Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gotta Love Those Jesuits

At the field house on the campus of St. Louis University.

(Courtesy of Hoppergrass.)

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.