Vibrating for Jesus (or, How the Virgin Mary Got Her Groove Back)

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Now here’s an interesting article, recently called to my attention. Joe Beam, for those who don’t know, is a Church of Christ preacher. He’s been a regular on the workshop/lectureship circuit for years and years and years. His focus on sexuality, however, is a relatively recent development.

I’ll be interested to hear what people think of his approach. I have some thoughts of my own, but don’t have time to post them just now. I’ll share them later, perhaps in a second post.

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22 Responses to “Vibrating for Jesus (or, How the Virgin Mary Got Her Groove Back)”

  1. Whitney Says:

    I saw this on MSNBC this morning, too. I think it’s a good thing that the Church is being more open about sex; and more open about how good it is for marriage. I mean, I had a newlywed call me once and ask me if something she was thinking about participating in with her husband was wrong–and it was so innocent…I think that is sad that we’ve been given such a rigid view of sex that people have been afraid to want to experiment.

    Anyway. I’m interested to hear what others think, too. Glad you posted this, JU.

  2. Whitney Says:

    Hey, hey, hey…
    Now how ’bout Nancy Grace callin’ the C’s ofC a CULT? Huh? 🙂
    I hate it when I make myself laugh and it isn’t really funny.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I don’t get it, Big Dan.

    I see that they’ve updated the article, indicating they’re going to have Beam on the Today show to answer guilt-riddled viewers’ questions.

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    As a preface to my own thoughts on Beam’s approach, I want to link to my final comment in this thread — the last comment in the thread.

    I purposely left the Song of Songs out of that discussion because it would’ve greatly enlarged the scope of what was already a long comment.

    With that as background, I can talk about Joe Beam…

    …but not right this minute.

    Besides, I still want to hear from others.

  5. Sandi Says:

    Wow. Never thought I’d hear about oral sex techniques from a C of C preacher. It’s kind of cute that they’re now telling (married) people it’s okay to do whatever. I remember my mom telling me of another preacher coming over to their house for Sunday dinner when she was 12 or 13 and saying at the table that sex was only for procreation. And that she thought to herself, I don’t think so.

    I think that story is emblematic of my response to this — it’s a sign of churches responding to changes in culture to keep themselves viable. If you don’t bend to the winds of change, you’ll become extinct. For better or worse, our culture is obsessed with sex, whether yeah or nay, and churches are responding to that to keep people coming back.

    Personally, I don’t really get the obsession. Sex is part of life, it has its place, it can be really great, but it’s not the end-all be-all. Just a physical need. And I’m not sure I really see the need to do that much experimenting when a couple of tried-and-true things will suffice, but that’s just me. Maybe that’s because I’m an old married lady now. Before, I was much more experimental (I did my share of sinning). Now, I find food much more interesting than sex. Seriously. I watch the Food Network alot. 🙂

    On the other hand, I think relaxing the outright prohibitions and social stigmas surrounding certain things (benign sexual practices like masturbation and oral sex, for example) is a good thing. Personally, though I know there is a lot of disagreement on this, I think that bringing homosexuality into the open has been a positive change as well. Other relaxations, such as regarding porn, I’m not so keen on — in my view, making sexuality into a commodity is bad for humanity, men and women alike (although it most obviously degrades women). So, like with most social changes, the sexual revolution has been a mixed bag.

  6. Sandi Says:

    One other comment: I’m not surprised that some people find it difficult to make the transition from “sex is bad, don’t do it” to “sex is great and you should be humping like bunnies all the time”. I always used to point that out as a contradiction to friends in the church (this was when I was a teenager). Now, I see the point behind confining sex to marriage — it cuts down on STIs and it eliminates the emotional rollercoaster that occurs when you have sex with someone with whom your relationship is not secure. Wow, I sound like I’m preaching abstinence here… actually, what I mean is that there are things to be said for putting some limits on who, how many, when, and so forth. I’m not sure that using marriage as the limitation makes the most sense anymore given that people tend to marry much longer after the onset of puberty than they used to (which I think we would all agree is generally a good thing). It certainly is an easy limitation, though. One word, simple to articulate, an objective standard. Anything less is inherently slippery and subjective. But, I would argue, navigating that minefield (safely — condoms are a must) does teach one many things.

  7. Mystique Free Says:

    I’m not surprised that some people find it difficult to make the transition from “sex is bad, don’t do it” to “sex is great and you should be humping like bunnies all the time”. I always used to point that out as a contradiction to friends in the church (this was when I was a teenager).

    Sex is a bad, nasty, horrible sin – save it for someone you love!

    Now, I see the point behind confining sex to marriage — it cuts down on STIs and it eliminates the emotional rollercoaster that occurs when you have sex with someone with whom your relationship is not secure.

    Not to mention the risk of becoming pregnant with someone who is not committed to you. Of course, to suggest that just because a couple is married they are ready to have children is just silly.

    Then again, life is risky: why shouldn’t this one aspect of it fit the pattern? (Or maybe the whole point of civilization as we know it is to reduce risk as much as possible).

  8. Terry Austin Says:

    Nothing to add to the comments except: the title of this post is wrong on sooooooo many levels.

  9. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Interesting thoughts, Sandi and Mystique. That sex is “not the end-all be-all” is a realization a lot of people seem to be arriving at, these days. It’ll be interesting to see how — or if — our popular culture responds to that. Will sex still sell as well and reliably as it has in the past? Will it still be held out as the end-all be-all, or will that message have to be dialed back because it comes to be seen by too many consumers as just as naive as the [opposite] representation sex got in, say, 1950s television?

    The popular culture you’re addressing and the religious culture Beam is addressing strike me as equally perverse opposites — emphasis on equally: the church’s message is no more true, no better than popular culture’s. Sex is neither the ultimate peak in human experience, nor the lowest form of human debasement. Both sides will equally deny that those are their respective messages, and both denials are equally ridiculous.

    It’s interesting that the Song of Songs — a text whose treatment by the Church from the early Church Fathers right up to the present is sufficient evidence to demonstrate just how negative the Church’s feelings and teachings about sex truly are — strikes a middle course between those two. It’s extremely erotic, but never vulgar. It is more about the thrill and energy of desire than it is about the fun of fulfilling that desire. It recognizes that the former almost always exceeds the latter (and doesn’t that ring true?); rather than lament the let-down, it celebrates the build-up. (Make no mistake, though: the young couple in the Song do fulfill their desires for each other, and clearly enjoy doing it.) This kind of frank, but not overcooked depiction of human sexuality wouldn’t be seen again in the Christianized West until the Renaissance.

    The Song’s message is not pop culture’s message, but neither is it the Church’s message — which is interesting, given that the Church ostensibly claims the Song as part of its inspired canon of scriptures. Of course, it then proceeds to ignore it. Or, when forced to glance at it, bowdlerizes it. That includes Beam’s seminar. His reading is a big step forward from the allegorizing readings of virtually all of the Church’s history, but he still can’t quite look directly at the text and accept what’s there; it has to be tidied up. (I’m referring to his insistence that these lovers are married, when the the internal evidence of the text strongly suggests they are no more married than they are literally brother and sister.)

    If the Church held and taught the same view of sexuality as the Song, the title of this post wouldn’t be the least bit troubling. Of course, if the Church had taken the Song seriously all along, we would know Jesus’ mother simply as Mary — no Good Housekeeping seal of sexual abstinence required.

  10. Mystique Free Says:

    I can’t pretend that I’ve done any research on sexuality in modern Christian sects (sex, sects, *smirk*) but it seems that the conservative Christians are overly harsh and refuse to acknowledge that, hello, we’re all human and this is supposed to be fun and maybe there’s some wiggle room, while liberal christianity attempts to skirt the issue and avoid the discussion of sex as a moral issue (depending on just how liberal the church is). That’s just my impression, of course – I could be wrong. (Experiencing deja vu – have we had this discussion before?)

  11. David Says:

    I agree that it’s good that a christian church is officially admitting that sex is an important part of the marital relationship. This is one way in which anglo-american christianity has been dreadfully slow in shaking its puritanical roots. Reform jews have been embracing this for decades by including sex-related therapies in their marital counseling programs. In tantric Buddhism and yogic Hinduism, sex is not only an acceptable aspect of the life of the religious human, it is a central and essential component of the religious experience.

    As such, I don’t think this is an example of our sex-crazed culture permeating the sanctity of the church. If anything, it represents a movement toward the humanistic religiosity that permeated human culture prior to the so-called Enlightenment (when human beings somehow decided that divinity is found in mathematics, formal logic, and literal readings of mytho-poetic texts).

    There are, therefore, two very disturbing things about this article. The first is how Beam feels obligated to trace all of his teachings back to scripture–through some very forced readings (the blood thing, come on). The second, and far more disturbing, is the sheep mentality of Beam’s flock. Biblical morality is largely based on common sense humanistic principles (albeit dated ones). In other words, anyone with lots of life experience would likely arrive at the same basic moral principles. Beam’s flock, however, don’t seem to believe in the merit of their own experiences in the world. They are willing to accept as scripture the words of some old perv in a sweater-vest boasting a degree in “sexology” but are unwilling to sit down and talk to their spouse about their needs and what feels right to them. That’s far more tragic than a sexless marriage.

  12. Sandi Says:

    I love the title of the post — perfect!!

  13. Whitney Says:

    OK, sorry JU. There are some issues w/ cults and dictating sexual activity. For some reason, that thought came into my head. Remember, I told you it wasn’t funny. However, I don’t know why I said it. 🙂

    AN-Y-WAY–

    I’m just reading along, trying to figure out where I stand on most of this. I still reiterate my original point that it is time the conservative Christians take the stigma off sex. Past time, to be sure. And that talking about it as natural, not obscene, is good. Obviously no one is arguing with that. I don’t know if I agree with it being a bend to the winds of change versus an effort to strengthen marriage. (I’ve seen some great Christian couples who really have problems in their marriages because one partner believes sex for anything other than reproduction is wrong. You guys know that no matter how great your marriage, a sexless marriage would likely be detrimental to overall intimacy–at least when sex is physically possible and just not happening.)

    JU, funny, but I’ve been to a couple of churches who actually addressed the Song of Solomon–in the manner that they were betrothed (not married) followed by the explanation that in those days betrothed equalled married, so it was the same. I always thought, “huh?”

    The church we attend now addressed it head on in the teenage class…granted, I’m sure they didn’t use your interpretation of it with teenagers. 🙂

    David, I have to agree with you about the “sexology” degree. When I read that I cringed. It just sounds–um–weird. Why does he need a degree in it?

    And I thought the title was hilarious.

  14. juvenal_urbino Says:

    If anything, it represents a movement toward the humanistic religiosity that permeated human culture prior to the so-called Enlightenment (when human beings somehow decided that divinity is found in mathematics, formal logic, and literal readings of mytho-poetic texts).

    I have a couple of problems with that, actually. The first is that I think you’re conflating an awful lot of quite disparate threads of intellectual history in your characterization of the Enlightenment.

    Second, “humanistic religiosity” was hardly brought to an end by the Enlightenment; if anything it was rendered more humanistic (as opposed to the more Christian humanism of the Renaissance).

    The last is really a question. I’m not sure in what sense Beam’s message is a movement toward pre-Enlightenment humanism (on your definition). As you note later, Beam is still very much a literalist. Can you expand on that a little?

    As for the things you find disturbing about the story, I’m not sure why they disturb you. It strikes me as unsurprising that people in a religious tradition that holds scripture as its highest, inerrant authority will put greater value on what that scripture (or someone they regard as an expert on that scripture) tells them than on what their own experience tells them, or that Beam, as a minister in that tradition, requires scriptural backing for what he teaches. I mean, these aren’t empiricists; they’re traditional believers in divine revelation. It almost seems like what disturbs you is that such people still exist. (Which is fine, but your criticism reminds me a little of book reviews that criticize the book for not being a different kind of book, rather than critiquing it as an example of the kind of book it’s trying to be.)

    Beam doesn’t strike me as a perv. He’s too dorky. I think what he’s trying to do is commendable, so far as it goes. I agree, though, that some of his readings go places the author almost certainly didn’t intend. For the most part, they seem to be side effects of his literalism/inerrantism.

  15. juvenal_urbino Says:

    JU, funny, but I’ve been to a couple of churches who actually addressed the Song of Solomon–in the manner that they were betrothed (not married) followed by the explanation that in those days betrothed equalled married, so it was the same.

    This is how it was handled when I was a teenager and we cornered somebody into explaining the Song, too. (Also, they weren’t quite ready to give up on the allegorical reading.) As you say, since they went on to explain that betrothed was the same as married, which is largely true, the effect is just as misleading. If asked to explain it to teenagers, I think I’d just have to flat out say it isn’t a text American teenagers, generally, can be taught.

    The church we attend now addressed it head on in the teenage class…granted, I’m sure they didn’t use your interpretation of it with teenagers. 🙂

    I’d be interested to hear how they do address it, Whitney. If it’s any way other than some version of the above, I’d be flabbergasted. Personally, I don’t think I’d teach from the Song in our cultural context to teenagers — which is ironic, since the lovers in the text itself are in their early teens. Still, I just don’t think it’d be prudent in our culture. Unless, that is, I forced the text to say the characters are married, but then I wouldn’t really be teaching the Song; I’d be corrupting the text.

    “My” interpretation, btw, isn’t mine. That the Song is a celebration of 1) sexual desire and 2) fulfillment between 3) an unmarried (and unbetrothed) couple is the generally accepted reading of the text among the people who’ve made it their life’s work. I can’t claim it. There’s a lot of disagreement over the meaning of specific passages of the Song (its vocabulary is notoriously difficult), but on those 3 overall points there is general agreement.

  16. Terry Austin Says:

    Clearly I need some work on my sarcasm tags. My earlier comment was in jest; sorry to those who thought it serious.

    Some pretty good Song of Songs-o-man teaching is that Tommy guy’s material. Tommy Something-or-other… (no, not Lee, though I’ve heard he has a video series that, um, nevermind). Any help here, preacher dudes? The stuff I’ve seen is designed for young marrieds, and there’s a teen class as well. It must be good; our YM got lots of complaints when he used it in a class a while back.

  17. Terry Austin Says:

    Tommy Nelson.

    http://www.tommynelsononline.com/

    That’s the guy.

  18. Terry Austin Says:

    This comment was posted by a reader of Mike Cope’s blog today:

    Joe Beam brought his seminar here and it was well received, with a couple of minor hitches. First, he used his upraised forearm and open palm to represent a distinctive part of the male anatomy. Now here in Michigan, we use our open right palm as a map of the state (yes, we actually do refer to part of Michigan as “the thumb”). So when Joe pointed to a place on his hand and asked, “does anyone know what this is?” someone blurted out “Mackinaw City!” Later, he picked up a handheld wireless microphone to demonstrate the purpose and proper use of a different handheld, battery-powered device. Our praise team hasn’t been the same since.

  19. juvenal_urbino Says:

    From looking at Nelson’s website, I’d say he seems to be selling basically the same real-medicine-and-snake-oil mixture that Beam is selling (i.e.: sure, get crazy; have at her hillock like a wild stag; slap the thighs, knead the buttocks, get the ol’ streams of Lebanon flowing; but only if you’re married, marrieder, marriedest; otherwise, what’s wrong with a kiss, boy? no need to go stampeding after the clitoris).

    Brother Tommy does add to Bro. Beam the notion that the ever-worrisome youth of our day (or, as Bro. Vinny would say, “dese too yoots”) can somehow learn how to date from the Song, which, given the fact that dating didn’t even exist in the world of the Song, and there’s nothing about dating in it unless you count frolicking naked in the local pomegranate grove as a date (which, to be honest, if it were happening to me, I’d have to say I would consider that a date), is a rather silly thing to suggest, and probably as counter-productive as the malarkey we were sold as God’s Own Notions About Dating (GONAD©) when I was a teenager. Except Nelson charges for it, which ISTM opens him up to a lot of fraud suits.

    That’s probably a bit harsh. Sorry. Something about that website pushed most of my buttons. I’m sure Nelson means well. He’s just…Pyle, from The Quiet American.

    It’s hard to imagine, though, that the pew-filling regulars would be upset by anything in his- d’oh! Lost my head for a minute, there.

    (Apologies to Monty Python, where applicable.)

  20. Terry Austin Says:

    Well, that’s what I get for assuming something “must be good.” Nelson’s class for young marrieds is pretty entertaining; I haven’t seen the teen material nor read up on it.

    Was one of the core elements of GONAD the mantra, Be a Bi–y M–re? (Slightly protecting the anonymity of the innocent there.)

  21. Mystique Free Says:

    In just 8 short chapters, God provides us with every answer we need in the areas of love, marriage, sex and romance. Unfortunately, most people never read this poetic book tucked away in the Old Testament, or if they do, they rarely understand its full meaning.

    Who is he kidding? when I was a kid I read it several times during long, boring services. My friends and I smirked at all the “dirty” bits.

  22. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Was one of the core elements of GONAD the mantra, Be a Bi–y M–re?

    No. I don’t recall any dating advice coming from that particular source.

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