When Wesley Spoke Of Experience . . .

Someone once said I found God on a stripper pole. For me, dance class is definitely my church, my sanctuary, the place I feel most at peace and where my spirituality continues to grow. My teachers tell me the pole represents anything I need it to be. I remembered that as I was dancing in class one night and teared up. … I give the pole all of my worries and fears when I need to, I wrap myself around it and feel connected to something, I dance around it in celebration, I lean on it for support, sometimes I hold on and cry and sometimes I hold it with love, gratitude and appreciation. I feel closest to “MY God/Higher Power” when I’m in MY “place of worship” – “Finding God On A Stripper Pole”, Chrlstinamarie, May 10, 2015

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In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? – John 14:2

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The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’- John 3:8

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What does this have to do with the Gospel? Maybe everything . . .

What does this have to do with the Gospel?

Just yesterday, I had the temerity to take a United Methodist Bishop to task for what I felt was a serious doctrinal error in a simple statement. And today, I do believe many who read this might well take issue with what I am going to say. I find it difficult, however, to discount a person’s testimony of the salvific experience she has received through a particular way of coming to accept who she is; of the life-restoring power not only of a particular workout, but of the growth of relationships with others who have come to experience a certain sense of self-worth, power, acceptance, and even love together.

And let’s be honest. Isn’t it just a tad creepy that I spent any time looking at photos of women dancing around a stripper pole? Under pretty much any other circumstances I would say, “Absolutely!” Except, if you’ll notice, I’m not posting photos of women without their clothes, because that’s not what this is about; I’m not being sensationalistic, voyeuristic, or exploitative because to do so would undermine the entire purpose of writing this. Finally, I want to celebrate one woman’s journey to self-acceptance, to finding real community with other women who share an understanding and experience, and recognize the possibilities that exist for continued spiritual growth and maturity (“going on to perfection in this life . . .”) towards which this woman sees herself moving.

Still, what does a stripper pole have to do with the God of Jesus Christ? Maybe, just maybe, everything.

I do think we get so caught up in being “right” and “correct” in our theology, our practice of spiritual disciplines, our insistence on particular experiences being exclusive of others, that we forget that our Triune God is not restricted by our all too human – therefore limited and always in need of correction – understanding of just how God might act in the lives of people. Albert Outler added “experience” to the Anglican sources of theological insight: Scripture, tradition, and reason. Doing so, he recognized something in John Wesley’s preaching and teaching that others missed. For Wesley, the very human experience of salvation comes at different times, in different ways, through different vehicles, for different people. Of course, this is not just “experience” as in, say, my car broke down on the side of the road and someone came along and helped me therefore God loves me. Rather, it is the experience of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us, giving us that sense of peace that affirms our sense of salvation. This is never a “once for all” experience; it is, rather, something that comes to each of us and all of us at different times with different levels of intensity.  For John Wesley, it was hearing Luther’s “Preface to Romans” read to him. Now, we have no idea what others experienced that night. For Wesley, it was that “heartwarming” experience, that understanding that Christ had died even for him, that led him to note it in his Journals.

For the woman whose blog I’m celebrating and sharing, it was joining Sheila Kelley’s S Factor workout, which includes using a stripper pole. That experience was more than just the joy that comes from feeling physically fit. In her own words, this is a spiritual experience of great depth. In the moment, she feels herself strong, freed of the demons that had haunted her through so much of her life, and connected to the other women with whom she shares this workout. And we have no idea if other women experience with the depth of feeling what she does. What we do know, from her own testimony, is that she has found God, had her life saved, and experiences spiritual peace and power in and through this particular experience.

Along with being meticulous in our desire to guard the truth of the Gospel, we tend to police the boundaries of what is and what is not an acceptable understanding of how God works in people’s lives. Even I have done so, in my own recent post on “community” in which I was explaining my understanding of what is and is not authentic community. We also tend to be prudish. Anything even hinting at sex becomes, for some reason, suspect as a vehicle of spiritual enlightenment, a gateway for the Holy Spirit to enter our lives and remind us that we are precious, beloved children of a God who will never, ever let us go. Yet, the act of sex itself is often considered a metaphor for the Divine/Human encounter (see The Song of Songs). Why should we deny what Scriptures and our own experience confirm?

To insist there is no way a person could have an experience of the Divine by dancing around a stripper pole not only denies this woman’s reality. It is to repeat what Nathan, a future apostle, said of Jesus: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” We contemporary American Christians are just a bit too blinkered to see how God can work pretty much anyway God chooses; that the Spirit will blow where it will, and we can see its movement from what it leaves behind. In this case, a woman struggling through hard times, low self-esteem and a lack of healthy body image, and personal grief discovered transcendent love in and through the discovery of the power her body experienced not only exercising, but in celebrating the beauty and mystery of the human body when it expresses its core sensuality. Like all spiritual journeys, this one sounds like it is just beginning, and I celebrate what has already been done in her life, and what may come.

Finding God on a stripper pole? Absolutely. Let the journey continue!

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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