Inaugural Address

. . . we, body and soul, are good, as God created long, long ago, and keeps creating every moment of every day

Welcome to the inaugural post on The Naked Theologian!

I began a blog in this space some years ago, while I still lived in Richmond, VA, where I pastored the Metropolitan Community Church. Then it was called “Robin Gorsline’s Blog.” Later, in keeping with my commitment to the importance of social change—promoting justice and equality for all—I changed the name to “Make Love. Build Community.”

I still believe in that truth—the more love there is the stronger the community, and it is up to us to do the loving and building—but it’s time for another change.  Despite the new title, this blog is not a nudist blog, in the sense of focusing on nudism, or as many call it, naturism, and related activities, although I, and maybe others of my friends, will appear naked here and I will sometimes talk about nudity.

Robin standing hands open by Wayne
Photo by J. Wayne Higgs

I have claimed the mantle of The Naked Theologian because I am a theologian and I spend many of my days naked (and would like to spend all of them this way)—and because I believe that our world desperately needs to accept and celebrate the gift of our bodies, our “creatureliness,” in all their wondrous God-given varieties.

As a theologian, poet, and citizen who cares about healing the world, I want to help overcome body- and sex-negativity, including white racism and supremacy and male supremacy, hetero-supremacy, ableist supremacy, ageist supremacy, in my own nation and around the globe.

I especially want to do this for and within faith communities, certainly in my own beloved Metropolitan Community Churches—because I believe that distortions of religious teachings, especially in my faith tradition, Christianity, have been the greatest source of body-and sex-negativity and related social ills.

I also am taking a stand here as a 71-year-old cisgender gay man (who often feels gender queer), whose body is far from buff and who has suffered for most of my post-pubescent life with feelings of inadequacy about the size of my genitals.  When I first felt a call to claim the moniker of The Naked Theologian, I reacted negatively, saying to myself, “You can’t do that, you don’t have the body for it.”

But as I prayed, and discussed it with my husband and several friends, I came to understand that this wrinkling, “small-packaged,” somewhat overweight elder body could be one God will use to convey the truth about the beauty of every divinely ordained human body (which is every . . . body).  I pray that through this blog more and more people will stop judging not only the bodies of others but perhaps most importantly their own.

Adam and Eve in Eden nakedThe more we can stop dividing people into categories—based not only on gender and gender identity and race and sexuality, but also on age, ability, body type, ethnicity and national origin, religion, dress (including undress), and how well we, they, measure up to restrictive, even punitive, advertising and fashion standards—the more peaceful we will be, as individuals and as societies.

The biblical vision of Eden keeps calling to me. I have in my mind’s eye, in my heart of faith and love, in my soul, a video of the first humans and birds and four-legged and creeping creatures, as well as the flowers and trees and running and still waters, sky at night and day—all parts simply enjoying life together.

I believe the patriarchs used, and continue to use, one part of that story as a way to create control, through the suggestion of body shame between those whom they named Adam and Eve. Somebody had to stop all this freedom—things would get out of control and pretty soon people would be deciding, for and by themselves,  all sorts of things, including when they wanted to be naked and when they wanted to be dressed (as in when temperatures dip or the sun feels too hot or just wear favorite cloth on a special occasion).

The Dinner Party large view
The Dinner Party installation by Judy Chicago

It is not a formal theological text, but the artist Judy Chicago’s untitled poem which accompanied her installation “The Dinner Party” expresses much of what I believe is the true message of Eden. Her artistic vision has been criticized as incomplete in that the installation—a table with place settings for 39 significant, powerful women—not only has only one Black woman, Sojourner Truth, represented, but also unlike the other 38 whose portrayals focus on their vaginas, Truth is shown without her genitals and with three faces. Still it is a powerful artistic statement about the centrality and power of women in our world.

The Dinner Party Emily Dickinson
The Dinner Party, Emily Dickinson

Chicago composed this untitled poem which I have long admired and considered almost a personal credo, even though it perpetuates the gender binary (the art and poem were shown for the first time in 1979).

And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again

As I begin this phase of my blogging journey, my prayer is that we learn to live free and easy, knowing that we, body and soul, are good, as God created long, long ago, and keeps creating every moment of every day.

A New Blog Needs a Sexy, Spiritual Name

I am planning a new blog, not to replace this one, but in addition. Unlike this blog, with its many varying topics depending on what moves me to write, this blog will have a very specific focus: sex and spirit.

Platonic dualism
moredisciple.com

I have long believed that a major disservice of most of Christian belief and practice is how we long ago bought into Platonic dualism, separating spirit and body into two independent realms, and how that dualism haunts us today. This has resulted in a sex-negativity that denies the beauty of a primary way we are wired–I believe the word is created–to be drawn toward each other. There is an eros to life that touches us all.

I don’t mean that we are supposed to “have sex” with everyone, far from it. But I do believe that the energy between and among us has an eroticism at its core that we deny at our peril. Indeed, the world is paying dearly for this denial, and has been for a long time. Think ISIS if you want to see this denial operating at its most efficient.

My own personal journey is not the focus of the blog, but it will inform it, as will the wisdom of many people, women and men, who are engaged in reuniting body and spirit, spirit and sex. I will tell personal stories at times, and relay the stories of others. I also will invite guest writers to share their experience and knowledge for the benefit of all.

imageThis is not a site for titillation, although there will be topics and images that may cause your temperature to rise (I hope not in anger). At least I hope they do. Don’t be ashamed if the picture of a naked person or persons or the discussion of some activity causes you to feel passion. Passion that draws us together, that connects us with our inner beauty and desires for love, is good. Very good.  Part of this adventure is about being open and honest about a very central part of living, our physical/sexual/emotional desires. They can teach us much if we do not bury them in shame and fear.

And it is a site for serious spiritual reflection. I am a theologian by training, and I intend this to be a theological resource, to dig deeply into our embodied, even sexual, relationship with the divine (God for me, maybe something or somebody else for you).

creation Sistine ChapelIn 1985, I entitled my Master’s Thesis at the Episcopal Divinity School, “Sexuality as Revelation: Becoming Lovers Like God.” I continue to seek how to love with the fullness of God, and to help others to do the same. This involves my heart of course, and my mind, but it really involves all of me, and that includes my genitals and my skin and all the other erotic organs of my body. God and I have shared them, and continue to do so. Indeed, I am grateful for the times God and I have made love, and I look forward to more.

Coming Out 1
www.algbtical.org

Yes, this is another coming out for me. LGBTQ folks learn that coming out never stops, and sometimes we discover we are led to claim new identities, new experiences by sharing them with others.

One thing that has troubled me is the name of this online adventure. I have thought of some names, and several friends have suggested others. I would be interested in knowing what my readers think. What would most draw you in, if you were interested in the topic, or even just stumbled across the blog? Feel free to vote for one of the poll options, and/or suggest your own, and offer any other comments you wish.

Have at it. Let me hear from you. And thanks in advance for your interest and support.

[polldaddy poll=9190428]

 

 

Baring My Body, Opening My Soul

Yesterday, I took an important step toward greater self-care and acceptance: I went to my first-ever yoga class. It was a wonderful, life-enhancing experience.

yoga man in silhouetteSome years ago, a doctor told me I needed to work on balance issues, and suggested yoga. And several spiritual guides in my life have suggested that yoga would be a good addition to my other practices.

So, after church in D.C., Jonathan dropped me off at a yoga studio in the northwest part of the city*.

But this class was not your typical one because all the participants–about 10 of us plus a teacher–were male, and we were naked.

yoga-men
bamboomovesfh.com

Before getting to the naked part, I want to answer a question some readers may have: namely, why yoga? As I investigated this for myself, I realized that yoga is a practice of integrating spirit, mind and body–bringing together through exercises, positions, and meditation that which Western culture (and especially its Christian parts) has worked so hard and for so long to separate. I want that integration, and the greater sense of being and wholeness it brings.

But why naked yoga?

As I read up on the practice before going, I kept encountering the idea that being naked during yoga promotes both body awareness and body acceptance. So, sure you can do yoga at home while naked (if your house is warmer than ours usually is). And that will be good.

naked yoga mens class
nakedyogasf.com

One purpose of yoga, clothed or naked, is to honor and connect with your body. What I found yesterday is that practicing yoga naked, even in a beginning way, freed me from a layer of negative feelings about my body and allowed me to be more accepting of, and deeper connected with, myself.

After strenuous work in various positions, working up a good sweat (another joy of being naked is your clothes don’t cling to you), we moved to more meditative work, and I found myself so very aware psychically, even spiritually, of my body. Earlier, during various poses, I was also very self-aware, with aches from stretching yes and certainly getting off balance at times (I toppled to the mat twice!), but also other awareness ranging from how my genitals felt hanging out in the air as my arms and legs were aiming in all sorts of directions, and how my elbow felt seeming to hold half of me up in a pose whose name I cannot remember.

naked male yoga child pose
washingtonian.com

Being naked in public is a fear a lot of people have and being naked and practicing yoga can be intimidating. Some say the hardest part of the first time at naked yoga is undressing! Our society is driven by an unrealistic ideal of physical beauty, which can fuel an array of insecurity and self-doubt. Most people don’t have the body of a model and yet, we hold ourselves to those standards.

I certainly am not built like a model, never was, and I do not have the “parts” required for a career in porn even were I younger, but when we were lying on our backs breathing deeply under the guidance of our teacher, a wonderful and kind man named Brian, I began to feel an amazing connection between my brain and my penis.

yoga-men.tumblr.com
yoga-men.tumblr.com

Yes, when we finished, I had some arousal showing, but more to the point during the breathing,these two potent parts of me began a new level of connection–very different than you might expect. I don’t exactly know how to describe it but as Brian led us through breathing and visualizing our breath going down our windpipe and into our lungs, and then upward through our nostrils to our brain, including the hypothalmus, I felt a strange and wonderful calm, a peace I am not sure I have ever known before, come over me. Sensual calm, sensual peace, maybe even sexual calm and peace? I no longer fretted about my appendage and did not much notice anyone else’s either; these parts of me, so often driven by anxiety, actually felt integrated.

I can’t be more precise than that, but the good news is that I seem to feel it a bit yet today. Which is why you will find me, God willing, next Sunday stretching my body and my soul again. And why during the week, I will be looking at some YouTube videos to practice a few yoga poses.

I might even do so naked. Unless Cocoa (our standard poodle) objects!

[* The particular studio, a lovely space, does not want their name listed because naked yoga is not part of their studio calendar.  If you are interested in the class, you can contact DC Men’s Naked Yoga here]

Taking the Plunge

[This continues the meditations from December 9, December 10, and December 12, 2014, and January 9 and January 21, 2015. reflecting on moments during a Vision Quest in September 2014 at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park. If you want to receive the full gift of this one, I suggest you read the earlier ones. Clicking on the date will take you there. But you can, I think and hope, enjoy this post without reading the others.]

2014-09-10 17.44.31It was one year ago today–September 11, 2014–when I took the plunge. Literally. I waded a short way into Lower Cathedral Lake, naked, and as I felt the bottom drop down, I dove in.

Shock! The coldest water I have ever felt. I lived in Maine for several years, and went swimming in very cold small spring-fed lakes and in the Atlantic Ocean, but this water was cold, C-O-L-D! Actually, beyond mere cold.

I think I lost consciousness for a moment or two. I felt myself sink. I am not a good, or strong, swimmer. I panicked. But I had enough sense to turn around and begin to paddle furiously. After what seemed like eternity but probably was well less than a minute, I felt the bottom. Relief.

Naked Man Underwater 007-largeI stood up. There was applause on shore. “You made it,” shouted a friendly voice. “You discovered just how cold it is!” I nodded and waved, not able to find my voice as I clambered through the water to shore (later I thanked God those day hikers stayed long enough to be sure I got out).

I remembered that I came to the water to swim naked, to stand up naked going in and going out, in response to awareness of body shame. In this moment, I was so cold, I only knew I wanted to expose myself fully to the sun (I had not thought to pack a towel for the Quest, so air drying was it). Forget shame. Get warm, be “skyclad” as the Wiccans say, and feel the sun.

dive naked everything looks bigger underwaterToday, I still fight the shame. Parts of my body are not the way I want them. I wish I could say the plunge into Lower Cathedral Lake cured me. It did not.

But it set me on a journey that continues today. I am making friends with my body. [Note, it is a peculiarity of English, I think, that we can write about our own body as if it is somehow an entity apart from ourselves.]  I am exercising much more, and I am letting myself be visibly naked in the locker room at the gym sometimes. I can even admire myself sometimes.

And the plunge into the icy water? Today, I understand it as being about more than overcoming shame.

It is a metaphor, perhaps more than a metaphor, for living.

naked art Spencer TunickIt is good to dive in sometimes. Perhaps often. Don’t hang back. Dive in. Splash around. Make waves–even if sometimes they are due to panic.

It may not be good to get in over your head regularly, but on occasion it can be very instructive (like embarking on a Vision, or Soul, Quest when you have never gone wilderness backpacking or camping). How else will you have the satisfaction of righting yourself, or learning something new, or receive the gift of being rescued?

As to bodies, we are each one. Together, we make a larger body and/or bodies. Every body is different. And beautiful, each in their own way.

On this anniversary, I honor mine. I hope you honor yours.

What Do Topless Women and Homeless People Have in Common?

Most people, and I certainly include myself in this, express opinions based on social customs with which we have become comfortable–even believing that these customs have some very deep roots in human, and even divinely ordered, morality.

Racism works like that, to be sure. We grow up with prejudice which seems natural because in our families and/or community or society at large it was just the norm, often unstated but clearly present.

But this is not limited to racism.

desnudas Times SquareThere is considerable controversy these days in New York over some women who are displaying their breasts in Times Square. Controversy may be too weak a term for some; many express outrage. Topless women threatens Western civilization!

Never mind that the state’s highest court said long ago that laws forbidding women to go topless in public but allow men do so amounts to discrimination based on sex (and thus is unconstitutional). But that does not stop parts of the local media and the Police Commissioner from threatening all sorts of actions to stop the outrage. Even Mayor Blasio is doing some foaming at the mouth about it.

Rudy GiulaniAnd speaking of New York, did you hear about former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani going to his local precinct to complain about a homeless man living on his street? When he told of doing so, he called the time when people lived on the streets and did not use bathrooms inside “the dark ages.” That did not cause him to reflect on how difficult it must be for homeless people. Instead, he said, of his time as Mayor, “You chase ’em and you chase ’em and you chase ’em and you chase ’em, and they either get the treatment that they need or you chase ’em out of the city.”

I have different sensibilities. Frankly, I would rather spend time with some of the homeless people I have known than with the Mayor. I lived in New York during much of his mayoralty, and it was often ugly–but not so much because of homeless people (rampant homelessness is ugly for its victims, yes, but not in the same way for the rest of us). I called him Mayor Bully-ani, because of the way he went after people who offended his sensibility.

seeking human kindness -- homeless manI do not deny that homelessness is unpleasant when we encounter it, but does that mean we take out our discomfort on those who suffer. Instead, we find ways to help.

And those women in Times Square? Who are they hurting? In fact, who would it hurt if women could be bare-chested in public, just like men?

Much of the body shame aimed at women is enforced by these sorts of prohibitions. And what is truly distressing is that the very act of hiding body parts can actually increase interest in them. So the act of denial leads to fetishes.

What men used to have to wear
What men used to have to wear

Hiding women’s breasts goes back to those dark ages spoken about by Mayor Giuliani, and earlier, when women were property of men; women were homebound creatures and their menfolk–husbands and fathers–did not want breasts, symbols of fertility, to be displayed.

And did you know this? It was not until 1936 that it was legal in New York State for men to bare their nipples? That trend seems to have taken off and become “normal.”

desnudas Times Square man painting womanMaybe someday it will be so for women.

It will undoubtedly take longer to change attitudes toward homeless people. But we could start by making sure that being homeless is not viewed as a crime–the same way women baring breasts is not a crime.

Paying Attention: When Trees Speak

The mid-September days at 10,000 feet at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite were warm–although as the sun slid away in the late afternoon the temperature soon dipped way down.

From late morning until later afternoon, it was warm enough to wear light clothing, and even go naked. Given what my body had told me on Tuesday (see December 10), I spent some of Wednesday afternoon sitting naked on various rocks. I knew I had to expose my whole self to the sun, to the earth and creatures and trees and rocks around me. I knew I needed to do that to be able to wade into the lake on Thursday.

So Wednesday is a day to become better acquainted with my surroundings, to sit and watch and listen. Perhaps I will connect more with my soul, even become more appreciative of myself.

As I sit, I begin to see the trees. I sit for awhile, not very conscious, just gazing mindlessly at various trees. I notice how multi-shaped they are, how misshJu, Aug to midSept 2014 incl R & C wedding, HR Pride, Quest 068apen many are. I notice what will become my soul tree (see December 9).

I begin to speak, calling the trees my siblings, thanking them for being here, for surviving long enough to bless me. I have an “aha moment,” when I realize that the trees are doing what trees do. They grow, even in granite and weather extremes.

Then I notice that all are growing, whether they are “properly” shaped or not. They don’t have to have perfect bodies to be trees, and to grow. I realize that I could learn from this truth. I don’t have to have a perfect body (as defined by someone else, or society, or me) to be me, to live and thrive.

As I take this in, I say “Thank you” to the trees, my teachers. I tell them I am glad to be with them.

Then, a voice, well, not exactly a voice in the human sense, but a voice nonetheless, says, “We have missed you.” It is so clear, and simple. We have missed you.

I cry a little, and then I sob, great big gulping sobs, so aware of how long it has been since I really paid attention to trees and how grateful I am to be here, now, with Ju, Aug to midSept 2014 incl R & C wedding, HR Pride, Quest 069these beautiful trees. Every tree is simply stunningly beautiful. I want to touch each one, and bow and say thank you.

And I see that I am beautiful–maybe not stunning, not quite sure I can say that about myself, at least yet–but certainly beautiful, handsome.

So I cry some more, and stand up and walk around, just being glad to be revealed to these siblings. And I hug my soul tree. It is a careful embrace, given my bare skin and his (I have decided he is male) needles, but a brotherly, tender embrace nonetheless.

It is beginning to cool, and it is time to put some clothes on. But I know I am now ready to wade in the water tomorrow.

I am home with my pinus albicaulis family, and all their neighbors and friends. I am safe. I have been missed, and I have missed them. We are together and I am loved, and I love, too.

Next, the lake, and who knows what else!

Paying Attention: When Our Bodies Speak

Paying attention is not always easy, or pleasant. Sometimes, you see or hear or learn stuff you’re not sure you wanted to deal with. On the other hand, if we stay stuck in where we are we will never get to where we can be, or where God wants us to be.

That is one reason I went on the Vision Quest. I knew I needed to be more open to the nudges I kept feeling, and the sense that I was not fulfilling what some might call my “destiny.”

Cathedral_Peak_and_Lake_in_YosemiteI have written about the amazing trees I encountered at Lower Cathedral Lake, and especially the one I call my Soul Tree. But there is more to share about our encounters. First, some background is needed.

I went up the mountain as one in a group of seven, led by an amazing shaman, Dr. Tom Pinkson. We spent all of Monday getting to Yosemite by car from Marin and up 10,000 feet, arriving at that height after dark so we had to stop for the night. Putting up your tent in the dark is not fun!

But I made it (with a lot of help from more experienced hikers), and the next day (Tuesday) we headed up another 1,000 feet and then back down 1,000 feet to get to our base camp site. We set up our tents, and we each picked out a site around the lake where we would camp alone, fasting, for two days, starting the following day (Wednesday). Then we relaxed.

I started writing in my journal, of course. So much to record, and there had been no time since we left Marin the morning before.

lower-cathedral-lakeAs I sat on a rock, writing, I heard a splash. I looked up to see one of our number wading into the lake. He was naked, which of course is the way to do this if you can’t afford to deal with wet clothes! Besides, some say your body stays warmer naked than covered (but I am not advocating this, or even claiming it is true).

He is a good looking man, and I noticed his backside appreciatively.

But what came over me so fast was body shame, my own. I was shocked, thinking I had dealt with this a lot in therapy over many years. But here it was. I knew it was one thing I would have to deal with on the Quest.

And I knew at least one thing I had to do: go into the lake, without clothes.

This is where my siblings the trees come in. I am so grateful to them and as I relate more of the story, I think you will understand better, if you don’t already, about what Gerald May calls the “wisdom of wilderness.”

But I am going to stop here to ruminate about this experience and prepare to share more another day.