Wanna Keep Making Love To You
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The only thing my mother told me about sex was that if God made anything better He kept it to Himself. That’s always worth at least a smile. That this was the only thing either of my parents told me about human sexuality, however, isn’t funny at all. I know that it’s difficult to talk to one’s children about sex. As a parent – a father of two girls no less – creating conditions in which discussions about physical love can take place with honesty, limits, and without embarrassment is never easy.The thing is, though, there are so few situations in which any type of honest, frank talk about human sexuality can take place if it doesn’t take place in the home, where else is it going to happen?
For a long time – since Seminary, in fact – I’ve said the Church is a place where honest, age-appropriate education about the physiology and emotional and moral aspects of human sexuality could and should take place. The Unitarian Univeralist Association has excellent materials that do just that. It would be wonderful if other mainline Protestant denominations were so courageous. See, I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason we don’t do this is most adults are terrified of speaking frankly about human sexuality in any way. The idea of speaking honestly about making love – the phrase that describes what happens when two people connect physically, spiritually, and within a context of trust and intimacy – offers the threat of exposing not only things most people are hesitant to speak about openly; it presents the challenge of opening oneself to others, creating a sense of intimacy and trust with others that most of find difficult to do even with one person.
There’s also the sad reality that most everything people hear from Churches and “Christians”, when it comes to sex, is a series of “no”‘s that make it difficult to hear anything else. For example, did you know The United Methodist Book of Discipline begins its discussion of human sexuality with the affirmation that it is “a good gift from a good God”? Even if you’re a United Methodist lay person, I bet you didn’t know that. There are good reasons for that: all you hear from people are our declarations about celibacy in singleness; our anathematizing of same-sex physical love; no affirmative description of how or why sexuality is a good gift. These are all really good reasons to wonder if we United Methodists really believe that our sexuality is a gift.
How is it a gift? I’ll start. While not normally a fan of romantic comedies, one we like around our house is Notting Hill. I like it not least because there are times I feel like Hugh Grant’s character, a shy but friendly loser who finds himself in the company of a beautiful, well-known woman, a woman whose profession creates obstacles but also opportunities. Anyway, the scene in which they first make love, she comes to him, they say nothing for quite a while as they kiss. He slips Julia Roberts’ shirt off her shoulders. The audience sees nothing (because, we are told by the screen-writer and director in the commentary, Julia Roberts has a pretty strict nudity clause in her contracts; that she allowed her bare back to be shown was something no one expected) but Hugh Grant looks down, then back up into her eyes and whispers, “Wow”. The irony of all this is she is hiding at Grant’s place because someone leaked nude photos of her to the press. Hugh Grants’ reaction takes place in a context in which all of England has seen photos of Julia Roberts naked. That “Wow”, however, is the sigh of a man who sees what no one else sees. He sees her as a whole person, beautiful and open in the moment. It isn’t just that he sees her naked breasts. He sees Julia Roberts’ character as a whole person, standing in front of him, body bare, and he is saying “Wow” to that whole moment, that instant when the power and depth becomes real.
I know that feeling because that was the same reaction I had when I saw Lisa that way. The best thing is that I still feel that way. When we’re getting in to bed at night and the lights go out and before we drift off, I’ll have my hand resting on her bare skin. In front of my face is her shoulder and neck. I’ll lean forward, and every night I smell that good, clean, what I call Lisa smell. I kiss her shoulder and her neck. I whisper, “You’re so beautiful,” in her ear. The whole thing – us being together, the safety and security of our darkened room, the look of her body, the feel of her skin, that sweet scent, her smooth skin beneath my lips, the knowledge these are moments we share with no one else – is enough to make me a little giddy. Control is difficult to maintain.
This isn’t about sex. It’s about sexuality. That includes not just the physical acts, but the emotional, spiritual, and larger moral contexts in which two people share moments that bind them together more deeply, express the emotional depth of their love for one another, and might well have a certain measure of abandon about them, because those moments are all about those moments in their fullness.
How is it possible for us in the Christian Churches to be responsible stewards of the message of God’s infinite love and grace when we fail to allow space for serious discussions about the beauty and joy of making love? Nearly two millennia after the Christian Gospel allowed Neo-Platonism inside to reduce it all to the salvation of some “thing” called a soul, while our bodies were considered little more than dungheaps of filth, it is long past time to affirm that salvation in the Bible refers to the whole person. It is our bodies that shall be changed, a new Creation at the resurrection of the dead. We have a responsibility to teach the world that God loves us, that we are created as sexual beings, and that when our creation is complete God calls it “very good”. If we are only willing to condemn and restrict sexuality, insisting that real sexual intimacy is “private” which offers a convenient excuse to cover our shame and embarrassment behind alleged moral principles, what have we taught our children and youth, our young adults and even older adults? If we aren’t willing to tell the world how our sexuality is a good gift from a loving God, why do we pretend it is?
When I was little my older sister had the sheet music to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. I remember look through it, reading the lyrics. To this day, I remember what I felt when I read the third verse: “The first time ever I lay with you”. I thought “This is grown-up stuff”. And I was quite right. As much as I enjoy good fun songs about sex – without them what would we have? – there has to be room for grown-ups to talk about grown-up stuff. There has to be a place and time when we are willing to lift the veil on human sexuality, and offer really good, positive reasons and examples of just how wonderful sexual intimacy can be. Otherwise, why not just surrender and say, “Since we can’t talk about this, we shouldn’t talk about anything.”