Stripping Down

We are called to be a priestly people.

In many venues, I identify as a Queer Theologian (and poet), but I have made a deliberate choice here to leaven that with the idea of nakedness–because I believe (I want to say I know if it does not sound too dogmatic), that when we are most vulnerable we are most true to our inheritance as offspring of God.

Queer Virtue book coverIn her graceful and very wise book, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know about Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity, Elizabeth M. Edman shares a definition of priesthood that was given to her by a friend:

A priest is someone who stands in a place of remarkable vulnerability, and by doing so, invites other people to enter the sacred. 

This expansive understanding of priesthood fits well, as Edman says, within the Protestant concept of the priesthood of all believers. In that way, it undercuts the clerical hierarchy that is so often an impediment to spiritual growth and health among “lay” people. Indeed, it may help end what is often seen as a binary of lay/clerical difference–a chasm which leads too many non-clerics to think they have nothing useful to contribute to spiritual life and too many clerics to think, or at least act as if, they have everything that is needed.

Robin clergy collar less smile Sept 2015 smaller3_edited-4There is institutional authority vested in the office of priest or pastor, or rabbi or imam–depending on the tradition and the community, it can be a lot. However, it is the authority of personal and interpersonal vulnerability that is far more powerful in ways that transcend the usual humanly created boundaries. And that authority is available to all the faithful. We are called to be, as Edman says, a priestly people.

I am a nudist at heart, but I did not change this blog name simply to take my clothes off (or feature others who do so) online–although that may happen from time to time. At the same time, I recognize being physically naked as part of a continuum of spiritual and emotional nakedness and vulnerability.

I still wear a clerical collar when I go to church, but I am not sure entirely why. I have no formal or pastoral role in worship, and even if I did it is not my clothes that make it possible. It may be a sign of comfort for some, but increasingly I chafe and wish to dress as more myself.

Robin with longer hair and beard (cropped)_edited-1I started this most recent journey in my life by taking off all my clothes and discovering much joy in nakedness by myself and with others. Now I see that I may want to consider each item of my costume–not as a form of striptease but as a way of really exposing, at some deep levels, all of me.

Taking off the collar may be a greater signification of my priesthood–a priest forever, as my friend and mentor, Carter Heyward, has written–than wearing it. Then I am more likely to stand in that place of remarkable vulnerability and thus invite people to enter the sacred.

That is my desire, and I believe it is God’s desire for me, and you, and all creation.

 

 

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.

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]