Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lessons from the Harlot . . . Part II

I woke up scratching my head a bit. I sort of regret taking this path of trying to make sense of what I'm trying to say and even the notion of saying there is some good in the whorehouse from which the Church could learn, that it seems repulsive. But there are lessons. I was tempted to just delete the post before going on, but I will try to unravel this.

I must admit, as I thought about it, I've never met a prostitute (at least where it was made known to me what she was). Thinking back, I can only remember meeting one "John," again at least one who admitted to it. This was in college and I was leading a Bible study where one of the guys confessed that he had hired a prostitute the previous week. Oh, that reminds me, I did have a great friend who was the campus leader of Campus Crusade, who later it was discovered that he was using prostitutes on a regular basis while at the reigns of CCC. I shared a couple of years ago about how he had just been arrested for child porn charges, yet he was the most "godly man" I had ever known . . . but that's another story.

While I personally have been tempted in all kinds of things . . . maybe even murder . . . and have even done a lot of bad in my life (no murder though, except in my mind), I've never been tempted to visit a prostitute, it has never even been on my radar. So, I'm saying all of this to make the point that I really don't know that culture, but I'm making assumptions.

As I try to unravel this, I will say that I think there are two reasons that a man would want to visit a prostitute and I suspect that it is the latter reason, at least in previous times, that is the main one. The first reason is the obvious, sexual pleasure. The second reason, however, is where I think we could have some take-home thoughts. Many men, I believe, do so because it is the one place they feel they can open up and share their true selves. The reason is, the man knows he is doing something terrible by being there, she (the prostitute) of course knows he is doing this terrible thing. So, what do you have to loose by being vulnerable.

I heard an interview on Oprah or one of those shows a few years ago with a "high end" hooker. I think it was around the time of the Eliot Spitzer affair (pun intended). She was talking about having these extremely rich, makers and shakers, on Wall Street, renting her for the night, and what they wanted her to be to them, more than anything, is a mother. They would curl up in a ball and cry like a baby. It was the only place in the world where they could do that. With the hooker they could talk about their fears, failures, and pain. She, being paid well by the hour, would sincerely listen. She too was in the same boat. She was vulnerable because the man was knowing her too at her worst.

So, when I listen to Leonard Cohen singing about the comforts that he gets from the "Sisters of Mercy" I really think he is alluding to the second part, finding real mercy at their sides. This is the lesson that the Church could learn from. If the Church was known for being a haven of mercy, where you could reveal your most vulnerable self, warts and all, and not only be accepted, but comforted, then the strongest gates could not keep the younger generation away.

This is how Steinbeck describes what I'm trying to say. Faye is the "Madam" of the most recent brothel that came to town:
Faye was the motherly type, big-breasted, big hipped, and warm. She was a bosom to cry on, a soother and a stroker . . . Her house became the refuge of young men puling in puberty, mourning over lost virtue, and aching to lose some more. Faye was the reassurer of the misbegotten husbands. Her house took up the slack for frigid wives. It was the cinnamon-scented kitchen of one's grandmother. If any sexual thing happened to you at Faye's you felt it was an accident and forgivable.
The image I get for her is the "God" character in William Young's The Shack. I didn't even mention that Faye is African-American as was the "God" character in The Shack (if I remember correctly).
So, what we can gleam from Cohen and Steinbeck is the great longing that we all have for Mercy.

I know that I haven't even touched on the woman's role in all of this. I just listened to a follow up on the NPR program. This was a discussion on Talk of the Nation. I ate lunch as I listened to the women share how they were able to get out of prostitution. But I also listened carefully why they got into it.

It seemed almost to be universal that it started with childhood abuse. They were taught as vulnerable children that they were worthless . . . save the pleasure they could give a man. If the first reason for a man to be a "John" is sexual pleasure, then the first reason for a woman to be a whore is the money. But then it is much deeper than that. The biggest draw, from what I heard today, is the intense desire to have value. The value comes a little from the "Johns," but even they can further insult the woman's feelings of significance. The woman's biggest confront seems to come from the "family" which is made up of the pimp, the madam and the other girls. The second confront, that seems always to be there, are the chemical confronts . . . usually in the form of crack.

So the lesson we gleam from the women's side, is a church that is a family to the family-less, and a church that gives significance to those with a bottomless pit of feelings of insignificance. But somewhere we went wrong. Some how we've thought that we needed a church that had the "answers." But the people weren't asking any questions. We thought we needed a church which taught people how to be "godly," like my CCC friend. But the church I dream of is one that is overflowing with mercy, giving comfort to the comfortless, and family to the family-less.


jmj said...

With further research I found this statement from Cohen himself:

"The Sisters Of Mercy were actually two young women that I met during a snow storm in Edmonton, Alberta. And they came to my Hotel Room and there was something oh, very agreeable about their company. And they had no place to stay and they fell asleep on my bed, and I stayed up and I remember there was a full moon. And I felt like having something to say to them when they woke up, and that was one of those rare and graceful occasions when I was able to write a song from beginning to end in the space of a few hours. And while they slept I worked on this song. And when they woke up I sang it to them. It was compleetely full and finished, and they liked it. Barbara and Lorraine were their names."

kg said...

Ah, I think it was worth "going there". There are many hurting folks out there, whether they are actively involved in prostitution or not. We have to look, we have to are we to love, and how are we to be as a church?
This speaks to how to love, respect, and be family---a healthy, safe place.

Jaimie said...

I don't think men open up with prostitutes because "they've hit rock bottom anyway" or whatever. I think they open up with prostitutes because they can easily say the prostitute is lying later. They're telling someone who can't tell anyone. Who has no power except what men give them.

I guess I don't think most men feel that guilty visiting prostitutes... especially not the ones who sit around and talk afterwards.

Men need to be vulnerable like anyone else, but they also need to be powerful (some of them), and so prostitution is a situation that gives both. Vulnerability, while still being in control.

The patriarchy has really screwed men over.

Anyway, sorry for the random nitpick. Psychology interests me.

jmj said...

Jaimie, you are welcome to nicpick. I didn't mean to imply the men are at rock bottom. Actually those politicians, Wall Street types are at the top of their game. Yet, they do want to be vulnerable with someone and maybe you are right, that the want to open up to someone who wouldn't squeal.

Justin said...

I don't think it is any mistake that in the genealogy(ies) of Jesus are several instances of rape, incest, prostitution, and/or a combination of those. Names like Rahab and Dinah carry some fairly dark stories. And, of course, the questionable history of Mary Magdalene.

I'd say your thoughts, here, are fairly well grounded.

jmj said...

I've heard the argument that the reason that Jesus included the harlots, especially Mary Magdalene, in his life and inner circle, was to demonstrate grace even for the most sinful (I could argue that there things worse than being a harlot, like a TV evangelist). That is true but suspect that Mary Magdalene also brought to the table a lot of insight into the human condition (from her experiences) and how the Church/disciples should relate to sinners.

Anonymous said...

I think they open up with prostitutes because they can easily say the prostitute is lying later. They're telling someone who can't tell anyone.

Sort of a "Seal of the Confessional"?

Headless Unicorn Guy

Eagle said...

MJ....I actually think there is a lot Christians can learn a lot from Prostitutes. The biggest lesson should be grace. Those who have made mistakes and fucked up their life probably will have a better understanding of forgiveness than those who are religious. Those who are forgiven and who know they should not be, have a greater appreciation for grace. Christians should be able to learn this...but sadly many will not. Why...? Pride, and the "us" vs. "them" mentality works against them. Also some sins are acceptable in the eyes of an evangelical whereas others are not. Anything that has a tint of sexual sin is not forgivable. Simply put there is no forgiveness...I learned this while confessing common guy lust issues. Yet materialism, greed, gluttony, etc.. are all okay. I was working with the homeless in downtown Washington, D.C. a few years back and I realized how little the sins of greed, materialism, etc.. have been preached or taught. Sin is subjective for many fundgelicals and always the problem of the other person. It's not me because (in the mind of the fundy...) I have Jesus and I go to church, do mission trips and live morally. I don't know what to say to's a fucked up theological system.

jmj said...

Eagle, you are right. I do suspect that the sexual sins are preached against the most, yet, in the privacy of Church-life, even these sins are rampant.

I have a very rough, coal-mining uncle from West Virgina. I think it was when the latest TV Evangelist was caught with a prostitute that this uncle said something very crude,but . . . funny and real. Forgive me for the crudeness but I'm quoting my uncle verbatim.

"Bait a trap with pussy and you'll catch a preacher every time."