Our theme for the month of June is “Sex and the Church.”
I am the Church, you are the Church, we are the Church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes we’re the Church together! – “We Are the Church” (or that song from Sunday school)
Dear Mom and Dad,
Thank you for affirming our interests—for encouraging dress up and cooking, fishing and bug collecting. Thanks for giving Jonathan and Gregory their own baby dolls, and for asking if I wanted to bring the garden toad to show-and-tell (I was going to bring a Barbie because that’s what all the girls brought). Through small actions like these, we learned that there are many ways to express our personhood, and that respect for others, regardless their gender, appearance, or preferences, is the foundation of any solid relationship.
I don’t remember the talk with either of you, though I’m guessing it was uncomfortable and probably involved a Focus on the Family book, time for questions, and prayer. What I do remember, Mom, is that you told me you sat at a sexual health (read: free condoms) stand on the seedy street corner when you first started working as a public health nurse. If premarital sex was wrong, like everyone said, and you were giving condoms to people having premarital sex, then there must be more to the story. My eleven-year-old mind was comfortable with a simple set of rules, but knowing this about you, one of my primary rule-makers, opened space for more nuanced conversation. Thank you for trusting that I could hold complicated conversations.
Dear Mr. Sherman,
Thank you for spending two weeks on the reproductive system in tenth grade anatomy class and for delving into the mechanics of sex and the physiology of arousal with frank and detailed clarity. Though we heard the talk often (by then, we’d endured five annual gender-segregated “Purity Days”), this was the first time I understood how sex actually worked. You cried happy tears when you got to the part about the joy and beauty of sexual intimacy. Sorry for snickering behind your back. Your uncharacteristic tears left a deeper impression than any previous “save it for marriage” lecture had. Thanks, too, for crying. Here, men weren’t really supposed to cry. Thank you.
Dear First Kiss,
Thank you for the pause and rephrase that changed your “can I kiss…” to “can we kiss?” The memory is a good one, and I recall pulling away, looking into your eyes, and smiling with a happy yes before leaning in again. It’s a question I didn’t expect and probably wouldn’t have noticed, had you stuck with your original “I.” And yet, it’s this moment, pre-kiss, that I’ve always remembered. “Can we?” comes to mind before other firsts and seconds and sevenths and twenty-thirds. “Can we?” asks for a yes or a no. “Can we?” recognizes that both you and I are active agents. “Can we?” reminds us that we’re doing this together. There’s a responsibility and a mutual respect in “can we?” Thank you.
Thank you for writing plays that tell real stories of intimacy, brokenness, and human sexuality. Listening to these beautiful retellings sometimes feels like looking into a mirror and other times feels foreign. Thanks for creating space for compassion and deeper understanding. Thank you for asking difficult questions, for listening well, and for sharing your art with the Calvin community. We (both Calvin and the Church) like answers. Thanks for not providing answers—that, too, takes a certain kind of courage. Instead, you printed programs full of more questions to consider: “How does human sexuality fit into a holistic principle of intimacy?” “How do you think sex and gender affect the way you think about your body?” “Does God have a gender? Does the Holy Spirit? Does it matter? Why or why not?”
Thank you for the conversations that unfold in the normal, boring places—over long text messages, in your kitchen after dinner, in the car, over drinks at The Meanwhile. Thanks for sharing your sex advice—what’s worked, what hasn’t, what to expect—sounds, fluids, foreplay—the stuff that Focus on the Family and Purity Day never came close to mentioning. Thanks for being vulnerable—for sharing your experiences and mistakes, and for listening to mine, too. These things matter not only because we trust and care for each other, but because we’ve a responsibility to each other: to listen, but also to challenge. Thanks for being the kind of friends who are willing to challenge.
If the Church is its people, like the Sunday school song says, then thank you, people of the Church, who open space for nuanced, complicated, and sometimes uncomfortable conversation. Thank you for pursuing both wisdom and wonder and for recognizing that wisdom and wonder are sometimes one and the same. If the Church is a body of believers made up of individual bodies that affirm the life, death, and resurrection of a Holy body, then thank you, people of the Church, who affirm, respect, and celebrate bodies. If I am the Church, and if you are the Church, and if we are the Church together, then we have a responsibility to each other to have these conversations together. Can we?
Paula Manni (‘13) works as Arts Programming Coordinator and is an arts advocate for the Calvin College community. She enjoys throwing parties on the side, and fills in the gaps with wine making, music listening, museum visiting, and Michigan exploring.