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Rachelle Mee-Chapman on sexuality and spirituality!

In body, Christianity, interviews, marriage, premarital sex, relationships, spirituality, what I was taught on October 2, 2010 at 7:48 am

Meet Rachelle Mee-Chapman! Rachelle and I got to know each other last summer when she invited the Universe to find a few more people who needed a soultribe and wanted to spend a weekend away together. The Universe found me. Or rather, I waved and yelled “Pick me! Pick me!” And wound up spending a beautiful few days on Hartsine Island with 9 other women who have indeed become soulsisters.

Prior to meeting Rachelle, I came across two of her blog posts that intrigued me greatly. You can find them here:

Why I’m not teaching my kids abstinence.

God Sticks and Shame Caves

Both of these made me nod my head in agreement so many times that I knew I’d found a kindred spirit from the get-go. So when Rachelle announced her 30Stories in 30 Days birthday present to herself and the world, I got my invitation to the soiree and asked Rachelle this question:

Q: How has your spirituality shaped your sexuality?

Rachelle: In short: Very negatively.

My spirituality was formed in the conservative evangelical church. Have you seen the movie Saved? That was pretty much a documentary of my high school. Unlike the kids in Glee, we didn’t have a Chastity Club. Having a club implies optional membership. In my school chastity was. not. optional. Kids were threatened with suspension if they got “caught” having sex. Girls were shunned for “losing” their virginity.  No one talked about birth control, because why would you need it? Even holding hands was suspect, and a “six inch” rule between couples on campus was heavily enforced.

The message was clear: “Sex is a dirty, sinful, shameful thing you save for the one you love.”

The result was that in spite of being “a good girl” I grew up with a lot of shame. Not just around sex itself, but around my body in general. I felt ashamed about being sick, about my weight, about what I ate (or didn’t eat.) Shame was a pervasive companion through most of my adult life.

Not only were young people in general taught to feel ashamed of their natural sexual impulses and interests, but girls in particular were doubly doomed. It was commonly taught that women were temptresses, that we “led boys into sin.” Our bodies were dangerous creatures that should be covered up at all times. While the boys could rip their tops off and play soccer as Shirts vs Skins, girls were constantly patrolled for dress code violations. We were forbidden to wear jeans (too tight), required to wear nylons, tights, or socks at all times, and couldn’t come to school (in California) in sleeveless tops. I was once chastised for dressing “too provocatively” for wearing a baggy sweatshirt over leggings – in spite the fact that the shirt came down to my knees. Not wanting to be considered fundamentalists, the evangelical circles I came up in used soft terms like “modest dress” to explain the problem. But the message still came through on a subconscious level. Something about my body was dangerous.

Unlike many of my peers, my husband and I never carried our shame into the bedroom. Many couples who grew up in that environment never feel fully free to enjoy each other sexually, even within the confines of marriage. But there was still a sort of hemming-in feeling around my sexuality. Only recently, as my spirituality has stepped away from institutionalized religion, have I found increased freedom and less shame around sexuality and sensuality. Asking questions and exploring new ground around issues of doctrine and theology has established a pattern of freedom and curiosity that serves me well. That freedom and curiosity has extended beyond issues of faith into all aspects of my life – bringing wider and healthier ways of be-ing to my work, my art, my way of living in community, and to my sexuality.

As I come into my 40’s and watch many of my friend’s marriages come to an end, I can’t help but wonder how much our sexually conservative religious upbringing has impacted us. When there is only one way of be-ing, what happens when that way stops functioning? When life-long monogamy starts at 20, then what happens at 40 in a hyper-sexualized culture? If you’re never allowed a sexual awakening in puberty, what happens at mid-life when you are ready to re-invent yourself? Thankfully, both my husband and I have gone through a similar post-religious awakening; and I am hopeful that the pattern of asking questions and being curious we have established will serve us well as we continue our sensual life together.

I once saw an episode of Joan of Arcadia in which the main character, Joan, crushed her friend’s sculpture to keep him from leaving high-school to become a full time artist. Joan, who is frequently visited by God, is chastised by God for destroying her friend’s work. Joan is confused, as her “mission” from God that week had been to make sure her friend stayed in school. God tells Joan that she could have thought of another way. She says “Joan, you had a crisis of imagination.” This phrase resonates with me these days, especially as I travel with young people through their coming-of-age years. I find that I am re-parenting my younger self in the process. I am reshaping my thoughts on sexuality as we travel together. It has lead me to believe that regardless of our age or our brand of spirituality, we must continue to re-invent ourselves – and our sexuality – under the benevolent arms of freedom, creativity, and mutual respect. When it comes to spirituality and sexuality, we must not have a crisis of imagination.

What about you? How has your sexuality changed as your spirituality has shifted? (Or vice versa?) How have you avoided a crisis of imagination around your sexuality? Do tell! We need to share our stories with each other. “There ain’t nowhere to go but together.”

Rachelle Mee-Chapman, specializes in customized soulcare for spiritual misfits. She works with clients at Magpie Girl to help them find a spirituality that fits; and hosts Flock, an online soulcare community. You can learn more about her creative approach in her free ecourse, Magpie Speak: a new vocabulary for soulcare.
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obsessed with sex

In Christianity, marriage, premarital sex on September 28, 2010 at 8:25 am

Growing up I often heard about how obsessed “the world” was with sex and how unhealthy this was. Just think of all the movies, TV shows, song lyrics and commercials that feature gratuitous sexual imagery. I’m not the only one who’s noticed that Christians are as unhealthily obsessed with sex as everyone else.

I love this quote from Jon Busch’s article, “Not Doing It”:

Now that I’m married, I know that sex is a great thing–a ‘natural and zesty enterprise’ as Maude Lebowski so aptly puts it in my favorite film. But I also realize that its not nearly as big a deal as anyone–Christians, Hollywood, Marquis de Sade–makes it out to be. We live in a sex-obsessed culture, to be sure. But the evangelical culture I grew up in was equally obsessed. The way I grew up you’d think that at least 30 percent of the Bible was about sex. Turns out it’s more like .3 percent. And what it does say hardly gives us a one-two-three model for relationships.

Looking back over my own experience in the evangelical world, I mostly agree with Jon’s assessment: evangelicals are equally obsessed with sex and just like the “secular” world, their obsession is unhealthy. Obsession is defined as an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind. Being preoccupied with just one idea means that we lose perspective and losing perspective in this scenario means that evangelicals have placed undue importance on sexuality as an “issue” as opposed to say, compassion or social justice. Much of the energy that has been thrown into fighting for abstinence-only education or against birth control availability for minors would probably have been better spent fighting illiteracy, poverty, violence against women and the continued injustices against minorities.

Mark Regnerus, author of Forbidden Fruit, makes a similar argument in his article, “The Case for Early Marriage”. One of the points he makes (among many other interesting and possibly controversial ideas) is that evangelicals have been so focused on the “sexual crisis” that they have completely ignored the very real marriage crisis. He points out that while evangelical sexual ethics seem to remain fixed in biblical norms, ideals about marriage have shifted drastically:

Most young Americans no longer think of marriage as a formative institution, but rather as the institution they enter once they think they are fully formed. Increasing numbers of young evangelicals think likewise, and, by integrating these ideas with the timeless imperative to abstain from sex before marriage, we’ve created a new optimal life formula for our children: Marriage is glorious, and a big deal. But it must wait. And with it, sex. Which is seldom as patient.

Mark argues that its unfair to young Christians to push abstinence, while at the same time pushing for young people to wait longer before getting married.

So why is obsession with sex a bad thing? It skews our perspectives about other issues that also need time and attention from Christians and it has created a culture of unfair expectations that ultimately lead to unnecessary guilt. More on guilt next time!

exploring historical Christian attitudes to sex

In body, Christianity, history, premarital sex on September 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm

The Christian attitude toward sex can probably summed up best in the word: ambivalent. Ambivalent means to have mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone. Christianity has nothing if not mixed feelings and contradictory ideas about sex.

So where did all the confusion come from? Naturally, there’s no one particular influence we can point a finger at. There are all too many historical and cultural factors that played into the development of ambivalence. One, which I find particularly interesting, is the influence of a strand of Greek thought, in which the body or physical matter was thought of as inferior to the soul. Anything connected to the body was considered a distraction and those pursuing “the good” or “virtue” sought to escape the limitations of the physical world. This way of thinking greatly influenced the early Christian thinkers and writers. They adapted this idea by equating the spiritual life, or the pursuit of God as “the good”, which was hindered by the body and its temptations. Some went so far as to claim the body was evil.

This had a special impact on women. Women were seen as more connected to the body than men, because of their menstrual cycle and the fact that women give birth. In many of the early writings women are vilified as distractions and temptations to men. Women were thought to be unable to reach the same spiritual maturity as men because they were more bound to their bodies (ironic how this later flipped and women were thought of as more spiritual, because they were “pure” and “innocent”, unlike men). Needless to say, these attitudes were incredibly damaging, not only to the status and ultimately the self-esteem of women, but also to the way in which Christians through the centuries have thought about and interacted with their sexuality.

The Bible also contributes to this ambivalence regarding sex, because it is often confusing and contradictory on that topic. It is both extremely explicit and extremely vague about sex. Sex is a prominent theme in the Old Testament. On one hand we have Leviticus, which meticulously details all the possible variations of sexual intercourse that are not allowed, on the other hand the biblical stories that involve sex are often highly complex and morally ambiguous. Tamar and Lot’s daughters come to mind, the concubine who was left to the townspeople and ultimately cut into pieces, David raping Bathsheba, Rahab and the Israelite spies, Absolam raping his sister, etc. In some of these stories the main characters are judged and punished for their actions by God and in others they aren’t, even when their actions seem to be equally reprehensible. Leviticus says very little about what age sex is appropriate to engage in and makes no mention of the issue of premarital sex as we understand it today. Then we have the Song of Solomon in which sexual intimacy is gloriously and exuberantly described in graphic detail.

In the New Testament, Jesus says very little directly about sex, but makes clear that our attitudes and desires around sex can be unhealthy. In his interactions with the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery, he does not condemn their actions for being sexual, but for being unhealthy, and most likely unfulfilling. Paul on the other hand has a lot to say directly about sex and he says it very strongly. Although he also does not explicitly mention the concept of premarital sex, much of our language around sexual immorality comes from his letters. We tend to forget however that he was writing to specific churches that were dealing with specific issues within their congregations, where many were converts from other religions and were navigating a new set of spiritual expectations, which were in turn influenced by Pharisaical law and the Jewish tradition.

Pleasure is another factor that has left Christians ambivalent toward sex and sexuality. What are we supposed to do with pleasure? Is it good, is it bad? Are we allowed to want something merely for pleasure? Christianity has had a very hard time with this word, because whether we like it or not, pleasure is a big component of sex. Even if we choose to spiritualize sex as a sacred act of marriage, or define it as a service to our spouse and part of our marital “duties”, pleasure is still there. Many of us come from backgrounds that emphasized “taking up your cross”, which seemed to equal being serious all the time, not having any fun and living only to serve other people. Pleasure is completely at odds with that concept. How do we connect our ideas of what we should be as Christians with our actual human body?

A few things seem clear. The Christian past has left us unsure about our bodies, unsure about how God really feels about sexuality and unsure about pleasure. How do we begin redeem this uncertainty?