Vol 3, Num 4 :: 2004.02.13 — 2004.02.26
Putting together this issue was challenging and, even after all of the articles are posted, I’m still left wondering if we’ll get anywhere.
When it comes to sex, the Church seems to be quite the blushing virgin. Frankly, we don’t know what to make of this thing we secretly enjoy so much, and we don’t want to talk about it. Even those of us in the midst of committed relationships would sometimes rather pretend that babies fell from the sky and that a friendly peck on the lips was sufficient physical stimulation. Do we really prefer the pristine, black-and-white world where Mom always wears an impenetrable ruffled apron, no bed is larger than a twin, and Junior never gets caught masturbating?
Maybe some of us do, but the fact is that sex, like birth and digestion and death, is quite literally and figuratively messy. Why didn’t God create us to couple cleanly, with a small gasp, a puff of perfume, and it’s over? Why didn’t God make sexual attraction something we could turn on and off with a discreet switch? It’s as though in the sweat and smells and fluids and emotions, God wanted us to tangibly realize that sex is not a simple thing, nor altogether enjoyable without some recognition that we are more than physical animals.
In other areas of our lives, we learn most effectively by hearing the stories of those with experience. The Bible is full of tales that illuminate the complex relationship between human beings and God, and we can study those stories for insight. But let’s face it: too many details in a particular kind of story can result in a very real physical reaction and vague intimations of cutting off what causes others to sin is enough to keep our lips pursed. Perhaps unavoidably, we still huddle in the bushes with Adam and Eve, attempting to cover our private parts from both God and humans. I hope that publishing bits of people’s stories in this issue will allow for some tasteful revelation of our brokenness as beings that are both physical and spiritual.
But perhaps our avoidance of the topic is less of a fear response than it is a reaction to our culture’s obsession with sex. Hearing that we were doing an issue on sex, one reader wrote in, “Hope someone will write on sexuality as a proximate god of our culture, obsession upon which only obscures the truly divine and mangles the gift of sexuality.” If in our storytelling and theological grappling we become a church obsessed with sex, how will we be able to see God with any clarity? How much can we talk about it before we’ve gone too far? But I don’t think we have to worry about that yet. In fact, I think the more sex continues to be a dark secret instead of a joyful celebration, the more obsessed we will become. Whispered talk of his affair or her mysterious pregnancy does much more to indulge our sexual imaginations, as well as our penchant for gossip and self-righteousness, than would an open recognition of and accountability for our sinful decisions.
Indeed, a Church that can discuss sex honestly and cultivate its true place in God’s good creation might be able to create a new point of connection with those who are seeking the truth elsewhere. In a recent interview with Sojourners, Philip Yancey talked openly about the transcendental nature of sex:
It’s probably the loudest, single rumor of another world that most people ever experience. It’s the closest thing to transcendence that people feel. It’s a powerful force that seems irresistible: there’s nothing that pulls a person out of himself or herself more than sexual attraction to another being. What concerns me is that most people think of sex and God as polar opposites. If it’s the most powerful force that most people experience, then to me it’s a pointer.
Is it foolish to hope that we can harness the power of the sexual experience and direct it toward God? I don’t think so, but I do think that we’re at the very beginning of the dialogue that will allow that to happen on a large scale, not just for the wise few who happen to get it on their own. And the beginning of that journey means the end of the excuse that “I’m no expert” and the beginning of honest sharing and confession as to what injures and what heals, what decays and what edifies, what fades and what lasts.