Abundant Bodies

There are many ways to think about allowing abundance, about asking and receiving the harvest. One can think about it in ecclesial terms: churches, faith communities, and movements ask their members to give generously from their abundance of talents and finances in order to support various ministries. During these next two months, though, many Christians will also be thinking about the abundance of grace that the early Church received when God sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles and disciples on Pentecost. This event will be commemorated liturgically in many Christian Churches and Communities on June 4.

Pentecost did not begin with Christianity. The apostles would already have been celebrating the Jewish festival of Pentecost, also known as Shavu’ot or the Festival of Weeks. Jews still celebrate Shavu’ot today. Like many Jewish festivals, Shavu’ot celebrates both a historical and an agricultural event: the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is celebrated along with the harvesting of the first fruits to be brought to the Temple. We can frame the sending of the Holy Spirit within this Jewish context. God gives of his abundance of grace so that the Holy Spirit whom we have received can become the new Law written on our hearts, but we are expected to give back the many and very different gifts we receive from God to better the Church and the world. It almost goes without saying that we should receive the abundance that God sends us graciously. Or does it?

When we speak of the abundance that God sends us in a Christian context, we are often speaking primarily of people and the gifts they receive from the Holy Spirit and bring with them to the Church. As Christian queers, we know that the Church has not always received this human abundance graciously. We and the gifts we bring are routinely rejected, and we are told that the gifts we have received could not have come from God. Still, I think that we too often try to take the splinters out of our sisters’ and brothers’ eyes without removing the gigantic beams from our own eyes. It is true that the Church has not always been graciously accepting of the human gifts God has given it, but it is equally true that gay culture has not always been accepting of certain kinds of men and women and the gifts they bring with them.

When I speak of gay culture not accepting certain women and men, I am speaking mostly in terms of body image. Although we know better than most how much cultural rejection can hurt, our culture is often even harsher than our wider American culture is toward people whose bodies do not meet our predetermined criteria of normalcy. As Christian queers, we have an obligation to try to change this trend toward rejection in our culture. Our faith tells us that God created our bodies, and that he sees all that he created as good. That means that short men are as good as tall men; large men and women are as good as thin men and women; men with smaller penises are as good as men with larger penises; and women with smaller breasts are as good as women with larger breasts. All of our bodies are good because God created them.

When we look at gay culture, we must admit that the goodness of the body is not really affirmed. Among gay men, we can find the rejection of many body types throughout the pages of the popular Instinct magazine. In this month’s issue, a very attractive couple (Billy Polson and Mike Clausen) is featured. One of the feature pictures shows Polson and Clausen in tightly fitting tank tops: biceps bulging, broad shoulders exposed, tight shirts conforming perfectly to their impressive pectoral and abdominal muscles. Polson and Clausen own their own business, a gym in San Francisco. Another man, David Epstein, is featured as Bachelor of the Month. Epstein is 41-years-old, he’s 5’8”, and he weighs 150 pounds. I don’t deny that these men are attractive, and I applaud them for knowing what they want their bodies to look like and working to meet their goals. But are Polson, Clausen, and Epstein really representative of all, or even most, gay men? Of course they’re not. Many gay men don’t have the genes, the money, or the time to maintain the kind of bodies that these men maintain. Additionally, some gay men are happy with being “large and in charge,” and this sentiment often finds its expression in the bear subculture. And yet these bears do not find a prominent place in the pages of Instinct.

Rejection of diverse body types certainly does not stop at gay and lesbian magazines. Where are the bears in the cast of Queer as Folk? Why are all of the women in the cast of The L Word so uncommonly thin? Why, on Will & Grace, are Will and Jack so thin, why are their love interests always thin and so often well built, and why does Jack constantly criticize Will for being fat? Why couldn’t one of the two leading men in Brokeback Mountain have been a hairy-chested guy who looked like he actually ate meals hardy enough to sustain a cowboy? When it comes to gay culture, the rejection of certain body types that are considered “abnormal” is all-pervasive. And as this part of our culture is absorbed into the mainstream media, is it any wonder that so many heterosexuals think that sex and physicality are what gay culture is all about?

Pentecost is not just about recognizing the abundance of gifts that God gives us in the context of the Church. Pentecost is also about remembering Creation, when the Holy Spirit moved over the waters of the abyss and created everything from nothing, when the Spirit of God was breathed into each one of us and became for us the breath of life. Pentecost is about remembering that every single one of us was created good in the first place, that we were all created in the image and likeness of God, and that we are the gifts that God has given to the world. Pentecost is about remembering that everything about us is a gift, including and especially our bodies.

It’s time for gay culture to graciously accept the abundant bodies God has made and given to us, and it’s time for all of us to realize that we are creatures made by a good God who knows what she’s doing.