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Let's Talk About Sex and Shame. What Now?

Well. Here we are. Two weeks and more than two dozen stories later.

I don't know about you, but I've found this series a bit overwhelming – I have too many thoughts and feelings to have processed them all fully, but I want to share a few of the big ones, and ask you to do the same.

Behind the scenes, beyond the stories you've read, many of you have emailed or said in person that you're reading along, that it's been encouraging/interesting/thought-provoking. I can honestly say that I didn't expect the traction this has gotten (I thought I would be begging two or three of my friends to share their stories), but it has confirmed to me that this was (is) an important dialogue to have. Many of us, churched or not, have stories and thoughts and feelings around our sexuality that we haven't had a safe place to reflect on. I am grateful that for a few weeks, this could be that space.

Now what? Where do we go from here? How do we take this out into our lives at large?

For all of you, the stories that I shared were fully anonymous. But the vast majority of them came to me with names and faces attached. They came in vulnerability, honesty, and risk. No one knew how I would respond to their stories, what I would say or not say. Each of them chose to believe that I would honour their privacy. The people who've shared are my friends (and can I say that I feel extremely privileged/lucky/blessed to have such a diverse and fantastic community? Y'all are wonderful). But I could not have predicted their stories. If you had given me these stories, and the list of people who sent them in, and told me to match them up, I would have done poorly. We cannot assume that we know someone's struggles, their hurts, or their secret shame.

If we are going to see change in how our world talks about sexuality, how we help remove shame and show people that they are loved and valuable, we need to think about and be prepared for and willing to have these conversations. You know the old adage – failing to plan is planning to fail.

So I want to propose a brief practice exercise, a little case study for us. It will take 5 minutes, or maybe 5 hours.
  1. Which story did you find the most difficult/foreign/uncomfortable/maybe even offensive?
  2. Now imagine that story belongs to one of your closest friends. For those of you who know me personally, imagine that I told you it is my story. For real imagine it. You and I are sitting down for coffee, maybe in your kitchen, maybe in a cafe. We're talking about life and what's been happening, and I say, “I know this is kind of a big story, but can I process some thoughts I've been having?” And then I tell you.
  3. What do you say to me, when I finish? How do you feel, both about me and for me? How do you communicate those things to me? What does the expression on your face say? What do you say to me the next day? The next time we see each other in person?
I truly believe we can shape a healthier culture and dialogue that stands against dominant/unhealthy narratives by being intentional, as each of us choose that my one life is going to tell a different story. That's all I have control over. But when I take ownership of my life, my story, there are ripples. Our lives intersect, and our lives interact, and we change each other, for better or for worse.

Of course, the question then becomes, “What story do I want my life to tell?” In this case, when it comes to sexuality and shame, what do I want my words, my actions, my choices to tell other people?

We will probably all come to slightly different conclusions, and many will have different underlying beliefs that motivate us. Here's where I'm at:

  1. I believe that the individual value and worth of a human being is not determined by their sexuality: their choices, their experiences, or their identity. Many cultural narratives try to tell us otherwise in subtle ways (This is what an “empowered” woman looks like! This is what it means to be a “good” Christian!); I do not want to listen to them.
  2. Our sexuality is perhaps one of the deepest parts of how we define ourselves, and it always deserves to be discussed and treated with care and dignity. Always.
  3. Living my life out of fear or shame – in any area – is no longer an option for me. I will actively seek relationships and professional support that help me move towards hope and healing.
  4. I will not participate in reinforcing a culture that shies away from the gray spaces, the uncertainties, the realities, and the difficulties of being sexual beings. We cannot paint with broad strokes or assume that life is black and white, cut and dried, or uncomplicated.
  5. As someone who loves Jesus, I believe that my understanding of who I believe God to be, and what I have experienced in my relationship with God should reshape and influence every aspect of my life, including my view of sexuality. I am still figuring this out, as I've said before. But one thing I will say with confidence is this: if church people are talking about sex in a way that begins with or is dominated by the message “keep it in your pants until you're married,” we are preaching a false gospel to our community, and to those outside. The good news of Jesus has never been, “Here are the rules; follow them.” The good news of Jesus is that he is not a taskmaster, cracking the whip and shouting, “Try harder! Do more! Be better!”
One friend commented in her story that she doesn't know what Jesus says about sex, and is only familiar with the “don't do it” narrative that has dominated the church. Since then, I've been thinking about how Jesus spoke about issues related to sexuality, particularly a story in which Jesus was in the temple teaching when some religious leaders came in with a woman who had been caught “in the act” of adultery.

They put her in front of the crowd and said to Jesus, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”   (John 8:1-11)
Jesus spoke against her accusers. He spoke against her shame. He spoke for her. That's what I want to do with my life. I recognize that my sexual ethics and choices will be different than many, and I'm more than willing to explain why (I think most Christians don't do this well, because we have failed to do the hard work of wrestling through what a Christian framework is when it comes to understanding sexuality and making sexual choices). But before that kind of conversation happens, like Jesus, I want to say, whatever the scenario, “I do not condemn you,” and mean it, with my whole heart. I do not want to be like the religious leaders in this story, parading peoples' lives around, adding shame and pointing fingers that I have no right to point.

Sigh. (for serious, just exhaled loudly and deeply)

Those are all my thoughts. And now I'd like to hear some of yours. Because I'm not the fount of all (or even most) wisdom or experience and I think it would be good for all y'all to hear from each other. Especially to thank and encourage all those who shared so honestly with the knowledge that their transparency is making a difference!

Some questions to start with, if you need a starter:
  • What are your thoughts at the end of this series? 
  • What are you taking away from all this? 
  • Is there something that has challenged you? Surprised you?
  • Have you had a conversation with a partner or friend or spouse because of this series? 
  • What do you think will change in your life now?

Please, leave a comment on this post, or email/message me your thoughts – and I will take a sentence or two from each one, and have one last post of our shared learnings. Then this series will be officially done. :)

Also, if you're in the Toronto area and are interested in meeting up with a few people face-to-face to talk about this (and/or other real-life topics)...let me know. It may or may not happen.


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