Part 4 of 5 with co-authors Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor who have recently published "Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through" in which they describe the process of ending a thirteen year marriage and creating a new way of being family in the wake of Joe's coming out.
Part Four: The gift of touch
- by Joe Cobb -
On the last day of the Community High School’s Sex Education class in Roanoke, Virginia, I was invited to speak with the students about Religion and Sexuality.
As I wrapped my mind around the topic, I wanted the students to hear, more than anything, the connection between spirituality and sexuality. I wanted them to know that the two are one.
I remembered a section of Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. I remembered that when I read this section, it stopped me and made me pay attention to my life in a way I’d never paid attention before.
Strolling through the beautiful prose of Morrison’s narrative, I found myself on the edge of a clearing, watching and listening to the local preacher, Baby Suggs, as she climbed upon her preaching rock and invited everyone hiding and nestled in the trees to come out.
Morrison says it this way:
She did not tell them to clean up their lives or go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.
She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.1
She invited us to come out and cry, come out and laugh, come out and dance, come out and shout, come out and be who we were created to be.
She invited us to call out each and every part of these body clothes we have, inside and out, to name them and touch them and remember that even when others don’t honor parts of our bodies or the whole, that we should do so, because this what our Creator intended.
She called on me to touch my neck, to raise my hands, to touch my feet.
She called on us to love our livers, to love our wombs, to love our private parts.
She called on us to regard what others disregard.
And, as she drew her invitation to a close, she uttered these enduring words:
Love your heart.
For this is the prize.2
As I read this section to the high school students, I invited them to consider what life would be like if we were asked to live as disembodied beings, told to only engage a part of who we are, not the whole.
To touch, but only in part.
For many, religion (in the organized sense of the word) and specifically, Christianity, has tended toward disembodiment, dating back to the doctrine of original sin, which took the realization of vulnerability in the Garden of Eden and turned it into a doctrine of shame.
And, the story has been passed down, generation to generation, as a way to keep the focus on sin, rather than blessing.
In his powerful new book From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ, Patrick Cheng explores the problem of sin as a crime-based model and how this model not only “cages” sin, but also the nature of grace.
As a gay, Christian man, I’ve had to face down many of the contemporary jailers who would prefer to keep me locked in the crime-based model of sin. These are the religious leaders of our day who sexualize my life to such an extent that who I am is sin. You can be who you are, they say, just so you don’t act on who you are.
In a strange, ironic way, these jailers are doing the very thing that Cheng identifies as “sin as exploitation.”
“Exploitation,” Cheng says, “is the lack of mutuality or concern for the needs and desires, sexual or otherwise, of another person. That is, the other person is seen merely as an object and a means to an end.”3
Sin as exploitation not only disembodies our desire to be one with the Erotic Christ (the Word made Flesh, the incarnational expression of God’s deepest desires for us)4, but disconnects us with the essential nature of grace and blessing in which we were created.
When we lose touch with who we are, as created in God’s image, we lose touch with who God is and we become disembodied.
We are afraid to touch God because someone else has told us we can’t touch God.
How do we reclaim the good news of God’s erotic touch in our lives?
By unleashing the power of grace.
. . .
1 Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage, 2004.
3 Cheng, Patrick. From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ, p. 73. Seabury Books, 2012.
4 ibid, p. 72.
Their book is available for purchase through their website:www.ourfamilyouting.com and through all major on-line book and e-reader formats. For books purchased through their website, they will send personalized and signed copies.