In a word, yes! I have seen Jesus in a strip club, many times over. Jesus, the flesh and blood manifestation of the wisdom of God will be found where he said he’d be, bringing good news to the poor, sight to the blind, encouragement to the oppressed, freedom to the captives and proclaiming the Jubilee(Luke 4.16-19). Jesus resides wherever broken people are, where ever pain and loss and despair seek to stifle out all light and hope and love, that’s what Jesus does, that’s who Jesus has always been and will always be.
The word ישוע the Hebrew form of the name Jesus means literally, deliverance, salvation, liberation. Inherent in the work of freedom is the leading people out of bondage. If you have ever worked with people in chains, literal, economic, social, political, psychological, physical or figurative, you know that they don’t walk away on their own, it takes someone, walking in, encountering them in their place of trouble, showing up over and over again, proving to be a safe person and ever so slowly helping those in chains believe again in the love of God so they can wake up to their dreams. This is slow, deliberate, Jesus work so that one day, these who are beloved of God can by Spirit power take your hand and walk out into the light.
So yes, Jesus shows up in the strip clubs in my town often. Every other week my team and I walk in the door and our friend who is the house mom and bartender shouts, “Jesus is in the house!” We smile, rush over to hug her and greet all our other friends whom we call by name. These women have become a hymn to me, and the relationships forged in mutual sorrow amidst the brokenness of all our lives have become my song. I sit with them in the darkness, and they sit with me and we hold hands and tell each other the truth, share the pain and dissonance of our stories together before the next rotation on the stage. We laugh and we drink and we have conversations that are real and human, we admit what we cannot know and hold on to one another anyway. I bring them gifts and they shower me with love and we sit in the ash heap together, skin on skin, heart to heart and hope for a better tomorrow.
You would think it is hard to talk about Jesus in a strip club, but it’s not, it’s actually the easiest place in the world. I have been forging friendships with women in sex trade for the past four years, and it turns out that Jesus can be found right where he said he’d be, in the “least of these” (Matt. 25.45).
There is a prevailing notion and prejudicial image of women who take their clothes off for a living, we believe them to be seductresses and overly sexualized cat like figures using their feminine prowess to earn a buck but this couldn’t be further from what I have experienced as true. People in strip clubs are like people everywhere else, they are hurting. The difference is the women in the club are literally stripped bare so that they cannot hide their sin sick souls like we do, those of us huddled in the church in the suburbs, and it is in the stripping back of all pretense and pretty, the peeling away of what is not real or raw that I have come to know Jesus in the deep suffering and in the kindness of strippers and prostitutes. It is not only that Jesus is in me and I bring him into the dark, it is that Jesus is in these women, with them and for them, showing up in all the ways they love and welcome me; a busted up, self proclaimed church girl in search of what is Jesus, what is true.
Would Jesus Hangout in a Strip Club? This is my response to a recent Christianity Today blog.
Learn more about our ministry Stripped Love here
Let me tell you about the day I had a meltdown at Costco over a rotisserie chicken. Most of us have been there, right? Managing so many things, trying to be what is needed for everyone in our lives, and we can make it all work so long as every aspect of the plan falls into line. But, inevitably, one little component, one minor cog in the wheel refuses to perform as it should and the entire machine malfunctions.
It has been a long rough season on the road from Seattle to Boise to Oklahoma to Crete and I am deep bone wasted. In addition to fulltime ministry as professor of Bible I have also taken up the work of launching a new not for profit ministry in the last year. I have literally been, casting vision, sharing stories, spending time with the women to whom I minister and birthing a dream during every waking hour. The truth is, however, up under this, my life is shattered, broken into a thousand pieces and hollowed out by grief, but, it is more that I can deal with so I continue to push through, live on top of the heap, operate like a normal person—whatever that means.
This is why I thought if I could just dash into Costco and get a rotisserie chicken that Sunday evening then I could feed my family for another day and all would be well. While I realize today, the phrase “dash into Costco” is obviously evidence of some sort of break with reality, on that day, it seemed to make perfect sense. I had fresh veggies at home and a rotisserie chicken would be the perfect no fuss compliment and cover me for supper so I could make it until Monday and do a full blown trip to the grocery, which I dreaded like being dragged behind a team of horses.
I stood there, staring blankly at the empty shelves where golden chickens were supposed to be and I almost lost it then but I saw the blinking red light on the stove and dozens of chickens turning on the wheel ready to be packaged and one of them was going home with me. The lights blinked 5.00 so I scurried around, picked up a few more things, superfood salad, five pounds of strawberries only when I returned the lights were still blinking that empty promise of five minutes! My body flashed hot, I felt dizzy, I looked and grabbed the sample food lady in the paper shower hat and pleaded for her help. Courageously she went into the meat counter and spoke with some man in white and returned to tell me it would be five minutes more until the chickens were ready. Aaaah, but it had already been five minutes, I had been watching the clock read those numbers for ten minutes, my husband and niece were waiting in the car, I had to go…was there something she could do?
Defeated I huffed sixteen miles to the front of the store, stood behind all the foolish shoppers who had seen Costco as the answer to their domestic dreams. I fumed as the lady in the red tee shirt asked questions while writing her check, when my clerk asked me if I found everything I needed, I let. Him. Have. It! And, what I said, which will not be repeated here, was neither Christian nor civil or sane. All of the sudden it was the Costco clerk’s fault that my life was falling apart and I could no longer manage all the broken pieces. As I crawled shamefully into the car waiting outside, nursing a verging panic attack, I knew I had come to the end and must find my way back to center.
In that moment, I realized I was back where I had been years before, have picked up the chains again and am bound to a, life crammed full of all good things but absent of any margin, lacking any space to think, to pray, to dream or to deal with my pain. The truth is, when your life explodes, you do what you can to pack it all back where it went before, squeezing your hurts into shelves at the back of the closet that you promise yourself you will get to eventually. It just never seems the right time to unfold all of that, look at it and let it tear you up all over again, only that’s exactly what you have to do.
I know that peace and rest are inseparable graces so I have intentionally taken two months off the road and declined any meetings except those that cannot be avoided. Today I am healing but it is slow, deliberate work sewn by the hand of a slow God who will not rush what is necessary and redemptive. I swim, I read, I laugh on a boat filled with my best girlfriends. My days are filled with the baptism of fresh salty tears over what is lost and the hard work of sorting through what life looks like without him. I am once again, finding rhythms of home and hearth, of laundry and sacred words, watering tomato plants at dusk and hoping some new good thing will be born under the warmth of the fireflies.
If you find yourself having your own nervous breakdown in some deli in your town, I hope these words, my own confession, will find you where you are. Know that we are all in some way broken and in need of grace. My prayer is that you would know someone understands and that you would find your own way to Shabbat Shalom.
On the occasion of Lylah Rose Watkins' Sweet Sixteenth!
My beautiful and brilliant niece with hair the color of summer strawberries was five years old the first time I heard her recount the story of Lydia, “the lady with the purple cloths.” Blue eyes dancing, freckles sprinkled across her nose, she knew, she was aware that women were part of the story of God and she knew the story was her own. “Wise beyond her years , this one” we always said of her.
I was thinking of my niece Lylah, dreaming of home while in a summer intensive on Wisdom Literature at the University of Notre Dame; it was then and there that I first began to see her take form. I caught a glimpse of her silhouette as I read through the apocryphal books, those early writings that informed the evangelists as they wrote the gospels, undergirded Paul as he shepherded the fledgling congregations, and inspired the early church for centuries until they were removed in 1790 at the formation of the Protestant Canon. Books of poetry and prose, ancient literature, windows into the world of theocentric faith prior to the revelation of Jesus, in many instances the missing pieces of the so called “four hundred years of silence” that literally thundered with Persians and Greeks and Romans.
Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created;
she delivered him from his transgression,
and gave him strength to rule all things.
But when an unrighteous man departed from her in his anger,
he perished because in rage he killed his brother.
When the earth was flooded because of him, wisdom again saved it,
steering the righteous man by a paltry piece of wood…
There it was, staring back at me, the stories of the beginning, tales of the patriarchs but this time Wisdom saved, healed, rescued. Here Wisdom personified as in Proverbs, “she.”
She gave to holy people the reward of their labors;
she guided them along a marvelous way,
and became a shelter to them by day,
and a starry flame through the night.
She brought them over the Red Sea,
and led them through deep waters;
but she drowned their enemies,
and cast them up from the depths of the sea (Wisdom of Solomon10).
The word for wisdom in both Hebrew hokmah and Greek sophia are feminine such that the ancients then wrote of the Wisdom of God as a female. This is the Wisdom that emanates from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, the Wisdom that is Paul’s banner and proclamation in Corinthians, it is this Wisdom in John’s prologue that is God come to us in Jesus.
As you trace the lines, follow the grace filled pathways to discover Lady Wisdom you will find God is not always nor completely “He” rather there is a long biblical tradition that stretches from Old Testament to New, wherein the Wisdom of God is female, you will begin to see our story written right into the text.
Our little wisdom teacher turns 16 today and for all the gift she has been to us, I thank God for the gift of the Wisdom Lady standing tall and serene guiding us, reminding us we are God’s own.
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Part three of four part series, adapted from "A Faithful Witness: Essays Honoring David Sebastian's Heart and Mind for the Church."
Once a connection has been established, the preacher can move to relating God’s story to the congregation. This is perhaps the sweet spot for those who have labored over texts and word studies, who have spent long years in seminary and ministry preparation, who have dug out the truth of the scriptures and the white spaces in between for the good of the church. It is tempting then, for an equipped and ordained preacher to unload all her knowledge in one sermon at one place in time and preachers who fall prey to this temptation quickly lose their connection to the people they have stood forward to encourage.
The suggestion here is not that the study be negated or the methods of exegesis not applied, on the contrary, arduous study and the deep work of parsing ancient texts is a must, however, the preacher must distill this information, must evaluate what portions help illuminate the message, must decide which points help her tell God’s story to the church.
Consider for a moment some of the miraculous, fantastic, life changing stories of Hebrew and Christian scripture. Recall God wedding God’s self to Abraham in Genesis 15, remember Lot’s daughters, seducing their own father after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19. 30-38), God moving in to kill Moses on the way down to Egypt because Moses’ son had not yet been circumcised (Ex. 4.24-26), Jesus’ revolutionary claim that he would be found in the least of these (Matthew 25. 31-46), Mary of Migdol’s history altering role as first herald of the resurrection (John 20. 1-18), Paul’s gratitude to Prisca and Aquilla for “risking their necks” for the his life (Romans 16. 3,4).
The narratives of scripture are rich and potent and human such that our sermons should invite listeners into the struggle, allow them to get their hands dirty, to taste and smell the bread and wine, to hear the wind rustle in the silvery leaves of the olive tree and to feel the salt spray of the Mediterranean on their sun splotched cheeks. Likewise, preachers should draw from the deep well of inspired texts instead of moving instantly to draw spiritual platitudes in effort to domesticate ancient stories that are wild and free. When we relay the story of Jesus walking on the water, it seems ill informed to move to the application of Jesus’ ability to calm the stormy seas of life, rather, we should relay the power and supernatural wonder of the miraculous claim that Jesus—walked—on—the –water (Matt. 14.22,23).
Read Parts I and II below.