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.