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.