For our anniversary this year, my husband took me on my first walk across the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. As we walked further and further away from solid ground, from the edges, from the places where I was sure what was underneath me, I got more and more afraid.
I finally got to the middle, I looked down, trembling, and I saw death.
A few weeks later, a friend posted on social media about a bridge near her home known for suicides where a young 17-year-old woman had jumped the day before. She asked us to show up and tie a ribbon to remember and to show support for those who are struggling through depression. Later that day I went to the bridge. I walked to the middle. I could barely even look down, and I was terrified.
I mean, this water, it can swallow you up, it can take away your body’s ability to move itself and drag you through a thrashing current. It can fill spaces that it’s not meant to fill so that what’s supposed to be there doesn’t have enough room. It’s powerful enough to carve mountain rock and inhale a shoreline. People lose their lives to this water.
Sexuality is like water. It can surge through you, carving out paths that weren’t there before. It can take over and send you moving through its current in a way that you do not know how to stop. It can swallow you up and become the only world you know how to see. And it can seem to fill spaces that it was never meant to fill, taking away the space of what was supposed to live there instead.
Sexuality is powerful.
It was created by a powerful God.
We have this thing as humans when we come into contact with power. We get afraid.
When fear shows up, it usually brings some friends along, friends that can ease the nervous energy of fear and give us the illusion it’s less likely to ruin us.
Friends like rules, control, regulation, and rigidity.
The friends help tame the powerful thing, and bring it into submission.
And then we feel safe.
On the bridge, my husband asked me, “But can you appreciate the beauty of it?”
The thing about fear is that it narrows our vision. It covers over and cancels out some reality in exchange for other reality.
It trades beautiful for terrifying.
The other thing about fear is that it wears costumes. It usually looks like something else on the outside.
When we are feeling vulnerable in our relationships, we don’t usually say, “I’m afraid to open up to you, to show you me, because I am fearful of whether or not you will prove safe.” Instead, we say, “You’re an asshole.”
Our attacks, accusations, and manipulations are often times actually fear.
Sometimes, so are our compliments, favors, and sacrifices.
Because fear doesn’t always have to look scary.
When we talk about purity in the church, it can look like holiness, like devotion, like innocence, obedience, and protection. And sometimes it is.
It’s not that we cannot value purity, it’s that we also need to get honest.
We need to name, that as a church, we have looked over the bridge into the swirling sea of sexuality, and we have gotten afraid. Afraid of its power, and what we’ve seen it do.
So, while our messages about sex in certain cases may have been accurate, even accuracy laced in fear comes out sideways.
So, why do we talk about sex the way we sometimes do in the church, like it’s something that should be carefully regulated and controlled in black and white ways lest it ruin us entirely? Well, for lots of reasons.
Let’s start with this.
We are afraid of its power.
Our knowledge that it is supposed to be beautiful cannot outweigh our sense that it is also dangerous.
Until we can own that, we cannot have an honest conversation about what a powerful God intended when He created this powerful act through which, incidentally, life can come.