24 June 2010

Like beauty, sexuality may lie in the eye of the beholder

I'm not at the 2010 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Minneapolis, but I've read this morning that two UU bloggers have commented on their interpretation that the opening ceremony chalice lighting was "laced with sexual innuendo."

Here's the link for the opening ceremony video (chalice lighting starts at the 22:43 point in the video. The chalice lighting was delivered by Rev. Fritz Hudson, minister of the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Here's the text of his chalice lighting as printed on the UUA web site (line breaks added to make it easier to read and I've edited the web site text to better match the words spoken on the video recording - changes are within the brackets):
Into the circle of the wide prairie sky, we come together, each of us casting our personally unique circles.

—we come carrying around us the circle of those whom we love

—we come carrying upon us the circle of those whom we represent

—we come carrying within us the circle of our apprehensions & our aspirations.

Circles, in motion, whose borders touch—may repel each other, may hold their borders, may demand separate space for separate accommodation,

Or circles, in motion, whose borders touch, with a little push, a little release, may overlap

[May inter-penetrate], can even seek each others' center.

There's friction in such [inter-penetration], as circles pass through circles.

But, in all the rubbing, should two circles' centers find each other, touch, rub
the spark, the spark [like a prairie star]

can ignite a holy prairie fire.
This reading from this minister seems so full of Midwestern earnestness that I don't think his intention was sexual innuendo.

But even if he were using sexuality as a metaphor in liturgy (which may be a more constructive way to frame this than calling it "sexual innuendo"), is this a bad thing?

If your answer to this question is "yes," why do you think it's a bad thing?

I certainly hope the answer isn't some variation of "what will the neighbors think?"

18 comments:

wswells said...

As one of the bloggers grossed-out by the chalice lighting I filed it under, either:

"I'm so cool I can talk about sex in worship."

or

"I like to push people's buttons by talking about sex in worship."

(Or a third option: both.) One's pretentious; the other hostile.

And I don't think for a moment it was an accident of language.

Bill Baar said...

I'm from the midwest and we don't talk about penetrating circles...whether were talking about sex or not.

Wells's right: this was pretentious; hostile; or both.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

The problem with sexual innuendo is that it tends to provoke more giggles than serious thought or profound emotion.

Sort of like Dana Carvey's Church Lady obsessing about "thrusting and releasing"

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to hear more talk about sexuality in worship -- serious, engaging, forthright talk about sexuality. I've delivered two such sermons at my church.

But it's not that clear with Hudson's text. He could have just as easily been talking about using flint and steel to start a campfire under the prairie sky.

And, if anything, that epitomizes the very problem with how our society talks and thinks about sex, even in liberal circles like our own -- so heavily couched in euphemism, so as not to commit the sin of offending others, we commit the greater sin of becoming authors of confusion.

Chalicechick said...

(((The problem with sexual innuendo is that it tends to provoke more giggles than serious thought or profound emotion.)))

Bingo. Talking about sex in a straightforward manner can certainly be done in a spiritual way. But this comes off in a "tee hee! Penetration!" sort of way that is just distracting.

CC

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
-snip-
"Talking about sex in a straightforward manner can certainly be done in a spiritual way. But this comes off in a 'tee hee! Penetration!' sort of way that is just distracting."


CC,

Personally, I thought Rev. Hudson's liturgical writing was a confusing mish-mash of mixed metaphors (the title "Reverend" doesn't automatically make someone a good wordsmith).

However, the sexual metaphor didn't distract me.

Again I would suggest using a more neutral term instead of "innuendo."

Also, I'm curious why a sexual metaphor is viewed as distracting but other metaphors about the human biological condition condition (e.g. food metaphors, breathing metaphors, etc) would be less distracting. Maybe this says something about the person receiving the metaphor and not the person originating it?

Unless we are mind-readers who know what Rev. Hudson's intentions were, we should both assume good will and use a neutral term here.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

Steve, I think the fact that it's such a confusing mish-mash is precisely why it garnered the reaction it did.

While I'll accept that "innuendo" is too loaded a term, I also believe that "metaphor" skirts the issue of why Hudson's wording provoked such a response. Perhaps double entendre would be more precise?

Are there other metaphors which can raise objections? Certainly. Many often take issue with metaphors of war and conquest, either for the violent imagery or the extremist view that there must be a winner and a loser in any dispute.

But, like it or not, sexuality still carries an emotional charge in our culture. Even those of us who would like to see that change in the long run must accept this immediate reality, especially if we are to persuade others.

Heather said...

I was in the front row for this service, and there was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke the more provocative words. It seemed clear that he meant them to be provocative, in a playful way. I was mildly uncomfortable with the language, but figured it was my responsibility to deal with my own discomfort.

Chalicechick said...

Other metaphors that would be distracting? Defecation, spitting, burping, passing gas and nose picking all come to mind. Pretty much anything that is put in little children's or bromance movies to make people laugh. Also things with negative connotations. (e.g. "Spread the the word like beneficent AIDS" or a metaphor about bleeding.)

The eating-spirituality thing has been done to death. It isn't distracting, though it would be hard to use it in an original way.

(((Maybe this says something about the person receiving the metaphor and not the person originating it?)))

If this is the case, why has there been a collective reaction to this specific metaphor?

CC

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
-snip-
"If this is the case, why has there been a collective reaction to this specific metaphor?"

Wow ... I didn't know that a handful of UU-themed bloggers was a "collective reaction" to anything.

The only blogs that I've seen comment on Rev. Hudson's chalice lighting text have been the following:

Boy in the Bands
Spirituality and Sunflowers
Celestial Lands
Liberal Faith Development

And there have been four blog reader/authors who have commented here:

Bill Baar
Desmond Ravenstone
Heather
ChaliceChick

I don't see how you can extrapolate a few blog comments into a "collective reaction" even if you include my blog comments in the overall count.

And I'm not finding too much commentary about it on other blogs based on Google searches and searches on the uupdates.net UU blog aggregator site.

I'm guessing that most folks either were neutral or approving about this based on the limited number of blog responses to the opening ceremony chalice lighting.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

I have seen other comments on Facebook. Peacebang simply reproduced the reading verbatim, and several comments appeared in response.

The remarks from folks who were actually there is that many people were trying very hard -- some in vain -- to not laugh. Which is not a good sign, IMHO.

Steve Caldwell said...

Desmond,

A circle of friends and professional associates on Facebook still isn't evidence of a "collective reaction."

I'm not saying there wasn't a collective reaction to the reading. I just saying that anecdotal reporting isn't "data" and it may be irresponsible to extrapolate from a circle of friends on Facebook.

More telling in terms of organizational reaction is the web coverage for the closing ceremony.

There's a benediction written by Rev. Hudson in the printed text. However, the person presenting the benediction isn't Rev. Hudson and unedited closed caption transcript words are not the ones printed on the UUA web site:

Closing Ceremony Closed Caption Transcript
http://www.uua.org/documents/ga/2010/5008_closing.txt

Closing Ceremony Text and Video
http://www.uua.org/events/generalassembly/2010/ga2010/165862.shtml

Maybe the event organizers didn't want to take a second chance with Rev. Hudson at GA?

Desmond Ravenstone said...

"A circle of friends and professional associates on Facebook still isn't evidence of a 'collective reaction.'"

Well, I wasn't necessarily saying one way or another. I cited the Facebook thread (a) to indicate that there was more chatter going on than just blog posts and comments, and (b) summarizing the reports of folks who were actually there of how many in the crowd were reacting.

So I would agree that the video of the ceremony is "more telling," but I also recognize that there can be reactions and responses well after the event.

Bottom line, Hudson's remarks appear to have provoked a reaction which he and the organizers of GA did not intend. We can debate and speculate as to how many people share that reaction, but I believe it's a lesson for all of us to heed.

Chalicechick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chalicechick said...

Fixed a couple of typos:

I didn't mean literally every single person. But suffice to say, I don't recall anyone giving a damn about any previous chalice lighting and there has been a fair amount of talk about this one.

Of the 18 people who responded to Peacebang posting it on her facebook, literally none of them are supportive and many of them describe other people in the audience sneering or looking uncomfortable.

If it says something about the people listening, it says the same thing about a lot of people. But I'm hard pressed to see how if someone is being deliberately provocative that we should judge those who are provoked.

Maybe if a lot of people have the same reaction to someone's words, the words are the issue, not a few overly-sensitive people.

joven said...
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joven said...
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Snowbrush said...

Ah, Minneapolis, former home of John Dietrich. I was a member of the Minneapolis First Unitarian Society there in the late 80s, and how I miss it. The minister was Khoren Arisian. Do you know what ever became of him?

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