This little ditty ran in Fuller’s weekly student publication, the Semi, for a series on sexuality (for which very, very few women writers submitted articles).
I was born into the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a denomination founded in the roaring twenties by a woman who had three husbands and later an E! True Hollywood Story made about her questionable kidnapping and other scandals. So, you may think that I grew up in a church environment that broke gender stereotypes, that set women free to express themselves in ministry, in mind, and in body…but you would be wrong. No, my church youth group was probably much like yours—the boys herded off for a talk about sex (read: porn and masturbation) while the girls huddled together and dreamed about the princes that awaited them at the end of the rainbow road of purity and promise rings. Four years at a Foursquare Bible college was—surprise, surprise—more of the same, with the expected addition of make out sessions in dorm stairwells and far corners of public parks. The sexual tension was thick, and the solution was marriage, of course. But I graduated with two ex-boyfriends and no engagement ring, which was practically unheard of for a school where many women attended only to receive their MRS degree (sorry, had to put that in).
One week after graduation, I found myself dancing in a campground bar outside of Paris with a bunch of Australians to that classic 90s jam, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” followed by a quick game of strip air hockey with a New Zealander named Matty. You’re probably thinking: this is where it gets interesting! Bible college grad explores her repressed sexuality in the backpacking scene of Europe…but you would be wrong. Again. I won that air hockey game, after removing only my earrings and my sandals (Matty may or may not have been down to his underthings). And the exploring I did over the next few years had little to do with men and a lot to do with traveling the world for missions and study and fun, discovering more about other people, other cultures, and God—and growing up a bit in the process.
But these things have a habit of resurfacing, and once I was done traveling and settled back in California, I entered the world of Fuller with its ecumenical diversity and gender-inclusive policy. I was so accustomed to using “he” and “men” for all humankind, including myself, that it took me awhile to realize how empowering it was to include both genders in our speech, our writing, and especially in our reading of the Scriptures. Replacing “he” with “she” in some verses about discipleship or God’s love opened up the world to me—I was no longer on the outside looking in, I was invited to get in the game. I started to ask questions and offer comments in class, I no longer hid my intelligence as I did in Bible college, and I began to understand the way it made me feel to be called a “girl” versus a “woman” (hint: boo versus yes).
As an intelligent woman, I returned to some matters left untouched since my high school and college years. I was single and trying to figure out what to do with this sexuality that was supposed to have been activated at 22 if I had married a few weeks after graduation, like a good Bible college student. Sexuality seems to be a given for men, but is still a closed topic for many Christian women. Gathering the moxie I’d collected in my empowering moments of feminism at Fuller, I opened the door and invited myself into the conversation. What does it mean to be 26 and single? I wondered. What if I never get married? How does a promise ring help me then? I knew by now that my perfect prince probably slipped up somewhere way before he turned 26, and I felt cheated. I brought up these questions among friends and acquaintances and discovered that some weren’t ready for that kind of talk, but also found that I’m not alone. I had a conversation recently with a 35-year-old friend who is single, and she’s wondering lately if she’s wasted the past couple of decades with her sexuality on the shelf. Maybe it’s time to take it down and see what happens?
But it’s not even about measuring purity points with a future spouse, it’s realizing that we are not only spiritual, physical, intelligent, emotional beings—we are also sexual beings. And I did not have a clue what that meant. Some things have helped—especially my exposure to Catholicism and other traditions that were quite foreign to me before arriving at Fuller. It wasn’t until this year that I realized how wide is the chasm between my sexuality and my spirituality. In my classes and reading, I’ve been fascinated by glimpses of an earthy spirituality where the body is as much a meeting place with the divine as the mind or the soul—where the three, in fact, are blurred and joined much more than compartmentalized or cordoned off from each other. Last summer in Italy I was still as single as ever, but I immersed myself in the sensuality that marks the citizens of the hilltop Umbrian town of Orvieto—feeling the buzz of wine or espresso in my veins, rich truffle oil and sweet gelato on my tongue, St. Francis’s brother Sun caressing my shoulders. Somehow, these were steps in my journey.
So here I am—not far from where I started, but I have a rucksack over my shoulder and I threw out the maps I received as a child (I Kissed Dating Goodbye and DC Talk’s “I Don’t Want It”). The cartographers of Christian sexuality—at least the Evangelical ones—led me nowhere, but told me to stay in one place and be a good girl until a nice man came and found me. However, I am not interested in going the way of the mainstream, non-Christian world, either, who tell me that God is too big, too slow, too out-of-touch to bring along on these travels. I can’t explain it, and I can’t even say I’ve yet experienced it, but I know that He is the guide and companion that I want, and that in these uncharted wanderings, He is a safe place to camp.