As a young adult, my entire worldview was shaped by Fundamentalism. But everywhere I looked within the church, I saw that what was being preached, didn’t measure up. Pastor after pastor took a “fall,” usually of a sexual nature. My own “fall” was the best thing that ever happened to me. Unfortunately for the pastors, they lost their jobs, and sometimes their families.
See Me Naked – Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity by Amy Frykholm, was not the book that I thought it was going to be, but it was valuable all the same. No one interviewed for the book was actually tossed out of the church or excommunicated for their sexual sin. Yet I hear those stories all the time, particularly at creepy Mars Hill church down the street; the very last church I attended. Pastor Mark is such a misogynist power tripper that his downfall is bound to happen any day now.
Amy makes brief mention of the infamous Ted Haggard (mega pastor who was ousted for his secret homosexual life), then dives in to everyday people who have come to terms with bridging the gap between their sexuality and their faith. Throughout the book, however, the interviews are tinged with a bias. Frykholm is Episcopalian, by far my favorite Christian denomination for its all-inclusive, caring for the community spirit. But one can’t help but feel proselytized to from the standpoint of her beliefs. Impossible not to, I know. Just as when I share my own belief system (Atheism), Christians tend to feel attacked or even threatened, with knowing remarks about how someday I’ll “see the light.”
While reading See Me Naked, I recognized my own path in many of the stories, though my journey had a much different outcome.
“The message she heard from every corner was: you do not belong to yourself. You are not your own. You belong to us and you will do what we say (Frykholm, 80).”
I remember when all of my words were bottled up inside me, held back, weighing me down. I constantly had questions. All through my first twenty years, I wanted to challenge what I was being told. But if I challenged it, I would be seen as a failure. And a person who questions the word of God is weak.
I didn’t feel strong, I felt diminutive, as though my unspoken words would swallow me up into nonbeing. I walked through life like a ghost – not speaking, not touched, not known.
“He had “given a piece of his heart to all of them” and therefore did not have a whole heart to give to his bride. In this conception, purity is a finite, all too easily expendable quantity (Frykholm, 108).”
The word “purity” has no meaning for me. When I hear that word, it does not go beyond the age of twelve. I see a child. As an adult, purity has no value. It means purely free of personality and life. It signifies a person not fully formed. Someone with little understanding of the complexity of human relationships, and how much we can learn and grow from a love that is not finite but expands and grows. The highest value is in maturity, wisdom, and intelligence. People who can offer these three things have value that does not flit away, unlike the fleeting “purity.” Of course, it’s also wrapped up in the idea of innocent youth, and in an over-thirty something, “purity” is a train wreck of desperation.
For Christians on the marriage track, the fantasized about future will surely disappoint them once they are wed. In the courtship phase, moments that should be filled with intense pleasure and enjoyment, are instead replaced with the constant danger of falling over a cliff into a deep ravine of insatiable pleasure. Danger. Mistakes. Regret. No going back. Every touch is quantified and measured. And if the couple slips and falls, then one has “used” the other, selfishness has entered the game, bodies are “objectified.”
I use quotes here for all the words that fail to play a role in my vocabulary. Coming to a different worldview, has also meant coming to a new language. When I talk to my family, I listen to the ways in which we speak two different languages, and I feel the pain of a disconnect.
Purity is a pleasure to sully. Humans have enjoyed this sport since the beginning of time. In cultures around the world, the male pursuit of purity has imprisoned women in unhappy marriages, subservience, and shame. By ridding culture of virgin worship, we come to a place of equality for both men and women.
“Many of the people I interviewed for this book grew up with the idea that, if they made one mistake, they would fall into doom and misery. Sexual mistakes had the most dire consequences. Thus, sexuality became ensconced in fear – fear of being found out, fear of being truly known, fear of failing. Yet nearly everyone I interviewed had found a way through fear and found their deepest intimacy with God in their capacity for wonder (Frykholm, 173).”
When I was twenty-one and had sex for the first time, it took a year’s worth of therapy to get over the discovery of who I really was beneath the Christian veneer. The therapists didn’t do much beyond just allowing me to voice my own honesty for the first time.
With that honesty, I began to feel brave, and shared my poetry with classmates. Through writing, I broached the pain of feeling that all of my life, I had been lied to. It was obvious to me, that the body and sex and all of our five senses are not selfish and depraved, but immensely beautiful and giving. I never really knew how to love until that year. My awakening to empathy is intrinsically linked with pen and paper, and the need to write.
“If we pay very close attention, I think we will find that the pleasures of excess, hedonism, and self-indulgence are thin. Deeper, wider, more lasting pleasures are available as we grow more attentive to and more comfortable in our own skins, and as we give up the notion that pleasure is inherently selfish (Frykholm, 176).”
Frykholm offers no remedy for the conflict between church and sexuality. A difficult quandary when people are living ancient tribal beliefs in the literal sense. The church would like people to think that they have no control over themselves. The taboos loom larger than they really should be. They are afraid of what they don’t know. If you are afraid of something, maybe you should try it. It’s the key to understanding your fears.