In August of 2005, Father Anonymous started blogging here at the Egg. Yesterday, he punched the "publish" button on a mildly-interesting story about Pope Francis, and realized with some shock that it was a landmark of sorts: our 1500th blog post.
This makes us reflective. We started the Egg to get some things off our chest -- as a place to say, and be heard saying, some of the things we aren't naturally inclined to say in church. As the subhead says, Sex, Religion and Politics. At least two of these really are things about which the typical preacher is well-advised to shut up.
As to politics, its pulpit-related pitfalls are well known. A surprising number of preachers seem to feel it is their duty to share their political opinions with the faithful. This is tricky for many reasons. For one thing, it is hard to separate your own reflections from official church teaching. For another, we live and minister in a nation so deeply and passionately divided by political partisanship that civil discussion of hot topics is rare and difficult. Churches, sadly, often have to make a choice: use partisanship as a tool for binding themselves together, or avoid political discourse altogether, lest it tear them apart. Neither of these is really satisfactory, but them's the times we live in.
As to religion, well, there are several things to consider. The great majority of laypeople neither know nor care about theology; when exposed to the work of theologians, they are at best indifferent and at worst hostile. It's hard to blame them, given how dreary most of it is. They want Jesus, which is good -- and they want their own childhood Sunday School lessons enshrined as Sacred Writ, which is less good. (And which is actually a disservice to most Sunday School curricula. What we should say is that people want their own half-pagan misconceptions to be affirmed from the pulpit.) Unless you are prepared to feed them Semi-Pelagianism, you should be prepared for them to crucify you.
Beyond that, there is the fact that we, like anybody else, have some personal fixations of dubious value to the typical parish. We did not imagine, when we began blogging, how much of our time would eventually be devoted to Latin prayers, or complaining about the ELW Psalter, or sharing our jaundiced view of a small and long-defunct Lutheran church body.* These are all things that arouse our passions, but we cannot imagine that most congregations would benefit from hearing much about them. So they, along with our interest in the DC Comics reboot and the actual sources of popular sermon illustrations, are kept here like zoo animals, on display for the curious but unable to do any harm.
But talking about politics and religion are easy compared to talking about sex. Or should we say SEXXX? Because, in modern America, sex, and anxiety about sex, permeates nearly every aspect of our lives. We live in an era of unprecedented frankness -- it is not just gay people who come out now, demanding both acknowledgment and respect, but polyamorists, people who dress up like stuffed animals, and the whole nation of Japan. (Seriously. Those people are crazy.) But this frankness has done nothing to lessen the underlying anxiety for which Americans are famous all over the world. Our conversation about sex is not just constant but -- like that crack about Japan -- fiercely judgmental, in a way that reveals the underlying fear and desire typical of adolescence.
And bad as this is in society at large, it is worse in the Church. There are many reasons, some genuinely rooted in Christian tradition, others having more to do with being modern and American. The process by which eating from the tree of knowledge came to be seen as a metaphor for sexual awakening is long and twisted, but it really happened, long ago and far away. Likewise the process by which our patroness, Mary Magdalene, went from victim of demonic possession to reformed prostitute. And then, after centuries of basically condemning sodomy and tolerating sodomites -- ugly now, those were the usual terms -- Christian theology has spent the last forty years or so engaged in a fratricidal combat over the nature and use of human sexuality. Although now worldwide, this stage of the combat has its roots in America, and in our peculiar and double-sided fascination with sex. It would not have happened, or at least not this way, without Stonewall and Anita Bryant, Roe v. Wade and Eric Robert Rudolph.
At a practical level, this means that while it is almost impossible to avoid talking about sex, however obliquely, in the typical parish, it is also immensely dangerous. It divides communities far more efficiently than mere politics. This is no where more true than in the person of the pastor. It is not merely the gay clergy which is well advised to appear as nearly celibate as possible. The least hint of sexual activity, gay or straight, can destroy the delicate balance of trust and confidence that a pastor needs to serve effectively. This includes the licit, officially-sanctioned kind. Parishes like pastors' babies, goes the old chestnut; but they don't like to be reminded of where those babies come from. Don't have too many or too often, don't be suspected of enjoying it too much.
Consider the irony: seminarians are taught to think about little besides sex, and then discover (through trial and error) that they can't really talk about it. Like theology, but more extreme.
Perhaps we're overstating the case. But perhaps not.
At any rate, we have noticed that, even though the Egg was created 1500 posts ago specifically to ventilate our brains on these dangerous subjects, we have ourselves largely avoided the topic of sex. Out of our two-dozen hashtags, precisely one -- Mars Loves Venus -- identifies posts about sex, and we don't use it very often. We have, in other words, succumbed to the pervasive anxiety we criticize. Bluntly said, we have chickened out. Time and again, we have chickened out.
Part of this is the fact that we aren't really anonymous anymore; our Mom reads this thing. So do our godfather, a few colleagues, and even some of the faithful. This is all very well, and with 24 followers we're grateful for every pageview we can get, but it does encourage a little self-censorship. Lately, we have even though about starting a second blog, under some other name. (How about "Dirty Laundry, by Father Really Anonymous"?) It seems like a lot of work, though.
We haven't worked out a strategy yet. We certainly can't promise that the next 1500 posts will be full of racier and riskier content. But we are wondering if blogs can have centerfolds.
* Nor did we expect to use the editorial we quite so obsessively. Not sure how that one happened.