Body Shame, Body Pride

Look at 'at boy over ‘ere."  The big boy talking was probably in second grade.  I was that boy-over-there.  I had started first grade about two days before.  We were in what our teachers euphemistically called "the boy's basement."  I was peeing in the long ceramic trough that little boys used in those days in such places.  

“…none of us can be truly whole until we are wholly honest about who we really are. And none of us can exactly be free until we are indeed whole and wholly fine being ourselves.” 

The bigger boy was pointing at me.  Some other boy laughed. Then they both snickered.  I had on a pair of black cotton pants that my grandmother had made me. For whatever reason, she, though an expert seamstress, had neglected to put in the pants a placket in front (remember those?) so that I could access my penis normally. And little boys' pants in those days frequently didn't have zippers, only the small opening known as a placket, a term, incidentally borrowed from women's clothing.  

I had no choice but to pull down my pants to pee, so I was standing at the trough minding my own business, more than a little self-conscious because my underwear was exposed. The laughter did it. I straightway came home and told my mother that unless I had a placket, I would no longer wear those pants, a rather brazen thing for a kid to say in the early 1950's, an age less prone than ours to cast away disliked clothes capriciously.  

To my knowledge that was my first experience of being shamed in public. It was not about my shape, my size, my color, or the length of my penis. It was about doing something outside the norm.  I pulled down my pants to pee. I might as well have stripped and streaked through the schoolyard allowing myself to become the joke of the ages.  

I could recount similar incidents with like results, none of which involved an act of what I would objectively call big-time shaming. Not all were about my body, though some were. And sometimes the shame—deeper than embarrassment—I inflicted upon myself just out of feeling inadequate. I see myself now after basketball practice in junior high school, water pouring over me in the gang shower where big, muscular eighth grade boys with long dicks and lots of body hair puffed on cigarettes and chugged down Cokes (in the shower yet!)  bragging with and to each other. I felt so out-of-it.  I was. My response was to duck out as soon as I could. It was also, quite literally, to "cover" myself so that I could avoid being exposed to ridicule. One of my favorite covers became humor and self-deprecation. I would laugh at myself before others had the chance to.  

I wouldn't be telling this story if I thought it were only about me. I regularly hear from men, some of them good looking and fit, who say that they carry around a huge weight of body shame. Little wonder. In a society such as ours where advertising obsesses over youth, beauty, and possessions, people either rebel because they cannot successfully conform, or figure out ways to go into hiding, sometimes putting on pounds (or muscles) to form a shield behind which to hide from a fun-poking and critical audience.  

You may well disagree with me, but I suspect that a great amount of the attitude of "I don't give a shit who thinks what about my body" is in fact not the reverse of shame but its product. That goes for whole sub-cultures of people who revel in being overweight, which is not too different from those who are anorexic, just another extreme.  It is now to the point where, when speaking as I now am, I measure my words lest I be perceived as adding to the shame. God knows there is enough of that already and I don't intend to augment it.

There are men who will not join us in retreats or meet-ups because they are ashamed of how they look. No amount of effort to persuade them to trust our circles to be places of safety is strong enough to counteract the force of body shame. I understand. We are full of self-doubt, including doubt about the worth of our bodies, reinforced by religious traditions in many cases that suggest overtly or subtly that the body gets in the way of being spiritual.  So why honor it? 

Honoring our bodies is the antidote to shame. We can call it pride.  I think a better word might be gratitude. Pride connotes an attitude that perhaps suggests borderline boasting. That makes no sense to people who carry around a forty or fifty or eighty year history of being troubled by their bodies. I doubt that if we're feeling crappy about our bodies ere long it would be easy to lay our hand on the switch that will turn off crappy and turn on pride in a flash. But consider the possibility of being grateful.  Your heart is beating. Your lungs are functioning. Internal organs you've never laid eyes upon are working night and day to keep you alive. If you've lost one or more of the five senses, or done without sight or hearing all your life, still there are odors to be sniffed, textures to be felt, things to taste. And you could do none of that without the brain that moderates it all. 

senior man pensive

Somebody once told me that there was no use at all in trying to talk someone out of loving another. I think the obverse may be true as well. There is probably no use in trying to talk someone into loving another. Is there any value in asserting that it's possible for us to become convinced (as the old folks used to say, "convicted") that loving ourselves is an actual possibility? Maybe not, but I'll die trying. Gradually I've learned to love my body, not because I want to hold on to it, but precisely because I realize that I'm mortal and one day, unknown to me now, I will shuffle off this mortal coil. Meanwhile, I'd like to run out into the streets buttonholing random people and telling them to celebrate their bodies, because those bodies are the chief means they have of apprehending all that matters, indeed all that is. I yearn to tell my phallic brothers to take penis in hand and let it work with every tingling nerve ending to bring them into that zone of ecstasy that is as close to heaven as any of us is likely to get on this earth. I want to claim every part of myself until I am wholly integrated, a person of real integrity, and I want to encourage you to claim every part of yourself, the ugly and the beautiful, the approved and the spurned. I yearn for that because none of us can be truly whole until we are wholly honest about who we really are. And none of us can exactly be free until we are indeed whole and wholly fine being ourselves.

You can go to lots of places and find solid grounds for honoring your body. There exists in many traditions the notion that the body is the temple of the spirit. But I'll tell you where I go in my own way. I go to the notion, embedded in the Christian vocabulary in which I learned to think and talk, that there is a mysterious union of human and divine that is best captured in the words of an ancient prayer: 

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee, humbly beseeching thee that we and all others...may be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him."  

I don't quote that to convince you of anything, but rather to share with you just one of the myriad places where the truth pokes its head out from under the stifling blanket of shame thrown over the physical world. Truth speaks of a way of feeling about our very flesh that, as much as anything in the whole universe, carries within it the life of the very One who took millions and billions of years just to produce what is now reading these words and, I hope, thinking about being grateful, and maybe even loving, the body named you.

Black man with arms crossed

Frank Dunn, June 10, 2017

Three Sixty is a series of Frank Dunn's reflections on the connection of sex and spirit.  Look for them in most issues of Circling.  You may subscribe to Circling to your right in the sidebar.

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]

The Night of the Arrest

Again we welcome David Townsend as blogger.  David is a teacher, ritualist and sacred intimate practicing in Toronto and part-time in New York. He keeps his blog on queer men's spirituality (where this piece first appeared) at  David refers to this piece as “midrash,” a tradition in Jewish literature referring to commentaries on biblical passages, especially narratives, as well as laws and customs.  This midrash is a creative interpretation of a unique passage in the Gospel According to Mark, embedded in the story of Christ’s passion.

“A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”  — Mark 14:51

You’ve seen him here late at night all week. He’s come up the rambles between the trees to this knoll at the top of the garden. You thought he was looking for sex when he first showed up on Sunday night, but he didn’t prowl like most of the men who linger until they’re sure it’s safe and then offer to buy you for the night, or for an hour, or for just a quick fuck behind the biggest, oldest olive tree. Or else come to find another man as hungry for sex as they are.

He just leaned against what’s left of the stone hut that belonged to the gardener in the old days. Aware of what was going on around him. Not horny and panicked at his own desire and the danger of the place, like most newcomers. At peace, saying yes to it all, but wanting none of it for himself.

You wear just a linen sheet when you’re up here working the hill.

vintage boy

Tonight he’s back with two friends, who for hours started at the sound of every pebble that shifted underfoot as men cruised the paths. His own face                                  showed more sadness than fright, until he finally went off alone to the side of the garden, kneeling as he wept. You waved a john away, wondering if you should go to him.  Now his friends have drifted off to sleep.

Another john comes up, and you’ve got to make enough to eat tomorrow. But then the man turns, and your eyes lock. The john glares, shrugs, and walks away.

Without thinking, you get up and walk over to him. He’s still weeping as he reaches out to you, but by the time his arms are around you, you realize the comfort he’s offering is beyond anything you can give back. For the next five minutes, you exchange no words, only sobs, until the two of you fall into a slow, steady rhythm, rocking back and forth, your breath matched to one another. His hand burrows under your dreadlocks to stroke the back of your neck.

Down the hill you hear the scuffle of men scattering as they do when the police barrel through. You pull back in alarm. He smiles and says, “It’s O.K. Go, get out of here.”

As you pitch down the hill, a cop grabs for you, and you leave the sheet behind, clutched in his hand, as you run on to safety.

April 2017

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Mount Athos, With a Twist

David Townsend and I facilitated Jonathan’s Circle’s StoneSong Retreat, “Rejoicing in Body and Spirit,” held in August in Western Maryland.  David is a ritualist and sacred intimate practicing in Toronto and part-time in New York. He keeps his blog on queer men's spirituality (where this piece first appeared) at—Frank Dunn

Last weekend, nineteen open-hearted, gifted men lived for  three sweet days in intentional  community at Stonesong Center in western Maryland, as guests of the beautiful, generous-hearted couple who steward the land there. 

Our temple was the second floor of a barn. The odd bat flew through at night. There were crickets and cicadas and tree frogs. The full moon silvered the nocturnal landscape.

The magic that arose among us in less than seventy-two hours was deep and powerful, and more than Frank Dunn and I, who led the retreat, could have asked or imagined. I won’t presume to describe everything that happened--first, because, well, you had to be there, and second, because so much of what took place belongs to that sacred gathering and that gathering alone.

JonCircStonesong16 - 15

      One of the StoneSong shrines

But for me, the most vivid, the most powerful memory of the retreat was the experience of the land itself transformed into holy ground by our shared practice: a line of prayer flags made by each of us to mark the respective spots we’d chosen as the site of personal shrines. Over the course of the next two days, we deepened our practice by tending those shrines and welcoming one another as pilgrims to our holy places. Walking along the path, looking up the slope, rounding a corner, wandering in the woods, we came upon these witnesses to the riches of other men’s souls made into invitations to look deeper, to open wider, to feel ourselves woven into a web of connection richer than anything we could have achieved without one another.

...we came upon these witnesses to the riches of other men’s souls…”  

      Monastic cells, Mount Athos

Many religious traditions have birthed landscapes honeycombed with gestures of reverence. The dwellings of the Essenes of Qumran; the hermitages of the Egyptian desert; the monastic cells of Mount Athos; the temples of the mountain that towers over the Inland Sea island of Miyajima; the folk shrines of northern New Mexico. Last weekend, we became heirs to that broad human heritage--but with a twist: a community of queer men laying claim for ourselves and our tribe to that from which the keepers of so many of those traditions have attempted to exclude us.

August 30, 2016

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Desire Under the Sun

“There is nothing new under the sun,” asserted Koheleth, the Preacher in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes.  Maybe not.  But there is beginning to be a more and more widespread conversation about desire these days.   It is not by any means a new conversation.  But people, men in particular, are coming to what for us are novel conclusions about the place of desire in human life.

Not all spiritual traditions treat desire in the same way.  Buddhism is sometimes understood to place desire at the center of the human predicament, seeing it as giving rise to suffering.  Properly understood, it is not desire as such that is the problem, but desire that is not faced, confronted, and dealt with.   Buddhism understands that desire is part and parcel of the human condition—there being no way that we can eliminate desire and still live and function.  The chief aim of contemplation (meditation) is confronting desire over and over again, practicing letting go of the desire, including the desire to let go of desire! 

Judaism approaches desire differently, seeing that desire can be what draws us to God and also what draws us away from God.  One of the most elegant texts in Judaism is the 119th Psalm.  The psalm is a meditation on Torah, the Law.  It is full of yearning and longing to approach the Holy One by internalizing the precepts of the Law.  The very second verse reads, "Happy are they that observe his decrees and seek him with all their hearts.” This is just one of the many instances in which holy desire is exalted as the appropriate posture towards doing and being what God wills the human being to do and to be.

Christianity continues the general pattern of Judaism by treating desire as neither good nor bad in and of itself, but good or bad in relation to how much desire pulls us toward—or away from­—God.  The locus of the divine-human encounter in Christianity, of course, is the person of Jesus, not the Law.  And the Christian is generally formed by the Church to think of Jesus as being the embodiment of God’s will.  A bevy of texts in the New Testament emphasizes Jesus’ obedience to the will of God.  One of the Church Fathers, Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428), articulated the paradox of the two natures of Christ (divine and human) by using the category of will.  Against those who argued that Christ had only one will (the “monothelites”), Theodore argued that he had both a divine and a human will, but that that human will was perfectly aligned with the divine will, yet voluntarily so.  Christians through the centuries have tended to understand morality to hinge on the knowing and doing of the will of God. 

Complicating the notion of the possibility of a Christian’s actually doing God’s will is a fairly virulent strain of Christian ethics, by no means alone among religious ethical traditions, seriously suspecting human desire of being corrupted and contaminated.  And, borrowing heavily from Platonism and Neo-Platonism, Christian theology has a history of suspecting that the thing most damaging to doing God’s will is desire, specifically sexual desire. 

Ron Griswold 1

            Ron Griswold, “Flyin’"

Now there is a long and checkered history of suspecting sexual desire, enough to give Christianity in particular and religion in general a bum rap among a great many modern people.  But folded into that history is a very different chain of thought.  It shows up in the metaphors of Christ’s relationship to the Church, which is significantly called his body.  New Testament scriptures such as Matthew 25:1-13 (the delayed bridegroom, obviously an image of the long-desired appearance of Christ) and Ephesians 5:22-24 (in which the Church is depicted as the bride of Christ) when pushed to their logical conclusion, strongly suggest a sexual relationship between Christ and the Church (however metaphorical) and between Christ and his own body.  What ultimately comes to be called the “sacrament” of marriage is a way of recognizing that the sexual union of two persons in marriage both reflects the divine-human relationship and becomes a means of participating in that relationship. 

“Those who cannot imagine that sexual desire and divine life have anything to do with each other will almost always choke at the suggestion that sex organs might in fact be the way that the holiest of desires get addressed.”

 pagan ecstasy

All this moves desire up pretty high on the scale of things.  Desire does not stop with a kind of non-sexual longing, but goes on to express itself in sexual union.  Of course those who cannot imagine that sexual desire and divine life have anything to do with each other will almost always choke at the suggestion that sex organs might in fact be the way that the holiest of desires get addressed.  That it should surprise us that the most natural process—the only way any species can survive—is reproduction, and specifically sexual reproduction in the more evolved forms of life on the planet, is odd.  But what is even stranger is the general notion that ritual formulas over sexual partners (i.e., marriage rites) actually create or change the nature of sexual expression.  What those rites do, in fact, is formalize a relationship that protects property, ensures family and to some extent societal stability, and confines or attempts to confine sex to approved patterns.  But men have historically voted with their libidos.  Like their primate cousins, they are not all naturally monogamous.  Harems, concubines, mistresses, and prostitutes both male and female, have all been sexual alternatives to monogamy.  All attempts to sequester desire, especially sexual desire, have sooner or later run aground.  Yet human beings famously continue to imagine that insisting on what is not working be tried again and again with no new results. 

native american image

                 Native American

Still, not all desire is sexual desire, and not all sexual desire is desire for reproduction.  There are other traditions that come at desire from other angles.  Read ancient Celtic prayers and find in them a sweet, peaceful acceptance of the daily round of farming, fishing, and household chores, not exactly devoid of desire, but hardly prayers that can be thoroughly appreciated if seen only through the lens of desire, or will, for that matter.  To the extent that they are prayers they are voiced desires of the heart, to be sure.  But they are desires of the human soul to live in harmony with the created world, the world of the imagination, and the realm of the divine.  Native American tradition approaches life more in terms of sharing, in a stance of generosity, than it does in the terms of personal desire. That is not to say that desire is unimportant but that it often shows up as tribal intention and even as universal interrelatedness among all people and all living things.  Desire does not always play out in terms of what modern Western people might call ego-driven thoughts and behavior. 

However we appropriate desire, it is in fact a natural part of the human experience.  On the most basic level, we desire water, we desire food, we desire a certain dependable trustworthiness in key relationships.  No doubt the Buddhists are right in holding that desire when not confronted and understood can be our undoing, leading to all manner of suffering, much of it self-imposed.  No doubt the strain of tradition that suspects desire contains some wisdom as well.  But I want to hold out that desire can be seen differently.  It is another word for prayer. 

I was thinking about this recently and dredged up from the recesses of memory an old poem set to a hymn tune in the 19th century.  It was written by a journalist renowned in his day, James Montgomery. He wrote, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.”  The poem goes on to say a number of things that I don’t find particularly helpful, tied as they are to a 19th century Protestant theology that seems threadbare to me now.  But in those opening lines, I think Montgomery said something profound.  Everybody is praying, whether he or she knows it, owns it, or not.  Whatever your heart sincerely desires is your prayer.  It need not be addressed to a deity nor uttered at all.  It is the bedrock of your being: your soul’s dream, your heart’s yearning, whatever it is you long for.  It might be an ache, a silent cry for the loneliness at your center to be filled, a need to be heard, a fatigue that languishes for rest and peace, a stirring that gets you out of bed in the morning, a fire that flickers at the center of your Self. 

In my vocabulary, that is the place where you and the Holy of Holies intersect.  The Ground of our Being knows your desire even if you don’t.  To the Mind and Heart of that holy Ground, all hearts are open, all desires known, and from it no secrets are hid. My experience is that, notwithstanding suspicion of religious language and thought, the first place many of us want to go when the subject of desire comes up is sorting out “good” desires from “bad” ones.  What if the point were not that at all?  What if the point were that in the very act of desiring we humans were experiencing what the heart of God (called by whatever name) experiences all the time (eternally)?  What if behind every atom, cell, quark, string in the universe was the unmitigated desire that it be what it is?  What if you and I began to see our desiring as the holiest of holy things?  What if, through our deepest longings and our weirdest fantasies the universe itself and its bedrock Founder were echoing us, loving us, desiring us just as we are?

Boy-with-a-Basket-of-Fruit caravaggio

© Frank Dunn, August 30, 2016

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]


A Naked Wholeness

The Reverend Dr. Robin Gorsline writes candidly about nakedness, a subject over which our society is deeply divided.  He is a poet, theologian, and spiritual activist, currently serving as Writer-Theologian in Residence at Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, D.C. He also co-chairs his denomination’s Racial Reconciliation Working Group and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. He and his husband of 18 years, Dr. Jonathan Lebolt, live in Greenbelt, MD.

Robin Gorlsine collar Sept 2015

                  Robin Gorsline

There are times when I just cannot seem to help myself, times when I simply must find a way to exhibit my body. Or that was how it seemed years ago.

There was that time, now 20 years past, when I read that walking nude on Manhattan’s West 21st Street was the thing men did. So I went one evening, finding a place to park my old car and took off my clothes, parading back and forth, hoping to meet someone, anyone, and fearful at the same time that I would. I knew I feared meeting a dear woman friend and colleague who lived a block away, feeing certain she would judge me for my small cock. But I also felt an anticipatory thrill.

For 30 minutes or so, I walked slowly up and down, meeting no one. Then, I remembered my teenage daughter back in Brooklyn, and I thought, what if I am arrested, what will she do? What if I lose my job? So I scampered back to my car, dressed, and drove home.

I felt intoxicated by adrenaline and yet ashamed, too, the latter not so much about exhibitionism I think as the inadequacy of my member. The emotional cross currents were not easy to bear; I feel them still as I write. I get semi-hard, too.  

And I wonder if my desire these days to stand at our front door, naked as I am in the house, to let in or out the dog or respond to the knock of the mail delivery person or walk out a few steps to take recycling to the bin is about exhibiting myself or simply living in the honesty of my natural desire for being nude all the time.

I know I shall not do this, I really like our neighbors and we are in close proximity in the cooperative housing we call home.  But the temptation is there. I wonder, should I grow senile, if I will then wander off in nakedness, as old men have been known to do, and if I do whether that would be a sign of dementia or of deep desire triumphing over caution.

So I yearn to go to a clothing optional beach or join a nudist club, or both, maybe join the World Naked Bike Ride in some city. Some people think a desire to be nude automatically means you are on the prowl for sex, but I have no such yearning. I simply want to be naked as I was born. And I want to learn more about being this small-cocked aging man who finally knows embodied peace.

I simply want to be naked as I was born.

Now, I admit that when naked I like to play a bit with my cock, whom I call Little Guy (LG for short) as I now feel at considerable peace with the endowment with which I am blessed.  It has taken twenty or thirty years of therapy and self-exploration—and the challenges of erectile dysfunction and atrophy among my balls due to testosterone replacement therapy—to come to this point today: I really love him now. That is one reason I like to be nude, but frankly I also like doing the laundry naked, and making lunch, and vacuuming; I so wish I could garden nude. That would be heaven! I am a nudist at heart. I love my body and want to experience it fully.

Robin tastefully naked Prior Lake 2016

But sex with men other than my husband I do not need, or even touching other’s naked organs (although they are so beautiful!)—a hug for sure among friends new and old, a pat on the back, an affectionate slap on the rump, but no need to stroke the cock of another or for them to stroke mine, so long as I am free, with a self-caress or pull or two or three from time to time, to let LG know I care.

I do not judge others whose sexual desires are different, and I am glad for my friends who find their joy in different ways of loving. I can even listen to them speak of this, and feel their eros and still not want it. I might feel the bits of arousal that comes from sexual stories, but I am clear for myself: my man is so much more than enough, so glorious a lover I am still in awe after almost 19 years of how I have been gifted.

All this feels like God to me, helping me learn that I am gifted in glorious ways just as I am.    

July 22, 2016

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]

Power, Violence, and Courage

We again welcome Christian de la Huerta to our blog with this article which originally appeared on his website  Christian is well known in Jonathan’s Circle for his writing, retreats, workshops, and self-development programs inspiring personal transformation through soulful power.  He lives in Coconut Grove, FL.

                   De La Huerta

There is a certain level of numbness that can happen when we hear about yet one more mass shooting or terrorist attack. Overwhelmed with emotions—grief, anger, frustration, helplessness—our system shuts down.

Orlando struck particularly close to home for me, both geographically and because this time the setting was a gay bar and the patrons mostly LGBT Latinos. I have been feeling a bit numb these past few days, even after attending a moving vigil in Portland, Maine, where I was facilitating a workshop last weekend.

What can I possibly say that would provide wisdom, perspective or comfort? There are plenty of voices giving expression to the anger, grief and helplessness so many of us feel. The possibility that the shooter was dealing with his own conflicted sexuality and internalized homophobia makes even more complex a situation in which religion and terrorism were already part of the equation.

I have known the self-hatred, the existential conflict resulting from being gay in a religion that tells you you’re damned to eternity for being who you are. I understand enough about the psyche to know that those conflicted feelings are often projected out and displaced onto others. How often do we hear of virulently homophobic political or religious leaders getting busted playing footsies under an airport bathroom stall, or with a gay call boy?

There is a deeper aspect going on here, which is the connection between homophobia and misogyny: two sides of the same coin. Those cultures and religions that persecute LGBT people are the very same ones that oppress women. Add to that recent studies that point to a connection between domestic violence and mass shootings: up to one third of mass shootings—which are almost always carried out by men—seem to have been preceded by incidents of domestic violence. Indeed, the Orlando shooter’s ex-wife reports having been abused and held hostage by him.

Equality poster

In our times power between the genders is shifting back toward balance, though, clearly, we are not even close to where we need to be. Women are graduating from college in higher numbers than men and, increasingly, assuming the role of at least co-provider. Many men—whose identity has been tied to being the sole provider—have lost their jobs to globalization and the technological revolution and are struggling to figure out who they are in this new burgeoning world. Feelings that one is “less than a man” can be scary and confusing.

Scapegoating LGBT people, who by their very existence threaten the status quo of “male superiority,” is not a surprising reaction. Yet, to think that buying a big gun —or worse, using it on fellow humans—is going to compensate for those feelings of inadequacy and make one more of a man is lame, pathetic, and tragic. 

As gender roles continue to get reimagined and redefined, we need new definitions of what it means to be a man in the 21st century, in the same way that over the last few decades we have been redefining what it means to be a woman. We are still engaged in that process: can a woman be seen as a credible leader of the world’s remaining sole superpower? We even witnessed misogynistic flares and blindspots emerge from the most progressive political campaign this country may have yet seen.

We are living in fascinating times to be sure, and more than likely, the pendulum of expansion and contraction will swing a few more times as we navigate these changes, as women, LGBT people and other disenfranchised minorities claim their rights in a society that—theoretically, at least—guarantees them for all.

In ways that I can’t put my fingers on, I suspect that good will pulse out from the Orlando incident. I cannot explain why action that did not take place after the shooting of innocent children would occur now, but as U.S. Senate Democrats filibustered for gun control action, the NRA seems to be backing off from the absurd stance that even those on the terrorist watch list should be able to buy guns indiscriminately. Yes, low lying fruit to be sure, but at least it is movement in the right direction. Perhaps, hopefully, we have collectively reached a critical point of ENOUGH!

Even with recent legal successes in this country and despite mind-boggling cultural advancements, it still takes courage to be openly LGBT in this world. It is the courage to be different, to be yourself in the face of oppression, opposition, and even physical harm. In 13 countries in our world, being gay is still legally punishable by death. 

This I know. The LGBT community is strong and will not be deterred or cowered. Numbness will transmute into action. The courage that has gotten us this far will continue to grow, blossom and unfold. The word courage comes from the French cour for heart. Ultimately, we are talking about love—the right to love, the right to be. Nothing can stand in the face of love. Not a saccharin, Hallmarky kind of love, but love as the fiercest force in the universe. The path may yet be tortuous, but the outcome is inevitable. 

During this tainted Pride Month, peace on us all. And, to the many extraordinary men I know who are redefining fatherhood, Happy Father's Day!

June 17, 2016

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]

Eaten Alive

Welcome back to Matt Brouwer, poet, whose two short poems featured here will delight you. 

  Matthew Brouwer Performing

Matthew Brouwer Performance

To lay my cards on the table:  I’ve known Matt for a decade.  He came into the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, DC, in the mid-2000’s when I was the relatively new Senior Priest.  Much of the involvement Matt had at St. Stephen’s was in what I’d call “justice work.”  His job in Washington was with an area food bank, so he was conversant with issues of poverty and hunger.  He organized and led for a time the parish’s contingent of folk involved with Washington Interfaith Network, an Industrial Areas Foundation organization with a Saul Alinsky approach to community organizing.  Those were heady days when a new wave of urban renewal and development in Washington was creating tensions through a gentrification that was pushing out poor and marginal people as housing prices skyrocketed.  (The tensions and the process creating them are by no means over a decade or more later.) 

What I didn’t know about Matthew Lane Brouwer was his creative, literary side.  That he was bright and articulate was obvious.  Yet, despite a number of candid conversations, I missed the mountain of poetic charm in the man sipping coffee in Starbucks with me.  And then he moved.  Back to his other Washington whence he came Matt returned.  We kept in touch.  The next big news I heard from him related to a physical challenge he was facing that threatened to rob him of full—or perhaps any—mobility.  I remember all too well the first time my back went into a muscle spasm.  I was in my thirties.  I had never ever known real pain until then.  Pondering what by any standard was a minor issue, I began perforce to understand what happens to the human body as we wear it through the years.  The prospect of more pain to come was humbling and scary.  I can only imagine what Matt must have felt as he faced a far more daunting situation in his young adulthood.  My reading:  he suffered.  There is nothing quite like suffering to bring us to our knees, cracking the youthful illusions of immortality and invincibility.  If I am right, suffering was what ultimately opened in him the floodgates of creativity, though he had already begun the journey of the poet.  It might have happened anyway; but I suspect that what Matt now writes and shares is what wouldn’t have been possible—certainly not fully ripe—had it not been for the year or two or several he spent in hell. 

In these two short poems, Matt writes about lovemaking.  When you listen closely to his voice, you will notice the ease with which he paints imagery that evokes both visual and spiritual experiences. 


The juxtaposition of bodies devouring each other in passion and insects biting the shit out of those bodies is both funny and arresting.  The poet obviously wants to make us laugh at the experience that, if not exactly everyday, is surely not bizarre.  Most of us have had a case of poison ivy, mosquito bites, ticks, or worse—and while it might be funny in retrospect, it wasn’t so funny at the time.  But the poet gently steers us to see the curious oneness between the insects that are feasting on human bones and the bodies whose bones they are, feasting on each other.  It is as if to say that all living things are going to be fed one way or another, no matter what.  Notice that the real or imagined calls to come to meals the lovers totally ignore.  And don’t miss the fact that the first of these poems is set on Sunday morning, when all over the world people are buzzing about “keeping the feast.”  Are the couple being devoured by insects? Or are the “cannibals”  their desires?  Either way, they are being consumed like hosts at a mass.  Sometimes lovers often feel like doing (and  sometimes actually do) to each other what insects do to humans:  bite the hell out of the body they are yoked with.   We are not so evolved that we’ve completely lost our insect tendencies. 

In the poem “Hannegan Pass,” Matthew contrasts the blazing itch of mosquito bites and the fiery passion of lover for beloved.  “Like a city devastated by incendiary bombs,” the lovers are totally spent, finished, wiped out at the end of making love.  “There was nothing left of us when we were through.”  In giving us this image, the poet might well be talking—in fact is talking—about what is known by various names:  nirvana, heaven, the peace that passes all understanding, the state of absolute zero, the Sabbath rest that reflects the Creator after shooting off the Big Bang and setting the entire cosmos in motion. 

couple's feet in bed

You won’t find much philosophizing in Matthew’s poetry.  Wisdom, yes.  Insight, plenteous.  But his is too much embodied poetry to be constrained to live in your head.  Thus, you will look in vain to find more than hints at what I am seeing and pointing you towards in these and other poems.  Nor is Matt, a man of profound and profoundly liberated faith, the kind of poet that preaches in verse, nor a hymn writer capturing theological insights in a word or turn of phrase.  But if you look closely, you’ll see all the great themes of the Spirit in poems like these:  creation, destruction, revelation, redemption—to name the main ones.  And you might be enticed to look at your next insect infestation with new eyes, perchance seeing lovemaking on a bed of baking soda as every bit the scene of transcendence as one might discover, say, under a bo tree, or on a midnight ride in Arabia, or in a manger, or on a cross.

Frank Dunn, April 21, 2016

See a brief bio of Matt below at “Happy Ending Massage."

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]

Sex & Power 

Christian de la Huerta returns to our blog with this article which originally appeared on his website  He is widely known for his writing, retreats, workshops, and self-development programs inspiring personal transformation through soulful power.  He lives in Coconut Grove, FL. 

Christian de la Huerga headshot

Our world is “obsexed,” a bit out of control in this area, to say the least. Sex has been so repressed and demonized that it comes out in unhealthy expressions. In its most extreme and violent forms, the unhealthy expression of sexual and power dynamics show up as rape and sexual abuse, which are clearly more about power than sex. It is interesting that one of the most common verbal expressions of aggression in the English language, “Screw you!”—and its more colorful alternative—allude to sex. What’s more, the word “fuck” is believed to originate from an Indo-European root meaning “to strike.”

In a more subtle sense, we often use sex to work out power dynamics in our relationships. Because we have not been taught about honest and authentic communicating or how to handle conflict, we tend to work out the power dynamics in relationships covertly, and frequently through sex. Navigating the power dynamics in the bedroom can feel like walking through a minefield. Whoever initiates risks rejection, which often takes the form of a power play: “Sorry, Honey, I have a headache,” when inside we are really saying: “Screw you! Hell will freeze over before you get any tonight!” 

Not initiating can also involve elements of power: we relinquish power due to fear of rejection, and perhaps even in subtle ways manipulate the other to begin the process, thus minimizing risk. As our sense of self becomes stronger, we learn to more easily ask for what we want without taking things personally. 

Negotiating who’s giving or receiving, as well as the logistics of sex—When? Where? How often?—can be fraught with danger. Sometimes it feels like walking on egg shells. No wonder Oscar Wilde said "Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power."

Even engaging in sex for self-validation is about power in the sense that we give our power away every time we look outside ourselves for acceptance or a sense of worth.

And tragically, for many people the missionary position still represents an attempt to ensure the domination of man over woman, who is relegated to being merely a passive incubator or instrument for the man’s pleasure. 

Sex can be complex and complicated. Not a few unconsciously attempt to recreate relationships with their parents through sexual dynamics—hence Freud’s Oedipus and Electra complexes. Through fantasy and fetish others learn to work out power dynamics more intentionally, as witnessed by the best-selling success of “Fifty Shades of Gray” in spite of its dubious artistic merits.

Yes, sex is incredibly pleasurable and undoubtedly a powerful force, but it is more than that. Beyond the rush of endorphins and feelings of ecstasy, it is also a vehicle for deep connection, for transcendence, for momentary freedom. We have a deep longing to pop out of the prison of our minds even for a brief respite. When we open our hearts in love-making, it adds a whole other layer of emotional release and the sense of connectedness transcends the physical.

The more in touch we are with who we are and with our soulful power, and the more that we learn to be congruent and communicate our needs and desires and emotions in a way they can be received, the less we need to resort to covert power plays in the bedroom. When we are established in our own power and realize that another’s power does not take away from ours, we can allow sex to be a natural exchange of energy, of love—and of power.

March 5, 2016 

Solosexuality:  Touching the Sky

Jason Armstrong is the author of a new book, published just this week by Amazon, Solosexual:  Portrait of A Masturbator.  This is the first book to explore the sub-culture of solosexuality, and Armstrong does it through his own personal experience.   Jonathan’s Circle interviewed him and found that Jason has much to say about the connection of the erotic and the spiritual through masturbation.  Jason’s blog is Hunting for Sex:  Cautionary Tales From the Quest.  He lives in Toronto.

solosexual postcard front


Jonathan’s Circle           You grew up in a traditional, mainstream Christian household.  What messages did you learn as a youngster about your body? 

Jason Armstrong            It’s interesting in that I was never explicitly told that my body was dirty, but implicit messages to that effect permeate our society.  I recall, though, being in the home of a neighbor friend whose parents were deeply religious and finding a book about sexual morality.  I hardly understood at that tender age what masturbation was, but the book made clear that whatever it was, it was an affront to God.  For me, a little boy trying to be the best little boy in the world, I took that admonition to heart.  Why was I trying to be the best little boy in the world?  Because before I had the vocabulary for it, I knew I was gay.  And nothing anywhere in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s supported that as something to tolerate or accept, nevermind celebrate.

JC               When you began discovering your body as distinctly male, did you find it puzzling or problematic? 

Jason          Dear Lord, would the wonders of my body never cease?  Puberty hit and I was introduced to the power of the penis.  As much as I reveled in these new feelings awakening in my body, the sexual conservatism of the world around me had me in a state of stress.  This was coupled with my own pre-disposition to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  When a sexual thought hit me, I’d enter a tailspin of guilt and developed rituals for ridding myself of my so-called impure thoughts, such as obsessive hand washing (a classic symptom of OCD).

JC               As you began to grow into manhood, how did your attitude towards your body change?

Jason          As cliché as it sounds, love is the answer.  At the age of sixteen, I fell in love with a schoolmate.  He was straight. He did not know of my feelings for him at the time, but those feelings for him were so pure, so golden, so right—I just knew these feelings were born of God or the universe or whatever we might refer to as a higher power.  This in turn made me rethink everything—my concept of God and the beauty of the male form.  Including my own.

I just knew these feelings were born of God or the universe or whatever we might refer to as a higher power.  This in turn made me rethink everything—my concept of God and the beauty of the male form.  Including my own.

JC               Did that cause a spiritual crisis for you?   

Jason          Love for another male made me re-think what exactly I thought God to be.  I had to tear down my belief system and start from scratch.  But how?  Who would guide me?  Had I heard of Jonathan’s Circle in my late teens, I might have gotten to where I am now spiritually a lot faster, with less stumbling along the way.

JC               In what way do you think that young men need mentoring in order to understand and enjoy their sexuality? 

man ready to masturbate

Jason          It seems to me that it’s hard to understand one’s own sexuality if you don’t see it reflected anywhere (and reflected positively, at that).  Once we have a vocabulary to work with, we can then start to self-identify.  But we live in a world that is highly hypocritical about sex.  It’s used everywhere to sell products and movies and music, but rarely discussed in an open, thoughtful manner. 

JC               Did you have any mentors or models? 

Jason          Yes.  Solosexual: Portrait of a Masturbator is in part dedicated to a man who explained to me years ago what the term “solosexual” meant.

JC               What did he do for you? 

Jason          This mentor intuited from reading my blog that masturbation was a key sexual outlet for me.  He showed me that masturbation could be a central part of my sexuality, not just a peripheral part.  Masturbation gets short shrift, often seen as a “snack” until the real meal of partnered, penetrative sex comes along.  My mentor gave me the vocabulary to begin identifying as a solosexual – that is to say, one for whom masturbation is the favoured sexual outlet.

JC               As you grew and developed into a young adult, what were you searching for sexually? 

Jason          Truthfully, my sense of my sexuality in my late teens and into my early twenties was a nebulous thing.  But at the age of 25 or 26, I found myself living in New York City, a mecca for gay culture.  I remember the night that my sexuality went from a nebulous thing to an outright passion:  I went to an orgy.  Being amongst so many men, all exuding sexuality, all at once, all in the same room—it woke up my latent awareness of just how sexual a person I am—to this day!

JC               And how did that fit or not fit your understanding of what was spiritual? 

I sensed there was something powerful by us all being together and pleasing each other.  I felt at home.  My spirit flew in that environment.

Jason          At the orgy, I reveled in the male energy.  I sensed there was something powerful by us all being together and pleasing each other.  I felt at home.  My spirit flew in that environment.  The sense of celebration felt divine.  Gloriously, filthily, divine!

JC               On your blog you write movingly of the crush you had on Jack Rankin when you were in high school.  How do you appropriate that today? 

Jason          Yes, Jack is the high school crush that I spoke about a minute ago.  My feelings for him made me realize that gay is good indeed, as my feelings for him were so rich and pure.  We were hardly more than acquaintances and lost touch after high school.  But in my late 20’s, I phoned him out the blue and told him that he, unwittingly, had been the object of my desire and that the feelings I had for him enabled me to embrace my sexuality.  He was so gracious when I told him that, so gracious.  At the end of the phone call, he invited me to have coffee with him if I were ever again in town (I lived in a different city by that point).  But I never contacted him again.  I chose to keep Jack in a sort of time bubble, in a pure place, encased in my heart, unblemished by time or experience.

JC               When you became an actor, did you experience anything that fed your spiritual life, your sexual growth? 

Jason          Actors often speak of the theater as a temple, themselves acolytes through which characters can be channeled.  An actor’s life is joyous in the sense that you are given free reign to explore the human condition and the world around you, including the spiritual.  Regarding my sexual growth, it’s no secret that the theater world is completely gay friendly.  I never had to hide who I was as a gay man.

JC               You speak now of having become a “solosexual.”  How does that term describe you?

Jason          Masturbation is, quite simply, my preferred sexual outlet.

JC               Is solosexuality for you more than a physical experience, perhaps a spiritual one? 

There is transcendence to be found in the grit and grime of men’s sexual fantasies and desires. 

Jason          It’s absolutely spiritual!  Masturbating is meditative, self-loving.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not letting my gloriously dirty mind go crazy!  There is transcendence to be found in the grit and grime of men’s sexual fantasies and desires.  I know for many this seems bold to say, but even porn can be revelatory: Seeing a man being sexual is something worthy of worship.  You are seeing a man at his finest hour.

man watching porn

JC               How does partnered sex fit into your life and thought? 

Jason          Thank you for asking!  Partnered, penetrative-style sex is still excruciatingly good!  But if I can find a partner for whom masturbation is also the favored sexual outlet, all the better.

JC               Is it difficult to be public about your having “solosexuality” be your preferred style of sexual expression?

Jason          Though it sounds like a paradox, solosexuals still desire communion with others.  Sexuality is fluid, and I fear that men might make the assumption that I don’t want to explore things sexually with them because of my solosexual identification.  Trust me, that is not the case.  As mentioned above, I’ve had experiences in real time with other self-declared solosexuals that blew the roof off the joint in terms of sexual energy.  Two men mirroring each other as they both fall into the masturbation abyss of lust and mutual respect is cataclysmic.  That said, I do need time to masturbate alone, to regroup, to check in with myself.  To be as fully uninhibited as my desire wants me to be.

 When masturbating, I keep a little notebook beside me as some of my ideas for writing come best when I’m in a sexual zone in my head.

JC               Jason, you are obviously a very creative person.  What do you think is the connection between creative and sexual energy? 

Jason          I feel a fond regard for the sexual outliers of the 70’s, the gay men who took sexuality to be a creative endeavor in and of itself.  Sexuality and creativity seem to me two sides of the same coin.  When masturbating, I keep a little notebook beside me as some of my ideas for writing come best when I’m in a sexual zone in my head.

JC               Where do you see your life and career going in the next few years? 

Jason          I’m admittedly nervous about becoming more public as a writer about male sexuality.  I don’t make my living from writing, and there is the fear of my two worlds colliding.  But I have to believe that providence has a path for me.  I believe in this kind of dialogue we are having about male sexuality.  If I were to be silent, I think a metaphorical cancer would start to grow in my spirit.

JC               You grew up in a religious environment.  What now gives you a sense of purpose, ultimate meaning? 

I recognized some time ago that religious ecstasy and sexual ecstasy were linked.

Jason          I recognized some time ago that religious ecstasy and sexual ecstasy were linked.  And so that’s something that I wish to share through my writing.  My utopia would be a place where we could talk openly about our sexuality, without false bravado or judgment.  I wish the therapist’s couch weren’t the only place many people go to discuss their sexual lives freely.

JC               Is there anything you’d say to those who are now parenting gay or queer sons like you once were? 

Jason          Parenting seems so hard!  I admire those who are parents.  My own parents did the best they could with the information they had at the time we lived in when I was growing up.  And I love them deeply for it.  They were my angels.  Open communication about sexuality is key.  Where there is silence, there is shame.

JC               What do you think is the biggest challenge facing men today?  Are you doing something to address that challenge? 

Armstrong headshot

               Jason Armstrong

Jason          Men’s sexuality takes a beating in the world at large.  To a degree it’s our own fault, with regard to sex crimes perpetrated by men.  I see a world in which women are being encouraged to explore their sexuality, necessarily as a reaction to having their sexuality stomped on for most of history.  But rarely do I see any reverence for what male sexuality can be.  Men are constantly accused of “thinking with their dicks.”  But as we’ve discussed above, there is a fountain of creativity that can spring forth from “thinking with your dick.”  In fact, I posit that through our penises, even yes, through our animal lust, we have the capacity to touch the sky and to connect with others on the same journey.

February 3, 2016

Happy Ending Massage 

Matthew Brouwer is a performance poet and teaching artist residing in Seattle, WA.  His work bridges the worlds of spoken word and literary poetry to create a style that can be both evocative and subtle, enlivening and profound.  He has performed throughout the US and has been featured in regional literary, performance, and visual arts showcases such as Cirque, Phrasings, and Strands.  Matthew  leads workshops and retreats for teens and adults, co-founded the Whatcom Juvenile Justice Creative Writing Project, and has facilitated Kintsugi: a writing circle for people suffering chronic medical conditions. Stories We Must Tell, his first full collection of poems was released in 2015.  Follow him at poem below appeared in The Gospel According to Matthew Part III:  the sexy gospel.



Listen to Matt reading his poem, “Happy Ending Massage"

Happy Ending Massage



How to have sex with your massage therapist

The trick is

the well honed oohh and ahhh


The proper “Right there

Mmmmm yes, that’s right

That’s the spot, a little more…”


As she slowly


the laddered muscles

of your thighs


you prod her gently


Sprinkles on the top of a vanilla sundae

no pouring the caramel

no chocolate syrup


Finally she knows it’s alright

for her fingertips to ascend

into the shadowy attic of your groin


You could also get a boner


A whale surfaces

leaps into the air

from beneath the sheets


The signal will be clear


She will probably turn you down

There are certain muscles

it is simply not legal for her to massage

in the state of Washington


She will not risk her LMP

for you, loyal returning customer



who does she think you are?



sprawled out upon the heated table

in your underpants

the sheets, the pillows, the walls

everything as white as the room

you were born in

She touches the small of your back

attends to it as no lover has before


How can you not open

as a seed opens

when touched by the first warm pebbles

of spring?


And there’s nothing about her

beyond the ordinary mysteries

of women


She too a bun

rolled out of that

inexplicable dough

you are so hopelessly drawn to


You know enough about how this works

that you could hold her in soft places


She could hold you, too


She touches your back

your neck

your feet

your calves

your surrendered thighs


and is done


She calls you by your name

you rise

you put on your clothes


you leave

back out into this world of

lesser and greater lovemaking

to all women



street lamps






January 3, 2016

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]

A Blue Flower:  Is Healing Possible?

Filmmaker Mason’s autobiographical documentary A Blue Flower chronicles his spiritual quest in which sexual and spiritual elements ultmately come together in profound experience and insight.  He has also contributed much to the building of phallic brotherhood under the name Blue Tyger.  Jonathan’s Circle interviewed Mason to find what he learned in the making of A Blue Flower, and what he has learned in the two years since.  Watch more of him and listen to his music at

Jonathan’s Circle      You speak of losing your Christian faith.  What was it like to lose the sense of being loved? 

Mason         I never lost the sense of being loved—the inner fire that was sparked in me during that time of transition was an all-consuming love. What I lost was the conditional acceptance based on my religion’s rules.

JC      Why do you think that your indented chest became the locus of your sense of being flawed or imperfect?  What changed that for you?

Mason         Given the fact that I had only recently come out as gay and started to interact sexually with others for the first time, my indented chest was an embarrassing thing I felt I had to bring up to potential partners to warn them I was not normal like other guys. I was ashamed of it.

Discovering that deep, unconditional eternal love changed my perception of who I was. Being filled with love makes all the judgment go away.

JC      In A Blue Flower, you go on a quest.  What were you searching for?

Mason         I was searching for what some might refer to as a Kundalini Awakening, a biological process that is sometimes sparked through ingesting a physical substance, or undergoing some spiritual activity, or being initiated by a guru, that would heal my chest and (more importantly) my heart.

JC      You tell us of the experience of being 14 days in complete darkness.  What moved you to do that?

Mason         I had heard that this might be a way to have a Kundalini Awakening. I was hoping that my time in the dark would spark this biological process but it wasn’t until a few months later when I ingested the plant medicine Ayahuasca that my Kundalini rose for the first time.

JC      When you discovered Tantra, what was the heart of that experience for you?

Mason         I knew that Tantra was an ancient system that could awaken my kundalini and provide my body and heart with the healing I needed. I am still on my journey with Tantra and have much to learn.

JC               When you discovered Bruce Grether, what did you learn from him that helped you recover the experience of feeling loved?

Mason         Bruce’s teachings about Mindful Masturbation helped me to reconnect with the pure pleasure I had hidden inside of me. In ecstatic states I attained through Mindful Masturbation, I realized that I loved mySelf.

JC      “Love yourself.”  What did you discover about loving yourself that you think is more than personal, really universal?

Mason         I found that it should be written, “Love yourSelf” with the Self capitalized. I discovered that I am one with everything and everyone, and that when I love my Self my perception of everything in my reality changes.

A celibate nun could be just as drunk with love as a tantric adept; the form is different, but the Love is the same.

JC      Is masturbation a manifestation of self-love, or is it the core of self-love?

Mason         Good question.   As the Divine Creator, we can and do express Self-love in innumerable ways, and each of us can pick and choose the most magical, beautiful, awe-inspiring ways to love our Self. Some choose to write symphonies, some choose to paint, some choose to raise children, some choose to travel, dance, write… most likely some combination of many different lovely expressions of Self-love. Masturbation is one manifestation of that love. For a time, it was my expression of choice. I have since developed other expressions, including partnered sex, singing, and cooking, that are equally enjoyable for me because the Love is ever present. The dance with Love changes forms, but the Love is the same. A celibate nun could be just as drunk with love as a tantric adept; the form is different, but the Love is the same.


JC      How does self-love affect the way we love others and give ourselves to a life of service?

Mason         Again, the (secret) realization that we are not in any way separate from each other allows that life of love and service to flow naturally and beautifully. Mindful Masturbation helped me somewhat with this realization, but it was the plant medicine Ayahuasca which really taught me this. I could not put my experience with Ayahuasca in A Blue Flower because at the time it was not completely legal for me to work with it, but that has changed and now I can talk openly about it.

JC      How does “a blue flower” as a symbol aptly capture the nature of your spiritual journey?

Mason         I did not fully understand the symbol of A Blue Flower until December of 2012, in the sunrise portion of an Ayahuasca ceremony. A force (Kundalini?) took over my body and caused me to stare into the clear blue sky with my mouth open. A golden vine grew out of my mouth and reached all the way up, where the sky blossomed into a fractalized blue flower. I realized then that I was a part of one incredibly beautiful giant blue flower of love. I had been in a place of closed up fear and darkness, much like a blue water lily spends time closed up in murky dark water. But I had arisen and blossomed with the return of the sun, just like a blue lily so celebrated by the ancient Egyptians.

JC      In the movie, you visit a number of people.  How did you select the people you interview in the movie?

Mason         I really didn’t select them. They were just the people that were a part of my experience and my spiritual journey at the time.

JC      Was there a difficulty in having the experience you chronicle in A Blue Flower and in filming it at the same time?

Mason         No, filming actually helped me process my experiences so much better. Spiritual awakening can be a very difficult process, and reviewing my journey as I was editing the film helped me connect the dots. 

JC      You encounter a number of fairly unconventional approaches to understanding reality, such as Joe the alchemist you interview.  How do you appropriate these approaches that fall pretty far outside the mainstream of current spiritual or scientific understanding?

Mason         From the beginning of my journey I made a commitment to be open-minded and not to dismiss someone just because they sounded crazy. I was willing to try (and did try!) just about anything that had the remotest possibility of working. Eventually I tried Ayahuasca, perhaps one of the craziest things out there, which ended up being the thing that worked the most.

JC      “The whole function of friends is to remind us of what we already know.”  Is this a description of how you view your own life and work now?

Mason         Yes, reminding myself and others of Love is a great description of who I am.

JC      The movie in many ways is the story of a journey into self-acceptance.  What have you learned about accepting yourself that you believe is applicable to every human being?

Mason         I’ve learned that I am perfect exactly where I am on my journey, and so is everyone else.

JC      You say at one point, “I’ve been on a quest not just for me but for everyone: is healing possible, and how do we find it?”  Since making A Blue Flower, what have you learned about the healing that we all seek?

Mason         I’ve learned that this life is just a dream, or a game, and I’ve been to the end of the dream where all ends well. I hold the end of time in my heart and wait there in peace, knowing that the healing journey is sacred and that each soul arrives to the same place in the end.

JC      Do you think there is a solution to all human suffering?  What might it be?

Mason         I believe unconditional love is the solution, and that it is revealing itself to the collective nightmare as we speak ushering in a golden age of peace.

JC      A number of people in A Blue Flower witness to the wisdom of claiming one’s own personal power and self-acceptance.  Are all these folks saying the same thing with only minor vocabulary differences?

Mason         Yes, in the end there is only one teaching, one voice, one truth.

JC      If the heart of all our wisdom traditions on earth is in some sense the human need for and promise of transformation, what do you understand that transformation to involve, where does it lead, and what is the key to undergoing the process of transformation?

Mason         The promised transformation involves a change on all levels—physical and spiritual—as a result of Kundalini awakening (what the Bible esoterically refers to in the death/resurrection/return of Christ). This leads to Heaven on Earth. The key to the process of transformation is Love. There are many paths to experience love. The two that have guided me most profoundly are Ayahuasca and Tantra.

JC      How much of your healing was physical?

Mason         Virtually none of it during the making of the film, at least with the focus being on my bone structure. I have not finished my healing journey in my physical body. Almost every time I drink Ayahuasca my Kundalini rises and my body is taken over by a force that seeks to gently restore symmetry and perfection. It is a fascinating thing for me to witness happening, and sometimes a little scary. 

I have not yet experienced a permanent Kundalini awakening. I intuitively feel that my body would not be able to handle the energy at this stage. I need more time with plant teachers

JC      Of all the people in the movie, whom did you find most helpful?

Mason         Me. :)

JC      What have you learned about the nature of spiritual quests?

Mason         That everyone is on one whether they know it or not. That I am so grateful for my life. 

JC      “The real miracle is when we learn to love ourselves,” Carol, the instructor of “A Course in Miracles” tells you.  Has that proved true in your experience?

Mason         Yes!  I could have a perfect physical body structure and be miserable if I didn’t love mySelf.  I’m so grateful that I discovered that I loved mySelf first, so that whether or not my physical body ever completely heals, I am truly happy and at peace.

Blue Flower group

December 23, 2015

God & the Body

1 Response, see below

Journalist, Radical Faerie, producer of the award winning film Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, Stephen Silha has been from its inception a friend of, participant in, and inspiration for Jonathan’s Circle.  This article originally appeared in RFD, the Radical Faerie Magazine.  Stephen works in Seattle.


At the Brietenbush Faerie Gathering, February, 2009

I grew up believing my body wasn’t real.

So, it was a huge contradiction to live with, when even at age 5, I discovered my penis would get erect when I saw a beautiful man.  And not only that, but it was amazing how much time and energy we all spent taking care of our unreal bodies – eating, exercising, washing, listening to and looking for beauty.

I grew up with a religion called Christian Science, discovered by New Englander Mary Baker Eddy in the 1860s after she injured herself falling on ice and was healed instantaneously while reading of Jesus’ healings in the Bible.  She felt she had discovered the scientific basis for his ability to heal – that he simply saw so clearly people’s spiritual reality that any physical disease or deformity would disappear.

This can be a useful way to see things.  It’s quite radical, in an age where materialism takes an ever upper hand in our dying culture.  In my family, we did and do experience many healings – both physical and emotional – as a result of studying this approach.  I still study it, along with many other paths to Truth.  Especially my own relationship with Spirit, which has been strengthened and boosted by years of Radical Faerie gatherings, Naraya dances, and rituals.

But as a boy, it was hard to reconcile the idea that everything is spiritual with the physical realities of a growing body.  And even now – as I have learned to walk with faeries in this in-between place – it can be challenging to calibrate perceptions of multiple realities.

So – what happened when I went to my first Breitenbush Radical Faerie Gathering in 1985?  I feared it, maybe because of the drag stories I’d heard, but it opened my heart, mind and spirit.  I felt I’d come home.

And I never thought I could write about it.  What I experienced was beyond words.  I heard gorgeous men speak of the oppression of being beautiful and objectified.  I kissed a man with AIDS.  I bonded with the old-growth Douglas Fir trees, who ultimately gave me my first faerie name, Bubbling Banana.  (I had never heard that name until I walked alone among those trees.)


What is sin, anyway? I had heard that sin was synonymous with sensuousness.   But to me, sin was dishonesty, not being true to yourself or others.

And I was a being both physical and spiritual, at the same time.  I could acknowledge that the spiritual part was more likely to outlive the body, but why not express spirit through this body I inhabit here and now?

I had heard that sin was synonymous with sensuousness. But to me, sin was dishonesty, not being true to yourself or others.

And why not worship at my own temple, and the temples of other beautiful men who were discovering their Godbodies? (Thanks, James Broughton, for bringing that term into my consciousness.)

Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes orgasmic.  Sometimes gatherings can be hard – confronting parts of myself that only emerge in those numinous spaces.  It’s not so easy to walk between.  

But communities like Jonathan’s Circle make it more likely that we can heal our individual and cultural negativity about the erotic.

BigJoy Poster

I invite you to share in what I’ve discovered in making the film BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton at

Stephen Silha, December 9, 2015

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]


The life story Stephen shares is uniquely his own--and yet speaks to me directly and I suspect to many other men reading it. When we drop down into our flesh we find that they're not base, not dragging us down. They're the ladders on which we climb up to heaven and then descend again. We find our Godbodies.

David Townsend, December 11, 2015

Fleshing Out the Soul:  James B. Nelson

Thanks to Chris Glaser for contributing this post which appeared this week on his blog   Progressive Christian Reflections. Chris is widely known for his work in synthesizing Christian faith with his own experience as a gay man.  In this brief article he speaks of the pioneering work of James Nelson, whose thought and writing continue to inspire Jonathan’s Circle and similar ventures in healing the split between body and spirit.

The proudest moments of my life have sometimes come serendipitously. Conducting a workshop on LGBT pastoral issues during a conference for Christian ethicists, someone asked me what book I would recommend to help congregations dealing with such issues.

I didn’t even have to think about it. I answered, “James B. Nelson’s book, The Intimate Connection:  Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality. Or is it, Masculine Sexuality and Male Spirituality? I can never remember.”

Laughter erupted in the classroom. “Why don’t you ask the guy with the question?” someone said, “That’s Jim Nelson.” I laughed too, but I was proud that I had unintentionally paid him a great compliment.

We had never met, but I once subbed for him when his mother’s death prevented his speaking to our annual Presbyterians for Lesbian & Gay Concerns luncheon at General Assembly. I had been doing a lot of presentations about the relationship of spirituality and sexuality, and the group’s board prevailed on me that day to take his place, though I had brought none of my speaking notes.


I spent that morning reassembling from memory what I had recently been talking and writing about, and I gave one of my rare extemporary speeches. The response was positive, and I was feeling good about myself until someone on the board felt the need to put me in my place by saying, “You know that’s all from James Nelson.”

I didn’t know, and I was too embarrassed to say that I had not yet read any of his books! When I subsequently did, I was further embarrassed to realize that a quote of mine I thought to be original, and had actually published, was really Nelson’s: “We know God through our bodies or we don’t know God at all.”

What that says to me is that Nelson’s ideas had somehow permeated my universe, seeping its way into my thinking through conversations I was having in the church and with colleagues. That to me is the greatest compliment to his life and work, that his ideas would become part of the very fabric of contemporary theological discussion.

Of course there are dozens if not hundreds of body theologians today, but he was among the first along with Carter Heyward and others to help many of us claim an embodied spirituality, and we grieve his recent death at the age of 85.

In college I had thought I needed to go outside my own Christian tradition to claim my body, my sensuality and sexuality, and the beauty of creation. That’s why, as I wrote in my first book, Uncommon Calling, Kazantzakis’ novel, Zorba the Greek, became my “seconZorbaTheGreekd Bible.” The nominal “pagan” Zorba’s sensual zest for the world awakened in me a spirituality far from how I had been reared, spirituality as “pie in the sky when you die by and by.”

I knew little of earth-oriented Native American spirituality, and nothing of Celtic Christianity, which, with Body and Process and Liberation and Feminist theologies have served as correctives to my thinking of spirituality as an out-of-body experience.

“Pleasure is the strongest argument for the existence of God.”

I have used so many of Nelson’s insights and analyses—properly credited of course!—in my books and my talks and on my blog that I can’t imagine doing what I do without him. I refrained from reviewing all my underlining in his books for this post, however, lest I be tempted to offer more than my favorite Nelson quote:  “Pleasure is the strongest argument for the existence of God.”

Chris Glaser, November 8 [November 4], 2015

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]

Unbinding Isaac

A d’var Torah (sermon) given at Congregation Shir Libeynu for the second day of Rosh Hashanah on Genesis 22:1-19

head shot

                 David Townsend

David Townsend returns to our blog with a different sort of writing:  a sermon which he delivered at a synagogue this past September.  David is a ritualist and sacred intimate practicing in Toronto and part-time in New York. He keeps his blog on queer men's spirituality (where this piece first appeared) at  In order to get the full impact of this piece, pick up a Bible and read the passage cited above, or find it online.  

1 Response, see below

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be holy and acceptable in your sight, Adonai our Strength and our Redeemer.

What an honor to be asked to give a talk for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I told Rabbi Aviva in the spring.  And then the realization.  Oh great.  The Binding of Isaac.

Let’s start here:  God does not desire, God has never desired, the death of children.  I’d go so far as to suggest that any healthy and humane and yes, any truly devout and righteous reaction to this story involves an element of visceral revulsion.  It’s a great credit to the tradition of scholarship on the passage that Jewish exegesis has for many centuries made space for such responses.  The early midrash Bereshit Rabbah imagines God as saying, “I never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac,” distinguishing between the verb for slaughter and the verb for sacrifice.  A Spanish Rabbi Yona Ibn Yanach in the 11th century followed in this tradition when he wrote that God demanded only a symbolic sacrifice.  A later Spanish Rabbi, Yosef Ibn Caspi, in the 14th century wrote that Abraham allowed his imagination to lead him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to slay his son. Ibn Caspi asked, “How could God command such a revolting thing?”


Another possibility is that the test is actually not whether Abraham will be willing to sacrifice Isaac, but whether he will have the moral integrity to reply to God, “Are you out of your freaking mind?”—a test he fails.  I find great comfort in these voices of exegetical dissent to the disturbingly broad current of interpretation that in considering this story represses empathy and accepts without hesitation the legitimacy of God asking anything God wants, or at the very least the legitimacy of God testing Abraham by asking for something so outrageous that he never intended for Abraham to go through with it.  “Hey, just kidding,” says the angel, which supposedly turns it into a story of God’s mercy and favor to one so righteous that he’s assented to an atrocity.  Such interpretations remain blind not only to the monstrous pressure this puts on Abraham’s motivations, but to the trauma suffered by Isaac—a trauma that some have identified as scarring Isaac for life and leading down the generations to some of the spectacular relational dysfunction that follows in the later chapters of Genesis.  That kind of emotional dissociation in the interpretation of scripture has led to some heartless attitudes in all three of the Abrahamic religions, as English biologist Richard Dawkins has gleefully pointed out in his ongoing sophomoric rant against all religious faith.

We might read this story as an account of Abraham being awakened, in the nick of time, from a delusion into which his own imperfect perception of the Divine had led him. 

But this morning I want to invite you down a path that begins by looping back for its starting point to Yosef ibn Caspi’s suggestion that we might read this story as an account of Abraham being awakened, in the nick of time, from a delusion into which his own imperfect perception of the Divine had led him.  I invite you to consider the story as exemplifying the possibilities of our developing  understanding of God—through all human religious history, through the history of Judaism, and through the course of our own individual spiritual journeys.

In other words, we have to make a radical distinction between what Abraham perceives God as saying to him, and what HaShem, the Ground of our Being, could possibly whisper in the hearts of the righteous.  So I’m asking you to entertain the possibility that when the text says that God spoke to Abraham, we can read this as stating Abraham’s own point of view at the time, not an absolute point of view that establishes the demand to sacrifice Isaac as the genuine will of God.  We might support this argument by observing that the description of the command to sacrifice, at the beginning of the parshat, is notably distinct from the last-minute command to stop.  We hear at the very beginning of the reading that Elohim tests Abraham.  Later, it’s not Elohim but an angel who speaks, and more perhaps to the point, God is referred to this time not as Elohim, but by the Divine Name, as Adonai.  Some modern scholars have suggested that this represents a splicing of originally separate narratives, or alternatively, that the prevention of the sacrifice represents an interpolation that reflects the unease of later redactors with the story.  In any case, if we put pressure on this distinction of language, it’s also striking that the voice of deliverance is not the voice of Elohim Godself, but of Adonai’s messenger. 

man bound with rope Medium

We don’t have to look far into the record of religious self-assurance to see Abraham’s deluded certainty at work.  We can see it in the collusion of multiple Christian denominations in the tragedy of the Canadian residential school system, with its decades of attempted cultural genocide against the First Nations.  We can see it in theocratic tyranny over the lives of generations of women and children in Ireland.  We can see it in the rise of Hindu fundamentalist violence in India.  We can see it in Buddhist violence against the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar.  We can see it in the horrors of Muslim-on-Muslim violence in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria.  We see it in the refusal of ultra-Orthodox settlers to cease from further illegal appropriation of West Bank land to which they have no rightful claim.  We can see it in stabbing attacks on marchers in the Tel Aviv Pride parade.  We can see it in American Christian fundamentalists picketing the funerals of men who died of AIDS in the 1990s and the funeral of Matthew Sheppard when he died of a brutal queer-bashing outside Laramie, Wyoming.  In all these cases, it’s the certainty that there is no gap between God and our understanding of God and God’s will that has laid Isaac of the altar and put the knife in Abraham’s hand.

We’re called to account for the ways in which we’ve also been Abraham with the knife in our hand, in which we continue to be Abraham, ready to do something terrible if we’re not listening for a voice that comes from beyond the limits of our imagination to call us back from the brink. 

In and of itself, this isn’t a hard lesson for most of us in this particular congregation to absorb.  Shir Libeynu exists in great part because many of us have had the experience of being Isaac, laid on somebody else’s altar.  Many of us had the experience of leaving the faith communities of our origin because of the marginalization we felt as feminist women, as queer, as intermarried, as not Jewish enough, as not Jewish at all.  Speaking for myself, I’m here not only in spiritual solidarity with my partner Jonathan, but because of the deep, solemn joy I derive from being called to account in light of the original goodness of my created nature, our created nature; the deep joy I derive from being called in these Yamim Noraim to take part in the sanctification of time itself—a joy I simply cannot find in the self-abnegating penitential practices of Lent in the Christian tradition in which I was reared, and in which I still participate, albeit with a wary, critical edge.  That said, it’s incumbent on us this holy day to remember that we’re called to account for the ways in which we’ve also been Abraham with the knife in our hand, in which we continue to be Abraham, ready to do something terrible if we’re not listening for a voice that comes from beyond the limits of our imagination to call us back from the brink.  The paradox of our lives is that we can be both Isaac and Abraham at once—even when our liberal freethinking credentials are impeccable.  In our own small way, we participate in Abraham’s misguided zeal every time we justify our behavior toward others by imagining that there’s no gap between our conception of the Divine and the Divine itself.  Every time we’re not prepared to hear the angel say, “Dayenu, already.  That’s your child on the altar, and any god you imagine might desire his death is not Adon Olam, the Rock of your Salvation and the Sustainer of heaven and earth.”

abrahams sacrifice of isaac-400-Rembrandt

 Many of us have had the experience of being Isaac, laid on somebody else’s altar.

We let ourselves too easily off the hook when we imagine it’s only others who can set up their own sense of divinely sanctioned certainty like an internal mental idol on whose altar we’re prepared to immolate love.  Today’s parshat invites us to recognize that our conception of the Holy One is always imperfect, always provisional, always falls short.  It warns us that we’re likely to go the farthest off course when we forget that and forge ahead, using our own understanding of truth and righteous action to ride roughshod over the dignity, the livelihood, even the lives of others.  More optimistically, today’s reading reminds us simultaneously that humanity is capable of spiritual growth, that religious traditions are capable of spiritual growth, that we as individuals are capable of spiritual growth, and that our errors, even our truly terrible errors, once we put them behind us, are themselves part of the path forward.  Abraham hears the angel and lowers the hand that he held ready to strike.  Ireland votes for same-sex marriage.  The Confederate battle flag comes down from the South Carolina Statehouse.  Parents who’ve ostracized queer kids come around to love and inclusion and celebration of their children’s lives.  Kids who’ve shut out newly self-declared queer parents, or divorced parents , or polyamorous parents, come around to empathy and acceptance.  An eighteenth-century slave ship captain turns his boat around in mid-Atlantic and sails back to Africa, goes on to write Amazing Grace, and spends the rest of his life as an abolitionist.  We let go of our self-assured knowledge and stop using God, or God’s will, or our notion of Truth with the dreaded capital T, in order to justify making those around us into objects of our sacrifice.  We open our eyes to the fact that beyond our imperfect understanding, it’s the beloved who lies at risk right before our eyes, it’s the beloved we’re ready to slay who shows us the genuine presence of the Holy One, and the deeper Truth.  The angel not only stops Abraham in the nick of time, but blesses him for the worthiness of his desire to serve God that has coexisted with his delusion.

We’re all Abraham.  At the same time, we’re also all Isaac.  And I invite you, as the Days of Awe continue to unfold, to engage in some midrash of your own, imagining what it was like as Abraham unbound his beloved child.  What passed between them?  Did the angel hang out for a while coaching them through a sort of personalized Truth and Reconciliation process?  Or just disappear, as angels so often do?  Did they break down weeping together at the side of the road, as Jacob and Esau will do two generations on?  Did they succeed in the work of healing as they went back down the mountain, rejoined the servants, made their way back to Sarah?

David Townsend, October 29 [September 15], 2015


The first of the above illustrations of the Near-sacrifice of Isaac is that by Caravaggio.  The second is by Rembrandt.

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What an interesting take on this passage.  I have always been very uncomfortable with both the passage and the way it is taught in the various churches I have attended.  That God would orchestrate such an unloving "test" and the probable damage to Isaac have been a huge part of my discomfort but I never arrived at the conclusions stated in the sermon.  After reading it last night, I found my self awakened after a few hours of sleep as my mind processed what I had read over and over again.  Sleep was elusive for a considerable time as I mulled over the thesis presented here.  The more I mulled the more logical and true it became.  I will never look at this passage again in my Christian walk with the same attitude and belief structure toward it that I had before.  I am so glad it was included in the Blog.

John Fitz-Gerald, October 31, 2015

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Meet Tom Workman, a new member of Jonathan’s Circle, who graciously shares this article from his blog, “Journey of Authenticity—Discovering and Celebrating the True Self,   Tom lives in Silver Spring, MD.

The Slow Dance

Boy and girl dancing

My first slow dance was with Lisa Jesse in the 8th grade.  Our tiny school (graduating class of 17) had several 8th grade dances in the year, and  we attended as if it were a requirement for graduation. Mostly, we stood around, the boys on one side, and the girls on the other.  But occasionally, we boys — largely out of sheer boredom — ventured out to the row of girls and asked one to dance.

I remember the awkwardness of placing my arms around a girl’s body, learning quickly the “proper” position of male arms around the waist to female arms around the shoulders, though I didn’t quite understand why that mattered. The slow shuffle in a circle always felt odd and uncomfortable, and I didn’t see the point of the entire exercise. Was I supposed to feel something? High school homecoming and prom brought more dances, wrapped around the entire ritual of asking, buying the corsage, and planning a fancy restaurant dinner. I assumed that this was all somehow part of my social education, some odd cultural ritual that ensured heterosexual normalcy– and in suburban Chicago in the 1970’s, who didn’t want to be normal? But there was always an awkward space between myself and my partner as we danced, and the dance never quite ignited any longing that I guessed I was supposed to feel.

It would be years before I realized the wonder of being drawn close into someone else’s arms. I fell in love with the only woman who I would attempt to be straight for in a slow dance, amazed at the feelings pulsating through my body as it stood so close to another. My many years of closeted self-denial kept me far from ever standing as close to a man, and I still wonder if I was allowed, at that 8th grade dance, to slow dance with Tim if the next forty years wouldn’t have been very different.

But my sexual encounters with any human being, including my wife,  rarely involved embrace; shame for my true desire and even greater shame for a body that I believed was undesirable and therefore unworthy of intimate touch kept vast amounts of space between me and my partners for decades.  My wife and I never slow danced again, and I could never fill that space between us, though I tried for many years.  My sexual encounters were never quite intimate in the way I had hoped and dreamed; my focus was always on proving, through whatever satisfaction I could provide my partner, that the time with me was worthwhile.  I never expected intimate touch in return, and often, never received it. The laws of the universe proven again:  You get exactly what you believe is possible.  In fact, your belief was the spark of its creation.  But how to change the belief?  There is the challenge.  There is the battle.

Men dancing (Workman)

This summer, long separated from my wife and now openly gay, I found myself in a slow dance with a man for the first time in my 55-year life.  Ending a four-day retreat with a large group of gay men, we wandered into the celebration dance together.  We danced independently to the fast music, dancing as new friends with common interests and dreams and celebrating a new-found kinship that I knew would last for the rest of our lives.  But as usual, I had never assumed that there was an opportunity for intimacy in this new relationship, never presumed a place so close to his beautiful body.

When the music turned slow and rhythmic, I stepped back as usual, smiling awkwardly, assuming it would be time to leave.  But he reached out his hand to me, pulled me close, and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. I held his waist, trembling, as we slowly started rocking and turning.

There in the swirling lights flashing in the dark room, I felt a connection that brought me to tears.  I was embracing. And — more unbelievably — I was being embraced by a man who connected with my mind and heart — and body? The song ended; I prepared to break apart, grateful for the anomaly, but he held on as the next song played. The dance continued. Holding gently but tightly, we kept our embrace for a full ten minutes, pausing only for a gentle kiss.  I don’t remember the rest of the night; I floated all the way back to my cabin. As if to keep the moment sacred, we parted, fully clothed, to our separate rooms.

I understand the larger message Spirit sent me that night and the few other instants since I began listening in earnest to God’s magnificent, loving, highly personal Voice. Even in the cloudiest of self-perceptions and false beliefs, God’s Spirit sends a small sliver of light that says, ever so gently, that there might be a different truth just waiting to be embraced. And it sang, just to me, in the quiet of that moment: Your body is worthy of touch.

And it sang, just to me, in the quiet of that moment: Your body is worthy of touch.

Small flashes of truth, sent in the midst of seemingly insurmountable evidence that the opposite is true; the looks by men of disgust and disapproval in the gym, or the bar, or the street, the turning away when I approach with little more than a hello. The gay community remains rife with body judgment and rejection, as men of all ages search for the firmest, youngest, hottest.  The heart is unimportant, especially when touch is a step away from lust rather than love.   For many years, I worked to create a personality and social skills that would be hard to ignore; I worked diligently to make myself needed–or at least necessary– to other men.  If I couldn’t expect intimacy, then at least I could get enough acknowledgement to stay in the room to watch as others received what I so desperately wanted. But even that small form of inclusion holds limits.  The rejection sears and scars, leaving me too weak to keep looking for an exception.  The old belief reaffirms itself: My body is unworthy of touch.

Perhaps the thought reaches out like a prayer, begging to be proven wrong.  I know now, at least, to speak the truth of what I am feeling to God, to say, out loud that I won’t last another day being untouched, feeling invisible, and utterly unloved. I call a spiritual 911 for some rescue.  And Spirit never fails to send a small reminder in the form of a kind and loving embrace that surprises me with joy.  I don’t make untouchable things, I don’t make unlovable things.  And you are not the one exception. Your body is worthy of touch. You are worthy of affection. You are worthy of love.

This past weekend, during one of those long stretches of months without touch or loving contact, I remembered the slow dance of this summer, and I began affirming, over and again throughout the day, the truth I struggled yet again to believe:

My body is worthy of touch.

My body is worthy of touch.

My body is worthy of touch.

By nightfall, I was in another gentle and kind man’s embrace, and heard him whisper to me that I was beautiful, of how much he enjoyed holding me in his arms. And underneath his voice, I heard Spirit’s gentle whisper: Listen.  Remember. Believe.

Tom Workman, October 15, 2015

Click here to respond.  [Responses are printed in the order that they were made, the most recent following the less recent, for the sake of following the arguments and thoughts chronologically.]

A Very Partial Truth

David Townsend writes of his experience with a lingam—a representation of the divine phallus, generally associated with the Hindu god Shiva. His background includes degrees in religious studies, languages, and literature, and over twenty-five years as a teacher. This piece originally appeared on his blog, Anchorhold, where he shares his interest in ritual, art expressing his inner life, and his intentional practice of erotic spirituality.  David follows his calling as a Sacred Intimate and ritualist in Toronto, the New York area (the website for which is Lingam Puja NYC) and elsewhere.

If you’re a gay or bi man who’s never put your arms around a two-foot phallus under the open sky, I suggest you give it a try.  You might be surprised what it brings up.  So to speak.

phallic reverence

I’m not being coy in saying that I have no idea what it could call forth in you.  But I’ll go so far as to suggest it may prove powerful.  

If you’re doing it somewhere you might be seen by others—like the public park where I lead a (relatively discreet) Lingam Puja ritual about once a month—it may elicit a very understandable unease.  (“Oh, my God,” a friend told me, recounting how he’d felt the first time he attended, with a succession of dog walkers passing on the footpath near the oak under which we gather.  “I’m going to fly apart now.”)

It may be a way of saying no to shame. 

You may be repulsed, if it represents for you yet another expression of commercialized gay male culture’s obsession with cock size and impersonal sex for its own sake. 

easton lingam 2

Or it may feel like you’re embracing an energy that informs your whole life, and is far, far vaster than your own sexual experience, an energy that flows through you and unites you with all of nature, with your male ancestors, with your brothers, friends, and lovers, with your sons and your sons’ sons, with the sons of the men you love, that offers healing and regeneration and reassurance of your place in the world.

You may feel that, paradoxically, to embrace this energy fully prepares you better to honor and admire and relate honestly and equally to the miracle of women’s sexuality, their bodies and their experience.  

I can’t tell you how you’ll react, but I can share how I reacted last week.  This is a very partial truth, not the truth for women, nor the truth for trans folk, not the truth for all men.  Perhaps the truth for you, and perhaps not.

puja yogi

Bending down to embrace the Lingam set up in my garden, a realization blossomed that had long remained curled as a tight bud in my soul.  My penis was my lifeline as an adolescent, at the very time when I felt nothing but shame over my flowering sexuality, when I thought of it as an affliction and fought endlessly to pretend it didn’t exist.  Without my cock, without the longings of my body and its capacity for pleasure, declaring itself in every erection, in every wet dream, in every ejaculation after hours of edging as I tried to hold back, my soul would have imploded to a withered singularity.  I would have become nothing more than my superego, a shell of repression surrounding emptiness.

My cock saved me.  And its energy and reality was and is an energy and reality that’s pulsed through the whole length of human history, and back beyond that to the beginnings of sexual reproduction hundreds of millions of years ago.

My cock saved me.  And its energy and reality was and is an energy and reality that’s pulsed through the whole length of human history, and back beyond that to the beginnings of sexual reproduction hundreds of millions of years ago.  It’s the miracle of my father’s orgasm that initiated my existence.  It’s tied from earth to heaven, from the male human to the Divine, by its representation in the phallic gods of every tradition.  Egyptian Min masturbating the cosmos into existence.  Hindu Shiva endlessly ejaculating the Ganges.  Roman Priapus watching over the garden with his comically outsized erection.  The Sacred Cock of Jesus, sanctifying men’s embodiment and drawing it up into Divinity—as God’s Holy Wisdom, the Womb of Creation, divinizes as well women’s experience in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Cernunnos of the Celts, horned god of the forest.  Pan with the flute he plays and the flute that juts out between his furry legs.  Quetzlcoatl, the Feathered Serpent of the Aztecs.

Cernunnos Squatting

This energy is within me.  I am the bearer of this energy.  I want to move through the world as the bearer of this energy.  I want to embrace it, embody it.  I want to sit straight in meditation, stand straight in walking, my spine an erection, my torso a pump and conduit to draw the Kundalini energy of the Goddess from the earth and pour it out for the healing of the world, the crown of my head a meatus shooting metaphysical semen into the universe.  I want my seed to fall as an offering to the earth.  In the cycle of longing and release, I want to embrace change and the impermanence of all things.


David Townsend, July 13, 2015

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Does Morality Get In the Way Of Being Sexual?

7 responses, below

athletic male with cross

One of the greatest challenges to Jonathan’s Circle is shaking men loose from their preconception that anything “religious” or “spiritual,” which they frequently understand to be the same as “moral,” is naturally opposed to sexual experience.  As one guy said to me, “God is about the last thing I want to think about when I’m horny, because the very thought makes me go limp.”  Thanks for putting it so succinctly.  “God,” called by any one of a thousand names, is perceived in the structures of the human mind to be a moral police officer, mostly interested in regulating behavior, with a perceived preoccupation with sexual behavior. 

“God is about the last thing I want to think about when I’m horny, because the very thought makes me go limp.”

I don’t think I knew until I was well into my early fifties, how much I identified God and moral perfection.  If you had asked me when I was 25 or 35 or 45 if God and moral perfection were synonymous, I would have said, “Of course not.”  Yet in fact I had built my whole world around the notion of being the best that I could be, and that included being as moral as I could be.  And what was morality?  It was the composite expression of all those things that I have known all my life were the signs and badges of right behavior:  telling the truth, keeping promises and commitments, honoring vows, being respectful, showing kindness, being trustworthy, living outwardly what I believed inwardly, and living inwardly what I professed outwardly.  Nothing strange in all of that.  The problem arose when I began to be increasingly aware of fissures and tears in my moral framework.  I could describe it in one of a number of ways.  It was when my heart yearned for something to which my head said decidedly no.  It was when I began to notice the widening gap between what people perceived me to be and what I knew myself to be.  It began to crumble, this moral edifice, when I could no longer ignore what my soul was starving for, which ultimately proved to be a life that lay outside what I had long since decided to confine to the moral perimeter of acceptable thought and behavior. 

Much conventional religion, often articulated by persons apparently capable of divorcing their preachments from their actions, answers dilemmas like mine by calling us to renew our commitment to be all those things that we have once or more than once vowed to do and to be.  Thus, friends warned me to renew my commitment to remain married, arguing that my future would be much better if it were a seamless extension of my past.  Well-meaning family members questioned why I couldn’t see that I was hurting those nearest and dearest to me by striking out on a different path.  One or more voices chose to explicate my situation as a gay man coming to terms with his sexuality in the terms of addiction to thoughts and behaviors that were destructive and would be my undoing lest I renounce them, like drugs or drink, and embrace a life of abstinence.  Those are some of the responses that characterize society’s general response to decisions that go against the grain of normality.  Note that what is “normal” tends to be the default understanding of what is “right.”


To be honest, I didn’t need any lectures on how to be moral.  I mean that seriously.  I had wanted few things so badly in my life than to be a thoroughly moral person—I’d prefer to think of it more simply as being a good person, a good man.  When I was in elementary school, learning the first tidbits about being a good citizen, for example, I wanted to embody the ideals of good citizenship.  I took with utmost seriousness the ideals articulated by the National Honor Society into which I was inducted in high school:  character, scholarship, leadership, service.  When as a Boy Scout I was learning the Scout Law, I intended to exemplify all those things on the list:  trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courtesy, kindness, obedience, thrift, cheerfulness, bravery, cleanness, and reverence.  And, of course, I had no notion of ever living by anything less than the Ten Commandments, which, if they did not make me righteous, at least kept me from being downright unrighteous—categories I understood as synonymous with being moral or immoral.  The crisis for me was not that I chafed against morality, but that I could not reconcile the impulse of my psyche with the very morality to which I was dedicated.  Lest you think that I am talking about sexual cravings, allow me to assure you that, at least at first, those played a minimal part in my dilemma.  I was not interested in stepping outside the moral bounds of marriage, fatherhood, and vocation.  I simply wanted to express openly what my own interior battles were.  I believed that sharing my own struggles, as I was assiduously encouraging others to do, was the key to spiritual integrity.  As I put it then and still do:  if God is anywhere, God is in the details of your own life.  Pay attention to what your life is telling you.

If God is anywhere, God is in the details of your own life.  Pay attention to what your life is telling you.

What I know of the clash between “morality,” as we generally understand it, and sexuality is born of this crisis in my life.  I gradually began to see how many things to which I had given my life were idols with clay feet.  I had, for example, taught and written extensively on the dynamics of family life, basing my thought and argument on what I would now call a hetero-normative idea of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.  I began to see not that that was wrong, but that there was much other experience that the ideal and its supporting rhetoric did not address.  I came to understand that the easy duality which permeates some parts of the Bible (the Book of Deuteronomy comes quickly to mind) was a feeble way of addressing the complexity and subtlety of my own, let alone all human, experience.  Most of all, I began to face that “Truth” was not a neat abstraction, but had a very personal, immediate, and existential importance for me.  I could not promote “Truth” as something that was a great notion akin to or equivalent to God, while failing to live my own truth, which spilled out and ran beyond the confines of the narrow-necked moral bottles into which I had tried to pour my life. 


“…my own truth spilled out of the narrow-necked moral bottles into which I had tried to pour my life.“

Along the way I have had to ask exactly what “moral” means anyway.  Dictionary definitions help, but leave me wondering.  Like so many polarities, “moral and immoral” grows out of an either/or approach to reality.  Valuable though that dualistic approach may be on some levels, ultimately it runs out of steam because life is simply too gray, too nuanced, too rich to lend itself to easy division between this and that.  This kind of thinking scares the pants off traditionalists and, well, moralists, who are always afraid of a slippery slope.  What on earth will we do if we abandon well known and age-old agreements on what is right and wrong?  What will become of us if we cave in to relativism and forget the bedrock of civilization, enshrined in laws we understand to be God-given? 

Hold your horses.  I am not arguing that we forget about what is moral, or that we blithely attempt to obliterate the category of the ethical.  Simply to revisit it to ask some important questions might be helpful.  The heart of my belief, for example, is the primacy of community.  That does not equate with accepting uncritically everything a community prescribes or approves for its constituents.  It does, however, mean for me that there is a web of relationships in which I am involved and for which I need to accept some responsibility and accountability.  To me, morality involves not necessarily acceding to communal norms, but being in dialogue with community (in which I include family, tribe, friends, religious, and political bodies) when I disagree with its norms. 

Another touchstone of morality for me is acknowledging my own vulnerability to being wrong.  Not only do I have the right and responsibility to decide what is “base” for me, but I need to be able to criticize myself and let others criticize me so that I can more readily see when I am “off base.”  I know that I am off base by my own standards when I injure or harm others.  I am even further off base when I do not own my mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

To live morally for me is to live a life, as much as I can, from a single motive:  to be honest, to be truthful.  I learned to lie at an early age.  I learned to spin fantasies and pass them off as reality before I went to school.  That is cute in a child, perhaps.  In an adult, not so much.  As an adult, I want to proclaim what I believe by making my life testify to that, using, in the oft-quoted phrase of St. Francis, words when necessary.

I want to proclaim what I believe by making my life testify to that, using, in the oft-quoted phrase of St. Francis, words when necessary.

That leads me to the surest ethical norm:  do unto others what you would have them do unto you.  I understand moral living to be a matter of according respect and understanding to others.  In my personal vocabulary, that stems from understanding others to be quite literally incarnations of the divine, certainly as much as I myself am.  I also believe that morality includes loving myself as I love my neighbor.  I am not better when I depreciate my own body or my own soul.  In fact, I find that I love others better the more I truly love and honor myself.

And finally, morality means for me to engage in the struggle for justice and peace among all, including not only human beings and all sentient beings, but all of creation.  There is nothing to which I am not connected, and thus nothing for which I do not rightly have a stake in respecting.

So where does this leave me sexually?  In a word, free.  Such morality as I have described does not leave me beating up on myself for supposed infractions against a moral truant officer.  Nor does a morality grounded in communal ethics permit me just to blow off commitments or vows I make.  On the other hand, I do not confuse myself by believing that conforming to social norms necessarily makes me a “moral” person, nor by believing that following my own truth and conscience militates against being moral.  St. Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will.”[1]  I do not understand that to mean “do anything you please.”  I understand it to mean that out of a centering love of the divine, the highest, noblest Truth of all, I can honestly not worry about whether this or that or the other sex act is “moral.”  Morality is far bigger than that.

If morality gets in the way of being sexual, it might just be that we are not being moral enough, or at least not moral in the right way. 

Frank Dunn, July 3, 2015

 [1] Augustine of Hippo, Sermon on 1 John 4:4-12, paragraph 8, abridged, modernized and introduced by Stephen Tomkins, edited and prepared for the web by Dan Graves,, accessed July 3, 2015.

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What truly is the definition of normal? What one person thinks is normal may make others shriek. I therefore posit there is a continuum of normality in our society at large. What one person feels is "doing good to others" may not be the same as the other person’s option. This is why it is paramount to understand that there are differences, and often broad differences, and we must learn to understand these differences. 

Thanks for a great article. It definitely brings up some major issues to sort through.

Ron Moser, July 3, 2015

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Thanks, Ron.  You’re right of course.  There is nothing approaching unanimity about what is normal.  Somewhere in The Joy of Sex, I think, I remember reading years ago that oral sex had come from something kinky to something normal in ten years flat.  (I might have the reference all wrong, but, shoot, it was in the 1970’s that I read it!)  So the relatively agreed upon “normal” is forever in flux, especially in a society like ours. 

I am not interested in either establishing a norm or changing norms, and I’m really not too concerned, on most levels, with what is considered “normal.”  There is a big exception to that.  I would like to change what is considered broadly to be normal “masculine” or “male” behavior.  I have argued elsewhere on this blog that a good deal of destructive behavior passes for being normal for males.  I don’t believe that has to be the case, and I definitely believe that a huge part of the problem is that males throughout the world, generally speaking, have defined masculine behavior in such a way that the warrior archetype has evolved into a formidable violent man at the great expense of other aspects of maleness, like the king and lover archetypes, that embody and express gentleness, mature judgment, peaceableness, visionary leadership, protection.  I also believe the streak of male mischievousness and propensity to frolic and cutting-up are great masculine traits that likewise degenerate sometimes into bad-boy behavior that passes for acceptable and “normal.”  So, yes, I’d like to change those “norms,” if that is what they are.  

What I do believe, as I say in this article, is a problem for many men is that many of us accept as “moral” what is merely conventional (“normal” for a good bit of society). In short, I think that the problem is less with sexual behavior than it is with a too narrow understanding of what is truly moral.  Therefore, even in this day and age, huge numbers of men who are interested in living morally will agonize about their masturbation practices and related matters, for example, while ignoring the weightier matters  of morality, like peace and justice and authentic love of neighbor.  

Frank Dunn, July 5, 2015

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As a Catholic, gay man, and psychologist, this subject is close to me. This is a problem with most young gay and lesbian youths. Morality has nothing to do with spirituality. Sex is a gift from God. It brings passion and sensuality to life. It does not matter if you are gay or straight. Everybody is sexual. To all of my  gay and lesbian friends, you are normal. Do you masturbate? If yes, you are normal. In fact, you may not be normal if you do not. As a Catholic, I am strong and active in my faith. Also, I am very sexual with my partner of ten years. Do we masturbate? Sure we do. That is part of healthy male sexuality. If you ask yourself if your sexuality is moral, just ask yourself, am I hurting myself or others. If not not, go for it. I welcome all emails on the subject.

John Holter, July 10, 2015

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Very interesting read.  I, like you, struggled for years to come to terms with my sexuality, and to a large extent my being a sexual being at all. In the house that I grew up in, my parents never mentioned the word sex or ever told me anything about it.  They let the school and however I picked it up teach me.  So, for decades I had the feeling that sex was not a good thing, even though I practiced it in a heterosexual marriage for years. It always felt wrong in every capacity, whether having sex or masturbating.  I remember the first time that I had full body sex with another man (more than just a fleeting encounter which was always followed by shame).  It was quite liberating to my spirit as it finally felt like I was "home" sexually. Very powerful.  Even though I embraced it at that point, sexuality still felt like something dirty and needing to be hidden.  In this past year, I have become more aware of a connection with my spirit through masturbation, as I don't currently have a partner.  It is opening me up to a side of myself that I have not experienced.  Instead of running from it, I have come to embrace it and enjoy it.  Now a daily part of my life, I find it very fulfilling in several ways.  Those old thoughts of "dirty," or "immoral" still creep in, but I am coming to accept more the reality of the pleasure that can be derived from our bodies through our penis, and starting to embrace it as a beautiful thing, both with myself and with others.

Paul Davis, July 16, 2015

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Thanks, Paul.  I will perhaps write about this at greater length sometime, but for now what I’ll say is that the growth and joy that you ascribe to masturbation is quite in line with what a good Catholic theologian would ascribe to the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the “consummation” of which is penetrative sex.  I argue that the depth of joy has everything to do with accessing the bodies and souls that we are created to have and delight in, nothing whatsoever to do with a formula pronounced by a religious functionary and even less to do with a particular partner we do (or don’t) have.  

Frank Dunn, July 16, 2015

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I once had sex with Jesus!  Enlightening and freeing.  In that in between state of still sleeping and awakening, he slid into bed with me, held me, kissing each other, and having sex.  At the end of this experience, I knew I no longer needed to be a part of the Church and I could be myself, for he and I were brothers, one with each other, and he set me free to be me.

Ken Stofft, July 16, 2015

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Ken, that is a beautiful experience.  It reminds me of a vision that Reynolds Price shares in his book A Whole New Life.  That was not a sexual experience, but it was a healing experience.  The kind of thing that you relate makes no sense to the conventional moralist, nor to a great many people of deep faith who see things in a binary, either/or, way.  Yet no one who has had your experience or anything like it can doubt that liberation is the work of the Christ, called by whatever name.  While mine is far less dramatic, it essentially amounts to the same thing. 

Frank Dunn, July 16, 2015 

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Spirituality and the World of Leather and Fetish:

its communal, fraternal, symbolic, erotic, and cultic dimensions

Ron Moser won the title "Mr. DC Leather 2012.” As he tells us in this article, the world of leather is about far more than its highly charged symbol, leather itself.  It is a community of real people, many of whom find the elements of profound spiritual experience not only in sex but also in service and sharing.  Ron now resides in Chicago, one of the centers of leather and fetish interest.

1 response, below.

                     Ron Moser 

The leather/kink community is generally an unknown group to the world culture. Men (and women) in the leather/kink lifestyle are aroused by the look, feel, smell, and masculine appeal of the scene. The leather scene is quite active in many areas of the United States (Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Fort Lauderdale/Wilton Manor for instance). There is a much broader following in Europe due to the openness of the European culture.

Leather/kink is typically thought of as event-oriented (MidAtlantic Leather in Washington, DC, American Brotherhood Weekend in Chicago, a title family that works together), International Mr. Leather (IML) in Chicago, Folsom Street Fair in San Francesco and the resurgence of Folsom Street East, held in New York City. The first three events are contest-oriented and thousands of leather/fetish folk descended upon the city of Chicago to observe the IML contest that will determine spokespersons for their particular community. For instance, approximately16,000 people were in Chicago this past Memorial Day Weekend to see Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2015 win the title of IML. He was chosen from 52 contestants from around the world, with the responsibility to travel the world to allow him to carry his message globally and help better the leather community. Granted, many of the individuals who came to Chicago planned it as a “party” weekend, there is a