Category Archives: Body and Sexuality

Our Privilege Is Showing

I have a client who has been dealing with chronic pain and spinal issues ever since I started working with her over two years ago. Approximately 7 months ago, she went in for an injection to reduce inflammation and pain in her cervical spine (the medical description of what they did is beyond most of us, so I’m going to skip that.)

To make a long story short, things didn’t go well. Somehow, they injured a nerve during the injection, and my client noticed immediately that she was unable to use her right hand; by that evening my client was in the ICU receiving huge amounts of medications to elevate her blood pressure so that they could maintain blood flow in her spinal column.  She lived through the ordeal, but was left with excruciating pain in her left arm and very little function in her left hand.  The muscles in her hand are wasting, she can’t move her fingers very much and cannot use the hand for anything more than a paperweight. She can’t tie her own shoes, pull up and button her own pants, or pick up anything that requires two hands. She struggles with simple things like showering and getting dressed, and it’s almost impossible to do the things that would allow her to take care of her family.  Worst of all is the constant searing pain in her left arm that increases any time she puts any pressure on her left hand. Physical therapy is so agonizingly painful that she cannot eat before she goes to therapy or she vomits.

Sounds awful doesn’t it? Aren’t you glad it isn’t you? Me too.  Sadly instead of giving her a place to share her emotions and honestly talk about her agony and suffering, friends, family, and even her doctors all say the same thing to her:

“Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?”

Well…yes, she is grateful that she is still able to sign a check, or write a note to another person. She is grateful that her dominant arm wasn’t impacted.

But how is that statement supposed to be comforting to her?  Imagine what it would be like if I lit your left arm on fire and it had to stay on fire for the remainder of today, just today…not 7 months of agony, like my client.  Would you welcome people saying “Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?”

I’ll bet not. I’ll bet you’d want to scream “Make it stop! Make the pain stop!  I can’t take anymore!”

But no one is going to make it stop for my client. Barrows Neurological can’t make it stop. The malpractice suit isn’t going to make it stop. Pain medication barely touches it because it’s nerve pain. Nothing…nothing…NOTHING is going to make it stop.

Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?

People say things like that for a number of reasons. First, they cannot feel just how much pain she’s in. Second, they don’t understand that this may be permanent and even progressive. Third, they don’t realize how much they use both hands when they need to get things done.

But the biggest reason that people say this is because they don’t want to have to acknowledge my client’s immense suffering. The idea that life can randomly, arbitrarily deal out such horrific suffering is more than most people can bear, and so they push the idea away with bland platitudes and stupid statements that demand the suffering person “see the bright side of things”. You know, because, happy and all that!

You see it in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in some of the statements on social media.

People asking why Joel Osteen didn’t open up his church to provide refuge. “If he had just opened his church…”

People stating that the people in Houston should have evacuated. “If they had just gotten out of Houston…”

People criticizing the unwise actions of those who tried to drive out of Houston after the flooding was severe. “If they had just listened to the news they would have known…”

Isn’t it easy to armchair quarterback someone else’s tragedy?  Isn’t it so clear what they should have done, how they failed to respond correctly?  Don’t you feel righteous and correct and so much more…informed and wise…than those people who should have just ….

Yeah. Once again, we’d rather turn a blind eye to the random, arbitrary suffering of others than to face the truth: no matter how hard you try to do life correctly, horrible things will happen that will almost destroy you and there will be no good reason for the destruction.

And that’s what I mean when I say Our Privilege Is Showing.

When we sit in our dry, climate controlled homes, relaxing in our comfy chair, criticizing the failures of those who are suffering because of natural disasters, we are exercising the privilege of safety to erase the suffering of the endangered and the refugees.

When we demand that sick, suffering individuals look at the bright side of their illness (Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?) we are exercising the privilege of wellness to erase the suffering of the sick and disabled.

When we refuse to acknowledge the hidden disabilities of those whose chronic illnesses are not immediately visible we are exercising the privilege of wellness to punish those who refuse to be openly and visibly disabled and refusing to believe their claims of disability because they don’t meet our ‘criteria’…even though even though the government and the medical field has established clear criteria for disability.

Anytime you ease your own discomfort with someone else’s situation by dismissing their suffering or their struggle you use your privilege to make that person invisible.

Well…I’ve got news for you.

God’s children are never invisible to God. God sees all of His children: the well, the sick, the wealthy, the poor, the adequately housed, the homeless…all of them. And He sees you when you decide not to see suffering, sorrow, loss, disaster, disability, homelessness, poverty, discrimination, and inequality.

Never forget, God is watching. What will He see you doing?

Our privilege is showing.  Aren’t you glad it’s not your right arm??

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Unclean

So…we United Methodists have been in the news lately.

Nothing big, we just elected ourselves an openly gay bishop last July and someone on the other side of the nation got their undies in a knot about it and asked the United Methodist Judicial Council for a ruling about whether or not this was ‘legal’ under the UMC Book of Discipline rules regarding clergy and specifically bishops.

The Book of Discipline (BOD) of the United Methodist Church states that homosexuality of any kind (thus including all LGBTQIA persons) is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ although the BOD does say that the UMC affirms “that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.”  Then in a later section on ordained ministry, the BOD goes on to restate how “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be…ordained as ministers…or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”

Wow…feels discriminatory to me.  Not what I want to see in my church’s polity.

Setting that aside, I have been thinking all week about that statement “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Says WHO??

Who decides what is “Christian teaching”?  Is there a central committee somewhere that I’m not aware of?   I’m really confused about the statement “incompatible with Christian teaching”.

You see…I went to seminary, and when I was in seminary, I read a host of theology books. Some of those books were written by neo-Orthodox theologians like Karl Barth, some were written by evangelical theologians like Stanley Grenz, some were by liberationist theologians like Ronaldo Muñoz or Dorote Sölle, some were written by process theologians like Marjorie Suchoki or C. Robert Mesle, and some were by progressive theologians like Phillip Gulley or Roger Wolsey. Basically, I read a whole lot of theologians who understood God in very different ways, and how they defined ‘Christian teaching’ differed. Some basics (like the existence of God and Jesus) were the same from theologian to theologian, but what each theologian considered important was different and unique, and therefore the things they defined as tenets of ‘Christian teaching’ was also unique.

What I’m trying to tell you is that there very little consensus as to what the full complement of ‘Christian teaching’ is, so to have something as basic as sexuality be ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ begs the question “Whose Christian teaching?”  Because it is not incompatible with my Christian teaching or that of many of my colleagues and we all have Master’s of Divinity degrees and are ordained ministers and therefore theologians in our own right.  Moreover, we have a lot of theologians who are far more well-known and well-spoken than we are who back us up.

The thing that strikes me as odd is that the Book of Discipline doesn’t state that homosexuality is forbidden in the Bible (Rom 1:26-27), or that it is an abomination to the Lord (Lev 18:22), or that it is a sin and therefore worthy of condemnation (Lev 20:13).  The Book of Discipline doesn’t cite scripture to condemn homosexuality, it just gives a weak statement about homosexuality’s ‘compatibility with Christian teaching.’

Well, if that’s the argument they are using, then let’s get out our Bibles and turn to Acts 10. It’s time for some ‘Christian teaching’.

9b Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.   (Acts 10:9b-28 NRSV)

Okay, anyone with half a brain who wants to argue with me is going to read this and say “Yeah, but this is about the food laws.”

NO it is not. The vision was about food, but the rest of the passage of scripture is about God sending Peter to teach a Gentile, a man who Peter (a righteous Jew) would have found unclean according to Jewish law. Let me remind you that Jewish law is laid out in books of the Bible like Deuteronomy and Leviticus, a book that I quoted earlier in reference to laws against homosexuality.

In Acts 10:28, Peter tells Cornelius and the people in his home that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit Gentiles, and then Peter says “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”   God didn’t tell Peter that the laws in question were now null and void.  The laws stood as they were written and yet…God was simply no longer interested in maintaining God’s own law when it caused certain people to be cast aside and considered unworthy.

The point of today’s Christian teaching is: God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

God has shown me that I should NOT call anyone profane or unclean, no matter how nicely I do it, or how sweetly I preface it with a statement acknowledging that “all persons are of sacred worth, created in the image of God.”

If God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean, wouldn’t it be ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ to label someone unfit for ministry because of their sexuality?

Yeah, I’m thinking so.

And if we don’t want to be profane and unclean ourselves, maybe we should knock that off, you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to Balance the One Hand With the Other

A fellow Zumba teacher posted on Facebook that she will no longer be teaching Zumba because it does not bring glory to God and is not modest.  She is concerned with what Jesus would think if He returned to earth and found her dancing to music that is occasionally sexual in nature and moving in ways that can be perceived as ‘sexy.’

On the one hand, the Christian part of me wants to affirm her for following her conscience and doing what she thinks is best for her relationship with God.  In her post she cited 2 Corinthians 7:1

“With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.” (The Message)

If she thinks that dancing and teaching Zumba somehow defiles or distracts her from her faith, then I agree that it has to be removed from her life.  I will always support someone doing what will bring them into a closer walk with God.

On the other hand…

I absolutely reject anything and everything that tells us that our sexual nature and our beautiful bodies are somehow sinful just because they are beautiful and sexual in nature.  For goodness sakes: GOD CREATED YOUR BODY.  God knew exactly what He was doing, and God did not build your body with the aim of testing you with the demand that you reject that same body, it’s beauty, and your sexual nature just to prove that you love Him.  God is not weird like that.  Humans…we are weird like that. We play games like that, demanding that people PROVE that they love us.  God has more self-esteem than that.

Personally, I think if you truly love God you ought to try to accept your body as it is.  Accept the flesh that God put you in, with all its flaws and frailties, and with all the gifts that being enfleshed brings.  Sexuality is a GIFT from God.  Your body, with its particular beauty, is a GIFT from God.  The way your body moves is a GIFT and that means that dancing, even dancing that looks sexy…is a GIFT from God.

The God who created you is perfectly okay with your body and all its ways of moving and expressing itself as long as you are not harming anyone (including yourself).  God created the body you are in and He loves that body and the soul within it more than you can ever imagine.

Hear me out: I am not condoning wanton sexual expression or people who expose themselves publicly.  I’m not condoning prostitution or any kind of fornication, either.  I am not condoning dancing in a sexual manner for attention and/or money.  God does not want you to be a stripper, okay?  You were not created by God to be an object to be used for gratification or exploited for cash…you are a human being beyond value to your Creator.

And that last statement—that you are human being beyond value to your Creator—is exactly why I believe that God is okay with our bodies and how we move them.  Dance!  Run!  Play!  Laugh!  Do the things your body was created for, which includes having sex and being sexy.  The Facebook post of my fellow Zumba teacher asked the question Would Jesus, who lived a sinless life, ever be seen moving His body the way I do? Would He expose His body the way I have?   Considering how often Jesus chose to do exactly the opposite of what the religious authorities in Israel thought He should do, I’m guessing that YES…he would have danced and bared his midriff and enjoyed his embodied self without fear. I also think that if Jesus was around today He might just be tattooed and hang out with the people that many Christians reject as sinful.  Jesus did that all the time, and it drove the “holy” people of the time absolutely nuts!

Stop acting like your body is offensive to God.  Cover the private places and know that the rest of your body is beautiful and fine.  If you like being more covered up because it makes you feel better about yourself, then cover up, but remember that your covering is about YOU, not GOD.  If covering your body or your hair reminds you of your identity as God’s beloved child, then cover yourself, but remember that your covering up is what YOU need, not what GOD needs from you.  What God needs from you is do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) Do whatever you need to do in order to live up to all three of those commands, but don’t confuse what YOU need in order to remain within God’s will with what GOD needs from you.  Your needs are individual.

Please, don’t make God into the Almighty Beancounter.  Don’t project your own need for strict rules and guidelines onto God’s generous and loving nature, and then state that God expects such strict and regulated behavior from all of us.  The only thing that long lists of rules and guidelines will give you is a sure and easy way to declare yourself righteous and your neighbor unrighteous.  After all…doesn’t following all those rules give you the right to call yourself holy and righteous? And if the rules and guidelines that you believe Christians should live by are supposedly dictated by God Himself, then anyone who doesn’t live by them is unholy and…condemned.

Jesus had a lot to say about the people who lived by strict rules and guidelines that insured they would be considered righteous. He had a lot to say about the people who thought they could clearly identify who pleased God and who was unholy and…condemned.  They called themselves Pharisees, Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs”.  In Mark 7:6-8, Jesus says to them

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (NIV)

Obviously, I don’t know what you need in your life or what you need to eliminate from your life in order for you to have a deep and abiding relationship with God.  Only you know that.  And in all honesty, I encourage you to closely follow the guidance that God is giving you about what needs to be in and what needs to leave your life in order for you to follow God’s will.  All I ask is that you remember that what you need in order to be holy is on the one hand…and on the other hand is what God needs of you. Do not confuse YOUR needs with what God is asking for.  “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  There are no clear rules about what justice, mercy, and humility will look like in YOUR life…but I’m betting you that God would be glad to reveal your path to you if you will seek him in prayer.

Seek Him. And along the way, please try not to condemn your neighbor in the interest of your own righteousness.