality is crucial.
But if we are not willing to create space where “normal” is shown to be far from our own experience, if we are not willing to hear that neither the “normal” of the world nor the alleged “normal” of the pulpit is the reality of the people we live with every day–if, in other words, we are unwilling to set up the “no judgment zone,” we will never achieve the vulnerability required to grow beyond the presumed “normal” and into truly integrated people.
Without telling our stories truly, first of all to ourselves!, we will never be able to achieve fidelity. Telling our stories is not the destination, but it might be the only way to begin the journey–not only as individuals, but as communities.
What does such a story look like?
1.5 to 2 typewritten pages.
Tell your story–past, present, and/or future.
Ask yourself: how have I experienced my sexuality? Where has God been? Where is there guilt or shame? Where is there joy and celebration and ecstasy? Who am I right now, and what does it mean to be a sexual person (even if not currently sexually active)?
Have at it. And share it with a friend.