Recently, both Ron Belgau and Melinda Selmys have written here on Spiritual Friendship about Joseph Sciambra’s book Swallowed by Satan and the hubbub it has caused amongst conservative commentators. In the book, Sciambra recounts his slow descent from teenage Playboy consumer to gay Satanist and sado-masochistic porn star who dabbles in Neo-Nazi rituals. Before undergoing a Christian conversion experience at the end of the book, Sciambra enjoys an astonishing variety of sexual liasons that I will not discuss in detail here. Conservatives have seized gleefully on Sciambra’s narrative as an expose of the sordid reality behind the “gay agenda.” Sciambra has featured on LifeSiteNews and on Bryan Fischer’s show. The message from the Religious Right is that homosexuals are out to recruit your children into the gay lifestyle—a never-ending carnival of witchcraft, Nazism, and sex with goat-headed men (you don’t want to know more, trust me).
I am not sure Sciambra is doing the Church any favors. When someone claiming to be promoting biblical teaching about homosexuality gives the impression that anything other than the slimmest imaginable proportion of gay lives are a whirligig of devil-worship and sexual sadism, chances are that when someone finds out this picture of the gay community is not accurate (by, say, meeting normal gay people), they will also conclude that Christian moral teaching is false.
Although theoretical reflection about spiritual friendship is important, there is also an important place for talking about the practicalities of how it gets lived out day-to-day.
Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know a number of young Christian professionals and grad students here in St. Louis. Although our careers spanned a range of disciplines, we had enough common interests that we could get along well and have meaningful conversations.
In some ways, the life of this group of friends is quite mundane. We’re all quite busy with our studies and work. But we still make time to go hiking on weekends, or grab dinner and a movie, or hang out at a pub, or walk around Forest Park or the Botanical Garden. Sometimes there are more of us involved in these activities, sometimes smaller subsets of the group—even just two or three—will do something.
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!
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.
This past Christmas ended with my friend Zach and I watching Love Actually with a glass of wine. I love Zach, and we love wine and Love Actually, so it was a solid ending to a quality Christmas day. But I was keenly aware of the fact that as much as I love Zach and wine and Love Actually, I wanted a girl on the couch with us. I wanted a girl by my side, giggling with me and feeling a rush of warm fuzzies when all the gushy moments caused an explosion in my heart.
I find so much joy in the life I’ve been given, and I tend to write about the joy more than the challenges because the joy far outweighs the difficulties. But I’m human and humans are wired with natural desires for romance—innocent desires to shower affection on that one special person. People often say to me (even here on the blog): “Julie, maybe you just have a special gift for celibacy, and that’s what makes it sustainable for you, but not everyone has that gift”. When it’s fleshed out further, they seem to imply that “the gift” would mean I have a lower level of sexual desire or that I don’t experience romantic longings. The gift would be that thing that makes it easy and convenient to fly solo in a culture crawling with adorable couples.
As I continue to work on my book on friendship, a project primarily for other celibate gay/lesbian/same-sex attracted Christians, I’m increasingly aware of the need to speak honestly about all the ways friendship can involve significant disappointment and struggle. Finding the appropriate way to articulate this will, I suspect, be the defining factor in whether or not this book can offer realistic hope to people.
I believe in the thesis I’m arguing for—in many ways, it’s simply my effort to expand on this post by Ron Belgau from the early days of the Spiritual Friendship blog. Gay and lesbian Christians, in and through their celibacy, are “called to love,” as Eve Tushnet’s forthcoming book puts it. We are called to something positive and hopeful, not simply to a negative renunciation. We are summoned and enabled by God to give and receive love.
And yet the danger lurking here is that I’ll present friendship as a kind of panacea for how difficult sexual ascesis can be in our culture. “Having trouble feeling fulfilled in celibacy? Here’s a great solution to your lack of intimacy and closeness with others—it’s called ‘friendship’!” This is the problematic message that Stephen Long over at the Sacred Tension blog has spent so much time exploring, and I think Stephen is right that there are serious problems with this approach.
I took a road trip with some friends this past weekend, where six of us shared a one bedroom house and loved every minute of it. There was a moment one afternoon, when we were catching sun on the grass at a swimming hole, after we’d just spotted an old man in a black g-string, when I thought to myself: “I couldn’t be happier than I am in this moment.” My friends and I have taken cross country road trips, cried for no reason, laughed when we should’ve cried, laughed when we should’ve slept, gotten into mischief and loved each other through high tide and low. In that moment, with the hippies and children and cold springs on a sunny day, I wanted nothing more than to capture the feeling in a snow globe to carry it with me everywhere I go. Then I remembered my friends would drive back with me, and they were better than the image in the snow globe, and that the moment only highlighted what’s always unfolding in my life, and I felt even happier.
In the previous post in this series, I discussed what led me to the topics of celibacy, the lay vocation, and ultimately pastoral ministry to chaste gay Catholics. I have a few useful practical insights about the pursuit of celibacy, picked up from my own experience of lunging towards that crown. (I am not a strong swimmer, and so few of us are, but I learn my lessons well.)
1. You may not have a spouse, but you are not without a Beloved.
There were times in the Novitiate when temptation would choose its moment with an all-too-familiar power. Priests know all about these moments. You are tired, it has been a stressful week; maybe you forgot to say your Divine Office once, twice, seventy times seven times; maybe saying it a hundred times seems no more useful than saying it once. Your call is being sorely tested by either an undue love or an undue hate. You simply want relief from the pressures of everyday life. Even in the space of the best year of my life, there were times when I wanted to just walk out the front door. If I had done so, moreover, nobody would have thought less of me.
Since I became a contributor for Spiritual Friendship, a number of people have asked me why I decided to start exploring the question of homosexuality within the Church and its relation to the lay vocation and the philosophy of the person. As a philosophy major, and therefore a super nerd, my usual first thought is “Isn’t the topic interesting enough? That’s three different and yet connected areas of human reality!”
Nevertheless, it is also true that my own background has led to this as well. Vicariously, I experienced the difficulty of the failure to accept people with SSA within the Church, a failure all too commonplace, through watching it happen more publicly to Joshua Gonnerman, who was already as a brother to me.