Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sex and the Sanctuary

Okay, now that I was reminded of it ... a Lizard Eater sermon from a few years ago:

Sex and The Sanctuary


Let’s talk about sex, Baby! Preparing for this sermon took a lot of time. No, no, no, no double entendres. A lot of brainstorming time. See, I wanted a title that stood a chance of getting a good turnout. But I wanted to talk about canvass. I knew that if I stood here and simply said, “Ha, fooled you, Bait and Switch!” the safety of my physical being would be in jeopardy. So, how the heck to do I pull together such disparate subjects.

I tried talking about it with my husband. His suggestion for the sermon title was “Paying for Sex, How to Fund the Church of Our Dreams.” So he wasn’t much help.

I spoke with my two of my friends. One pointed out that making love and giving to our beloved church are similar in that both give a gift to both the recipient and the giver. “I just can’t make that sound family friendly,” I told her.

The other friend told me the joke about the couple who wanted to fly United on their honeymoon, but Southwest wouldn't let them. Not very helpful. She did, however, provide the title for this sermon, as she’s apparently been watching Sex and the City reruns on tv. She’s pretty frisky for a septuagenarian.

It sounds like a joke, and I’m sure we could come up with many naughty answers to the question “What do sex and money have in common?” We can discuss that afterwards in Corner Forum.

But here’s the two main commonalities: Number one, both sex and money are vitally important. They are both a source of life. In order for the human species to exist, there must be sex. And in order for our church to exist, there must be money.


Of course, that’s not the start and end of it. Love is a vital component in both. Our Religious Education Chair, BFF-DRE, learned this in Catholic Sunday school, when her teacher taught that having sex just to have sex is like, rather than eating a delicious chocolate cake, just eating the raw ingredients. A bite of flour, a bite of butter...not the same thing at all.

Having sex with someone you love, but before you're married--well, that's like eating cake batter. It lacks the warmth and the texture of a real cake.

Sex once you're married, that's a rich chocolate cake, freshly baked. Mmm!

And best of all, sex for procreation, that's that rich chocolate cake, with a splendid fudge frosting.

Of course, this is where the Unitarians start thinking things like, “Actually, I like the cake batter the best,” and “Frosting is just too sweet for me,” and “Okay, now is the cake vegan?” Not to mention the “I prefer pie,” people.

But, my point and I do have one … sex with love is great, and many would argue, superior to sex without love. Well, giving to the church is a lot like that. It just flat out means more when there is love behind it. It’s not like paying the light bill. Electricity is very important to me, highly necessary, but I don’t feel warm and nurturing when I write out a check to the electric company. I do, when our church is on the recipient line. This church nurtures and sustains me and one of the ways that I nurture and sustain my beloved community is with money.

I remember the year we joined this church and hearing the word “canvass.” It was a term unfamiliar to me, as it may be for some of you new to our congregation. So, “Mommy, what is canvass?”

Well, dear, it’s like this … when a person and a church love each other very much … they both want to express that love by doing wonderful things. They want to put on interesting, informative worship services; they want to have a vibrant religious education program and they want to make the world a better place. Canvass is a time when people from the congregation go out and talk to other people from the congregation to find out what their dreams for the church are. A lot of the vision for the church comes from these conversations.

“But Mommy, I heard that people pledge when they canvass. How do you do that?”

Well, dear, a pledge is a promise of what each member and friend of the congregation is going to give to it, monetarily, during the next year. You can always change it later, if necessary, but it gives our treasurers a good idea of what we can budget for, and what dreams we can make come true.”

“Mommy, what’s a treasurer and a budget?”

Go ask your father.

Talking about Sex and Money

And that brings me to the other big thing that sex and money have in common – they’re both difficult to talk about. Now, to be fair, when talking about sex, I sometimes feel like giggling … and I never feel that way when talking about money. It would probably be more pleasant if I would. We often use euphemisms when talking about sex – getting some, getting a bite … the whole chocolate cake thing is making more sense to me. Same with money – moola, dough, cheese … I think I need to write a sermon about food.

Anyone with children … or anyone with parents for that matter, knows how challenging it can be to talk about sex. Trying to find the right words, trying to talk in generalities, purely as a hypothetical … I had to talk about this subject with my firstborn a little earlier than most. That’s one of those things that comes up when you’re pregnant four times.

So, his father and I answered our son’s questions. Then I heard about some books that were being banned up north in Northern County, books that happened to be part of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s sex ed course, Our Whole Lives. Of course, I ordered them. The books are called It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal and they’re great and exhaustive. They talk about both heterosexuality and homosexuality, how babies are made – you may even learn something yourself. I recommend them.

Well, our little bookworm liked them, too. When we met up with my parents and my siblings for a Thanksgiving weekend, he brought them along. When it was time for bed, he said, “Okay, but let me get my ‘Sex’ books to read.” I didn’t know that my brother’s head could actually spin all the way around.

Even as adults, talking to each other, sex remains one of those things you can kid about, but not really talk about. And if we do, we’re often staring down at our shoes. And when someone does broach the topic, in personal terms, our instinctive response is often TMI, or “Too Much Information.” There are just things you don’t talk about, and sex is one of them.

And the other, is, of course, money. In fact, curiously, money seems to be even more of a forbidden topic than sex. Friends (usually women, my husband swears men never talk about sex with their friends) who will tell each other very intimate details about their sex lives, have no idea what the other one makes. We feel like there’s so much baggage that comes along with it. If I don’t make as much as you do, you might see me as not being as successful as you, or if I make more than you, that’s uncomfortable, too. Power is so wrapped up in money. There’s often the feeling among friends that the person with the most money is the person with the most power. And those who have more money may feel slightly ashamed – especially if you’re liberal. Both the person making $200,000 a year and the person making $30,000 a year have worked darned hard for the money.

All these feelings about money can make canvassing in a church community a tricky challenge. On one hand, that money is needed, and those who sacrifice so that they can give a little more should be appreciated. On the other hand, there shouldn’t be the impression that money is appreciated more than hard work. On the other hand, we shouldn’t act like giving money is nothing – it can represent pinching pennies, foregoing that new sofa so the church can have new curtains. On the other hand, usually those who are able to give more money don’t want it to be known that the money came from them.

Here’s a bit of shocking information: there are some UU churches that are completely open about their canvass … the amount pledged by each member is actually posted. I know, I know … what next, I get every couple to turn in a monthly report of how many times they’ve made love and how? And, inconceivable to most of us, there are churches such as the one my Mormon friend goes to, where you actually turn in your income tax statement, so as to prove that you’ve given your full tithe – 10% -- to the church. YIKES.

I’m not going to request that you announce publicly what you pledge, but there is a place you need to talk about it – in the home. A question that parents deal with is how much you should talk about sex with your children and at what age. Giving to the church is just like this. You need to be open with your children about canvass, otherwise they’re going to pick up information about it on the streets. “I heard that $5 a week is what the other guys are giving.” “I heard that you can’t get pregnant the first time you pledge.” Kids really mix things up.

It is said that you can tell what a person’s values are by peeking into their checkbook. Mine would definitely show a fondness for coffee and chocolate, but hopefully it also indicates a love for liberal religion in the form of this, my beloved church.


I said that power is so wrapped up in money … well, obviously power is all wrapped up in sex or maybe it’s the other way around. It hasn’t even been two years since the Supreme Court ruled that what happens between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own bedroom is their business, not the state’s. In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

That’s great and I cheered when the decision came down, but really, doesn’t it seem ridiculous that we had to wait until 2003 for the government to be told it can’t be a part of something so basic? Deciding who you will share your body with … your body … there’s only one person who should ever be able to make that decision and it is you. The state should have no stake in that. Of course, before 1873 you could get capital punishment for certain types of sex acts – even between married couples. Now, I’m not saying that the Religious Right wants to bring that back …

Sex, Money and Religion

Sex has always been a part of religion. From the Church of England’s “Book of Common Prayer” come the wedding vows, “With this ring, I thee wed, with my body, I thee worship.” It is interesting to note that the Puritans in England petitioned to have that one phrase removed … with my body, I thee worship. And indeed, it is no longer a part of the American Lutheran or Episcopal services.

In a sermon given at Pathways UU Church, Rev. Anthony David wrote:

Hindu and Christian traditions both emphasize that if we do not know the gospel in our bodies, we will never know it. They both talk about how God takes on human form and all that it means to be human, and the implication here is revolutionary: that the world of nature and the body is a form in which the highest values can be known and loved: beauty, compassion, justice, forgiveness, peace. Even when things are painful, or difficult, or confusing, we can know that Creation is worthy of our trust and that our bodies are worthy of trust. They aren’t distractions from all things spiritual but ordinary places where we might make amazing discoveries about the Holy and the Sacred.

So, that gives a pretty good answer to “Why Have Sex?”

So, “Why Pledge Generously to this church?”

In the words of John B. Wolf, Minister Emeritus, All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK:

"There is only one reason for being part of a Unitarian Universalist Church and that is to support it. You want to support it because it stands against superstition and fear. Because this church points to what is noblest and best in human life. Because it is open to men and women of whatever race, creed, color, place of origin or sexual orientation.

You want to support a UU church because it has a free pulpit. Because you can hear ideas there that would cost any other minister his or her job. You want to support it because it is a place where your children are not saddled with guilt or terrified of some celestial peeping Tom, where they can learn that religion for joy, for comfort, for gratitude and love.

You want to support it because it is a place where walls between people are torn down rather than built-up. Because it is a place for the religious displaced persons of our time, the refugees from mixed marriages, the unwanted free thinkers and those who insist against orthodoxy that they must work out their own beliefs.

You want to support a UU church because it is more concerned with human beings than with dogmas. Because it searches for the holy rather than seeking out the depraved. Because it calls no one a sinner, yet knows how deep is the struggle in each person's breast and how great is the hunger for what is good.

You want to support a UU church because it can laugh. Because it stands for something in a day when religion is still more concerned with platitudes than with prejudice and war. You want to support it not because it buys you some insurance policy towards your funeral service, but because it insults neither your intelligence nor your conscience and because it calls you to what is truly worthy of your sacrifice. There is only one real reason to be part of a UU church: to support it to the fullest extent with your time, talent and treasure..."

That’s why.

Sex and money … complicated things.


There are, I am told, sex therapists. Coincidentally, there are also canvass therapists. At General Assembly two years ago, I met with one of those canvass therapists and learned many things, the main item being “people don’t pledge to pay the light bill, they pledge to fund dreams.”

So, during this canvass time, think about your dreams. Dream big, knowing that together, we can change the world, and definitely our little corner of it.

Just as it is for sex, sometimes canvass can have unexpected consequences. In our church, we’ve had at least one case where canvassing someone ultimately led to marriage. So, you can just never tell what surprises canvass might have in store for you. Especially now that connected in your brain are canvass and sex.

Closing Words
Lastly, I leave you with the words of theologian Tina Turner:
There's a name for it
There's a phrase that fits
But whatever the reason
You do it for me

What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a sweet old fashioned notion

Love has everything to do with it. Whether you’re talking sex or canvass. And after the service, please join us in the fellowship area for three different kinds of chocolate cake. That’s not a euphemism, there’s real chocolate cake out there.

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