Communion in a Strip Club

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By Betsy Coughlin | Twitter: @BetsyCough

A_BetsyIt is one thing to behold the ocean from shore. To stand where toes sink with fossils of shells, whispering stories when you lift one to your ear—all their stories baptism stories, taken by the sea. And what are they whispering, I wonder, in their funny shell language? Each once held a creature, and somehow each creature figured out ways to form a shell. Tiny heads bits of flint, working hands specks of pepper. Even these slight, little lives with absolutely no say in the world are blessed to create, making homes to fit their bodies. Crouching inside, they brave waves and foam.

There are people on earth I’ve been wrong about. I wasn’t swimming their waves. I didn’t live inside their shells, shells built in desperation from bits of packed sand and weeds around them. We do that, you know. We build our shells from the stuff we can find—the stuff we can get our hands on, sometimes given to us without our asking.

I found myself in a strip club years ago. I carried a meal, and that was about all I carried. And a dancer asked me if I thought Jesus was insecure. I was afraid back then of not knowing, so afraid that words couldn’t take their time sputtering from my mouth. They fell like rain, pelting rain, before even I could decide if I believed them or not.

I quickly told her no. I told her that Jesus was entirely secure, hoping she wouldn’t try to take my Jesus away. And then somehow in the pink and purple lights that chased the dancers as they danced, over a warm meal and cut strawberries, this woman became a teacher: “When he’s in the garden, he’s sweating blood,” she says to me. “He’s asking God, begging God to take it. He knows it’s impossible. But he asks anyway.”

She pauses. She gives me room to speak. I have nothing to say.

“Or even more, when he’s hanging from a cross, some of the last words we hear from his lips are, ‘Why? Why God? Why have you forsaken me?’”

There are tears. The room is dark. The music loud, but silence louder. It’s a sacred pocket, a teaching moment.

“Don’t you see, Betsy,” she says my name, looking at me, looking into me. “Jesus was insecure.”

I felt him slipping—my Jesus. And then…

“But how beautiful is it to know that he was that human with us.”

And then her name was called, and she rose to dance her last dance before quitting the club that night.

“Why have you forsaken me?” Roll it around. Why. What a word. I can’t decide which one is more daring, the word “why” or the word “forsaken,” but what I do know is both dripped with blood from a man who taught us how to live. From a man who was indeed committed to this whole business of being human—committed to forming his own shell and bracing the foam and the oceans deep. A man a dancer at a strip club helped me know deeper and truer.

I walked out of that club with a dissipated agenda. And it has remained this way. Today, there are dancers I call friends: mothers and daughters and sisters and partners whose waves I haven’t known. And I’ve asked myself time and again, is a meal enough?

 Standing above, we look down at the tops of people’s heads, but sitting alongside, we see into their eyes. And then there—right there in smiles and laughter and tears and old wounds and new wounds and stories about bad hair days and outrageous things their children say, which is most of why they’re working as hard and as laborsome as they are, and in the trust, and in the fears, there—right there—is the face of God, the image of God, and she bears it uniquely and beautifully, but it can only be seen from sitting alongside.

These women we love, myself alongside a small cluster of friends, may never leave. For some it’s because drugs are getting the last word every day, for others it’s a lack of education and a dire need to feed one’s children. But we will have communion in a strip club.

Next to a stage we have chosen not to compete with, we will spread out casseroles and roasted vegetables and fresh rolls and caesar salad. We will sup over pies and spaghetti that remind many of family reunions and Sunday lunch after church.

Because we believe the incarnational love of God is passed through a shared meal.

Because a bridge cannot be built from one side.

It is one thing, indeed, to behold the ocean from shore. It is another thing entirely to behold the ocean from its depth. Walking toward the foam, amongst empty shells, abandoned homes, feeling the sand squish between our toes is something else from flailing beneath the surface of the sea, not knowing which way is up or which way is down. All that’s seen is light—a cloudy sun struggling to find us in the black waters. All that’s heard is the ticking clock we carry in our souls, though we scarcely think of it. Perspective. The truth of it is we live our lives from both. Never did I think my lifeblood would run through strip clubs.

None of us did.

The waves had other ideas.

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About Betsy:

BetsyBetsy is a little girl and an old soul with a fondness for all things sweet potato. A Tennessee native scuttling through Boston, Massachusetts pursuing a Masters in Divinity. Learning to pay attention to God in the daily grit of human life while writing tiny awakenings along her strolls. She blogs at heavens2betsyc.wordpress.com.

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Image credit: Sarah Northway

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  • http://livingingraceland.me Debby Hudson

    The waves indeed have other ideas, Betsy. A stirring post. Thank you.

    • Betsy

      Thank you for such kind words, Debby! The writing I love is the writing that stirs-that word runs deep for me.

  • Saskia Wishart

    This is stunning Betsy. Really and truly powerful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Betsy

      Why thank you, Saskia. I’m so very glad this piece moved you today; the women I’ve crossed paths with in clubs have moved me so-glad they’ve found their way here for you to read. :)

  • Bev Murrill

    WOH! I am undone! Gosh what a writer you are! This is so deep, like your ocean, and so strong, like the woman you write about. Fantastic!

    • Betsy

      Oh my word, many ‘thank yous’ for this. I am a little writer in a big ocean trying to figure it all out, haha. Thank you for seeing goodness here.

      • Bev Murrill

        It doesn’t take any talent on my part to see the bloomin’ obvious!

  • cjdeboer

    So amazing, Betsy. So much of this speaks to me — from standing alongside rather than above, to finding God’s image in a strip club. What a beautiful piece — thank you!

    • http://www.michaelaevanow.com/ Michaela Evanow

      Yes, exactly what Claire said! It is such a wonderful piece Betsy! I’m so thrilled you shared your words with us here. Stunning.

      • Betsy

        :) You are so kind, Michaela. Thank you for your words. I couldn’t think of a more poignant space to share this work than SheLoves.

    • Betsy

      I’m touched this spoke to you because these women speak to me so deeply time after time. I can only capture a sliver; thanks for seeing it.

  • pastordt

    What a great story – and a beautiful lesson. God shows up in the most surprising places! Thanks for having eyes to see, Betsy.

    • Betsy

      Indeed God does. Paying attention shows me again and again that God is in the places I stumble into. I’m so touched you find this beautiful.

  • Bethany Olsen

    Gorgeous writing, Betsy. I’ve been chewing on this post since I first read it, and I’m looking forward to reading more of what you have to say. Thank you for your insightful words.

    • Betsy

      Hi Bethany! Oh gee thank you! Glad this brief peek into a club found its way to your soul today. Thank YOU for taking time to tell me so.

  • Erin Wilson

    So many layers of truth here…there are probably 20 different pieces of story here that could be unpacked more. But this from your opening paragraph “all their stories baptism stories”… this is one of the most powerful lines I’ve read. I will revisit this many times.

  • http://www.twitter.com/teenbug Tina Francis/ @teenbug

    ““But how beautiful is it to know that he was that human with us.”

    *big sigh*

    I love this, “But there’s a miracle, simple and dear, in learning to sit alongside rather than stand above.” I’m learning how to do this better. Slow and steady.

    These days I’m saying: I don’t know, I’m so sorry, I’m here for you if you need me, how can I help?

    “Because a bridge cannot be built from one side.”

    So so beautiful, Betsy! Love having you here on SheLoves! xoxox

  • Chris

    Nice post, and i agree with your perspective of sitting alongside, loving our neighbors,etc. When we give ourselves to God he will take us wonderful places we never imagined! I would suggest however, that if Jesus was insecure he would have never been on that cross in the first place. He was secure in his faith in God completely – during that moment, and possibly beyond that until his resurrection, he was taking on the full weight of human sin throughout all history and experiencing it’s consequences as well. He was taking not only the sins of you and me, but of Hitler, Stalin, and every sick twisted person who has ever lived, experiencing them all, yet he had to – to be able to take his place as king and have the authority to forgive those sins. He knew what he had to do and he obeyed to the point of death so that we could live.

    I sometimes reflect that just like the scriptures say that no mind has conceived what wonders God has in store for those who love him, likewise, no mind has conceived of the terror, suffering and pain he battled through in that moment – anyone who could understand that in it’s totality would instantly drop to the floor and give Jesus their heart and soul out of their gratitude for the magnitude of what he had done. I know when I thought of Jesus just experiencing, taking on my own sins, that was enough for me to fall to the floor in tears.

    He knew why, and that’s why he did what he did. He is the hero of the entire human race.