bodies

The announcement that the Trump Administration is considering fundamental changes in federal regulations to enforce strict binary gender norms for all Americans is distressing, demeaning, ugly, to say the least. However, it occurs to me that this may be a good time to reflect theologically about gender; can those of us who oppose the various attempts to control others’ bodies find guidance from biblical texts and spiritual reflection? 

I have been engaged in various small ways supporting transgender people for many years, including during my time as Pastor of MCC Richmond VA where I worked closely with an active trans community on several projects. 

Additionally, over the past several years, I have begun to identify as gender queer—still am comfortable being a man in my birth body, but clear that my understanding of that gender differs from the norm. This process began many years ago when I started wearing long, dangly earrings that many say are feminine. (see my earlier posts, “Choosing to Be Me Again” and “Why Do Watches Have Gender?”). 

More recently, as the controversies swelled about bathroom and locker room usage, I began to reflect theologically about gender and specifically about the movement by many, particularly in church and government, to enforce rigid gender norms. 

The Apartheid of SexI begin from a truth I learned long ago from Martine Rothblatt in her book, The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender (1995). She writes

“There are five billion people in the world and five billion unique sexual identities. Genitals are as irrelevant to one’s role in society as skin tone.”  (xiii)

Of course, we know that skin tone and gender play powerful roles in how society is organized but her point is apt: neither makes any real difference, except as society creates and enforces, and we often reinforce, structures to keep these two aspects of ourselves in line. 

She also wrote that it is time to end the classification of people by sex, “because in truth our sex is as individualized as our fingerprints and as special as our souls (my emphasis).” (157). I hope to return to this proposal on another occasion. 

As special as our souls…………indeed. There’s where God comes in. 

The Hebrew text in Genesis 1:27 reads, “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Jewish Study Bible). Those who seek to get everybody in one or the other box, male or female, rely on this text and others to say that what God has ordered must be followed. 

Of course, there are a number of objections to be raised about these arguments. First, for me, is the reality that the Bible, in Hebrew and Christian texts, makes many claims about what God orders and commands. Some faithful people believe that every word is dictated by God, but even if you do, and I don’t, we still have to engage in interpretation to understand what the commands mean for us now. My point: We don’t actually have any assurance that the statement in Genesis 1:27 means that there are only two genders. 

Second, could it not mean that God’s creation of each human involves our being some sort of combination of both? A footnote in The Jewish Study Bible, for example, says, “Whereas the next account of human origins (Gen. 2:4b-24) speaks of God’s creation of one male from whom one female subsequently emerges, Gen. Chapter 1 seems to speak of groups of men and women created simultaneously.”

Elohim in HebrewA note in The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, points out that the Hebrew for God in this passage, Elohim, is actually a plural (literally “gods” or “powers”), but is ordinarily treated as a singular noun. “This verse and two others (Genesis 3:22 and 11:7) are notable exceptions. The ‘us’ has been explained as the majestic or imperial plural; others see it as God including the angelic host; still others, as a reflection of the more ancient polytheistic roots of the story.“ (There are times when the word is used of lesser, foreign gods, but to the best of my understanding and searching these three instances are the only times in the ancient text has God referring to God’s self as “us.”)

Might another way to read that is to see is that these groups, and God, are not as rigidly defined as we have been taught to believe? We now know, thanks to genetic studies, that many of us are not purely one or the other, that our genes are combinations of X and & Y chromosomes in varying proportions. I think of “effeminate men” and “mannish women” in this regard, Among some Native American tribal traditions, Two Spirit persons exhibit behaviors and attributes of both genders and are considered to have special spiritual powers. Is not God all of these, and more? 

However, theologically speaking, there is a larger issue at play here. When we interpret biblical texts—and that is what we always must do, interpret them because we cannot ever be absolutely certain of the intention by those who repeated these texts and eventually wrote them down—what is our standard of interpretation?

Do we interpret in opposition to what we see around us, that is, do we insist that any new realities discovered since the texts were recorded and canonized be disregarded and/or declared the work of evil forces? Or do we seek to bring the reality in front our eyes and the texts into harmony? Do we see in the texts the promise of more wisdom or do we simply repeat the wisdom from before? Do we let creation unfold or do we insist that God created everything eons ago and nothing has changed? 

Indeed, do we let God continue to create or do we give God thanks for what God has done and then, in effect say,” Stop God, we don’t want anything new, don’t give us any new ideas, any new information?” In my view, this is idolatry, creating a false idol, calling it God, and insisting that there is nothing new in God’s universe. 

Queering ChristianityWhen human beings play God by not letting God be God we suffer. In this case, transgender, gender variant, gender queer, folks suffer. What is being considered by the Trump Administration is codifying that which was never meant to be codified, at least not by God, who is the author of change and growth every moment of every day. 

As I have written elsewhere, “We serve a God who is always messing with our all-too-human arrangements, our desire for things to be neat and tidy and easy” (See “Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God, Who Is Always Up to Something New” in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians, Shore-Goss, Bohache, Cheng, and West, eds. Praeger 2013). 

In that same essay, I quote Lisa Isherwood and the late Marcella Althaus-Reid, 

God dwells in flesh and when this happens all our myopic earth-bound ideas are subject to change; the dynamic life-force which is the divine erupts in diversity and the energy of it will not be inhibited by laws and statutes. Far from creating the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, this dynamism is always propelling us forward into new curiosities and challenges. It does not shut us off from the world; it is the world drawing us into more of ourselves as we spiral in the human/divine dance (“Queering Theology,” in The Sexual Theologian: Essays on Sex, God, and Politics, T& T Clark, 2004). 

This proposal by the administration—and supported by many in various religious groups—is anti-God. They claim they are serving God, but it is a hollow God they serve, as indeed are all our efforts to contain God in our self-justifying insistence on things remaining exactly as they were (or at least as we think they were). 

Biblical literalismWe must of course oppose it, and all like-minded efforts to limit and even eliminate human and natural diversity from the globe. It is always a tall order to stand against forces of repression and injustice, against those who refuse to see God really at work in changing us and the world. 

But we can do so knowing that God’s creation has many more than two genders. Indeed, the creation of genders is an on-going act of God because God is still creating humans.  Further,  even as we labor as faithfully and courageously as we can and as we know our own limits, God is not going away, God adapts and prods and beckons us in directions new to us (though not to God).  I say this not so much to offer comfort to those under threat from this proposal and many other efforts to limit humanity, but rather to affirm the reality that all things are, despite opposition, becoming new. 

Thanks be to God for all we have received, are receiving, will receive!

On February 22, 2018, I presented a ten-minute talk about men and erotic community on Jonathan’s Circle Live. Here is the link to that talk.

Jonathan’s Circle is a group of men, many in the DC Metro area but ranging as far as Australia, who share an interest in spirituality and sexuality, and engage in open conversation–sometimes in person for Circles, on a Google+ page, and through an online blog. Here is the link to blog, and here is the link to Jonathan’s Circle web page.

My talk certainly is not limited to men, so I invite all to check it out. Of course, I would be very interested in your thoughts.

I will be posting some additional writing on this topic here soon.

In many venues, I identify as a Queer Theologian (and poet), but I have made a deliberate choice here to leaven that with the idea of nakedness–because I believe (I want to say I know if it does not sound too dogmatic), that when we are most vulnerable we are most true to our inheritance as offspring of God.

Queer Virtue book coverIn her graceful and very wise book, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know about Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity, Elizabeth M. Edman shares a definition of priesthood that was given to her by a friend:

A priest is someone who stands in a place of remarkable vulnerability, and by doing so, invites other people to enter the sacred. 

This expansive understanding of priesthood fits well, as Edman says, within the Protestant concept of the priesthood of all believers. In that way, it undercuts the clerical hierarchy that is so often an impediment to spiritual growth and health among “lay” people. Indeed, it may help end what is often seen as a binary of lay/clerical difference–a chasm which leads too many non-clerics to think they have nothing useful to contribute to spiritual life and too many clerics to think, or at least act as if, they have everything that is needed.

Robin clergy collar less smile Sept 2015 smaller3_edited-4There is institutional authority vested in the office of priest or pastor, or rabbi or imam–depending on the tradition and the community, it can be a lot. However, it is the authority of personal and interpersonal vulnerability that is far more powerful in ways that transcend the usual humanly created boundaries. And that authority is available to all the faithful. We are called to be, as Edman says, a priestly people.

I am a nudist at heart, but I did not change this blog name simply to take my clothes off (or feature others who do so) online–although that may happen from time to time. At the same time, I recognize being physically naked as part of a continuum of spiritual and emotional nakedness and vulnerability.

I still wear a clerical collar when I go to church, but I am not sure entirely why. I have no formal or pastoral role in worship, and even if I did it is not my clothes that make it possible. It may be a sign of comfort for some, but increasingly I chafe and wish to dress as more myself.

Robin with longer hair and beard (cropped)_edited-1I started this most recent journey in my life by taking off all my clothes and discovering much joy in nakedness by myself and with others. Now I see that I may want to consider each item of my costume–not as a form of striptease but as a way of really exposing, at some deep levels, all of me.

Taking off the collar may be a greater signification of my priesthood–a priest forever, as my friend and mentor, Carter Heyward, has written–than wearing it. Then I am more likely to stand in that place of remarkable vulnerability and thus invite people to enter the sacred.

That is my desire, and I believe it is God’s desire for me, and you, and all creation.

 

 

I had a blast in Philadelphia!

Riding naked with hundreds of others, maybe even a thousand, dressed or undressed as they chose, was a great joy. The cheers and thumbs up signs from passersby were numerous and exciting, and the feel of sun and breeze on my entire body (even on my bottom when we stopped and I had to get off the seat and stand up) was, as always, a pleasure.

I came away from this experience filled with eagerness for more opportunities to be naked with others, inside and outside. The sense of freedom and delight, exuberance and joy, was palpable throughout the entire event.

That’s me, with “Bare Is Beautiful” painted on my chest

It took me no time to stop feeling self-conscious about the details of my body–too much tummy and too many wrinkles, too small genitals–and to just enjoy the flow. There was every kind of body. I saw a man with only half an arm, and somebody who appeared to be intersex, and they, like me, wore smiles and laughed with neighbors.

I saw every kind of penis–including some smaller than Dick (or as I often call him, Cock Robin)–all shades of skin color, weight ranges from rail thin to obese, heights and ages of every sort, including children with their parents (kids clothed, parents naked) and people who looked well older than me.

It was not a strenuous ride, mostly level ground. The biggest challenge for me was navigating in a sometimes crowded grouping, moving slowly or even stopping and starting due to traffic signals. At 70, my balance is not always sure, so I teetered a time or two but did not go over. What I noticed was that when I did bump someone else they did not get angry; when I apologized, all responded with some variation of “Hey, it happens to all of us.”

Robin bare butt PNBRWe rode for a little less than two hours, and I was grateful for every moment of it. I met up with one friend although we got quickly separated during the ride, he being a veteran naked biker and very sure of himself.  We had never met but knew of each other through Jonathan’s Circle (a group of men who explore sexuality and spirituality together, but not a sex club). I wished I had come with a group. Everyone was friendly, but it would have been much fun to share the experience while riding with other friends.

It was great fun to see all the slogans painted on bodies–“Bare Is Beautiful” was painted on my chest in purple by one of the volunteer body painters (and the acronym for the ride on my butt)–and various costumes, head gear of all sorts, capes a couple of riders with fairy wings. Next year I will wear my helmet!

Yes, this was about promoting safe cycling and energy conservation–two very vital causes–but I have to admit for me the real deal was just being naked in a major city for several hours with a whole bunch of other naked folks.

How about it? Will you join me next year? If we car pool, we can really be more energy efficient. And here is a short video clip of me riding (note: you will see naked bodies)

……can’t you see how much fun we are having!!! (I appear at about the 15-second mark)

And next year, I am thinking I will go the day before to be rested for the ride, and I will stay over the night of the ride so I can share in the after-parties, at least one of which was a “Fuck Clothes” event. Now that sounds like fun, too!

I am becoming aware of my desire for nakedness in my life, no clothes, yes, and also being open and vulnerable in every way possible. I believe that is the way God wants me to be. The Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride was a grand step on this journey.

Stay tuned for more in this space, maybe even for the debut of The Naked Theologian!

 

 

 

I am going on an adventure—riding my bike in Philadelphia—on September 9, 2017.

No big deal, right? Where’s the adventure? Philadelphia is fairly normal as cities go, mostly flat I am told (at least in the part where I’ll be riding), with many interesting sights.

But I am not going on just any bike ride. I will be riding with hundreds of others for the ninth annual Philly World Naked Bike Ride.

Yes, I, and hundreds of others, will be riding bikes in Philadelphia without wearing clothes. And others will be riding with some clothing—it is a “bare as you dare” event.

20170408_151340I love being naked. I recently spent four days at The Woods, an LBBT-friendly clothing optional campground in Pennsylvania, and I reveled in being naked OUTDOORS all day every day. I spend most of my days at home writing while naked (Jonathan likes me to wear a t-shirt when he’s around, so I do that in the evenings and weekends).  I wish I could be naked outside in our yard.

What is the point of this event?

Organizers claim it is part of a global movement to promote fuel conscious consumption (ride your bike more, your car less), positive body image (every body is beautiful), and cycling. World Naked Bike Rides happen in many places each year. London’s version is famous, and there are others in Britain and Europe, but many people say Philadelphia does it best in the U.S.  Of course, in parts of Europe public nudity is accepted as normal.

Fuel conscious consumption is a way of focusing on how we use energy—so we can reduce our demand on finite natural resources and do our part to preserve the planet for future generations. Can we walk more, and ride bikes more, and use public transportation more often?

Philly WNBR 2017 posterPositive body image is, for me, a deeply spiritual issue. As a Queer theologian who sees the divine in all creation, I value every single human body (as a vegetarian, I also seek to value the bodies of other species).  Mine is 70 years and counting, definitely not muscled and hard, with body parts that many would not rate highly.

Indeed, for years, I did not value my own body, especially my genitals which are small. Taking my clothes off whenever and wherever I can has helped me feel a new affection and gratitude for the body I have been given, and even to validate myself for taking care of it. Of course, I could exercise more, eat less, lose ten or twenty pounds, tighten my abs, build my shoulders and biceps—but overall I am in pretty good shape for a guy in his elderhood.

The good news is that the World Naked Bike Ride, no matter where it is, encourages and celebrates all bodies. Going to Philadelphia this year is a spiritual pilgrimage for me, just as holy as going to church, going on retreat, praying by myself and with friends.

Robin bike

I “love” my step-though (not just for girls) bike!

And I am glad to promote cycling. Deciding four months ago to go to Philadelphia pushed me to buy a new bike and start riding. I have been riding two or three times each week since early July in Greenbelt where we live. Riding for an hour or so—up some hills as well as down and on the flat—is a time of centering and joy, as well as some good exercise. I feel better for riding. I wish I saw more cyclists on the streets. In Philadelphia, I imagine our nakedness will draw attention, and that may help encourage a few folks there to get on their bikes.

And who knows, maybe reading this post will encourage you?

World_Naked_Bike_Ride_-_ZaragozaI even have room on my bike rack for a second bike, so feel free to let me know you’d like to join me in this adventure. Or meet me in Philadelphia!

I encourage comments, as always (and if you are interested in joining me in Philly, you can write me at RevDrRobin@comcast.net ).