Looking around furtively before entering the dimly lit building, I worried I might be spotted going in. My nervousness was tinged with excitement, my courage bolstered because I was not alone. Joined by a noisy gaggle of boisterous friends, all of us were thirsty for the same thing. Inside, three small stages served as centrepieces, each one boasting a shiny pole. In a shadowy corner, a VIPs only section was set aside for semi-private lap dances; a bargain, it said, for just £10 a song, free drink included.
A couple of us headed for the dancers’ dressing room. I inhaled the sickly, perfume-thick air, and glanced at the family snapshots that festooned a few locker doors. Some pole dancers have children, and they’re working hard to feed them. Languishing in the corner was a chaotic pile of shoes, with heels high enough to give you altitude sickness. One of the shoes seemed so very small. We fell silent, momentarily ashamed of our maleness.
We walked back to the main performance area. Threadbare, upholstered chairs were scattered around, black with sweat, or worse. Grime seemed to permeate the pores of the place. Gathering on the dance floor, we decided: it was time for action.
Ours was a gang of Christian leaders. We were invited to tour the club, out of hours, by the co-owner. A new Christian, he’d decided that this cash cow of his needed to die; perhaps, he hoped, to make way for a new church to gather there. His dream is that the club could become a safe place, a house to show and tell good news that another love is on offer, one that gives and doesn’t grab.
Thirty minutes later, fledgling plans hatched and urgent prayers prayed, we emerged back into the sunlight once more. And we all knew that we would never be quite the same again.
Because we visited when the club was closed and otherwise deserted, we didn’t meet a dancer or a client. But those tiny, sparkly shoes gave silent testimony. Those little feet had once been even smaller, perhaps walking barefoot, soles naked through grass and unashamed, a young child, carefree.
And back in that dank gloom, a lie was exposed. Here, where dancers lose their clothes, a deceptive emperor shed his clothes too. Illicit sex disguises itself, tarts itself up with grand, adult sophistication. It whispers exotic promises, baits the hook with allure. But it’s all a tawdry sham. Far from a bargain, the £10 dance is actually the worst possible deal, for the lap dancer as well as her wide-eyed ‘very important person,’ the client.
Personhood is eroded in their hollow transaction as both are used and becomes users ? he objectifies her for a thrill, she sees him as just another pathetic cash source. In the grubby shadows, the thin veneer of glamour was peeled away to reveal the festering truth: when people become commodities, ugliness reigns. It’s purity that’s truly gorgeous, faithfulness that’s the real stunner.
Whatever hints of holiness we have about us, they are only ours because of grace
Our car was quiet on the ride home. Perhaps we all knew the sobering truth. Given the right set of circumstances, or a moment of temptation, we are human beings, well able to pull up a chair beside that fetid stage. Whatever hints of holiness we have about us, they are only ours because of grace. Fastidious about the dirt we see in others, we’re slow to see the grunge in us. If the club is to become a beacon, those who serve there will go as fellow broken, fragile souls, still under construction, rather than holier-than-thous on a pious mission for God.
We’re planning many more trips back to the club, hungry to see despair kicked out by a bouncer called hope. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll shape one of those brassy poles into a cross ? a symbol of degradation becoming a sign of death, but then resurrection. If God will help us, we can’t stay away.
Because it’s time. It’s showtime.