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body beautiful

body beautiful

“I want to help show my people how beautiful they are. I want to hold up the mirror to my audience that says this is the way people can be, this is how open people can be.” ~Alvin Ailey

Mr. Ailey certainly accomplished this goal with me. I’m sure that I saw his dancers perform in my youth, but witnessing their beauty and talent when I chaperoned a field trip for my daughter’s grade-school class was like seeing them for the first time. That’s the performance that’s burned into my brain.

“I want to help show my people how beautiful they are.”

ailey dancers

Ailey Dancers - Matthew Rushing and Linda Celeste Sims. Photo by Andrew Eccles

At that time I’d begun to dance at church, a ministry that I never thought I’d ever be a part of – LOL! I’ve always loved to dance at parties and at home – but as a child I didn’t have much rhythm. Even as I developed rhythm growing up I couldn’t quite always get the more complicated, trendy moves. Yet, I always loved to dance! So, at church, I was grateful for the development of a prophetic movement ministry, which emphasized conveying a message through movement rather than specific steps that I would forget because I would get caught up in the music or lose count of the beats. Not to mention, even in my late 20s/early 30s, my body needed a LOT of work to stretch and reach like our traditional liturgical dancers.

Then the fateful day arrived – an Easter Sunday morning. A liturgical dancer had an emergency or had become ill or something that caused her absence. She and I were about the same size and at rehearsal on Easter Saturday I was summoned to take her place. What?!? The leader assured me the movements were simple. Yeah, right. She insisted that they had to have the exact number of dancers with whom they’d practiced. Okaaaay.  Well, it was a lifelong dream and here was my chance . . ., but, “Y’all do remember I’m the one who spun around and collided with the tithing box, right?” The leader said, “Just follow me.”

“I want to hold up the mirror to my audience that says this is the way people can be, this is how open people can be.”

By the end of four Easter Services I was exhausted (no collisions with sacred items – or people) and very fulfilled – I did it! I did not, however, join the traditional liturgical group. I figured that G~d had granted me some level of grace in a pinch. I didn’t want to press it! 😉 Then came the day that I sat in the audience of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre watching Mr. Ailey’s dance company, totally enraptured by more than the grace of their movements, but by the exquisite beauty of their bodies. And I remembered all the layers I had to wear on Easter, covering up my very beauty – so as not to offend in the house of G~d. I actually grieved that the beauty I saw on the Fox stage was banned from the pulpit. “That’s not right,” I determined.

It’s about more than skin. It’s about freedom and openness, the kinds of fruits of the Spirit (no, not explicitly the ones listed in Gal. 5:22-23) that our faith/belief systems are truly about at their core. After I’d been dancing awhile with my prophetic movement group, I’d experienced incredible patience – rehearsal after rehearsal – from our own leader and other dancers. I tended to be the last one to get our choreography, as simple and flowing as it was. We also genuinely celebrated each other’s contributions to the ministry. And I learned to depend on others, something that’s not easy for me to do. These fruits began to spill over into the rest of my life. I grew in confidence to speak my mind when my thoughts disagreed with the majority or my truth might hurt another’s feelings. I reclaimed a freedom of expression that I’d allowed outside opinions to rip-off.

“Dance is fuel for the soul. I would feel lost without dance. When I found dance, I found myself.”~Antonio Douthit, Ailey dancer

dance is for the soul ailey dancer quote

Ailey Dancer Antonio Douthit. Photo by Andrew Eccles.

The highlight for me this Easter (2012) was seeing a woman I’d know in years past help lead a dance celebration, on stage! The look on her face of pure, gleeful joy was contagious – no one was having a better time this day than she! YES!!! Also, it was obvious that she’d shed some pounds from the last time I’d seen her. Maybe her leg didn’t extend like some of the others, but she was out there AND she was front and center. FABULOUS!!! By the way, all of the dancers had on the same body-fitting pants despite their sizes – yea! – which reminds me that I also celebrate the Dove soap commercials. This campaign reclaims “real beauty” from the snares of male-dominated marketing that only regards certain body types as acceptable for promoting brands, products and services.


And dance with it. By the way, today, my dance of choice is salsa ;-).

© 2012 candi dugas, llc

spiritual but not religious

Who knew that sex and sexuality figure so prominently in our age-old debates about spirituality and religion? Just how prominently I’ve only recently begun to grasp. I’ve always known about the rules and laws supposedly based on scripture and how, if obeyed, they will lead to salvation and righteousness. Never throughout most of my life, though, did I ever clearly connect the use of sex and sexuality as weapons of oppression and marginalization. I lived in a trap that too many of us who are oppressed and marginalized get tricked into. Without any kind of blatant incident of discrimination, we who have some measure of privilege tend to identify with the 1% through that bit of privilege. From this false sense of likeness we then act as if we are the 1%. Worse than that, we can mistreat the 99% in worse ways than the actual 1% treat us.

This phenomenon helps explain how women can in any way participate in perpetuating ideologies and theologies that oppress other women. Wow. How can we take something so deeply organic to our very being as sex and sexuality and use it against other people? No wonder great numbers of us are fleeing religion.

Many of my colleagues cringe at this phrase, “spiritual, but not religious,” not understanding  fully, I don’t think, what this declaration means. Too many clergy who have given up a lot – more financially lucrative incomes, personal privacy, lives filled with less stress, etc. – to fulfill G~d’s call on their lives cannot fathom what it means to separate their spirituality from their rituals and doctrine, or their religion. (Please see sexNspirit’s “Welcome” post for definitions.) This is where we have one disconnect between leadership and parishioners. What’s interesting is that those of us focused on helping the people develop their own spiritual lives are actually the cause of the disconnect. The more people develop their own spiritual practices and grow in this way, the more they begin to see for themselves what my spiritual brother, Trig, calls a “farce” in his video below, “Why I Am No Longer Christian.” In the end, he dares, “[G~d’s] ‘Beloved Community’ has no divisions. It’s time to walk away from anything that says it does.”

 Most painful for me is hearing the stories of disappointment and outright abuse experienced by people who trust the Church to re-present G~d. One of the women interviewed for my D.Min. thesis, Rain, sums up well what can precede a person choosing spirituality over religion. “I’ve discovered that much of what they [church leaders] told me simply isn’t true.” Do we remain religious and obedient, which is better than sacrifice, right? Or do we continue on a path of truth that Yeshua (Jesus) proclaims will lead to freedom? Ah, and if that truthful path leads to freedom, then that means the religious, obedience-demanding institutional path leads to . . . bondage. Hmmmm . . .

Unlike Trig, I’ll still call myself a Christian, only ‘cause we haven’t found a good succinct descriptor to replace it. I’ll also call myself a “disciple of Yeshua.” And that is who I am, but it’s a bit to articulate well. Yet like Trig, my view of the Church changed drastically the more involved I became in ministry. Some of my colleagues can dismiss the antics that only a few witness. I cannot. Then when I worked at non-faith based nonprofit I served alongside some very generous, kind-hearted folks who didn’t proclaim Yeshua as their savior, but they were doing more of the work of Yeshua than many, many congregations. I still don’t need any more proof than that to convince me it is better to be spiritual than religious.

It is through spirituality that I can transcend my gender and my race and my economic status to know my true worth as one of G~d’s creations. Christian religion tells me otherwise, at least the westernized, hierarchical Protestant version that currently influences much of this country’s rules, laws, and discourse. Folks who are not heterosexually male, not white and not of substantial financial means sure do catch hell here. If my connection to G~d depended on these societal values, I would truly have a keyhole limited relationship with our Creator, just barely peeking through to what’s possible for our lives.

Obviously, lately I’ve been quite aware of my gender, with all the ridiculous notions about women that are floating to the surface. While it is certainly fun and interesting to include sex and sexuality in my work, never before a year or so ago did I ever think that it would become one of the areas I study deeply. Once I learned from some of the women with whom I’ve worked that sex is used as such a weapon against their happiness, against their leading fulfilling lives, I had to take it on. Because ultimately my call is about people leading better lives; freedom is a part of that betterment. I am so grateful that we’re not alone in this quest! Certainly, we can see again that it is time to make some more progress toward just one aspect of equality and true righteousness. Spirituality will help us do this. Religion? Not so much.

© 2012 candi dugas, llc


Welcome to sexNspirit!

It’s not just talking about sex – it’s about:

  • the full consideration of sexuality
  • sexual freedom for women of faith
  • considering the integration of sexuality and spirituality in a safe space
  • creating enough safe space to question what we’ve always been told
  • being safe in our wondering about thoughts we may not speak out loud in our normal settings

If you’d like your participation here to be anonymous to the public, please create an anonymous user name. Only I will see your email address. However, you may also use/create an email address other than the one you use frequently to further protect your identity.

A few working definitions:

  • “‘[Sexuality] is who we are as body-selves who experience the emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual need for intimate communion – human and divine’ (i.e., consideration of a phenomenon beyond simple physical sexual intercourse.)
  • Spirituality is a person’s fluid, intangible intimate interaction with her Deity. ‘Faith’s original impulse and essence . . ., raw encounters with the divine.’ Spirituality ‘conveys process [and] depth . . . that ebb and flow with the development of individuals’ (e.g., extemporaneous prayer time, leaving participation in rituals such as holy communion, etc. with meaning and/or a sense of particular engagement/connection with her Deity, etc.).
  • For the purposes of this [blog], religion is ‘thin’ spirituality. That is, it is a reduction of the ‘essence’ of a person’s faith to a “formula.” Or it is a reduction to superficial ‘repetitive . . . engagement[s].’ (i.e., recitations of learned prayers, participation in rituals such as holy communion, etc. without meaning and/or engagement, connection, etc.)

~ candi dugas, Who Told You that You Were Naked?

Thank YOU for joining us!

(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc

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