Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dirty thoughts about God

OK, so while we're going this direction, let's talk about "cultivating a deep love for God" ... if you know what I mean.

Assuming that none of my female readers are going to share their secret sexual thoughts about God and Jesus, let's start with the famous mystic Teresa of Avila.

It pleased our Lord that I should see the following vision a number of times. I saw an angel near me, on the left side, in bodily form. This I am not wont to see, save very rarely.... In this vision it pleased the Lord that I should see it thus. He was not tall, but short, marvellously beautiful, with a face which shone as though he were one of the highest of the angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call Seraphim.... I saw in his hands a long golden spear, and at the point of the iron there seemed to be a little fire. This I thought that he thrust several times into my heart, and that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew out the spear he seemed to be drawing them with it, leaving me all on fire with a wondrous love for God. The pain was so great that it caused me to utter several moans; and yet so exceeding sweet is this greatest of pains that it is impossible to desire to be rid of it, or for the soul to be content with less than God. (Peers, 197)
Cough cough.


So far as I can tell, this is about par for the course with Saint Teresa. She's really, really, really hot on God.

If you know what I mean.

And I have this sneaking suspicion that she's not the only one.

Let's begin by observing that most human beings are interested in sex. Sexual hardware is buried pretty deep in our brains, and influences us in all sorts of bizarre ways. Take, for example, this image from a Nielsen eyetracking study:


Although both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed.

Coyne adds that this difference doesn’t just occur with images of people. Men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site.

And even if you hadn't noticed that people are interested in sex, sexuality and sexual anatomy, advertisers have noticed: On the way home from Arkansas today, I tried to count all the billboards that used some sexualized image to sell a product. And even if you don't count each breast separately, the number is ridiculously high.

SPOILER ALERT: You may not be able to sing church songs the same way after reading the next few paragraphs.

Next, let's consider the sexy lyrics of modern praise and worship music:

All to Jesus, I surrender;

All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

Yes, I think "All to Jesus I Surrender" is my favorite source of questionable lyrics, but other examples abound. Please share your own.

Now my guess is that these lyrics aren't the result of someone's explicit sexual thoughts about God or Jesus, but I find it hard to believe that the ecstatic, sexualized language of these praise songs is significantly different than Saint Teresa's visions. If nothing else, both use sexually charged language because it's the writer's best chance at communicating the ecstacy of the experience of God.

So given that people bring their sexuality to their experience of God, let's observe that almost all of the God-language and God-imagery used in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches is masculine. God is always referred to using the male pronoun "he". God is often addressed as "father". Jesus (God incarnate) is male, and is often portrayed as a healthy young man in a snappy white tunic with a snappy blue sash. The holy spirit shows up and gets Mary pregnant.

My suspicion, then, is that women and men both have a sexual component to their understanding of God, and that this component significantly influences how they relate to God. The straight man and the gay man will have attitudes and understandings of God that are flavored by all sorts of sexual and father-figure issues. The straight woman and lesbian woman will bring similar baggage.

And so I have all these questions about how much this sexual component influences a person's perception of the divine. Are men less attracted to women who are attracted to God? (A recent study summary I read suggested that male attraction to a female decreases if another male finds the female attractive.) Are men less involved in church because it's perceived to be the territory of another male, or because they have no way to relate sexually to God? Is temple prostitution the inevitable byproduct of goddess-worship, and if so is there a mirrored problem for god-worship? Is sexual attraction to God generally good, or generally harmful? And can we talk about this, or is it too offensive?

Yeah, it's probably too offensive.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Why it's hard to be a Christian Feminist

Scenario 1

Let's suppose that you consider it virtuous to speak (and act) against injustice and oppression.

Let's also suppose that you consider it virtuous to commit yourself to a church, which means, among other things, continuing to attend even if you have issues with the church's theology or practices or members. After all, you can't change the church for the better if you just up and leave, and frankly, church-hoppers are annoying.

Let's also suppose that your church refuses to give women and men equal status in the church. In particular, certain jobs that could be done equally well by both men and women are reserved for men, and this is reflective of a deeper misogyny woven into the fabric of the church and maintained by its traditions.

Let's also suppose that you're a man.

What do you do?

Scenario 2

OK, now let's say that you've discussed the issue in bible classes, and with church leaders, and you've already refused to serve the church in any office that is not open to both men and women: One Sunday, once you finished leading worship, you politely said that you wouldn't be leading worship any more -- that you wouldn't be doing anything that men and women weren't both allowed to do -- and that no one should be upset or agitated, and then you smiled and sat down.

So you've waited for a year or so, but none of the church leaders seem interested in pursuing the issue of whether the church practices are unjust, oppressive or unfair. And in fact there is no real forum for such a discussion.

And so you're thinking about taking some action to denote your continual displeasure ... if only make yourself a little less complicit in the sins of this church that you find yourself unable to leave or change. In particular, you're thinking about wearing a gag to church every Sunday. And because your denomination is ripe for a big messy schism, you're looking into recruiting like-minded people all over the world who will wear their gags to church, maybe every Sunday, or maybe just one Sunday a year. Like father's day or something.

How's that sound?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Can't seem to get on topic

But after sharing the book recommendations, I feel compelled to make some music recommendations. Both of these came to me from Colby, so if you like them, you should send all your affection to him.

First, an album: Ys, by Joanna Newsom. This is not the kind of album that you are likely to like right off. Newsom is a harpist - not an instrument you're used to hearing - and her voice is a bit ... unusual. Each track is fairly long - 7 to 15 minutes - and lyrically, the songs are very dense. But I think they're wonderful.

The other thing you need to try is Last.fm. Think of it as internet radio where you create the station. You enter the name of an artist you like, and Last.fm plays music from that artist and other artists that are "near" or "similar" to the artist you chose. It also does some social networking music tracking stuff. Obviously, you could create a channel for Joanna Newsom, but then who knows if you'll ever get to hear Ys? You should just buy it from iTunes, and then hate me for a week until you start to like it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What I did this summer

In addition to performing in the Abilene Shakespeare Festival (w00t), I also read some books. I would post my deep insights, but I don't think I have many deep insights. So I'll just give you some brief reviews, in the interest of getting back into the habit of posting again.

Bears Discover Fire - Terry Bisson
A collection of sci-fi short stories. My favorite was a story I had already read: "They're Made out of Meat".

Life Could Be Sweeter - William Sinunu
A former flight attendant brings you insights from other cultures.

Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway - Dave Barry
Not his best, but probably as funny as a Libertarian can be when talking about the U.S. government.

How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter - Sherwin B. Nuland
Interesting. Describes, clinically, how we die from cancer, cardiac arrest, AIDS, Alzheimer's, and other maladies ... but also describes how people confront the prospect of their own death. The best book in the bunch.

Through Painted Deserts - Donald Miller
A coming-of-age tale by the author of Blue Like Jazz. In my opinion, the intro is better than anything in the book itself.

A New Kind of Christian - Brian McLaren
A coming-of-age tale by a well-known pastor and emergent church guy. I didn't find any of this terribly interesting, but then again, I'm not sure I'm part of the target audience for this book. So I'm going to withhold judgment. It may have some things to teach me about approaching conservative Christians.

Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
A graphic novel written by Alan Moore, who you might know better as the author of V for Vendetta. Nudges the reader toward some interesting questions about scientific ethics, free will and determinism, and the abuse of power.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
Rowling moves really quickly in the final book of the series, trying to cram everything in I suppose. Still, it's good. I thought the final chapters were some of the best in the series.