And one more video.
While I was out in California to talk at Biola, I also spoke with Father Josiah Trenham, the pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside. Here’s the interview (with a rather intense-looking freeze frame to start, unfortunately!):
I spoke in a chapel service at Biola University last month on the themes of gay experience, Christian faith, and spiritual friendship. Here is the video:
I gave a very similar talk at Calvin College the week before, and I’m still working on trying to refine this and figure out exactly how I want to talk about these things. If you have any feedback for me, I’m all ears!
A couple of the commenters on my last post have pointed out that this line from Chris Roberts—“Classic, orthodox celibates are the adopted aunts and uncles of a generous, hospitable household”—could be taken as implying a one-sided notion of celibacy, whereby straight people condescend to bestow pity on gay people. Here’s one commenter: “Why are you assuming that a generous, hospitable household would be populated by heterosexuals?” And here’s another, much more pointed one: “In other words, take the short stick that is your lot in life gay person, and enjoy the charity of the straight people you idolize.” I see how Chris’ words could be misconstrued along these lines, but I want to respond by sharing two anecdotes.
The first is from last weekend, when I spoke with Chris face to face about these matters. Over breakfast one morning, I made a comment to this effect: “It always encourages me when I meet straight people who care so deeply about the flourishing of gay people in the church, especially when there’s no obvious reason why they would have to care.” I was thinking of people like—well, people like Chris. People who aren’t gay themselves, who don’t have any gay family members, and who could easily choose to “pass” on making this “their issue.” They wouldn’t have to be burdened with it if they didn’t want to. And yet they do care. They go out of their way to seek solidarity with people like me. They look for opportunities to express and deepen the unity between us.
Later in the day, though, Chris circled back to that breakfast conversation and gently tried to correct or qualify the gratitude I’d expressed. Here’s what he said (in so many words): “I don’t view my concern for gay and lesbian Christians as somehow removed from my experience. I don’t think I’m making some special sacrifice to care about something that doesn’t involve me. Rather, I think I need your pursuit of chastity to remind me of my own need for chastity. And your faithfulness is reinforced and bound up with mine.” There is “solidarity amongst the many ways of patiently cultivating chastity.”
I’m just back from a studium with a brilliant group of (largely) gay Catholics (about which I’ll say more later—watch this space, as they say), and one of the papers featured a paragraph that might be considerably modified in its final published version. Not wanting to lose the original, I asked the author—Christopher Roberts, whose book you should read!—if I could post it here at Spiritual Friendship, and he agreed. Here’s what he wrote about singleness and celibacy:
If we follow the tradition’s logic, celibacy cannot be a synonym for singleness. Classic, orthodox celibacy is not a solitary priest rattling around in an oversized rectory, or an isolated yuppie in a high rise apartment building a profile on an internet dating site, or a gay person toughing it out solo at Christmastime. All these are modern day tragedies, the kind of things which deserve compassion but which cannot be normative. Classic, orthodox celibacy is rather a way of enabling us to be present to one another, free of concupiscence and free of the pressures arising when we audition for mates—one might even call it a gratuitous presence. Classic, orthodox celibacy is Augustine and his friends forming reading groups and monasteries after their joint conversion. Classic, orthodox celibacy is Augustine insisting that virgins cannot ground their vocation in any disdain for marriage, but rather base their vocation in longing for the heavenly social life. Classic, orthodox celibates are the adopted aunts and uncles of a generous, hospitable household, or the adults in a parish who collaborate in works of mercy and the catechesis of children who aren’t theirs. Classic, orthodox celibates are the monks, nuns, and consecrated laity whose continence and discipline sets them free for high adventure in contemplation or service.
This, it seems to me, is exactly what I need to hear, even if (at present) I haven’t discerned a call to join a religious order.
Via Helen Rittelmeyer on Twitter, here is a lovely post by Brooke Conti on what we miss when we miss friendships from our younger days:
When I was in my twenties, I was enmeshed in my friends’ lives in ways that went beyond our constant phone calls. We actually lived with each other, even after college, and even after most of us had gotten our own apartments. If we lived in different cities, we’d visit each other for long weekends—and if we lived in the same city, we’d crash at each others’ places when it got too late to go home for the night. We’d sleep in the same room, use the same bathroom, make breakfast together. Or we’d hang out at each others’ places for hours as afternoon turned into evening, watching bad t.v., reading magazines, drinking a bottle of wine and doing our makeup as we tried to decide what to do with the night.
Now we’re busier, with work and other things. Almost all of us are partnered and half of us have kids, and spending large blocks of time together is a trickier proposition. Even when Cosimo and I stay overnight with friends, it’s usually just one night (if we’re traveling), or there’s some event we’re all going to (reunion, sporting event), so the rhythms aren’t those of real life.
But over the past year, I’ve stayed for two or three nights, just by myself, with four or five different friends (and their partners and kids, if they have ’em), some of whom I’d never before seen in pyjamas, or whose kitchens I’ve never experienced flooded with early-morning sunlight.
I was in California last week to speak at Biola University about spiritual friendship (I’ll post a link to the video when it becomes available), and I got to spend a lot of good time with a friend I’ve known since college days, named Chris. As we were talking one night, Chris pulled out a passage from a sermon by the twentieth-century German theologian Helmut Thielicke that struck me as unusually powerful:
I once knew a very old married couple who radiated a tremendous happiness. The wife especially, who was almost unable to move because of old age and illness and in whose kind old face the joys and sufferings of many years had etched a hundred runes, was filled with such gratitude for life that I was touched to the quick. Involuntarily I asked myself what could possibly be the source of this kindly old person’s radiance. Otherwise they were very common people and their room indicated only the most modest comfort. But suddenly I knew where it all came from, for I saw these two speaking to each other and their eyes hanging upon each other. All at once it became clear to me that this woman was dearly loved. And it was as if she were like a stone that has been lying in the sun for years and years, absorbing all its radiant warmth, and now was reflecting back cheerfulness and warmth and serenity.
Let me express it this way. It was not because she was this kind of a cheerful and pleasant person that she was loved by her husband all those years. It was probably the other way around. Because she was so loved, she became the person I now saw before me.
This thought continued to pursue me and the more it pursued me the more it lost all its merely edifying and sentimental features, until finally they were gone altogether. For if this is true, then I surely must come to the following conclusion. If my life partner or my friend or just people generally often seem to be so strange and I ask myself: “Have I made the right marriage, the right friendship; is this particular person really the one who is suited to me?”—then I cannot answer this question in the style of a neutral diagnosis which would list the reasons for and against. For what happens then is that the question turns back upon myself, and then it reads: “Have I perhaps bestowed too little love upon this other person, that he has become so cold and empty? Have I perhaps caused him to become what perhaps he really has become? The other person, whom God has joined to me, is never what he is apart from me. He is not only bone of my bone; he is also boredom of my boredom and lovelessness of my lovelessness.”
Andrew Sullivan points to an unenthusiastic review by Stuart Kelly of A. C. Grayling’s new book on friendship, which just arrived in my mailbox and which I’m looking forward to perusing. In particular, Sullivan highlights Kelly’s criticism that Grayling doesn’t give enough credence to the way Christianity changed the shape of the classical virtue of friendship:
Grayling being a notable anti-theist, it is no surprise that he treats Christian views of friendship as an opportunity to take a few pot-shots at some large fish in a particularly small barrel. By doing so, he misses the chance to comment on a radical difference. In Cicero, for example, there is a vexed discussion of whether or not it is possible to be a true friend to someone who holds different political or ethical beliefs. The idea of treating people as if they were friends already seems to me to be a more profound shift in the concept than Grayling admits. He may have some fun with the idea that the infinite, self-sufficient deity should require being chums with sinners, but it is at the expense of realising that in religious ethics there is the very openness that he wishes for in terms of contemporary secular friendship. He praises the notion that “children in kindergarten will be unconsciously friends with anyone at all, of any persuasion, background, colour, faith or political family”. That one might consciously choose to befriend despite difference seems to me to be a religious rather than a philosophical proposition. The “as if” (treating people as if they were friends) is a leap of faith, not a cold piece of ratiocination.
A friend sent me an email this week with the text of a homily from several years ago by Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household, on friendship between men and women. The text is from Luke 10, on Jesus’ relationship with Mary and Martha. After noting the usual exegesis—that the passage is about the active and contemplative lives—Fr. Cantalamessa goes in a different direction:
I think, however, that the more evident theme is that of friendship. “Jesus loved Martha, together with her sister and Lazarus,” we read in John’s Gospel (11:5).
When they bring him the news of Lazarus’ death he says to his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I am going to wake him up” (John11:11).
Faced with the sorrow of the two sisters he also breaks down and weeps, so much so that those who are present exclaim: “See how much he loved him!” (John 11:13).
It is wonderful and consoling to know that Jesus knew and cultivated that sentiment that is so beautiful and precious for us men—friendship…
Last week I spoke at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My talks were part of an ongoing series of Faith and Sexuality events they’re hosting, and it quickly became apparent that the campus is having a much deeper and more nuanced discussion of these matters than I’ve seen in similar places, which was encouraging. It was a wonderful visit. Here’s one student, Ryan Struyk, with his take on the kinds of conversations we had, and here’s the campus newspaper report on my talks.
Video recordings of the talks are also available at Calvin’s website. The first one was titled “Between Presumption and Despair: Practicing the Virtue of Hope as a Celibate Gay Christian,” and the second was called “Spiritual Friendship: A Gay Christian Perspective.” As always with this sort of thing, I immediately noticed some places where I wished I’d put things differently, and places where I wished I’d significantly expanded on what I was attempting to say. (It’s just really hard to talk about these themes in a way that acknowledges both unanswered questions and a certain confidence in Scripture and the Christian tradition, both personal and communal pain and joy, both ongoing tension and reliable grace. I am coming to believe that the book I’m working on will only be satisfying—to me, at least—if I can find a way to write well, to write hopefully but also unflinchingly, about all the hardships of friendship, including jealousy, betrayal, frustrated longing, etc.)
A quote from a very good book I’m rereading at the moment, Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection by Beth Felker Jones:
We love one another through the passions—we are moved to the good by the sensibility of the body. When we misconstrue the good, the passions are part of the body’s disorder. Rightly, however, desire itself is to and for God. One way we are graciously permitted to seek Christ is through the love, desire, and joy we have for one another. Thus our passionate love for each other, not only that love narrowly conceived as sexual, is an aspect of our sanctification out of the reach of the disembodied soul. Ordered desire rightly directs us to the love of God. Our sensible delight in one another rightly orders us to the Creator. [Eugene] Rogers reminds us that “it is through the body that the neighbor, and through the neighbor Christ, by the Spirit, does not leave human beings alone.” We know and love God through the available bodies of other human creatures. So, we need to be available to one another very much. It is in Christian community that we are shaped into lovers of God and neighbor, “for knowledge begins from creatures, tends to God, and love begins with God as the last end, and passes on to creatures.” We are shaped in our love through the ecclesial body. The desires of psychosomatic creatures are ordered only through their bodies. With the Psalmist, our flesh faints for God. Desire is taken up for and ordered to God, and our bodies long, finally, for our Redeemer.