Content Warning: This post contains references to sexuality, sexual repression and oppression in the church – and the resulting spiritual ramifications. Please use self-care when deciding whether to read.
My spiritual journey back to myself has, in many ways, been a journey of reintegration. This is took me completely by surprise. I had no idea I had been trained to live a life of separate selves. The Pure Self. The Good Self. The Fat Self. The Beautiful Self. The Flawed Self. The Abused Self. Too. Many. Selves.
I also learned the art of shining. Putting my best self forward in all situations garnered attention and praise. Being crass or disrespectful or (gasp) gay, was definitely not rewarded. This resulted in a spiritual disembodiment. It felt like I was not my own. I was some sort of church billboard walking around. I was not representing myself; I was representing a system of ideals. I was only refracting the light of my evangelical home church. I was not my own person created in the image of the Divine.
This led me to thinking about some key moments in my development that helped cultivate this sense of lost spirituality. Purity culture was one of them. The bottom line of purity culture is this: 1.) people are binary-gendered beings (“male and female he created them,” Genesis 5:2); 2.) no sex before marriage is expected (“it is better to marry than to burn with passion,” I Corinthians 7:9); and 3.) marriage is for one man and one woman for life (“be fruitful and multiply” as told to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1). Within purity culture, there was no room for nuanced or multi-layered thinking about these complex subjects; they were concrete beliefs to be simply obeyed.
I recently listened to one of my favorite podcasts, The Confessional, with Nadia Bolz-Weber. In this episode, Rev. Bolz-Weber interviewed a 1990s purity star, Joshua Harris, who authored the book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” He has since recanted his teachings, “unpublished” his book (I didn’t know that was a even a thing), and apologized for the damage he has done by preaching this dangerous theology. If you wish to listen to the podcast, you can find it here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-confessional-with-nadia-bolz-weber/id1502171248?i=1000515133933
I lived, breathed, and died by purity culture. I signed a purity contract at a True Love Waits conference with Josh McDowell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True_Love_Waits). I wanted (but did not receive) a purity ring. I vowed to have no sex before marriage. This purity mindset ended up being one of the singlemost damaging decisions I ever made. What happened instead was I completely shut down (froze) sexually, pretended I didn’t want to date, ran the other way anytime I became sexually attracted to another person, and avoided having sex altogether until far past my expiration date. Okay, that part was a joke. But, during my teens and 20s, when I was supposed to be making poor decisions, getting my heart broken, and being sexually impulsive, I was (literally) upstairs in a prayer room, DISEMBODYING myself from my own experience of sexuality. That is not a joke.
So, here is the kicker: all of these behaviors were ADMIRED, DESIRED, and PROMOTED as godly. Years later, when I was in my graduate program earning a master’s degree in counseling, I finally had the mental space to unravel my knotted up, twisted view of sexuality and reconstruct a more sane sense of sexuality and self. I could finally breathe. And I was pretty done with God by that time, too. Unfortunately, one binary remained: I could love God but not be gay – or I could be gay but not love God. But definitely not both.
This is where reintegration came in. I did a lot of personal work around spirituality and sexuality (and the work continues). But reattaching ligaments and tendons and muscles and sinew turns out to not be such an easy task. “Re-embodying” (coming back to) myself, usually sounded like this: “I don’t understand why I’m attracted to women, but I accept it as part of who I am and I believe that I am beloved.” “My body is not what I would like it to be, but I choose to notice and appreciate my double chin and my beautiful smile and my voice that comforts others.” “I don’t really like God as male, and I want to feel God as female, and I just accept that I don’t get it and I can experience God as simply the Divine.” In other words, I lean in. I lean into the not-knowing. I lean in to the wondering and the confusion. I lean in to the idea that I don’t understand spirituality – or sexuality – and I remind myself that’s okay. I beckon the lost parts of myself to come home.
Most days, I tell my wife, Robin, I am 80% gay. A couple weeks ago, I saw a drawing of a bunch of penises (don’t ask) and I told her I was definitely 98.9% gay that day. I have found my sexuality is quite fluid. And I like the idea of spiritual fluidity as well. Some days, I can firmly stand in my identity as a Christ believer. Other days, it’s all too “church-y” and “Christian-y” and I want none of it. Reintegration means I get to offer myself the luxury of pausing and asking myself what I believe or know or don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s mine. I don’t have to refract any longer; I can just shine from within with my very own light. And I get to remember the process is what is beautiful, not the end product. I allow myself to be human. And loved. And weird. It’s quite freeing.
There is no tidy ending to this post. Re-membering and Reintegration is a work in progress. And the unfinished product is quite gorgeous with all it’s dangling pieces and partial images. As I leave this space, I am left wondering about you. What parts have exiled far away from yourself that want to come home? Which parts of you did you send away because you thought you had to? Which spiritual parts of you are wanting you to befriend them again? Maybe it’s time to listen to these internal lovelies. They have important messages for us.