Womaneering Podcast: the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

In this episode of Womaneering podcast, Tracy Johnson and Christy Bauman discuss the episode “What We Do To Women” from the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. Trigger warning: there is a lot of open conversation about spiritual abuse and dominance on women by misogyny and violent men in power.

 

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/womaneering/id1556620322?i=1000533354745


Infertility & Loss of Hope

*This is an excerpt from the book, "Theology of the Womb", **Trigger warning: this article is about miscarriage and infertility

         Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, little yellow birds perched in a tree, four are painted blued with life and the other seventeen painted yellow with loss. The framed picture in my sister-in-law’s living room of twenty-one birds in a tree signifies her family, 17 yellow painted birds representing her children in heaven, and 4 blue painted birds signifying her children on this earth. The verse in Ephesians is printed clearly underneath the tree which reads, “to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”

She often remarks that abundance is different than she originally thought.

Reproduction was a long road for her, filled with years of giving herself injections, taking pills and medication for the hormonal increase, countless waiting rooms, and doctor visits. The agony of waiting and waiting to know if these embryos took, wondering if the implantations were successful. The warrior of a woman it takes to live through this process astounds me. The Proverb often comes to mind when faced with a longing unfulfilled, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” How many sick hearts I have encountered over the years. My own sick heart at many seasons in my life, but the heart of a woman who longs for children and cannot have them has been one of the sickest hearts I have ever known.

The women I have seen for therapy or done life through seasons of infertility, miscarriage, or a child’s death have been the heaviest of hearts. Infertility is referenced as the “shriveled womb” in the Bible, and I would even explain it more as a shriveled heart. The incapability of creating a child within you, if it is a desire you have, is devastating. Women and medicine have become desperate and brave by seeking alternative means such as in vitro fertilization or IVF, in which the art of creating children becomes a science. I feel deep gratitude for science allowing women to get pregnant while realizing the cost of co-creation with God through a petri dish is daunting at best.

Pelvic floor specialists report that trauma held in the pelvic floor due to traumatic D&Cs and births are prevalent. Research states that over 90 percent of women who undergo surgeries in their abdomen will have scar tissue problems, because “the female pelvis contains a remarkable array of structures, responsible for myriad complex processes. It is situated in an area of the body that is vulnerable to injury, accessible to objects from the external environment, and susceptible to infection. When structures in the pelvis heal, they can become bound by adhesions...causing pain and dysfunction.”

 

Our wombs are sensitive and powerful, fashioned by the Creator to bear witness to the complexity of creation...

Do not be fooled, the invitation to create is one of agony and glory.

 

Do not be fooled, the invitation to create is one of agony and glory, sometimes found in a petri dish and other times in sacred acts of intimacy. We must honor the process of healing when the womb is harmed for it is our sanctuary made up of that which is most holy.

When we bleed, whether years of infertility or miscarriage, something is being shed. Whether it is the potential for life, or life itself, it is being shed and we have nothing we can do at that moment but to stare down the invitation to mock death. I have feared death too long, fear only can be immersed in perfect love. I have few choices while on earth but one I do have in the face of loss and death is to choose to weep honorably and love deeper than I choose fear. I weep for injustice, I weep for loss, I weep for the pain of hope, the discipline of waiting, the ache to birth, and grief of death. I imagine God, receiving this gift of mine, whether is my blood, my low-grade eggs, an undeveloped fetus; whatever I am offering, it is a gift, my attempt to desire and create life. Can you see God asking you to carry the futility? That may look different for you depending on your story: maybe God is asking to continue trying to create or to let go of life not created. This intimate, sacred, painful image is my kindest, most loving thoughts. My fears being drowned by perfect love. There is an aftermath for the body that continues to attempt to create and remains infertile. 

Postpartum is not only for the woman who has had babies but also for the post-partum for the infertile woman.

Postpartum refers to the period of time for the mother after the birth and the postnatal care of the baby, it involves the sharp drop in the hormones progesterone and estrogen, which contribute to feeling tired, depressed, and sluggish. Postpartum, in particular to postpartum grief, is only recently being addressed in the medical world. The range of emotions in a woman after childbirth or child loss oscillates between longing attachment and bliss to protective nightmares and panic-ridden anxiety. The mother's brain shifts as the gray matter become more concentrated. We see changes in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and all the regions of the brain that control empathy, social interactions, and anxiety. When a woman is in recovery from infertility, miscarriage, or birth, one must be aware that it is hard to explain what is happening in the brain and the healing process of postpartum. It is helpful to engage anyone in a season of postpartum with curiosity and care through this transition period. 

Loss and grief have many symbolic similarities to birth, and in many ways, we give birth to death. In the aftermath of a loss, the burial process has looked, to me, a lot like postpartum grief. Postpartum is different for everyone, and I think the same is true with postpartum grief. Often after one has a baby we ask the question, “How was the birth?”. The same is appropriate for the postpartum griever; we should ask, “How was the death? How was the miscarriage? How was the attempt amidst infertility?”. Whether death is difficult and painful or worthy of the celebration of reaching eternal life is dependent on the details of the death, much like the details of birth. How did one come to die? Were they sick or in pain? Was there family nearby? Did they get to say goodbye to everyone they desired or were they taken too quickly? Was it accidental, intentional; timely, expected? These answers don’t tell us whether one should grieve more or less around this loss, rather it gives us details of how the person grieving might encounter the next few months of postpartum grief.  

With the "shriveled womb" of infertility, we must be people who come alongside and be curious about the "sick heart" of the infertile woman and how her post-partum is affecting her heart, body, and mind.

 


The Woman in White: How Shame & Purity Culture Impacted My Sexuality

This article has been reposted from Red Tent Living, original publication can be found here.

This is the dress​.

I breathed the words barely above a whisper, just loud enough for my mom and best friend to hear. As I stood in front of the bridal mirror mesmerized by my reflection, I heard my mom break the awe of the moment with a quick clarifying question: “But we can get this dress in white, right?”

Although the ivory tone of the chiffon looked more expensive to me, I immediately knew why she was asking. It was important for my mother to have her daughter walk down the aisle in white to represent my chastity. Society has long symbolized the purity of the bride with a white dress. In Jewish custom, it is the father of the betrothed who gives an oath of his daughter’s virginity, but in Western Christianity, it would be my charismatic Catholic mother who would swear to my virginity with the whitest fabric she could afford.

White. What does a woman in white represent? White has historically been associated with freedom, innocence, omnipotence, and most commonly, purity. Long before the purity movement in Christianity, there was a demand for chastity; an expectation of sexual innocence placed on women that were not expected of men.

Women have come to bear the weight of wearing white.

Sexism and patriarchy have wielded shame and stigma, demanding a woman’s worth be tied to her virginity. These two evil agents of destruction have seeped into the church and ravaged its women. Anyone who allowed herself to be shamed into remaining pure until marriage was promised a happy, healthy sex life, yet psychological research shows us that a significant percentage of marriages from the purity movement is now in couple’s therapy, seeking help navigating their sexual health.
Sexual shame is the culprit.

Male Christians typically grow up learning about sex through hidden pornography use while female Christians squelch their sexuality, ascribing holiness to a lack of sexual desire. When I asked 400 of my Christian female clients how often they orgasm in heterosexual relationships, they said 10-15% of the time; and when I asked how often their male partners orgasm, the answer was 95-100% of the time.

Dr. Noel Clark defines sexual shame as internalized feelings of disgust and humiliation towards one’s own body and identity as a sexual being. For church-going women, these issues have often been narrated through patriarchal theologies, resulting in a skewed understanding of body image and sexuality. How have we allowed our bodies and our spiritual health to be defined by men? How has shame stolen our healthy, God-intended sexual arousal? Women who identify as lesbian or queer may receive a potential double dose of shame from the pulpit—first, due to their sexual orientation, and secondly, due to body image and general issues related to sexual activity.

On my wedding day, I was the only person wearing white. I felt the need for the color of my dress to symbolize the bride of Christ. My wedding day was everything I could have dreamt of, short of the cold temperature, but when we cut the cake and someone went to prepare the getaway car, I began to panic. I was crying with my bridesmaids as I changed into my exit dress. My tears were hot as I confessed my fear that losing my virginity might make me less holy in the eyes of God and others.
There is a sexual state that sexual shame from the pulpit also encourages, but it is less often spoken: asexuality, a lack of sexual attraction. It is highly common for me to hear complaints from my male clients of a significant decline in sex after the wedding night. I have heard partner after partner says, “My wife was all over me when we were dating, and now she never wants to have sex.”

That was my story too. The safety of dating meant I could do everything but have sex, and therefore, I felt safe to explore my arousal because I knew we would never consummate it until the wedding night. On the wedding night, my sexuality shifted. It has taken eleven years of marriage and therapy for me to approach sex differently, with uninterrupted eye contact with my partner and curiosity towards my own body and pleasure rather than focusing solely on my partner’s arousal.

Every day in my counseling practice, I witness clients attempting to untangle their sexual shame. Often shame has a powerful hold on the psyche, while a trauma can lessen in the brain, shame entwines itself around one’s self-esteem. Our God-given arousal cycle does not flourish in places of shame. Whenever we enter a covenant I believe God dresses us all in white, shameless, and holy.

 

 

Dr. Christy Bauman, Ph.D., MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers story-work consulting. She is the author and producer of her works: Theology of the Womb, Womaneering Perpetual Calendar, A Brave Lament, and the award-winning Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, part-time professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality, and theology. Christy’s work can be found at christybauman.com 

 


Sex as Prayer

Amen, and let it be.

This is often how I end my prayers. And sometimes, after the work of connecting with my husband and engaging in sex, how I end my orgasm. Amen, and let it be.

Honestly, I would give up sex in a millisecond if it could heal and stop all the sexual harm this world has encountered. As a trauma and abuse counselor, my job is to dissect stories of sexual harm and abuse. I spend my hours at work with a figurative scalpel and suture kit as I extract stories of sexual hurt and objectification. Stories of sexual abuse and objectification have cost my sympathetic system years of damage. If there was a way I could give up sex to have all that harm undone, I would. Yet, God created sex knowing it would also cause so much harm. This baffles my mind and also begs me to consider what God intended sex to accomplish for good. If God made sex, I deduce that it has to have a stronger superpower than what evil has used it for. So what was God’s intention for sex? Procreation is the common answer. But procreation must be teased out, those who are for creating. The power of what we can create together with another being in sex is absolutely mind-blowing. My husband and I set an intention when we have sex. For whose sake are we engaging in this act? Sometimes we literally say, we consecrate this time of sexual connection to combat evil in this world. If our part of our glory occurs when we engage in a covenant with another, with integrity and vulnerability, and we receive pleasure - well then let the sexual creations come! Let us offer our scared and wounded bodies to the other in an act of faith that God will show up and bless each other with pleasure and a taste of heaven.

Growing up in the church, no one told me very much about how to navigate sex as a Christian woman. Truthfully, I did as I was taught and stayed a virgin until marriage, praying that would secure a healthy sexual lifetime for me and my husband. I wish it had been that easy. Why didn’t anyone explain that sex is a powerful tool in the kingdom of God? So powerful that evil has used it to harm countless amounts of people. Shouldn’t that mean God intended it for something extremely powerful?

Doctors, therapists, parents, teachers, and pastors have trouble openly talking and teaching about sex. Sex is a powerful and difficult subject to explore through the eyes of God. Most churches have little education on who is equipped to navigate the conversations of sexuality and God, other than mandating abstinence. God’s design for sex is obviously intentional and powerful, and I believe God has given us power through the holiness involved in the act of sex and pleasure. My professor and mentor for many years, Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers, is a Christian Certified Sex Therapist who trains Christian therapists on how to counsel clients around healthy sexuality. She teaches about the history and practices of the Law of Onah, laws directed mainly to men which command the man to give his wife pleasure during sexual acts, not to just think of himself. Research records these laws from the Torah, specifically outlining a sexual principle that protects women as a direct rule:

“Sexual relations should only be experienced in a time of joy.  Sex for selfish personal satisfaction, without regard for the partner's pleasure, is wrong and evil.  A man may never force his wife to have sex.  A couple may not have sexual relations while drunk or quarreling.  Sex may never be used as a weapon against a spouse, either by depriving the spouse of sex or by compelling it. It is a serious offense to use sex (or lack thereof) to punish or manipulate a spouse. Sex is the woman's right, not the man's. Although sex is the woman's right, she does not have absolute discretion to withhold it from her husband.” (Mamre, 2012, p. Kosher Sex)

These laws invite us to begin the exploration of God’s design for sex as it relates to pleasure and spirituality. It was during my first seminary class discussion that my professor mentioned that the female clitoris is the size of a pencil eraser head, but has more nerve endings than the head of the male penis. I was shocked; no one had ever told me that. She posed the question, “Why would God give women a clitoris which only has the physiological function to give pleasure?” I researched the function of the clitoris, finding it described as an extremely sensitive organ made up of erectile tissue which has thousands of nerve endings, with its central function being to produce sensations of sexual pleasure. I was stunned to confirm that the clitoris, in fact, has no function in reproduction and has 8,000 nerve endings, which is double to amount of the nerve endings on the penis. Who knew seminary could be so helpful? This information has been a stunning revelation for thousands of students and clients that I work with. We are under-educated as a Christian population about God’s design of the female body, especially concerning sexuality. How can we expect to build a healthy theology around God’s plan for sexuality if we don’t study His design of our sexual organs?

Objectification of the female body brings death. If a woman’s reproductive, life-creating body parts which are created in God’s image are objectified, it prevents her body from being engaged with the way God intended. Rob Bell describes Christian sexuality as a dance between being “angel”, a spirit without a body, or “animal”, a body that lives by basic instinct. Bell writes about how we, as believers, must live as a human, neither angel nor animal, but somewhere in between:

“Angels were here before us. Animals were here before us. When we act like angels or animals, we’re acting like beings who were created before us. We’re going backwards in creation. We’re going the wrong way…our actions, then, aren’t isolated. Nothing involving sex exists independent of and disconnected from everything around it. How we act determines the kind of world we’re creating. And with every action, we’re continuing the ongoing creation of the world. The question is, what kind of world are we creating? How we live matters because God made us human. Which means we aren’t angels. And we aren’t animals.” (Bell, R. 2007, p.63-64)

The question he asks is applicable to every person, at every juncture of life, what kind of world are we creating? In the context of our sexuality, we must ask ourselves this question. Do we see sexuality as something to fear, or have we trusted God-created sexuality as a powerful tool for creating? How do we use our sexuality for the glory of God? How do we use our bodies for creating? The secular culture leads us to believe that we are animals (i.e. over-sexualized) and often the church leads us to believe we are angels (i.e. asexual). In particular, the woman’s body through pregnancy demands us to see that sex is designed to create life. What kind of a world are you creating, one of objectification or true intimacy? Our sex life is a powerful prayer telling the story of who we believe God is and who we believe God created us to be.

What kind of world are we creating as Christians? I think the answer is displayed in our sex life.

 

Dr. Christy Bauman, PhD, MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers story-work consulting. She is the author and producer of her works: Theology of the Womb, Womaneering Perpetual Calendar, A Brave Lament, and the award-winning Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, part-time professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality and theology. Christy’s work can be found at christybauman.com