Tuesday, October 18, 2016

No Excuse for Sex

A few days ago I had coffee with a friend who wanted some information on the work of the Body Electric School. I shared my own experience of how powerful BE’s work can be, and of the deep impact I’ve seen it make on others.
Later on, the talk turned to sex-positive Christianity. My friend brought up one of the best books of the 1970s on the subject: James Nelson’s Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology. (Nelson went on to write further important work on the subject: Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Sexuality and Religious Experience (1983); The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality and Masculine Spirituality (1988); Body Theology (1992).
Though Nelson’s book was a breath of fresh air in its day, I observed that he still felt the need to make a defensive plea that sex is fine because it’s in the service of another, more legitimate, good. I shared with my friend my general sense that even now, nearly forty years on, that’s pretty much the best you can hope for from official church discourse.
Conservative Christian theology still sees the excuse for sex being procreation and  the containment of lust, while traditional Christian marriage ceremonies still cite Paul’s dictum that the relation between man and wife is an allegory of that between Christ and the Church. (Try keeping that in mind in your bedroom.)
Most liberal Christian theological approaches are looser, but still can’t get past the notion that sex has to be justified.  Liberals mostly just shift to a broader understanding of what could rescue sex from, well, just being sex. Nobody who has to watch their back in Churchland is likely to say that sex needs no more justification as part of a lovingly created world than our impulse to eat, to sleep, to breathe, to seek out companionship, to create homes, to explore the world.
Of course our sexual choices have far-reaching ethical implications. But our sexual longings, our sexual expressions, shouldn’t be subject to a tyranny of surveillance about the end that justifies them any more than a dozen other aspects of our lives. Our erotic inclinations and experiences are rich material for reflection on the nature of our relations with our deepest selves, with others, with God. It’s the quality of those relations we should be paying attention to, not whether our experiences pass muster before the fact because we have an excuse for them. There’s no excuse for sex, and there doesn’t need to be.

Monday, October 3, 2016


This second night of Rosh Hashanah 5777, I repeat what I wrote six years ago on the anniversary of Creation, the sanctified center around which the year revolves; the sanctified womb from which all that we make of our lives emerges; the still point to which we return to hear again the heartbeat of the cosmos in the sound of a ramshorn blown ceremonially into the silence:

“I’m blessed to come to this tradition without the baggage that almost inevitably accompanies the negative associations of our early spiritual lives. From my place at the edge of the congregation, this is what blows me away, if you’ll pardon the pun, in hearing the excruciating bronze-age cry of the shofar: that time itself is holy. That we are accountable for what we make of it. That amidst its ever-rolling stream, change is a gift. That if we can only stretch so far, we can learn to see even our own mortality as an aspect of that gift. That, miraculously, we get more time, a second chance, when we need one. That the Mystery is infinitely larger than our souls, but that our souls, together with the souls of those we love and of those we mourn, are and will always remain a worthy and endlessly precious part of that Mystery.

“That every cry in the Middle East for peace, security, dignity and justice–from Muslim, Christian, and Jew alike--is the sound of the shofar.

“That the cry of Matthew Shepard dying alone, tied to a fence in Wyoming, was the sound of the shofar.

“That the cry of men in the shared ecstasy of their lovemaking is the sound of the shofar.

“That the cry of an oil-soaked pelican in a marsh destroyed by the criminal greed, negligence, and stupidity of oil companies is the sound of the shofar.

“That the shout of my late schizophrenic neighbour, “Kill the Fags!” when he was off his meds, and his apology when he was in remission, were the sound of the shofar.

“That the laughter of children over a garden wall is the sound of the shofar.”

And let us say, Amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Variations on a Theme? Or a New Composition? -- A guest post by Hoppergrass

I’ve been masturbating since I sprang my first boner in the 1950’s. But now, bathing in the afterglow of a prolonged session of self-pleasuring, I wonder about the relationship between the frantic jacking of that long-mutated teen and the erotic spiritualism of this now mellowed elder.  

I still can recall the combination of surprise, embarrassment and fear that accompanied each unsolicited erection, occurring at the most inopportune times, as well as my fascination that became an addiction with ejaculation. Watching my penis squirt, feeling the heat of cum ropes across my belly and chest, fingering the congealing jism marmalading my emergent fur, smelling and finally tasting this wondrous evidence of my manhood became an end in itself. Jacking off became a conscious choice rather than a poorly understood biologic imperative. A few years later, when the first hand that was not mine jacked my cock and subsequently the first mouth sucked me off, and finally the first time I fucked a vagina and then an ass, I was still performing solo-sex: I was pleasuring my penis. I sexually engaged with others not so much as to pleasure my partner-of-the-moment or even achieve equal pleasuring, but rather to find additional opportunities and additional means of satisfying the demands of my cock.  

But those demands had morphed from pleasuring to a means of release: release of anxiety, of frustration, of anger, and of dissatisfaction. I jacked multiple times each day beginning with my morning toilet, in bathroom stalls at work, while driving the car, behind bushes and trees, and finally in an attempt to achieve nocturnal sleep. And the more I jacked, the less satisfactory: the release had become repetitive motion without any satisfaction. 

Meaningless middle-aged masturbation coincided with my inability to effectively suppress my long-known awareness of my homosexual identity. The Net had arrived, and I was able to read coming-out stories of older men as well as younger. 

I introduced myself to edging. I began gradually to realize that manipulating my cock and balls, then my nipples, then my entire body surface and finally my ass delivered (and still juicily delivers) a physical, emotional, and eventually spiritual experience completely novel to me. Through Body Electric and Men’s Tantra workshops as well as the generosity of a few very special men, I allowed myself the freedom to engage, explore, and emote in the presence of like-minded seekers. In short, I not only accept my True-Self but became able to share that True-Self with others. Today engaging myself sexually alone or with other men is no longer in either case solo-sex for me; it is a continuous journey within sacred erotic space accompanied at all times by my beloveds, whether they are physically present or not. 

How different my personal development might have been had that testosterone OD’d boy-man been inducted into manhood by this experienced elder.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mount Athos, with a Twist

Last weekend, nineteen open-hearted, gifted men lived for  three sweet days in intentional  community at Stonesong Center in western Maryland, as guests of the beautiful, generous-hearted couple who steward the land there.

Our temple was the second floor of a barn. The odd bat flew through at night. There were crickets and cicadas and tree frogs. The full moon silvered the nocturnal landscape.
The magic that arose among us in less than seventy-two hours was deep and powerful, and more than Frank Dunn and I, who led the retreat, could have asked or imagined. I won’t presume to describe everything that happened--first, because, well, you had to be there, and second, because so much of what took place belongs to that sacred gathering and that gathering alone.
But for me, the most vivid, the most powerful memory of the retreat was the experience of the land itself transformed into holy ground by our shared practice: a line of prayer flags made by each of us to mark the respective spots we’d chosen as the site of personal shrines. Over the course of the next two days, we deepened our practice by tending those shrines and welcoming one another as pilgrims to our holy places. Walking along the path, looking up the slope, rounding a corner, wandering in the woods, we came upon these witnesses to the riches of other men’s souls made into invitations to look deeper, to open wider, to feel ourselves woven into a web of connection richer than anything we could have achieved without one another.
Many religious traditions have birthed landscapes honeycombed with gestures of reverence. The dwellings of the Essenes of Qumran; the hermitages of the Egyptian desert; the monastic cells of Mount Athos; the temples of the mountain that towers over Miyajima in the Inland Sea; the folk shrines of northern New Mexico. Last weekend, we became heirs to that broad human heritage--but with a twist: a community of queer men laying claim for ourselves and our tribe to that from which the keepers of so many of those traditions have attempted to exclude us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Holy Hardness: a guest post from Robin Gorsline

The Rev. Dr.. Robin Gorsline identifies as a poet, Queer theologian, and spiritual activist and also serves as Writer-Theologian in Residence at a D.C. church. By his permission, his poem below is reblogged  from the wonderful blog site, www.gayshiva.tumblr.com. If Whitman hadn’t needed to practice at least a degree of understatement, I find myself wondering whether he might not have written something like this poem.

Holy Hardness

I woke this morning with a more or less hard-on.
It felt so good I kept it up during meditation
feeling as if God's real presence had settled in my cock
each stroke connecting to a breath, holding my little guy
between, and knowing that my body and my God are connected
in sacred erotic embrace.

Some may see blasphemy in this connection but I remember
Jesus, the Incarnate One, who when focused on healings
and teaching may have set aside his cock but I feel sure in those
quiet alone times away from companions and the world
he too found his hard, connecting with God and his sacred
body with the caresses that bring joy to me.

That early erotic energy continued throughout the day
as I, naked, sat writing and touching myself, feeling the high that comes
when I begin to point toward climax. But I did not want
to explode then, saving it for joy with my man.
I did begin to hope that this time, unlike so many others lately,
our lovemaking might result in the eruption of precious liquid love.

To bed we went that night, and oh how his mouth on my cock and mine on his
brought sweet electric sensations, rising exquisite pure yearning
giving hope that here, now, we, phallus and I, if we can truly be understood
as separate, might experience embodied communion. But it was not to be then, though
my man lay across me and thrust his member between my legs and
ejaculated Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Thank you God!

This old man did not despair, however, and with more pure organic coconut oil,
I lay gazing on the beauty of my man, stroking, stroking, up, down, up and down
the small but sturdy shaft went from fairly hard to less and back. Then I rose to stand
in front of the mirror to enjoy my own self-lovemaking and knew, oh I knew,
that with more vigorous strokes and a turn back to see the naked
languorous body of my beloved on the bed I would indeed favor the world
with divine liquid love of life--oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Thank you, my God!

It was holy communion then, embodied memory now a few hours past. I sit and type
and stroke and yet again give thanks to my parent God, and Jesus, and Holy Spirit,
grateful to have been created for this mystic sweet union, certain my beloved
and I were brought together for such a time as this, and more to come, yes, more cum.

I am called, we most are called, to such communion, divine eros joining bodies
in delight and ecstasy, it matters not the particular bodies, body parts, numbers,
or ways of joining, all are blessed because all are loved, God sharing
in the joy of orgasm as well as licking, sucking, fucking, kissing,
wondering why we carry so much shame about this holy gift.

So I write, a man now almost three score and ten, slower of gait
but still erect, even at times for my beloved, and when not so favored
I still know pleasure in touch and tongue--I swear so long as I live
I shall enjoy such holy hardness as it is mine to receive and share,
praising God with my upward and more often softer shaft.

It is not performance that counts, or even size, but faithfulness
to union with and through sacred eros, giving thanks to God.

Copyright Robin Gorsline 2016
Used by permission

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Green Man

Thanks to John Archibald, for sharing here his homage to the Lord of the Forest. John writes this:

"I love Greenmen. Such mysterious male energy. Must be those faces made only of leaves; that image invites a kind of primal reaction from the viewer. Weird, but it catches at you, as if reminding you of something you’d forgotten, long ago. Some of the medieval ones actually have roots growing out of their mouths. There was a shop in the gay neighborhood of Hillcrest in San Diego, called Column One, where over the years I found a number of Greenmen, orginally in an unpainted beige plaster, and have painted a number of them.

"I found as well a number of Greek gods here and there, which I’ve also painted. In the ancient world, practically all the statues were painted, with the larger, more important ones being made of molded sheets of ivory and gold, with semi-precious gems for eyes. They must have been amazing!"


Friday, July 29, 2016

The Acknowledged Christ

I hope you’ve had the experience, at least once in your life, of being blindsided by Somebody showing up where you’d least expect.

Mountains in a sudden flash of sunlight across a harbor.
An impulse at a Hare Krishna parade to join the chanting from the sidelines, good Methodist that you’ve always been.
The eye contact between you and the unknown woman who’s just pulled you back onto the curb out of traffic you didn’t see coming.
The desire to kneel down at the back of a church, when you haven’t darkened the door of such a place since you were sixteen.
The realization, in the middle of a random sexual encounter, that both of you (or all of you) are in the Presence of something vastly bigger and more important than a short spell of uncomplicated pleasure--that your trick is looking back at you with the face of God.
The sacred, grace-filled letting go in the last days of a lover’s life that Mark Doty describes with such heart-opening clarity and vulnerability in Heaven’s Coast.
The flash of lightening across the night sky of a quiet mind in the meditation hall, nice Jewish boy from Dallas that you are.
The kind of experience that leaves you stammering something like, “Oh--it’s You again.”
From my own perspective grounded in the Christian tradition, these experiences are already foreshadowed in the vagueness of biblical accounts of the Resurrection. No two Gospel accounts tell the same stories. Mark, the earliest of the four Jesus narratives that eventually got included in the Bible, doesn’t have a resurrection account at all, just an inexplicably empty tomb from which two women flee in terror at dawn. My favorite is the story from Luke of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who fall in with a stranger to whom they tell the news of Jesus’ death. The stranger starts laying out for them everything in Scripture that predicted the Passion. That evening, they sit down with him to a meal, from which he vanishes, in the same moment that they recognize the risen Lord “in the breaking of the bread.”
There’s plenty of space in that story for me: I don’t know what the fuck would show up in the Polaroids that nobody took, and I don't much care. I just know that the encounter broke their lives open, as it breaks mine open.
This isn’t about a resuscitated corpse. In Christian terms, this is about the Second Person of the Trinity taking flesh at times and in places you never saw coming, setting ablaze the ordinary world of our material existence. After all, it was God’s flesh all along, before we were given a life lease on it. “He comes to us as one unknown,” wrote Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus. It’s about “the acknowledged Christ” (the phrase belongs to Indian theologian M.M. Thomas), ever present in the world, shoring it up from below as well as drawing it down from above, known across cultures by a thousand different names, though none can ever comprehend him/her. The One who vanishes from sight most completely in the dogmatism of those who think they have sole possession of the truth.

Friday, July 8, 2016

On Buddhas and Buttholes

The tattoo I added to my left shoulder twelve years ago needs some retouching. As well as I can judge. I’ve never seen it. At least not right side around. The mirror is the best I can do.

Without telling you the whole story of how the design came to me, my  ink reads, “Destroyer of Illusion.”  The script looks sufficiently Indo-Himalayan, the pattern sufficiently abstract, that lots of people curious enough to ask me about it assume it’s not in English. The letters striate from the perimeter into a tightly described circle, a part of my body visible to others but not to me. I take it on faith that it’s there.
Well, maybe you get the idea...
“Destroyer of Illusion” can mean a lot of things. When the phrase started running incessantly through my mind, I pictured Keanu Reeves in The Matrix as vividly as the warrior boddhisattvas of Tibetan Buddhism. Only later did I get it that those three words, and the design I’d made of them, were teaching me a lesson about acknowledging my First Chakra. Big surprise--embodied wisdom isn’t always a matter of cognition, or of self-awareness in a dominantly intellectual sense. Sometimes it’s a matter of going down into the earth and into the silent, unseen roots of our life, rather than up into the clarity of an elevated realm of light. It’s a matter of trust that it’s not only safe, it’s even essential, to be seen from another perspective than that of our own ego.
“We go down, like moles, claws scrabbling in the soil,” sing The Hidden Cameras. “The journey goes down, not up,” writes Pema Chödrön. “A man walks upright, and the food in his body is shut in, as if in a well-made purse,” says Julian of Norwich. “When the time of his necessity comes, the purse is opened and then shut again, in most seemly fashion.  And it is God who does this, as it is shown when he says that he comes down to us in our humblest needs.”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Slow Burn

Nearly a week after the mass murder of forty-nine mostly queer, mostly brown people, and the critical injury of dozens more, I still feel numb. I need to go on parsing apart my dissociated reaction, but meanwhile, what cuts through my denial is seeing the faces of the men and women who went to Pulse wanting a night of ordinary, God-given human happiness, but whose precious and irreplaceable lives ended there.

Here’s what I’m not numb to: the spineless cowardice of the U.S. Congress in its endless deference to the gun lobby. In particular, the hypocrisy of Republicans who care more for the score of their morally shabby, backward-looking party than they do for the future of civil society and the viability of constitutional government.  The desire of of xenophobes once again to lay blame on Muslims and on Islam, instead of acknowledging that the corrosive rage of deeply damaged men  and contempt for sexual minorities run through American society like a cancer. And chief among them, the entitled, narcissistic buffoon who will almost certainly be named the Republican candidate for president. The refusal to acknowledge that  virulent hatred and incitement to violence are in this country more often associated with right-wing Christian preachers like Baptist ministers Roger Jimenez in Sacramento, California and Steven Anderson in Tempe, Arizona, to mention only two.
For years, we’ve been marching in Pride parades more in celebration than in protest or defiance. This year, walking with queer brothers and sisters will, for many, be once again an act of courage and witness. And in the assertion, "We are Orlando," a testimony that love is stronger than death.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Other People's Gardens

Peony, poppy, bearded iris, Siberian iris, poppy, peony, peony, lilac, bearded iris, lilac.

One of the daily gifts of the short bicycle commute to my office is watching other people’s gardens burst into flowers I can’t grow in my own. Amazingly, I get to live in a place where one tiny front garden borders on the next, and it’s easy to see them not as my garden, his garden, her garden, their garden, but as the garden--the “one great garden which/ is always here” so movingly celebrated in Thom Gunn’s elegy for his aunt, “Breaking Ground.” I find myself not caring much that I can’t grow myself what somebody else has grown for all of us.  And glad for the things I grow for them. Gratitude for what I receive, beyond anything I might have asked or imagined,  flows into generosity flows into gratitude.  You can't garden in spaces like these without having at least some awareness that you're planting and weeding and watering for other people, just as they're planting and weeding and watering for you. After a while, the very distinction between giving and receiving starts to break down in this non-zero-sum game.
(Photos offered by Hoppergrass.)