Let’s Talk About That Half Time Show

So let’s have a conversation about the SuperBowl half time show that people are losing their shit over. I’ve been watching the back and forth reactions and talking with people about it and I realized that the problem really is that two people can look at the exact same thing and see two completely different, unrelated events because of differences in culture. For example, when Shakira went up to the camera and did that tongue thing. To me, that looked really lewd. (I was watching with the sound off, so it looked particularly bad.) I have never moved my tongue like that except when doing things I’m not going to discuss with y’all cuz some shit’s private. But since that’s literally the only frame of reference I have for moving that part of my body like that, I just naturally saw something that looked really lewd.

However, as you probably already know, what Shakira was actually doing was performing a zaghrouta. It’s something done by people around the world, particularly in the middle east as a sign of joy and celebration. There’s nothing remotely sexual about it. Little girls do it and perhaps when they’re grown and move their tongue in a similar way for sexual purposes, it carries the memory of joy and celebration because that’s the memory that’s tied to that body movement. Obviously, the movement is not in and of itself lewd or sexual since it’s done in settings and for purposes that aren’t sexual at all. My perspective on the tongue movement is shaped by my body’s memory which is sexual while for people the world over the same tongue movement is tied to memories of celebration and joy. CLEARLY, the fact that Shakira’s tongue wag looked lewd to me is a ME problem and not an accurate representation of reality. If I refuse to accept that my perspective doesn’t define what she was doing, then really I’m just a jerk projecting my issues onto everyone else.

If you listen to people coming from non-western cultures, one of the observations they often make about us is that we are unusually restrained in our movements and behaviors. We don’t often display the physical exuberance, free movement and enthusiasm that is found in many other places. We reserve our hip thrusts and tongue wags and body rubbing for behind closed doors. Which isn’t necessarily a problem except we often make the mistake of thinking that movements which we have never and perhaps would never engage in outside of a sexual context are in and of themselves sexual. But they’re not. Many people in many places regularly move their bodies in ways we restrained westerners only do sexually when there’s nothing remotely sexual going on. What looks to our eyes like lewd, open sexuality is nothing of the sort to someone who has grown up swiveling and thrusting their hips while playing and dancing with their families, etc.

In fact, it’s pretty insulting to others when we presume that they’re engaged in sexual behavior while they’re simply playing, dancing and celebrating. How would you like it if someone claimed that an American cookout was a lewd celebration of fellatio that we encouraged our children to participate in because we eat hotdogs? They could write articles and include pictures of small children sucking on bunless hotdogs and decry us as a perverted people inclined to sexualizing children for men’s pleasure. Cultural anthropologists could theorize about the role of the hamburger and its relationship with cunnilingus. It would be ridiculous, of course, but it’s not all that different than what we westerners have tended to do to everyone else.

Now, I’m sure that right now someone is thinking that I’m being naive – I mean – look at the pole dancing! Obviously, THAT was sexual! We think that because we associate poles with strip clubs but the practice of using poles for dancing and athletic displays dates back hundreds of years to China and India. Even the pole dancing we associate with strip clubs has its roots in western eyes viewing indigenous Egyptian dancers as sexually provocative (because they dressed and moved their bodies in ways westerners don’t unless sexuality is involved). Traveling shows put these indigenous dancers on stage to make money from leering men and the dancers began incorporating the pole that held up the tent into their dances. Eventually, westerners more broadly were introduced to pole dancing in strip clubs in the 60s. But pole dancing isn’t sexually exploitive in and of itself. It’s hard work that takes a lot of skill and strength. We westerners are the ones who made the connection between pole dancing and strip clubs and now we want to be outraged that everyone else doesn’t accept our perspective as the only valid one?!? Come on people! We can be more mature than that, I would hope.

Even the clothing that the women were wearing. One of the most persistent critiques of western and particularly America culture is that we are unable to see the human form except through the lens of sexuality. It’s as if sex were the one true purpose of bodies and we find it impossible to view a body without being reminded of sex. Which is kind of pathological, to be honest. Obviously, our bodies do all kinds of things other than have sex. They run, carry, jump, play, hold, manipulate and on and on. All around the world and throughout time people have displayed their bodies without any sexual connotations. Just because western eyes have difficulty viewing the human form except Nhakg™g™re plays takes a bath after a ceremony in the village of A'Ukre, in the Kayapo Indigenous land , Brazil on Friday, March 22, 2019. The indigenous peoples of the Amazon rain forest are the shock troops in the struggle against climate change and are undergoing extreme pressure from the newly elected right wing Jair Bolsonaro government. (Dado Galdieri for Financial Times)through a sexualized lens, doesn’t mean everyone else does too! If you look at indigenous tribes engaged in religious ceremonies, depending on the climate, it’s not unusual at all to see the religious leaders dressed in ceremonial garb that covers very little of their bodies. It’s not sexual at all. Until relatively recently in the west, nudity during sporting competitions wasn’t even unusual. Not everyone looks at people in “revealing” clothing and sees something sexual.

And this is the point that I think a lot of people who are appalled at the half time show are completely missing: just because YOU saw it as sexualized, objectifying and lewd doesn’t mean that is the reality of what was going on. You think you’re decrying the sexual objectification of women and exposing children to open sexuality while most of the rest of the world thinks that they just watched two women engaged in feats of athleticism, skill and creativity with great joy. When you respond to what others see in those terms by claiming that they’re sexually objectifying women, you’re just telling them that YOU can’t see these women and their skills except through the lens of sex. You’re telling on yourself.

YOU don’t move your body in those ways unless you’re engaged in sexuality so you can’t fathom that a body being moved in those ways is anything other than sexual. YOU struggle to view the exposed female form except through the lens of sexuality so you assume that the point of wearing clothing that exposes the female form must be sexual. But the fact that YOU see all this sex all over everything doesn’t make it a reality. Other people are not obligated to avoid bumping up against YOUR sexual issues. Because that’s really what this is about: western culture has such a weird, stifled relationship with sexuality that we view all kinds of innocent and even fun, joyful things as sexual whether or not they actually are. And then we try to hold ourselves up as the moral exemplars who would never engage in or approve of such behavior. While everyone else stands around marveling at what sick perverts we are to read sex into anything and everything they do.

The bottom line is that just because something can be seen as sexual, doesn’t mean it is sexual. I totally get that those of us who were brought up in cultures where we have clear demarcations between movements that are sexual and non-sexual and dress which is non-sexual and sexual just naturally see a performance like the one at the Super Bowl as sexual. It looked really sexual to me as a white woman raised in a religious environment too. I get it. (And I’m sure that those who don’t view these performances as inherently sexual have no qualms about taking advantage of our sexual peculiarities to make money.) But just because we see it that way doesn’t make it so. When we project our perspective on others around us, we’re actually the ones sexualizing and objectifying women which is supposedly exactly what we’re so upset at everyone else about.

So, chill. It really ain’t that serious, people. And, if I can make a suggestion, it’s probably not a good idea to pass on our narrow views of sexuality to our children. They’re going to be living in an increasingly multicultural world and it just sets them up to be jerks and bad neighbors if they’re going around acting like other people’s joy and celebration are sexually perverse. Sometimes it’s better to just let things go.

A Bunch of Noah’s in Nashville

Do you know what I don’t like doing? Arguing with conservative Christians. I used to do it. But it’s pointless. Sometimes someone is so many different kinds of wrong that it’s hard to know where to start. And why bother? Arguments have been made, the sides staked out and scripts provided to all involved. It’s just the same conversations over and over again. As is so often the case when it comes to controversies grounded in scripture, we tend to come down to two fairly plausible readings of the text. As much as we want to argue over minutia and details, when you get right down to it, we’re just picking the interpretations which seem right to us. Which means all we’re doing is using the scripture to reflect our own hearts.

Sometimes what’s in our hearts is ugly. Like the recent appallingly timed release of an anti-LGBT statement by an appalling list of right wing charlatans who use the fear of God and man as a weapon to maintain control over much of the white American church. (If you are fortunate enough not to be in the loop about these things, it’s called the Nashville Statement. Google.) Now, not only am I openly biased about this statement, but I haven’t even read it. I’ve just read what other people who are appalled by it have said about it. That’s how flagrantly biased, unfair, bigoted and close minded I am.

Except I’m totally not. I haven’t read it because, again, what for? It’s not like we don’t already know the script they’re working from and it’s not like a bunch of “leaders” who long ago lost my respect are entitled to the time and brainpower it will take for me to read it. But because of the prominence and proximity to power which the signers hold as well as the fact that these morons thought we needed to hear them formally recite their opinions – AGAIN – about other people’s genitalia while we’re in the midst of several human, ecological, political and social catastrophes, it’s a thing people are talking about.

So, to start off with, contrary to what these jokers claim, the bible is not nearly as clear as they’ve made it out to be when it comes to LGBT people’s genital pairings. There’s an excellent case to be made that the bible passages which forbid homosexual activity have been completely misunderstood and misrepresented. If you’re not familiar with it, here are some good places to start looking. And here. And here.

But even in the absence of a scholarly case for LGBT acceptance, scripture provides us with ample room and cover for re-examining the old prohibitions against homosexuality. Go back to Noah. In Christian lore, Noah is held up as a righteous man who obeys God’s commands without question. A hero of the bible who saved life on the planet. The Jewish people, however, have tended to see things differently. In their eyes, Noah is not particularly admirable and, despite being a literal forbearer to the Jewish people, according to the text, has not been accorded the honor of being recognized as a Jew at all. The reason? Because he obeyed God’s commands without questions. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, certainly no liberal, explains this Jewish perspective of Noah thusly:

The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.” . . .

[Noah] failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. . . God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience. [Source]

Jesus was a Jew in the tradition of Abraham, not Noah. We see it in his proclamation that “the sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the sabbath”. That is to say, the rules do not take precedence over human beings and their needs. It’s up to the rules to serve human needs, not the other way around. This idea is further re-enforced in Acts 10 where God tells Peter to stop dividing between clean and unclean. Those rules which had been put in place long ago for the Jewish people would no longer define what was acceptable and unacceptable. Real Jews wrestled with God in defense of their fellow man. And going forward, Christians would no longer bind people to the rules which had previously defined everything Peter knew about right and wrong, good and bad, clean and unclean.

The fact of the matter is that those who continue to declare homosexuality unclean, forbidden and a violation of Christian morality are like Noah. They are obedient, but fail at the most basic requirements of caring for human life. Regardless of our understanding of what God has declared his intention or desire to be, LGBT people have made it clear, in word and deed, that they are being deeply hurt by the teaching that their innate sexual inclinations are defective and acting on them an affront to God. The traditional teachings regarding human sexuality have resulted in suicides, addictions, destroyed families, people being cast out of communities, mental health problems and intense rejection and hostility for LGBT people. So even if we believe that it is, in fact, clear that God condemns homosexuality, that is not a good enough reason to continue promoting a teaching which is hurting the people who are subject to it.

Jesus told us, flat out, that we can judge a thing by its fruit. The fruit of the teaching against LGBT people has been consistently bad. To ignore this because we believe that the teaching was handed down by God doesn’t actually honor God. As 1 John 4:20 says, if we don’t love the human beings who we can see, we CANNOT love God who we cannot see. Insisting on feeding people fruit that poisons them is not love. Saying that the fruit that poisons them is from God and must be eaten for our own good only makes it worse. Pointing to the very rare person who is able to tolerate the fruit without being obviously poisoned by it does absolutely nothing to help those who the fruit would kill. God’s ways bring life, not death.

At the end of the day, we do have a choice to make. It’s much the same choice that Noah and Abraham had to make. Do we just go along with what we’ve heard God has said he desires, or do we push back in order to defend our fellow man from destruction? The writers of the Nashville Statement have chosen the path of Noah; they will accept the salvation of being right for themselves while others continue to perish. I and many others are choosing the more faithful option of refusing to continue imposing death, suffering and rejection on LGBT people in God’s name. And I am not remotely worried that God will condemn or reject me for following in the footsteps of father Abraham.

Allow Me to Screw Up Your Sex Life a Bit

“We monks do not try to repress our sexual passions . . . Woe to those monks and nuns, who shovel into their subconscious their sexual passions. . . There is no spirituality in that. What happens, and what we aim at, is the transmutation of erotic energy from earthly attractions to God.” – Father Maximos quoted in The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides

In the old pagan world, sex and religion were all tied up together. Temple prostitutes and depictions of group sex on ancient Hindu temple walls and all that. Christianity has too often taken the opposite tact – sex as being so unholy that for a while it was considered a sin even in the context of marriage by the Roman church. Which led to possibly the most dysfunctional set-up ever; putatively and sometimes actually celibate priests being told each time a parishioner had sex with their spouse. What could be the problem with that, eh? Although the actual rejection of sex by the Christian church has varied wildly from place to place and time to time, the reality is that a lot of people continue to see sex and God as inevitably belonging in two separate spheres of our lives. To the extent that God and sex intersect, it is in the parsing out of rules for sexual conduct. But when actual sex takes place, well if our guardian angels could please exit the room, that would be great. And surely God has the good manners to turn his head for a few minutes. Wouldn’t want to be caught in flagrante delicto by the creator of the universe. That would be too weird. Continue reading