nudity does not equal sexuality

I saw a lot of peeps and boobs at Burning Man this past week. After a 10-hour drive in an RV Saturday night after the man burned, a 4-connection flight on Sunday, and a 5 hour drive home on Monday to Cleveland after picking up Reuben in Ithaca, I’ve had a lot of time to begin processing my experiences at the Burning Man arts festival.  Even now I’m in a hazy-tired-ear-plugged up from changes in elevation but I wanted to begin writing before I forgot all the cool stuff.

So- back to the peeps and boobs.  Burning Man is a quintessential post-modern experience in community- “whatever works for you” is truly the mantra of the tribe there- in regards to everything.  One of the reasons Dave and I wanted to go together was that we knew we’d see a lot of nudity and sexual stuff and wanted to be together as a couple to pray and process together when we encountered weirdness. We also wanted to be able to honor our marriage covenant together and celebrate by getting bizzay with no one else except each other!

my one and only!

I was curious how I would deal with the nudity (would I want to cheat? go lesbian? go native & rock the birthday suit?) and also how Dave as a red-blooded visual dude would deal with seeing boobs, thong-clad butts and all manner of beautiful women walking around that weren’t his wife.  Surprisingly my view on nudity and why people went nude at the festival changed mid-week.  The first time I saw people nude it was shocking. By the end of the trip when I was in the airport I commented to my friend/professor Rick, “boy it’s weird seeing people with clothes on!”

As an evangelical Christian I believe God created the body to be a beautiful, joyous thing to be used to serve others, enjoy and honor God.  I asked the questions above not because I feel especially tempted to cheat on my husband with a man or woman or join a nudist colony, but because I know that though Jesus has saved me from the selfish darkness that so easily consumes, it still can rear it’s ugly head and try to convince me to do things that would break promises to God, my husband, and to the community I’ve committed myself to and dishonor who God has created me to be.

At some points the nudity was amusing- seeing a dude ride a bicycle naked was perhaps one of the most disgusting and seemingly uncomfortable things I’ve ever seen. Guys- I must say, I am impressed that any of you ride bicycles and can still have children.  There were lots of old hippie women that my new friend Alex & I joked about that they could have a saggy boob contest and that the prize would be a support bra.  There were people who offered to do body paint to decorate the body and there was actually some amazing art covering men and women though they were nude.

want to play piano in your briefs? go for it!

At other times nudity seemed like a radical statement in self-acceptance.  The only thing you can buy at Burning Man is coffee, ice, water & other caffeinated drinks. One one of the days I wanted an iced chai & as I sat to enjoy it, an entirely nude woman walked past me.  Most of the women went topless (I still can’t believe I’m writing this and am a Christian minister- wow, Jesus is funny!) so to see her entirely naked seemed to be such a statement of the lack of self-judgement and societal judgement to in some ways echo what God always intended for us- to be naked and unashamed of how we were made. At one point Rick asked a person in his son’s camp why she went naked during the week after she shared that had he arrived earlier she would have been entirely naked.  “would you have wanted to be admired?” he asked “well” she replied, “I suppose if someone wanted to admire me, I would have received it as a compliment, but really going naked is more for me- to accept who I am and be comfortable with that, to challenge the fear I have of what others think of me”  It was like a lightbulb that went off for us uptight evangelicals who assume that if you see the bank-tellers cleavage you’re going to become addicted to porn, if a man is handsome, looks like James Franco and is wearing a pair of skinny jeans you’ll leave your husband to jump his bones.  Please don’t construe this as minimizing the horrific statistics of divorce, infidelity in and outside of the Christian community, but I think a big part of it is that sexuality, honoring our bodies and lust isn’t talked about so people resort to secrecy, which results in sin and brokenness when they can no longer feel “naked and unashamed” emotionally, relationally or spiritually with their spouse, friends or community. I feel like that’s pretty messed up.

the "bliss" sculpture a 50 ft. celebration of the female form

Being in a semi-nude community for a week made me feel surprisingly un-selfconscious about my own body though I was fully clothed the entire time.  The soundtrack that usually plays in my head- “do my thighs look too big? Did I really gain 10 lbs this summer, is she prettier than me?” was amazingly silent. (that’s right- eff you negative self-talk!) I became more thankful for the unique gift that only I can offer to this world- myself, as God created me- body mind and spirit. It has challenged me to be more thankful for my body and to stop being such a judgmental jerk of other peoples bodies.

I’m going to be blogging about Burning Man all week & I’d love to answer any questions you have about my experience, about what I’ve written, to encourage or challenge my thoughts on this.  I know there is a wide variety of people who read my blog; some who are likely uncomfortable or offended that I went to burning man in the first place to people think it’s super awesome and wish they could have gone. I want my blog to be an interactive, respectful place where people can voice their thoughts and opinions- so if you don’t agree with something I’ve written or someone else has commented on, please take a deep breath before typing out something reactionary in your comments and know that this is a public place to share thoughts and ideas.

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10 thoughts on “nudity does not equal sexuality

  1. Okay, I’m going to comment before I’ve even read the whole post… LOL!

    The way your post showed up on my screen, I could just see the tops of your head and Dave’s head in the photo, and you had written about “gettin’ busy” with one another in the midst of lots of nudity. Now, I was pretty certain that the rest of the photo would be G-rated, but there was a split second when I thought, “will they be naked?” Scrolling down was a very slightly nervous experience. Thank you for not sharing. ;^)

    Deb

  2. Okay, now I’ve read the post. It is pretty crappy, isn’t it, that we messed up God’s beautiful creation so much that we had to cover it all up with clothes? I was just praying today and thinking about the Garden of Eden–once I studied the first three chapters of Genesis with a non-religious Jewish friend who had never read them before, and her first reaction was priceless. Her eyes opened wide, and she exclaimed, “They had EVERYTHING they needed!” Beauty, food, pets, and an awesome spouse, plus the commandment to “get busy” with each other! Now, of course, we live in a desert world, but God’s love works in our lives and our communities to make something like a Garden of Eden around us. He certainly supplies us with all of the love we need, and a command to love one another, including the spouses who we know intimately.

    I remember reading about the Shakers, the community who believed that celibacy was required for believers. (I think there are still some old ones around, but of course, not many, because if they keep their own rules, they won’t reproduce!) Sometimes male and female Shakers would go off together and try to show how holy they were by standing around naked together, but not having sex. Basically the idea was, “We’re so sanctified, we can even do this without lusting.” I believe it often resulted in some little Shaker babies…

    Twisted, twisted! How we, deceived by Satan, have twisted good into evil! What a great post to get us thinking about these matters. Thanks, Jess!

  3. Jess, it’s good to have you back. I thought about you a lot and prayed for you a bit, as well. I am eager to hear all the lessons you gleaned.

    oxox

  4. I have been waiting excitedly to hear about Burning Man and to read your posts about it. I look forward to what the next posts bring.

    It was great to read your thoughts and processing of the experience of nudity at Burning Man. I can completely understand the idea of trying to go without clothes to better accept one’s self and body. I can remember having a similar lack of negative self-talk after enough time at various beaches around the world where the attitude is “we all have bodies, they are what they are, none of this nonsense about looking perfect before you can wear a bikini”.

    Anyway, must go, but keep up the thoughtful, interesting processing. Love you.

  5. I agree, discussion about sexuality within the Church has always seemed legalistic to me. As a person in my young 20s, I’m definitely wrestling with the whole idea of boundaries and appropriateness with regard to my own sexuality. I do believe that sex is a gift from God, and he makes it clear that it is to be enjoyed only between married couples for our benefit. However, I have seen a lot of my friends get married before they were ready because of a sense of sexual urgency, which doesn’t really contrubute to a long, lasting relationship as God intended. So where is the healthy balance? This may seem like a weird question (and I know I have a LONG way to go in the wisdom department), but would it be better to live a life of promiscuity and have the rest of your life available for God to be used, or to get married young and be “holy” but still have your time and energy toward’s God’s work divided because you are wrapped up in how to make the marraige work?

    • thanks for your comment! I agree it does seem a bit foolish for people to get married quickly simply because they’re “burning with passion.” However, as a person who got married at 23, marriage is part of God’s work regardless of your motives for why you married in the first place. I think rather than asking the question if a promiscuous life or life as a young married is better, it would be more helpful to as “at this stage in my life, what is most honoring to God?” Someone can marry for selfish reasons just as they can be promiscuous for selfish reasons. Either way you have to deal with the consequences of the choices and figure out how to serve and love God because of those choices.

  6. That pic of you Dave is gorgeous – I love your hair & eye make-up…it’s so GaGa! 🙂 (Although you are 5 ga-billion times cuter–for reals). 🙂

    That’s all… nothing deep or profound to add to the convo… lol.

  7. Anonymous: I do believe, having known many who chose the life of promiscuity route, that your time isn’t necessarily freed up for God thereby. It is occupied by dealing with disease (for real, the associated infirmities are many!) and superficial but tumultuous relationships.

    The Original Post made me wonder if buying my LO a bike was a good idea. LOL

  8. It is my belief that that the message of Jesus has been ignored by many so-called Christians, and that it has been grossly distorted by many so-called Christian ministers. With this in mind, I am very thankful to read your column, and I sincerely hope you make it out to Black Rock City this year! Your writing is a breath of fresh air, and I would really enjoy speaking with you guys. Though a significant majority of people who attend the event are not professed Christians, I have encountered more people who embody the principles of Christ at this event than I have encountered during my whole life in the default world.

    Many modern churches represent the very Pharisees who Jesus preached against. Jesus was crucified in part because he was telling those guys that the old testament contained a large amount of BS. Hey, it’s OK to eat bacon and shrimp! Jesus, the son of God, was also human. We know that he drank alcohol; I’m certain that he enjoyed it! He probably danced and partied some too, and may well have had sex. The Bible does not indicate against these possibilities.

    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Perhaps the real Christians in this world are the folks who live their lives through Christ’s principles, not necessarily the people who dump their hard-earned dollars in the preacher’s pocket every Sunday and vote the way he tells them to.

    • willliam- thanks so much for your comment! I wish I would be on the playa this year, but just recently having given birth to a baby boy, I decided that Burning Man will have to wait until next August when he’s a little bigger (and I’m a little less exhausted!). A few of my friends are going who share my views on Jesus & I’d be happy to connect you with them if you’re interested. They actually will have some cool interactive artwork that explores the teachings of Jesus that will be their gift to the community. I agree that a lot of people at Burning Man embody many of the values of Christ- it was wonderful last year to be able to speak with so many kind and thoughtful burners & I’m bummed to miss it this year! Have a good burn!

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