Inaugural Address

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.

Jesus of the Umbilical Cord

Too often, we who are Christians have taken the life out of our religion. Our traditions become relics, almost bloodless, empty of connection with how people, we, actually live (and how the people in the stories on which the traditions are based actually lived, too).

Of course, this varies by culture and particular religious traditions. For example, Three Kings Day, or the Feast of the Epiphany, does not get much notice in many western Christian circles–but in Hispanic or Latino/a cultures and churches, January 6 is a really big deal.

We Three KingsDespite the song that celebrates the “Twelve Days of Christmas”–omnipresent in every store for at least six weeks prior to December 25–most people are surprised that, according to the liturgical calendar, Christmas actually lasts twelve days.

Surely, they think, the last day of Christmas is the day, or maybe two days, after Christmas Day when people rush to the malls for bargains and/or to return or exchange gift items. Truly, Christmas has become a secular holiday for most, and a much-needed boost to consumer spending. For most, Christmas begins when the shopping season begins, and ends with Christmas dinner or a day or two of post-holiday shopping. In the church, Christmas Day is the beginning not the ending. Or at least, it is supposed to be.

And, much of the time, when there is attention to Epiphany, it is the magi who are most noticed, even though they came to see the infant. Of course, the infant is the center of the story. Infants usually are.

The infant. Do we really believe he was a baby? He is usually pictured soundly sleeping, or at least resting quietly–“no crying he makes,” says the carol we sing each year. What kind of baby is that? Is that a real baby? Three Wiser women

And what about his parents and the situation they were in? The stable and the manger-crib always look so tidy, as if Housekeeping had just come by and gotten everything in order.

Several pictures that I have seen over the past couple of weeks have reminded me that despite the sweet carols we sing, and the adorable pageants that youth offer in many churches, this was not an easy time for Mary (any one who has given birth or even been present as someone else is doing so knows it is incredibly hard, painful work), and even Joseph and Jesus, too.

And the magi–whether there were three or 103, the biblical record does not say, despite the tradition–seem an odd group, bringing treasure and worship, even though they were not Jewish, let alone Christian(!).

So, pictured to the right is a humorous attempt to make the story a bit more real–the Three Wiser Women arriving to provide more homely, practical gifts needed by the parents of every newborn.

The Christ Child St_Martin-in-the-Fields sculpture by Michael ChapmanAnd pictured here are two views of a sculpture at the entrance to St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Anglican Church), Trafalgar Square, London, by Michael Chapman. In one, we see the whole sculpture from a side view. The sculptor has chiseled the phrase “In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh and lived among us” from chapter one of John’s Gospel around the stone (visible is “In the beginning” on the right, and “lived among us” on the left).

The second shows the top of the sculpture, with the baby Jesus looking different from most portrayals. First, he has baby boy genitals. We don’t often see Jesus this way. And even more startling is the umbilical cord still attached.

The Christ Child St Martin in the Field close up

When I saw this, at a Jazz Vespers service at the Gayton Kirk (Presbyterian Church) in Richmond’s West End, I was deeply moved. Here is a “real baby,” vulnerable like babies are–not wrapped in swaddling clothes with angels singing and shepherds and worldly wise men praying–given a prominent place among the high and important buildings (including the towering monument to Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar) in this historic section of one of the world’s major cities.

Yes, he is carved out of stone–the sculpture can appear as a tombstone, so perhaps the artist seeks to  remind us of what happens later–but I can actually hear a baby cry, and know that he will pee and poop, and that when the cord is cut there will be blood as there always is during birth.

This baby became a real man, the most perfect and wise and powerful man of whom I have ever known, and for me, as for so many other believers, he lives among us still. Seeing him this way, and seeing the women above, reminds me that just as the baby was a human being so was the full-grown man.

He is the Lord to me, but he is Lord with whom I can enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, and shoot the breeze, as well as Lord from whom I can continually learn how to be fully human, that is, how to live the fullness of the divine origins we share, as children created in the image of God.