Let’s Get Real(ish)

'Get Real Tin' photo (c) 2009, The Marmot - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A few weeks ago Tina called after a difficult week at church. Her pastor was preaching a series about marriage, and he was all about “getting real.”

From her perspective, “getting real” meant that he was about to talk about sex.

Now, I am all about sex positive messages. The Church has been timid about sex for far too long, and we need to stop that. So you’ll get little argument from me about the need for the Church to get real about sex.

But I don’t believe that a hetero-normative, men-love-sex-more-than-women, everybody-gets-married-one-time, all-couples-are-both-Christian message is all that real.

The percentage of married households is under half at this point. Around 80% of singles in the church have had or are having sex outside of marriage. The LGBT population is right around 3-4%. At least a quarter of all households are interfaith. About a third of people in the church have been divorced.

Unfortunately, getting real rarely covers any of these topics, other than a cursory, “Don’t do that.”

How can we be real when we ignore the single people who have questions about masturbation? How can we be real when we pretend that there aren’t any gay people in our churches? How can we be real when we talk about the man wanting sex more when there is a refused wife dealing with the pain of being rebuffed again the previous night? How can we real when there’s a man attending alone because of his recent divorce?

I fear that often in our attempts to be real, we become more alienating because our definition of “real” misses so many people.

And ultimately, I’m not sure if the pulpit is the place where we can get real.

In order to get real with someone, you need to know the real them. You need to know their stories. You need to have spent time with them. You need listen. You can’t have that kind of relationship while speaking at people.

In lieu of a genuine relationship, we can only speak in generalities. There may be truths contained within those generalities, but for the most part, it’s simply going to be real-ish.

If we want to get real, our best bet is love. When we preach the genuine, deep love of Jesus, it allows people space to be more honest about their pain and struggles. It allows people space to have authentic friendships. It allows people to find ask questions that don’t have easy answers.

Love allows space for people to move from real-ish to real. 

  • Rslatt74


    You bring up a number of relevant issues but I think that’s a lot to ask of a pastor to cover in 20 to 30 minutes. Also, it may be short sided of the pastor to only talk about getting real one time for 20 to 30 minutes. I think it the responsibility of the pastor to foster dialogue from the pulpit so the church can discuss during the week in prayer/meditation and their small groups.

    I would suggest emailing of talking to the pastor and ask that he expand on the topic and make it a multi-week series. That way the church focuses more on the broader topics and the opportunity to delve deeper.

    • http://charitymercyrestraint.blogspot.com/ Sara

      Not to be combative, but I wonder if maybe pastors should skip topics this nuanced. I agree that it is a lot to cover, too much perhaps, but that is where the issue comes in. Someone hears a generalized message from the pulpit without a chance for discussion or follow-up questions, especially since so many of these topics are taboo. People are told what’s normal and if they fall outside of the “normal” boundaries it feels shameful to admit it.

      • http://www.hillsideslide.blogspot.com hillsideslide

         Sara- “without a chance for discussion or follow-up questions” -that observation, as well as frustration, has come to me a lot lately.  So, it’s not just me thinking it…

      • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

        On the other hand, when churches engage in multiple Marriage series, it seems fair and appropriate that issues non-married/divorced/widowed people face be addressed at least once or twice. I approached my old pastor on several occasions asking for even one sermon addressing those of us that were single. He smiled and nodded and promptly did nothing. Other than, of course, when he rolled out the next Marriage series, say “singles, this applies to you for someday.”

        • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

          Yeah, the cursory, “This applies to you!” thing seems kind of cheap. 

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I think the multiple week thing can be just as bad. I agree that community SHOULD dig deeper, but unfortunately, many are not plugged into groups. And a good chunk of people who ARE plugged into groups are unlikely to challenge a pastor’s generalizations. I just think that nuanced conversations like these are best left away from the pulpit altogether.

  • http://www.hillsideslide.blogspot.com hillsideslide

    Thing is, I crave for church to “get real.”  The stats you cite are a great place to start.  So it’s a double disappointment when “getting real” comes off as a fake-o cutesy way of introducing & reiterating worn old stereotypes about sex, sexuality & relationships.  They aren’t real.  They don’t help.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I think even with the stats, it’s still hard to address from the front of the church. These feel like circle kind of discussions, rather than lectures.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    Truth! Yet another great example of asking the sermon to do too much when one on one relationships will get the job done. Sounds like slow moving yeast to me…

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Well said. I wonder how we move to the place where we’re okay saying that the sermon doesn’t have to be all things to all men? Because it will inevitably leave some out.

      • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

        Those who want the sermon to be all things will never be satisfied anyway. The sooner they’re disappointed, the sooner they can find real life in the people around them rather than putting all of the pressure on the pastors and volunteers who will just get burned out if they ever give in and try to be all things… Does that make sense? 

    • http://thingsfindothinks.com/ Findo

      Also the problem of using the pulpit for topical preaching. Topical preaching often means the preacher sets the agenda. Expositional preaching means the preacher teaches the text that they’re up to. It lets the Scriptures set the agenda. It means you speak about sex when the passage you’re up to speaks about it. 

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com/ Findo

        and also – it means when we get to those hard passages, we’ve hopefully seen how they might fit into the bigger flow of the writer’s idea, as well has having a grasp of the other contexts.

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com/ Jennifer Luitwieler

    I wonder if people think before opening thier mouths? Before declaring an abomination unto the Lord is the very thing a single, broken soul sits there wrestling with? Getting real means listening as well as talking, being willing to admit we don’t have all the answers, but that we do know how to love. We can never err when we love. And that, homie, is real. Xo

    • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

       Agreed and agreed.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Exactly! Why do we need to exclude? Why not preach inclusion? I think sometimes we fear that if we’re not very clear about what we don’t approve of that we miss the opportunity to speak more to what we approve of. (You know, like this post where I just bitch without really offering much of a solution. ;-D)

  • http://rawfaithrealworld.wordpress.com/ RawFaith

    When I worked at churches I found out that one of the main issues people were struggling with (both men and women) was their sexuality. They really wanted help sorting things out but didn’t want their private business spread throughout the church and didn’t trust the pastors to keep it private. I was able to develop a good referal network for the ones who needed professional help. I found the best place to deal with a lot of the issues was as trusted friends where people felt like they could really talk about what they were going through and also have a place to ask questions and wrestle with some of the hard issues. My experience is that when pastors try to adress sex from the pulpit it’s so general that if anything it makes things worse. I think it’s partially a generational thing too. Most of my younger friends are much more open to talking about and dealing with their sexuality. I’m amazed how many of my boomer friends have a really tough time talking about it.  I try to be really honest and open with my friends and the younger people I mentor, and to create an environment where they feel comfortable talking about their real questions and what’s going on in their lives. Luckily there’s not much that shocks me so that probably helps too. ;

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I agree with all of this. Sex is HUGE, but the way it gets talked about in church is often very, very small. We think we’re edgy because we talk about oral sex, but really, those are pretty easy topics. What about a refusing spouse? What about singles? What about abuse? The stuff that’s “church approved,” even if it’s edgy, is still pretty general, and can leave people feeling excluded. I think there are places for that general stuff (there are lots of great blogs and books and radio show that work because they can address general stuff AND specific stuff), but I don’t know that a Sunday morning is where this should be addressed. Not because I think it’s too racy, but because, to be honest, I don’t think it can ever be racy enough.

  • http://rawfaithrealworld.wordpress.com/ RawFaith

    I would add too that a lot of the women felt much more comfortable talking about their sexuality with another woman than a middle aged man. I really think churches, especially large churches, should have more women on staff to be able to counsel, mentor and encourage other women.

  • http://sarahoverthemoon.com/ Sarah Moon

    Yes! I feel like whenever I try to “get real” about my sex life and about my questions concerning sex, people dismiss it with a “the Bible is clear!” and “well just get married and you won’t have to worry about it!” When, the Bible’s not really clear at all, and in this economy, who can “just get married?” And is it ever really wise to “just get married” so you can have sex?

    I’m tired of the church not talking about protection and safety and consent. I’m tired of the church telling me that the sex I have is horrible and sinful and that my sex drive is unnatural. But mostly, I’m just tired of the dismissiveness. It’s like, we want to have conversations about sex as long as everyone asks all the “right” questions with the easy answers.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      “It’s like, we want to have conversations about sex as long as everyone asks all the “right” questions with the easy answers.”

      THIS. If we ever actually “got real” about sex in church, it would be TERRIFYING. I’m glad that people are recognizing that we need to talk about sex, but I don’t think Sunday morning is the best place because the limitations are just FAR too great.

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com/ Findo

        I think it might have been Mark Dever who said something very similar – that there are certain issues that just aren’t helpfully talked about from the pulpit – not to brush them under the carpet, but that there are  more helpful contexts (small groups etc.) for certain issues. In fact, he might have even been talking to Al Mohler when he said it ;p

  • Karen haring

    Very thoughtful and thought provoking, Alise! I agree that the pulpit is not a place where all this can be adequately discussed, or made “real.” But we so desperately need to be real, be known, be accepted- and that only happens in circles. Close relationships.

    A great pastor friend said to me today that the pulpit should be the place where people hear God’s love, acceptance, and character. A place to help us know His furious love. THEN we can be real!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HQC3AEWCXDS5PMW3EXUZNCJGVM Sierra

    Simply,wow. And, amen. 

  • http://chickchaotic.wordpress.com/ Elizabeth Chapin

    Alise, I appreciate how you say, “I don’t believe that a hetero-normative, men-love-sex-more-than-women, everybody-gets-married-one-time, all-couples-are-both-Christian message is all that real.” When I talk to my girls about sex, which I do all the time, I try to be as real as possible with them. Unfortunately, for many Christians, there are NO real conversations happening ANYWHERE! Real conversations should start in the home, but unfortunately most Christian homes perpetuate the good mother myth and the romantic ideal and don’t talk about the REAL stuff at all. Hetero-normativity is assumed and modeled, and even in families who have experienced divorce, the ideal of once-and-for-all marriage is held as the ideal for all.

    I agree, the pulpit may not be the best place to get real. Perhaps we should start in the home.

  • Laura Cavanaugh

    Loved this post! Yes!

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