Three generations of women in my family left the house this morning for a women’s tea at church. My wife, Amy, and a few other women started this monthly tradition a while back at Milagro (the congregation we founded in our house seven years ago) when we realized we had a number of young girls who were struggling to define for themselves what it means to be a woman. So they started getting together, putting questions anonymously in a hat and taking them on, one at a time, with as much transparency and honesty as possible.
My mom lives in Texas, so it’s rare that she’s around for events like this, but it was also a new experience to watch Zoe, my two-year-old daughter, grab her bracelets, her purse and some cake-flavored Lip Smackers on her way out the door.
I’m fine with the fact that he favorite color is pink, and that she loves to dress up, play with dolls and other stereotypical girlie things. But it definitely makes it easier to swallow when, on the same day, she’ll grab her helmet and go riding on her scooter with her big brother, or will go digging for bugs in the back yard.
For now, Zoe enjoys the frilly, girlie-girl parts of the tea parties at church the most. But I’m glad she also gets exposed to strong, wise women who are willing to invest in her not only as a cute little girl, but as an embodied human being – a woman in training.
One of the biggest issues we’ve encountered during our ministry in Pueblo, Colorado has to do with the image that girls get from their families and mainstream culture about their value. To be blunt, many are taught in word and by example that their primary worth is as a baby factory. This is how we end up with so many grandparents that are my age. This mindset contributes to other issues like high school dropout rates, neglect and abuse, poverty and a general lack of imagination that things could be any different.
Amy and I speak to youth and young adults pretty often about something we call embodied spirituality. The idea is that, contrary to what you may have learned in the past, you do not have to de-sexualize yourself to be a good person – even at church. We’re told in some ways that sex is a dirty thing, and that our bodies are something to be ashamed of. But then we also get the message that sex is something special to save for marriage.
Something about these two values doesn’t match up.
There was a time when women indeed were expected to procreate as soon as they were able. Infant mortality rates were high, life expectancies were low, and families had to play a bit of a numbers game, just to make sure the family would have some sense of security from one generation to the next.
Now it’s not uncommon for people to wait for marriage until they are in their thirties or forties. And it’s not unheard of for women to bear healthy children twenty-five years after their first period. Life is different. Relationships are different. Even the way we understand biology is radically evolved from the biblical era when people thought men carried the entire baby in their semen, and that women simply hosted the child. Yet somehow, somewhere along the way, we got stuck in our understanding about how to teach mature sexual identity to our kids.
I won’t lie to my kids; sex is awesome. It’s fun – usually, at least. It’s also powerful on so many levels. It can create life, and it can also destroy it. Sex is not confined by moral lessons, cultural stereotypes or even by the role models you have growing up. Gender and sexual identity are not really as dichotomous and clear-cut as some religious leaders would like to portray them. And no matter how much Amy and I want to, we ultimately have very little control over what our kids do with their bodies when we’re not around.
Perhaps the greatest message we can offer about embodied spirituality is that we are God-made, God-inspired creatures – every one of us. This includes the things that attract us to one another, the feelings we get when we experience that attraction and the ways in which we choose to express ourselves physically and sexually. If we operate from the perspective that we are in some ways God with skin on, and that our partners are equally sacred, we have a solid platform from which we can begin to make more healthy decisions about how to use our bodies.
I hope Zoe enjoys the tea party with her mom and grandma. I hope she gets to “girl it up” in all of her favorite ways. I also hope that, somewhere in that two-year-old psyche of hers a seed in planted that will one day grow into an image of herself as empowered, inspired and beautiful in every way.
Then at some point, I have to let her go and pray.
Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of “Banned Questions About The Bible” and “Banned Questions About Jesus.” He has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called “PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.” For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.