There is a commercial that observes “times have changed” as part of its central message. I don’t even recall the product being hawked now, but I know I like the ad and think it is clever. Mostly, I am thrilled with all the new technology and advances that enhance modern life, but every now and then I am totally surprised and caught up short.
I realized just how much times have changed, at least for my microcosm, when I listened recently to a presentation in a Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation. This was not a usual service where the regular minister was in the pulpit, but rather one of those “alternative” type services, common in many UU congregations, where members (two or three) speak on what it is they believe (or in the case of agnostics, what they don’t believe). The UU denomination does not have a creed, but allows members to find their own path and beliefs through questing, exploring, questioning and being true to themselves. In this denomination questioning is encouraged, and agnosticism and atheism are viewed as viable choices. In such a “This I Believe” service, members may include a bit of biographical background, and may also include historical information about the faith they were raised in, often different from where they are now. Some may have changed denominations more than once over time and changed paths. They often also mention certain life-changing events that were pivotal in their decisions, or mentors that lead them to where they are, or spouses, life partners, parents, friends.
In this particular presentation, the individual (I’ll call her Abby – not her real name) spoke of such a life-changing event. She was in Japan, nearing the end of a six-year stay, and was saying a tearful goodbye to a woman friend, and somehow with the emotions that ensued, found herself making love to this other woman spontaneously. Yes, lesbian sex. And this woman, the congregant, had apparently been unwilling to question her own sexual inclinations prior to this point and feels this was a turning point, where she claimed her real sexual identity (although she didn’t officially “come out” until a few years later). And she added that immediately after this incident, her asthma went away completely and attributes the “miracle” to the fact that this act purged her of repressed thoughts and feelings she had been harboring subconsciously for a very long time. With hindsight, she feels all that repression may have caused her asthma. She said she’d had moderate to severe asthma for a very long time and struggled with its symptoms on a regular basis, yet the symptoms magically abated. Golly, this should be written up in a journal of pulmonology – lesbian sex cures asthma. Who knew? Could you see this on Dr. Oz? I immediately wondered what that meant for me. I have asthma. But I’m heterosexual. So I’m doomed?
Now I ask you – in what other “church setting,” are you likely to hear someone talk about the curative powers of lesbian sex from the pulpit? Yes, times have changed. I didn’t take a survey afterwards, but did wonder if anyone was shocked. I was shocked myself (perhaps surprised is a better word), not about her revelation, but by her frankness in this setting. Admittedly this denomination is gay-friendly, but I was thinking about “too much information” and what some newer members or first-time visitors might be thinking. This is a far cry from the sermons I listened to growing up in the Roman Catholic faith. Except for occasional sermons on the evils of birth control and abortion, the topic of sex was totally off limits by some silent agreement. Although, I think I recall a priest once addressing a group of teenagers on the “near occasion of sin” presented by such practices as heavy petting and French kissing. I don’t think I knew what a lesbian was until well into my teens, so I was a late bloomer. So now when I hear others talk about Unitarian Universalism as a “liberal faith,” I will have a slightly expanded appreciation for that phrase. Understand, that is not entirely bad. But, it does conjure up a set of interesting visuals.
We now have in our modern world, in addition to a couple of liberal religious denominations that are light years beyond what their forebears ever envisioned, the TV shows Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory (to name only a couple), a Carl’s Jr. commercial featuring a scantily clad young woman in a variety of poses salivating over a hamburger, and yet another Carl’s Jr. commercial featuring Miss Turkey in a bikini, and various ads for pharmaceuticals to cure male erectile dysfunction. Now, this doesn’t bother me when I watch them at home alone with my cats. But imagine you are sitting with your aunt Agatha who has dropped in for a visit, and you are watching Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, or Cash Cab. And a Cialis commercial comes on. Aunt Agatha, who is 89 and has led a sheltered life, asks you what this commercial is about. What do they mean when they say “when the time is right, you can be ready?” Now, isn’t this just as awkward as having to explain the birds and the bees to your six year old, who raises exploratory questions out of the blue when you have guests? Thankfully, all my aunts are dead – two nuns, and a maiden aunt who never married and died in her seventies. One of the nuns, in particular, was very child-like having entered the convent at seventeen, and living to be 99 years of age. She never lived in the real world and was very unversed in its ways – a supreme understatement. But what if? What if one of those aunts were alive and visited and watched TV with me every night for a week? I shudder to think what sorts of commercials could air to cause consternation (hers) and squirming (mine). I’d have to push the mute button on the remote promptly in a very timely manner.
I’m not a prude and I don’t recommend censorship or the creation of a post called “Etiquette Nazi.” But golly gee, I think perhaps that old phrase “there is a time and a place for everything” might be operative. Think first before you speak (or create a commercial). Consider your audience, or air the commercial after 10:00 p.m.? All these past few years, I’ve prided myself on becoming more liberal, expanding my ever-growing mind, becoming more tolerant. And now I’m suggesting restraint? Is there a dichotomy here? Am I confused? The answer is I’m not sure. More deep thinking is required. What’s a modern, mostly liberal baby boomer to do? I’m not at all sure, but for now I’ll have to ponder these things in my heart, and keep one finger on the mute button at all times, just in case.