On Erotic Interruptions, and the Lovesick God

Falling in love is like falling ill. It often happens unexpectedly, and you don’t really realize what’s going on until you wake up one morning and find yourself in the throes of it. As finite created beings, we are often interrupted by that which is outside of ourselves. The interruption of desire disrupts our daily lives and drives us to active pursuit.

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa - Bernini

This is partly why the Ancients were so wary of erotic desire. It’s disruptive and not easily susceptible to reasoned control. It’s thrilling and exhausting. To desire another person is wearying. Love really can make one sick: few things are as painful as the unfulfilled desire to be near to another. 

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Romance of Friendship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - 1923

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – 1923

I am not a scholar of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have not read a book-length biography of the man. And my exposure to his writing is limited to Letters and Papers from Prison, the unabridged version (800 pages)!

With those prefatory remarks out of the way, let me say that I am intrigued by how two reviewers of a recent biography have responded to a claim about Bonhoeffer’s homosexual disposition. Charles Marsh, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, has authored, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. My goal here is not to adjudicate the truth or falsehood of Mr. Marsh’s claim, but to ask why we are making much ado about Bonhoeffer’s alleged sexuality, which may be some-thing or no-thing at all.

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Faith and Seeking Understanding

Saint_Augustine_Portrait

Botticelli: St. Augustine

Christian faith is not the conclusion of an argument: it begins in some sense or other in a personal encounter with God. Some people experience this encounter in a dramatic way, for others, it is much gentler and quieter. But we believe because we believe God, who, in some way, speaks to us. This belief is more a matter of personal trust in the God who loves us and has revealed himself to us than it is the conclusion of an intellectual investigation.

We are created in God’s image, and God is love. Our faith is thus best nurtured by experiencing God’s love through prayer, worship, and the sacraments, by acts of service or contemplation that we do out of love for God, and by Christian community, where we love others and experience and are nurtured in love.

God also knows and understands everything, and our desire to understand Him and the world He has created is part of His image in us. Although belief and trust are primarily personal responses to God’s love for us, we also want to understand what we believe and who we trust. There are, moreover, parts of Christian teaching—like the Trinity, the Incarnation, or the virgin birth—that are difficult to understand. And Christian faith also gives rise to difficult questions: for example, if God is all knowing and all powerful, and He desires what is good for everyone, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?

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Same-Sex Couples in the Church

Fr. James Martin – a Jesuit priest who has written quite eloquently on LGBT issues a number of times before – has a column in the latest edition of America magazine, “Simply Loving,” in which he asks why “so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church” despite the fact that most Catholics claim not to hate gay and lesbian people.

Fr. Martin suggests that one reason – aside from the obvious fact that a lot of LGBT people don’t agree with Catholic teaching about homosexual acts – is that it is very rare to hear many Catholics “say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin.”

The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, “We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.” Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, “We love married Catholics – but adultery is a mortal sin.” With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.

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My Early Teen Years Part 2: Practical Reflections

In my last piece, I discussed my own experience as an early teenager finding myself attracted to the same sex. Now, I would like to offer a few reflections on what this means for today’s kids.

We must always start by thinking about how to actually love sexual minority kids. Loving people does not merely reduce to preaching about sexual ethics. Instead, we need to take into account the entirety of Christian teaching. We should start by examining our own hearts. As I wrote about previously, even though I’m not straight, I’ve had to deal with self-righteousness and other negative attitudes towards sexual minorities. I’m certainly not the only Christian to have heart issues responding to sexual minorities, and we need to keep our own motivations at the forefront. Even when sexual sin (which should not be confused with mere orientation) is involved, we must make sure that doctrine matters to us for the right reasons and that we are not only focusing on the sins of others.

Having framed the discussion this way, I will now turn to discussing some specific reflections from my own experience.

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My Early Teen Years Part 1: What I Went Through

Aaron Taylor wrote a recent two-part piece (part 1 and part 2), discussing pastoral responses to same-sex attracted youth.  Eve Tushnet has suggested that several of us continue that discussion by reflecting what it was like to be that teenager ourselves, and I would like to do that here by discussing my life early in my teen years.  In this piece, I will discuss that part of my life, and in a follow-up piece, I will offer some reflections on what would have been helpful.  Before I get to the teen years, though, I want to discuss more about my environment leading up to that time.

I grew up in a Christian home, in a stable family.  Although it’s not like everything was perfect all the time, I had very good and healthy relationships with both of my parents.  I first learned about sex and sexuality from having “the talk” with my dad.  I was given the expectation that as I hit puberty, I’d really start to have a “hunger” for girls, and that the ultimate end for that was to be married to a woman and to have sex within that context.  I was taught that my sexuality would ultimately be a good thing, but that I would face struggles with lust and sexual purity.

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Grief and Faithfulness

Copyright 2009 by Gregg WebbOver the last few months I’ve been slowly working through what it looks like to grieve the loss of the “what might have been.”

For me the “what might have been,” is the husband I will never have. As a celibate gay man I will constantly wrestle with the intersection of my desires and my convictions. By following my desire to become like Christ through the life of the Orthodox Church, I must always be willing to give up anything that runs contrary to that life. For me, I’ve experienced this sacrifice most profoundly as I slowly grieve the real cost of my celibacy: saying no to a romantic and sexual relationship with another man.

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The Line Dividing Good and Evil

In the midst of all the last minute shopping, holiday parties, Christmas music, Santa Clause, and so forth, it’s easy to forget why Jesus came in the first place: to save us from our sin.

In the Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

If evil were something done by evil people to good people, then God would only need to destroy the evil people. But since “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” God had to use a different plan to save us.

I worry that few far too many American Christians have forgotten that this Christmas. Over at Part of a Plan, Zachary Perkins writes:

About a week ago, Phil Robertson was suspended from his family’s show Duck Dynasty for comments he made regarding homosexuality. The fury poured forth from social media like none other. Many Christian are even now organizing boycotts against A&E.

About two to three days later, Uganda passes a bill through it’s legislative body that is now waiting a signature from the President which would imprison homosexuals for life, give 14 years imprisonment to Ugandan citizens that help gays and potentially put some gays to death. Update: The death penalty provision has been shelved, but the long prison terms remain.

It’s been three days since the news from Uganda broke out. I’ve searched through ChristianityToday.com, ChristianPost.com, and CBN.com, but there is still not one mention of the story that Uganda has passed a bill which could put to death gays and lesbians. I even searched ReligionToday.com and instead of finding stories about Uganda’s growing violence towards gays and lesbian people in their community, I saw one story titled “Ugandan Church’s Remarkable Growth”.  Phil Robertson’s story is still plastered all over the front pages of these outlets.

“For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” In either our loud crusades or in our silent complicity, is that the message the world is hearing from Christians this Christmas?