OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD! Young Adults Speak Out about Sexuality & Christian Spirituality. Heather Godsey and Lara Blackwood Pickrel, Editors. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2010. vii + 134 pages.
The phrase “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” describes a policy of the United States Military regarding gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces. The phrase has carried over into other realms of life, including the church – generally to describe the place of gays and lesbians in the church. But, one could just as easily carry this phrase over to apply to sex in general. In the church, we don’t talk about sex, and we would just as soon you not bring it up. Sex is private, even dirty. It would appear that St. Augustine’s ghost continues to hover over the church, always carrying a copy of his Confessions for ready reference.
And yet, sex is part of life. A quick look at our culture’s movies, TV shows, advertisements, and music, would suggest that sex dominates society. It’s there, right in front of us, and yet the church seems to take little or no notice, except perhaps to tell our teens (and the gays in our midst) to just say no! Despite our “best efforts” to ignore the situation, it doesn’t seem to be going away. This is especially true for our younger adults and youth. The “just say no” movement seems to have little effect, in part because it really doesn’t deal with the realities faced by young people today. Indeed, many aren’t quite sure what sex is – as Bill Clinton famously illustrated.
Into the midst of this blissful ignorance comes a book with a title that is sure to provoke both interest and concern. The phrase “oh God, oh God, oh God,” might sound like a prayer, but few would take it that way. We know what it means. Edited by Heather Godsey and Lara Blackwood Pickrel, two Disciples of Christ young adults and clergywomen, this book brings together a series of essays that deal with topics rarely broached in the church, at least not without a degree of controversy. On this score the editors write revealingly:
When love, sexuality, and embodiment are brought up within the context of faith, the church, or spirituality, a corporate shudder travels throughout the body of Christ, and with that shudder comes confusion, resentment, and isolation. It is as though a large portion of ourselves must be left at the door as we enter into communities of faith (pg. 1).
The editors and the authors of this volume, however, have chosen not to leave the questions at the door, and so they wrestle openly and honestly with issues such as sex education in the church, chastity programs, pornography, infertility, in vitro fertilization, homosexuality, fidelity, and concerns about body image. These are issues that rage in our society, and yet the church remains silent, or if it speaks, it usually speaks in tones of judgment and disapproval. When such tones dominate the conversation, then the conversation goes underground or it simply doesn’t happen.
The editors and writers understand that not talking can leave people isolated and alone, and it can even be dangerous to one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health. As such, this is a book designed to provoke discussion (and discussion questions are found at the end of each chapter).
I need to provide a sense of perspective on my reading of the book. First, I am no longer a young adult. I expect that I’m probably old enough to be the father of many of the authors. I’ve been married for twenty-six years and have a son who is in college. Those who write, and the audience for whom they write, represent a different generation from mine. But, as a pastor and as a parent, I cannot, in good conscience, remain blind to the issues that this generation deals with, some of which my generation never even contemplated when we were young adults, such as that availability of pornography on the internet. Young adults today are also marrying later in life, which presents any number of issues that may not have presented themselves to a majority of those who make up the church today.
As for the second bit of perspective, this past summer I participated in a session at the 2009 Disciples of Christ General Assembly that introduced the series in which this book is found. The series that focuses on young adult issues carries the title WTF (Where’s the Faith). The series, which is intended to be provocative is edited by Christian Piatt (one of the essayists in this volume) and Brandon Gilvin. Both are young adults, with Brandon being an ordained Disciple minister and Christian being married to one. In the session at the General Assembly, the editors and some of the contributors to the volume, talked about the importance of the book, and the risks they were taking in writing these essays, which are frank, at times unsettling, and certainly challenging – even for those of us over 50. Consider, however, the risk being taken by young clergy woman telling her own story of “hooking up” while in college – that is sleeping with someone with no commitment beyond the moment (and often induced by drinking). And yet young adults need to know that they’re not alone, and that some behaviors can be destructive. This is a book that calls for the church to exhibit grace and love in ways it is often unprepared to offer without a great deal of divine presence.
This is a book that the church should take seriously, and heed its words of wisdom, much of which is discerned by way of personal experience. The editors, the authors (who represent a variety of mainline Protestant communities), and the publisher need to be commended for taking the risks necessary to get the conversation going. Now, it’s up to us – the church – to offer a safe place for the conversation to commence.