Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sex, Vulnerability, and Advent (Oh. My.)

Reinvent Advent (Part Three)

I have been fascinated by the reference in scripture describing man as the head of woman.  Some interpretations of this passage (in conjunction with others) have had no small part in the dehumanization and exploitation of women and the detriment of the human race at large.  I have presented it in a previous blog as it appears in the context of Christ as head (who, not considering his headship as something to be grasped, became a servant, a slave) as well as in the context of the mutual submission (we are as connected and dependent on one another as the head is to the body and the body to the head).

So, this may sound crazy, but I'm wondering about this passage and the notion of responsiveness.  Like, what if it's hinting at the way we are designed to be responsive to one another?  For example, men are renown for being responsive to the body: Theirs; Anybody else's. You get the drift.  They have a reputation for being obsessed with sex and prone to self gratification because they are tuned to be responsive to something.  So what if this hardwire is a design strategy meant for good instead of evil?  What I mean is, in the context of relationship and this whole head/body metaphor, a man's body isn't connected to him - it's running around out in the world with a mind of its own - and unless a man is responsive to that body, how will he ever be able to take care of it?

"This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh ... and what in the hell is it doing now???"

Seriously, the only way a guy is going to be able to respond well is if he learns how to hear and feel what this body has to say.  He has to learn the language.  He has to value what that body is communicating about what it needs, what is good, and what is going on in the world.  He has to take that as seriously as he takes his own body, because if he does not, well, he is like a head cut off.

It seems ironic that Christianity doesn't teach this kind of connectivity; men just generally aren't taught how to use their responsiveness to connect instead of dominate, decide, rule, self-gratify, or isolate.  And considering all the shame they are likely to feel when they offer themselves and the response they get is "that is not good," I can't entirely blame them for resorting to control tactics, self gratification, and isolating behaviors.  Isn't that what women do when they hear "you are not beautiful or worthwhile"?  I don't think either one of us have understood that crucial bit of information that says, "This other person is like your body, your head! You better figure out what is going on with it or, frankly, you'll die."

In fact, isn't that what makes it a great metaphor for Christ?  He was responsive to what was happening in his body.  And he knew that, unless he responded to care for it, it would die, relationship would die, everything he had worked so hard to create - the ongoing gift of life - would die.This is the kind of responsiveness God demonstrated with creation from the beginning! He gave it the opportunity to have a voice and it had an impact on him. He sought it out, he listened to it, and he responded. It changed everything.

I sometimes wonder if that is why women are urged to "respect" men: If men are responding the way they are designed to, then they are in a unique position to be exploited themselves.  Further, I think this is where the language of submission can be helpful if we understand it not as a hierarchy, but as an offering.  In other words, one way to understand submit is "to give."  I give this to you; I submit it for your consideration.  Women have to give their responses to men, the good the bad and the ugly, so that men can know what is good ... and bad ... and ugly.

This puts me in mind of the story of Esther and the way she presented herself to the King. From the beginning she offered herself in humility & vulnerability.  Even when she broke custom and interrupted his counsel, throwing herself at his mercy, she used every bit of her authority ... to be vulnerable yet again.  She submitted herself. She gave what she had.  Not just her beauty. Not just the things that made the King look good or feel good.  She gave it all.  Praise God that the King was responsive, for she had vital information for his welfare and the welfare of her people - his people.

I think about sex.  (Yes, I think about sex.)  I think about the fact that men want the sex act to be mutually pleasing and when it isn't, they tend to take it personally.  It feels as if it is about them and their adequacy.  They can feel like failures.  They can feel rejected.  If they are wired to respond and take care of the body, that kind of makes sense.  If they are being vulnerable, that makes sense.  Ironically, that vulnerability means that they are functioning as designed, and that is why it is so crucial that women respond in vulnerability, too, and NOT hide their responses.  It cannot be mutual unless he knows what is good and what isn't.  That's what makes sex so freaking vulnerable for both parties.  He has to try and she has to say, "Not like this, like that."

Okay, that was awkward, but I thought it pertinent.

Because vulnerability is what the story of Christ - and the passage about headship and servanthood and mutual submission - is all about.  We are called to be vulnerable with one another, to be open to risk.  And we, both men and women alike, have to learn how to do that in honoring, edifying ways, ways that make it as safe as possible for continued vulnerability.  We kind of have to get naked with each other, so to speak, and stop our hiding.  It is our way of undoing what was done in the garden.

Now, what does this have to do with advent?  Oh, you mean the ultimate story of vulnerability?  If God coming in the flesh, being born of a virgin and cared for by a man who is not his father doesn't sound like the same story of demolished hierarchies, responsiveness, servanthood-headship and the giving kind of submission, I don't know what does.

But if this is the message of advent, it is terrifying.  How many of us want to be called upon as Joseph was?  (But we are.)  And how many of us want to put ourselves in such a place of vulnerability, as Mary did?  (Yet we must.)

So here is to another advent, and another hope of new life.

*     *     *

Please note, if anything that I've said sounds anything like an appeal to make oneself vulnerable or submit to abuse, that is NOT what I mean.  I do believe that there is a vulnerable, God-honoring way to approach abuse and exploitation.  I know for me, it was terribly vulnerable to open myself up to rejection by articulating a boundary.  I had to draw a line in the sand and say, "No, you aren't going to do this to me anymore," and it meant that I had to accept his decision when he chose his addiction over me.  It was excruciatingly vulnerable to forgive and let him go.  Everyone's circumstances are different and must be treated differently.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Reinvent Advent (part two)

People scoffed at me for beginning an advent fast before the first official Sunday launching the season. Heck, people scoffed at me for fasting during advent at all. But I confess I consider it their loss, for I am crying out for the Messiah, expecting Him, preparing a place for Him. And what else is advent about?  What could be more important or pressing, especially this time of year?  For surely I have already seen the space that I have set aside being claimed by the Spirit of God.  It is as if, long before I even thought to desire and wait in expectation for Him, He was waiting in expectation, longing for me. And so it was that advent began for me with a Wednesday evening worship service, one that I attended because of a very special offering of amends.

Prepare the way for the Lord...

Interestingly, both the relationship through which that amends came and the service itself were frail and rather unremarkable.  Yet in their simplicity, surely they were ordained to bear Emmanuel. That is what I found in them that night: God With Us.  God with us - in Humility and Repentance. God with us in Promise.  God with us in Confession and Remembering.  God with us in Community, Family, Knowing and Being Known.  Do not mistake me, these were not ideas that were taught that night. They were not notions that were given tribute in words.  These were the things that actually happened while I was there.

And speaking of knowing and being known, in just four short days of celebrating advent, God has already been making things known, making Himself known.  I stumbled across a verse from Acts (2:28):

He has made known the way, the journey...

God has made it clear that He has called me.  There is no mistaking it. There is no talking around it anymore.  There is no doubting it.  He reminded me today that He has called me very specifically to speak vision into the lives of others; to see His story, to hear it, and to speak it so that others might see it, be invited by it, and live into it, too.  His story, it is adventure.  His story, it is life.  His story is freedom, it's love, it's healing.  His story is transformation.  And His story, it is personal.  It is speaking all around us and we are desperate for it. We are dying without it - slow, endless, painful deaths.  If I am called to minister, this is my ministry.  If I am called to preach, this is how I must preach.  I have known this for some time now, but honestly, I forgot.  And do you know why I forgot?  Because I am desperate to hear God's story myself.

He has made known the paths of life...

The very first verse I ever memorized was a prayer from Psalm 25 (4-5):

Teach me your ways, O Lord
show me your paths
guide me in your truths and teach me
for you are God my Savior
and my hope is in you all day long.

Even before the day that I renounced my covenant with death, God began teaching me a new way, a way of life.  That was the only reason I could renounce death.  And in spite of the last two years, He is still teaching me.  This very afternoon I slammed face-first into the fact that I need to be told God's story. I need to hear the narrative that bestows God's meaning - and therefore God - to my experience.  It is the very breath of life.  It is then that I am quickened. It is then that I am stirred.  It is then that I have strength for the journey and love to offer the world.  It is the path of life.

I am not just called, I am in need.

In and with joy, His presence will fill, fulfill, complete...

I need it whispered to me in the dark places. I need to be reminded of it in the light.  For it is when I can hear and see God's story that I can be where He is.  It's not just that I need people to tell me the story that they heard once, the story that they decided to believe.  I don't need the story that they think God is probably telling or should be telling.  I need people to actually listen, listen to the ongoing revelation of God's story in me as well as how it is unfolding in their own lives, as it is manifesting - giving birth to - Emmanuel.  I need them to tell me what they hear and see, lest I miss it, lest I forget, lest I die in need of it even while it is being told all around me.

It dawned on me today that I have experienced this kind of community before in an ongoing nature; I have participated in it, and it fulfilled me. I knew joy once.  But little by little the practice has ebbed, even up to the point that I did not share my testimony this year, as I always do on my anniversary of new life, because somehow I could not hear God's story in it anymore.

How is that even possible?!?

And how is it possible that in four little days of reinventing advent God has already offered so much?

Regardless, on this the first Sunday of Advent, I stand knowing these things full well:

1. I am called to minister, to preach, to speak the vision of God's story to others (and as a sub-text, I know I must be involved in worship through music in the community I serve).

2. With my call comes my own unique need to have others hear and speak God's story to me.  Oh, it's true. I need people.  I need you, my people.  I need God with us.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (?)

Reinvent Advent (part one)

After a fit of weird weather, it is finally getting cold here in Kansas City. A frosty windshield greets me most mornings when I go to work now. The wind has gotten sharp, demanding a scarf and mittens even in the afternoon.  Yes, I think it is safe to say that it is officially that time of year. Traffic has doubled and the stores are so crowded that a simple trip to pick up milk becomes an afternoon endeavor.  It is the time of year when I start to feel this pressing urge to burrow into a happy, dark hole somewhere and hide - the hap-happiest season of all.

Call it a case of the Grinches but there is something about the holiday season that makes me feel particularly anti-social.  Or perhaps it is the time of year that merely spotlights an ongoing antisocial attitude that I otherwise try to smuggle in under the radar.  Regardless, my windshield isn't the only thing getting frosty this November.  For whatever reason, as everyone else is thinking about getting together, my heart kind of aches to be left alone (though maybe not in solitude exactly).

You see, to me, winter is a time to be silent, to wander in the cold in quiet contemplation, to mirror the muted colors and commune with the barren ground, the empty trees, the pale skies.  This is a somber time to me, not festive, and careless crowds and cacophony are distinctly dissonant and particularly obnoxious - irreverent even.  If there is togetherness to be had, it shouldn't be harried, tinny, or shallow.  It should come after one has lain in bed on a grey morning and, after a while, has finally ventured out into a warm kitchen to sit with a few others and sip coffee.  It should start with low, soft tones.  It should move slowly.  It should be a time of savoring and seeing and listening and being.  And all the raucous, the jarring cheer, it so jangles my spirit sometimes that I want to build up a downy, feathered wall about 18 inches thick between me and the rest of the world to mute their carrying on.

This is the time of year that I want to think about what is really important, what is real.  I want to actually examine the year that has gone by, what it meant, what it could mean.  I want to actually give some thought to the year coming up.  I want to pay attention.  I want to feel. 

And sometimes I feel like I am the only one.

Last year I walked through the weeks of advent in just such an effort to examine, to pay attention, and to feel, in the hopes of finding and/or creating my own traditions, traditions that enrich my life, that connect me to others, that connect me to God.  This year I have decided that, from November 23rd to December 23rd, I am going to stage my own minor protest.  I am going to fast - fast eating out, fast any and all movies, who knows, maybe I'll even fast social media.  I want simple meals prepared and eaten at home without spending a lot of money.  I want simple evenings of peace and quiet, that my mind might acclimate again to the world in which I live instead of the over-stimulated land of the non-living.

So, Tuesday next, I am going to go out with a friend after a Thanksgiving service, and when we are done making merry, I am going to give in to my desire to hole up.  I am going to claim my hours as my own and my days for the sacred.

Once upon a time I decided that I did not want to watch others live life, but wanted to, myself, live a life worth watching.  Turns out that is harder than one might think.  I am not sure how exactly I got sidetracked.  I think, honestly, I just got sucker-punched in the ring one afternoon and it's taken a while for the dizziness to go away.  But it's time to reorient.  And what better time to do that than advent?