Thursday, August 4, 2011
The REV-elution to Discuss Sex at Black Theater Festival
On tomorrow, Friday, August 5, 2011, I will take the quick trip to Winston-Salem, NC for the Black Theater Festival. At noon, I will team up with Mariann Aalda and Iona Morris for a 90 minute talk back symposium entitled “Good Sex/ Bad Sex and Safe Sex”. Aalda and Morris are at the festival to present M.O.I.S.T., a play depicting the lives and struggles of women grappling with menopause, life after divorce and that thing called sex.
I first met Aalda and Morris at the Black Theater Festival when they were there to perform “3 Black Chics”. Since then, they have reworked the play that is a festival favorite. It now comes with a safe sex message. Aalda contacted me to participate in the 90 minute talk due to the lengthy conversations we have had related to greeting space for conversations about faith and sex. We get our chance to do just that tomorrow at noon.
We will talk about: When is the best time for the first time? Is there a difference between having sex and making love? What’s God got to do with it? A discussion of sex from a religious and spiritual context and safety first.
My two novels, “Preacha’ Man” and “Backslide” delve deep into the internal struggles facing men and women who lead the people of God. By stepping into that deep water that no one wants to come and swim, I have attempted to force a conversation that many are afraid to address. Sorry folks, we have to talk about sex.
A few years back I wrote an article that I submitted to ESSENCE Magazine. It followed an article written by a woman scorned due a relationship with her pastor. I felt it prudent to write from the perspective of a man who has travelled in those sacred shoes for over 30 years. Not the scorning of women part; the minister part. ESSENCE decided not to publish the work, so, I’m presenting it here for the first time.
Things have changed for me sense I wrote it. I’m still single, but in a great relationship. The lesson still has bearing for those who try to make sense of what to do when the flame burns! Enjoy
She stepped into my office with every intention of enticing me. I could see it in her eyes-that look just before the first kiss. Her wrap around skirt accented her firm body. Her voice was not the usual sanctified tone that came with those changed by the power of the Spirit. Her walk reminded me of the lure of a fashion model. She was on a mission, and the assignment was me.
She was new to the congregation. It was a Wednesday evening, and I had just completed Bible study. As always, I was met with a barrage of questions following the class. She waited patiently as I did the best I could to address each issue. She waited with a glare. I couldn’t help but notice her despite the large crowd. She asked to speak to me privately. I could sense trouble coming.
“My name is Mary,” she whispered in my ear. “I was driving when something drew me to this building. I don’t understand what it was, but I think I’ve been drawn to you.” Her words attracted me. There was something about her look that made it difficult for me to focus on things Holy.
I wanted her. I could tell that she sensed my weakness. I wanted to believe she was attracted to the church by the Spirit. I wanted to believe that God had created a way for her to find me, that our meeting was not by chance, but a plan orchestrated by God.
It was getting late. The door to my office was closed. I could hear the chatter of those who had attended the Bible study. They were departing the church, leaving me to fend with the seduction alone.
“So, why did you ask to speak with me,” I knew the answer, but grappled with keeping things on a professional playing field. “Was there something I said in the Bible study that triggered your request?”
“There’s this guy I used to date,” she began. “We were perfect for one another. He was everything I needed in a man if it weren’t for one thing.”
“What’s that?” I asked, believing the conversation was taking a turn in the right direction.
“He couldn’t satisfy me in bed,” she repositioned her legs, exposing her red underwear. “Pastor, is it wrong for me to leave a man because he can’t please me in bed? Is it wrong for me to seek another man to give me what he can’t?”
I paused long enough for her to know the question had startled me. “You can’t help what you feel,” I answered. “What matters is what you do with what you feel.”
“What do you do when you feel something?” she snapped back
“I pray for strength”
“What do you do when prayer isn’t enough?”
“I run from the situation”
“What happens if the situation runs after you?”
“You stop and deal with your weakness,” I answered. “You ask yourself, why is this a temptation? You ask yourself is it worth everything that you have to endure after the sun rises.” I was talking my way through the struggle.
It disturbed me that I was frazzled. We’re taught that ministers possess a level of strength that stands as a model for others. Ministers are challenged to lead the people by their example. No temptation is too strong for them to overcome. That’s what we’re taught. They stand before the people as representations as success. They are more than flesh and blood. They are illustrations of the benefits of living the walk of faith.
As strong as I wanted to be, my time behind closed doors reminded me of how vulnerable I was to the attraction of a beautiful woman. It was after my separation from my wife. The word had spread that I was free. With that word came something I wasn’t prepared to endure-singleness.
I was married at the age of 20. For close to 20 years, I stayed married to the same woman. I led churches in Missouri and North Carolina. I believed in the oracles of my faith. I regarded the institution of marriage as one of the strengths of the Church. Marriage was the goal. I regarded sex outside of marriage as the demon that undermined the stability of the community.
I believed in marriage, and I wanted mine to last. It didn’t. Over the years my wife and I grew further apart. It’s one of the consequences of being a young, Black professional couple. I worked hard to obtain the credentials needed to legitimize my work in ministry. She did the best she could to prepare herself for her own professional career. All of that while raising three children, and leading a mass of Black people.
The marriage was over, and now I had to endure the new challenge of life without a wife by my side. I didn’t know how to be single while engaged in ministry. I wasn’t prepared with the skills needed to manage my sexual urges void of a wife. Celibacy was the goal placed before me. The church demanded accountability, and, for them, that meant abstaining from encounters with women.
There was a problem with that expectation-I needed the embrace of a woman. My marriage was over, but I wasn’t dead. What was I to do with the urge to date? Was I to place the need of the people to have me live a life according to their expectations above my own need for intimacy? I was told to put my life on hold. The other option was to go underground, and to date women behind closed doors.
I struggled with that notion. Why should I be forced to hide? Isn’t it contrary to my faith claims to keep from the people things that are known by God? We’re taught that God grants the strength to overcome all temptations, and that those in leadership are given more of a share of strength to aid in their pursuit of all things spiritual.
I wasn’t supposed to feel the urge to reach across my desk. I shouldn’t desire kissing this strange woman, and taking her home with me to help soothe all the pain related to doing the work of the kingdom. I ached because of my urge. I did my best to keep the conversation focused, but the more I talked, the more I allowed my imagination to take control.
Where did this weakness come from? Was it some flaw of mine that created this heated moment? Had I failed to pray enough, or was it another lapse in my spiritual discipline that caused me to want to be intimate with this stranger in my office? Was I so weak that I could no longer control the part of me that I’d prayed to go away?
I could have blamed it on the recent separation from my wife. It is easier to contend with temptations when you have a woman at home waiting for you. The Apostle Paul’s words were beginning to take on new meaning, “It is better to marry than to burn with passion.” I was burning in my office and all I had learned and taught failed to protect me from the woman setting on the other side of my desk.
As I spoke and listened, I explored my mental files for some truth to lift me beyond the craving. I found no sermon, no teaching, no word of wisdom that helped me with that moment. In that instance, in my office, I was forced to deal with one of the failures of the church. We have botched in providing a real understanding around the correlation between human sexuality and spirituality. Our only answer is to assume that the urge is a demon that demands exorcism. In making the claim that sex is bad, void of an explanation as to why, we leave people limited in their ability to understand the meaning behind the yearning that takes one by surprise.
I couldn’t pray myself out of this situation. I couldn’t run away. I was forced to sit and endure it, to face it and to come up with a way of dealing with the real reason for the temptation. I had to do more than call it a trap of the enemy. I had to admit that what I was feeling was because I wanted to feel it. There was something within me that wanted to come out and play, and the woman on the other side of my desk was merely a rude awakening to what was deep within me.
This is what comes with being single. The label of minister isn’t enough to reduce my humanity. I’m created as a sexual person, and although the church is not willing to have a real conversation about the meaning of sexuality, I had to deal with it for my own survival. I had to wake up and face the reality of my being a single person. My desire for attention and intimacy was real, and this woman triggered that part of me that wanted to be touched. If not her, someone else would come along to stir up the same emotions. The problem wasn’t her; it was my desire for human touch.
Maybe that’s why so many ministers get caught up in sex scandals. We, the people who make up our churches, assume they should never feel the urge. We put them in positions of power, and, in doing so; strip them of all their humanity. It doesn’t go away. It remains in tact. Those who survive best possess the skill of keeping the desire to themselves. They find ways of fulfilling the urge without getting exposed for being human. They trick the people into believing they are different than the others-they are a rare breed of strength.
Some cheat on their wives. Others, who are single, find a way to play the game behind closed doors. A few remain true to the expectations of the people. Some do it out of fear. Others haven’t been given the chance to explore the possibility. One thing is certain, that burning desire doesn’t go away upon ordination. The collars and robes we wear aren’t enough to exterminate the desire for intimacy. It comes knocking, and, when it does, it’s essential that one examine the root of the desire.
“I can’t do this,” I whispered to myself in the middle of a meaningless sentence. “I can’t manipulate this situation for my own gratification.” I knew the answer for that moment. She was a stranger. I hadn’t formed a relationship with her. I couldn’t take her home, have sex, and feel good about myself the next day. I could not jeopardize my position in ministry to lure women to my bed.
“I would love to talk some more, but I have to get home,” it was time to put an end to this game.
“Can I come see you later? she asked.
“Here’s my card,” I handed it to her from across my desk. I knew I couldn’t give her my home number. “You can contact my administrative assistant to arrange an appointment.”
We stood to depart. She reached for a hug. I allowed it knowing trouble could follow. It felt just right. I pulled away just in time. Another second would have been too much. I pulled away as her hand stroked the middle of my back. “Thank you,” she said. “It was nice meeting you.”
Temptation has a way of finding those in ministry. When it comes sometimes you can pray, sometimes you can run, sometimes running and prayer aren’t enough to help you through. Sometimes you have to consider the reason for it all. Sometimes it’s because something is missing. Sometimes it’s because you’re hurting. Then there are those times that you feel the urge because of that thing called love.
We’re told not to feel desire. Desire isn’t the problem as much as it is the wrong type of desire. We all need human touch, even those in ministry. The touch should mean more than a moment. It should open the way for more meaningful moments between two people.
Check out the website for M.O.I.S.T