Sexuality & Holy Longing – 1

In the Human Sexuality course this summer we are reading Lisa Graham McMinn’s book, Sexuality and Holy Longing: Embracing Intimacy in a Broken World. The first chapter is titled “Rites of Passage.” McMinn discusses markers that communicate a “coming of age” or in some way convey that an adolescent reaches maturity. She distinguishes between physical markers for females reaching womanhood (e.g., menstruation) and competence or skill as a marker for males reaching manhood.


McMinn invites parents to think about being intentional in this area – crafting rites of passages that convey central beliefs, values, skills.


For reflection: What are some current rites of passage in our culture/subculture? What makes a specific rite of passage meaningful in our culture?  




10 thoughts on “Sexuality & Holy Longing – 1

  1. I have known of moms and dads that create special mother-daughter or father-son events to prepare their children for puberty. The guys might camp out, do some whitewater rafting, etc, while the girls might do some shopping and have a night away from the men. I think it’s a neat idea and helpful for breaking the ice for those who are uncomfortable or are unsure about how to address the issue.

    Having grown up in an environment that made me feel like any mention of sexuality (even Biblical sexuality) was shameful, I certainly see the need for crafting rites of passage. I feel like God has used my upbringing to engender curiosity within me about the broad field of human sexuality.

  2. In reflecting on this question, I’m saddened to realize that there aren’t really universal rites of passage within our culture. The only examples I can think of are, as Seth mentioned, when parents come up with special activities or events to mark puberty or have “the talk” with their children. Many cultures (non-Western, I suppose) do have rites of passage, things you’re allowed to do once you’re an adult, etc. For many of us, based on our comments in class, these things go by with hardly a ripple. Rather than being able to comment on what rites of passage already exist, I’m challenged to think about what special markers I will want to institute in my children’s lives someday.

    Regarding what makes a rite of passage special, I think it is about the attention paid to a certain phase of life, and the celebration of a transition to a new phase of life. This is what is lacking in our culture. Many parents toss a book at their child and/or have a brief, awkward conversation about puberty/sex, or find out after the fact that their child has started puberty. How much better would it be for a child to be treated as though they are becoming a man or woman, rather than led to believe that strange things are happening to their body and it’s ok, but rather taboo to talk about. I would love to see this kind of attitude become more widespread in our culture, particularly among Christians.

  3. A year or so ago I attended a rite of passage for a young man, age 13, whose parents had many people in the community join in ushering him into the responsibilities of young adulthood. They read scripture and prayed for him and had different men and women talk to the group and to him about what it means to move into this next stage of his life. They indicated it was tied to both Christian and African traditions.

  4. When I consider what rites of passage I remember occurring as I grew up I think of very culturally specific ones. For example, I remember that turning sixteen was a huge deal. Each trip to the DMV was anticipated and successful outcome was prepared for in conjunction with my whole family. Being able to drive and the steps to get there showed a level of maturity and new found freedom that was celebrated in my family and in the subculture in my area. In the Christian culture aging out of the group of kids into the adult service is celebrated in different ways by denomination but could certainly be considered a rite of passage into the adulthood. Churches see the shift of joining the adult service as meaningful since it grants the new adult a level of wisdom that they are then able to prove through devotion and leadership within the church culture. The commonalities I see in most rite of passage are a group of people focusing on an individual and a coming together in a sense of celebration.

  5. Rites of passage are meaningful because there is an intentional investment made in another person. The change or transition is celebrated and blessed by others. Wisdom and support are passed on to another in the younger generation. I get a sense that there is a sense of support and empowerment associated with the transition.
    While reflecting on rites of passage in our culture, it is challenging to identify consistent rites of passage in all subcultures. Generally speaking, high school graduation, marriage, and retirement are typical celebrations that may include elements of a “rite of passage.” In my own subculture, high school graduation is often celebrated with an “open house” (or graduation party) where family and friends bring cards with encouragement for the graduate. It is a celebration of one season ending (high school) and another season beginning (further education, military service, or seeking employment). Similarly, retirement is sometimes celebrated to mark the transition from a career to retirement.
    I once attended a wedding shower for a newly married couple that celebrated their passage from being single into marriage. As part of this celebration, there was a time when the married guests shared advice with the new couple about marriage. While this is not a typical part of wedding showers in my subculture, this is one example that I have witnessed. This “rite of passage” included a celebration of the couple and wisdom passed on from one generation to the next. This “rite of passage” was meaningful due to the intentionality of blessing the new couple, passing on wisdom, and celebrating this new step in life.

  6. One of my friends is gay and often shares with me the struggles he experiences as a homosexual male. One thing I remember is that when he “came out,’ it was a very big deal. It was a very important time period for him. Those who were already out were very supportive of him. He also bought a ring for himself which he refers to as his, “coming out ring.” This ring reminds him of his accomplishment as it required courage and perhaps it also reminds him of the subculture to which is belongs. It occurred to me that coming out in his subculture is a rite of passage. I have noticed that a good chunk of books in the homosexual section of the book store are about experience of coming out. This experience is significant for this subculture.
    I think that coming out for my friend was a positive experience that ushered in a sense of belonging in his subculture as it was met with support and additional friendship. Finding the courage to come out may also be a part of earning that rite of passage.

  7. It’s unfortunate, but I think a prominent rite of passage for men in our culture is sex. Once you’ve had sex you are really a man. This mentality can be seen all over the media, and no where more explicitly than in the movie “American Pie”. For those of you unfamiliar with it, that movie is all about 4 high-school seniors trying to get laid before they graduate. Implicit in the movie is the idea that getting laid will be what really makes them men, more so than their graduation. Unfortunately culturally iconic movies like this have a large influence in both simplifying and defining our culture.

    I also agree with many of the other rites of passage identified by the other posts here. Even though McMinn belittles many of the age-related privledges, such as getting a drivers license, voting or drinking, I think these things do carry a certain level of signifigance for many people in modern society, and some families have their own traditions surrounding these milestones.

  8. What stands out to me so far is the great diversity witnessed in rites of passage today, and how some events can be experienced as significant to some individuals but not to others. This suggests to me that there is little cultural consensus as to what counts as a rite of passage.

    The examples Tiffany shared are interesting and often intentional for people. I suspect that the couple at the wedding shower appreciated the opportunity to hear from others.

  9. Sarah, I think that is an important rite of passage for some persons. Coming out is often referenced in various models of sexual identity development as a significant milestone event.

  10. To an extent, all societies are involved in rites of passages. In Nigeria, there are various rites of passage that are socially accepted in the community. They signify the growth from childhood to adolescent hood through to adulthood. For females, most of the markers experienced were physical. From all accounts, menses is an important marker in the life of a girl because it also signifies the beginning of womanhood. It was brought to a girl’s attention that the age that could physically make her a mother was then. At the age of sixteen, adolescents were considered old enough to be in college even though it was not expected that they would cater fully for themselves.
    For males, it was more on skills level. Most times, it had to do with the boy helping his father out in the profession of choice. It was a time to have clear goals for future career aspirations. Rites of passage influence the physical, mental, social, and psychological health of an individual and how these rites of passage are dealt with greatly determine overall success and empowerment of an individual later on it life. When rites of passages are not properly identified, taught and celebrated it inevitably causes greater challenges in the future of the individuals.

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