Several comments on my recent post identified an important question worthy of greater reflection. I wrote, “It [marriage] should only be pursued when there is a strong spiritual, emotional, and physical attraction between two people.” The question: How is a man who is sexually attracted to men to qualify his physical attraction to a woman? Is it tied to spiritual and emotional attraction?
I initially offered the tripartite physical/emotional/spiritual grid for attraction in an attempt to demonstrate that any romantic relationship operates on more than just the physical or sexual level. It seems to me that the nature of attractions themselves are actually much more complicated than this, to the point where trying to make clean distinctions between these three categories may prove problematic. I personally feel this difficulty when I try and describe how my attraction to Christy moved from being primarily emotional to substantially physical, as well as the place that spiritual attraction fit into that process.
In a comment on my last post, Karen K wrote,
I wonder if your book will be exploring the practical aspects too? What I see is difficulty in people knowing how to form these kinds of deep friendships. So many lonely people walking around and we can’t seem to break through the barriers to deeply connect.
How do we begin, for example, to have deeper levels of affection when our culture is so touch phobic? Do we have conversations about it with a particular friend? Begin to take more risks in expressing affection to others in hopes that it is returned? Etc etc. Do we make different life decisions to stay rooted somewhere instead of chasing the job because there is community and deep connections in a particular place? (I think that needs to be considered more than it is) Etc etc.
How do we get beyond the theoretical to the experiential?
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.
On April 27, 2001, the members of Courage Seattle met with then-Seattle Auxiliary Bishop George Thomas (now the Bishop of Helena, Montana). Before his consecration as Bishop, Fr. Thomas played an instrumental role in encouraging the creation of a chapter of Courage in Seattle. With the Chapter up and running, he graciously consented to meet with us to see how things were going and to encourage the ministry.
In preparation for Bishop Thomas’s visit, we prepared the following Fourteen Point summary of the approach to ministry we had adopted in Courage Seattle.
† CHRIST THE CENTER We place Christ at the center of our existence, subordinating all other aspects of our lives and pledge fidelity to Him without counting the cost.
The Professor knew, of course, that adolescence grafted a new creature into the original one, and that the complexion of a man’s life was largely determined by how well or ill his original self and his nature as modified by sex rubbed on together.”
— Willa Cather, The Professor’s House
It’s easy to throw around words like gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, same-sex attracted. But what do these words mean? What is sexual orientation? What does it orient?
The most reliable place to start is not in theory but in experience. And, of course, the experience I know best is my own. So I will start there.
In this final post of my series on sin and sexual minorities, I will examine an additional major principle that is useful in determining what sins we should prioritize addressing, and I will conclude with a few related thoughts. This principle comes from Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV):
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Up until now in this series, I have focused on sins against sexual minority people. As I alluded to in the introduction, I will now turn to some initial reflections on how to work this into a holistic understanding of sin with respect to sexual minorities. I am writing from the perspective shared with the other writers of this blog, that “God created human beings male and female, and that all sexual intimacy outside of a faithful, lifelong marital union of a man and woman is contrary to His plan.” The purpose of this series has not been to argue that this does not matter, but rather that we should not consider only this matter when looking at the topic of sin and sexual minorities, because all other areas of Christian morality also matter greatly.
For the final two posts in this series, I will discuss two important principles that we should always keep in mind while addressing the sexual sins that some sexual minority people commit. I do not presume to have complete pastoral solutions even if I had the space to write them out, but I think the principles I will point out here are both scriptural and fruitful.
This may be of interest to some of our readers: The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture is featuring several pieces on friendship on their website at the moment. Logan Melh-Laituri writes movingly about broken friendships, reconciliation, and friendship with God. Another piece, originally a sermon given at The Falls Church in Virginia by Rev. Bill Haley, is largely about practices that can nurture friendships. Finally, Steve Garber reflects on the relationship between marriage and friendship, about how “if the truth about marriage is that it is a long friendship, not a long date, then much more attention ought to be paid to learning to be friends.”
My favorite line was from Melh-Laituri’s piece: “Friendship simultaneously requires and creates the kind of faith that Christians are called to.”
There’s much food for thought here.
I recently started a series of posts about graced realities which I have found to helpful in the pursuit of chastity, defined deeply as the mastery through grace of internal sexual desires and passions, and their ordering according to the will of God. When people are married in the Church, they undergo marriage counseling; when people enter religious life, they have a period of intensive formation. Yet for people in the most difficult situation within which to pursue chastity, cut off from both marriage and the support of a religious community, there is little discussion of how to make this sustainable in a lifelong way.
To regular readers (or indeed, readers who saw the URL!), it may come as no surprise that the first graced reality I will talk about is friendship. In the little book from which this blog takes its name, St. Aelred of Rievaulx defines friendship as “that virtue through which by a covenant of sweetest love our very spirits are united, and from many are made one.” Like other contributors to this blog, I find St. Aelred’s vision of spiritual friendship, rooted in in a shared life in Christ and drawing the friends into communion with Christ as two souls knit into one to be deeply sustaining.