Crisis Magazine recently covered several writers at Spiritual Friendship with some caution at the notion of chaste friendship. Austin Ruse’s skepticism shines through when he writes:
“Their ideal is that you can draw close to someone of the same-sex, love them intimately and intensely, yet never cross the line into sexual activity. They point to the relationship between Jesus and young John as a model. Recall John was the “one whom Jesus loved” and who laid his head on Jesus’ chest, something if done today would clearly be considered gay.”
This, if anything, should be a lesson to us from history. It’s a well-documented fact that previous generations were far more comfortable with people of the same gender sharing physical affection. The Art of Manliness had a terrific post on this earlier this summer, with the photographic evidence to prove it.
Austin Ruse has published a piece on us in Crisis Magazine. While he has critiques, the main point of the piece is to just say, “Here, look at this strange phenomenon! Check out the eccentric and often brilliant Eve Tushnet, progenitor of the whole crew! [Eve, the Mother of All...?] Check out the Momma Bear, Elizabeth Scalia! Here’s a kinda weird, kinda wonderful bunch of people to look at!”
I must admit, I’m a bit amused by the piece. It almost makes us seem like some exotic tribe, with Ruse as the diligent anthropologist setting out to record and explain our practices. Of course, it is old school anthropology, the kind where you didn’t ask the people you were studying what they were on about, but just developed your own explanations, which you relayed to people who were more distant than you, and coined names for them yourself (though “New Homophiles” does roll off the tongue nicely!). As a result, he misses some things, like Ron Belgau and Wesley Hill, the editors of this blog, whose contributions to the First Thoughts blog at First Things are significantly more prolific than my contributions to On the Square over there. He also tends to portray us as much more homogeneous than we are. Still, I appreciate his basic interest in our project, and look forward with interest to his promised forthcoming piece on our gay critics.
In the mean time, when the anthropologist relays the practices of the indigenous populations, something is invariably lost. Let me speak as one of the natives (and only one of them, not a definitive spokesman for the whole tribe) and try to articulate some of the nuance which, it seems to me, is missing.
One of the unfortunate realities of life is that the best time to really think about something is often when you no longer have access to it, the oddly formed hole it leaves behind an easier way to understand its shape.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship recently.
I wasn’t so naïve as to imagine that I would arrive in Los Angeles, step out of my car and magically be surrounded by a glorious cabal of soul-mates. (Well, ok, wasn’t so naïve as to seriously believe that would happen.) But I think I’ve been a little bit surprised at how intimidated I am by the whole process of making new friends, of weaving together the fabrics of our existence in profoundly life-giving ways.
The Intercollegiate Review has been running a series of posts about same-sex marriage as part of symposium called “Sex and the Polis: Perspectives on Marriage, Family, and Sexual Ethics.”
Today, they have a post from our own Chris Damian, “Defining Marriage Isn’t Defending Marriage“:
Conservatives aren’t losing to the culture on marriage because they’re wrong. They’re losing because they’re answering the wrong question, because they’ve failed to grasp what the issue actually is. It isn’t same sex marriage: it’s people wanting same sex marriage.
Read the whole thing > > >
In 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document entitled Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care [pdf]. The following excerpt comes from the section on “The Necessity of Friendship and Community.”
One way in which the Church can aid persons with a homosexual inclination is by nurturing the bonds of friendship among people. In their analysis of human nature, the ancient philosophers recognized that friendship is absolutely essential for the good life, for true happiness. Friendships of various kinds are necessary for a full human life, and they are likewise necessary for those attempting to live chastely in the world. There can be little hope of living a healthy, chaste life without nurturing human bonds. Living in isolation can ultimately exacerbate one’s disordered tendencies and undermine the practice of chastity.
I recently taught William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. A geologic epoch has passed since I first read the play, and I cannot remember my original response. What stands out now is my melancholic detachment from the kind of romance that makes the world feel all at once alive with radiance and susceptible to extinction. I never experienced that upheaval of emotion as an adolescent and only once, in a somewhat convoluted way, as an adult.
As time passes, I wonder if it is possible to reverse the years and see everything with young eyes again. When Juliet appears on the balcony of her house, Romeo does not see a teenager girl in all of her awkward glory. He sees the center of the solar system.
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she
Be not her maid, since she is envious
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
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.
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!
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.
CBS Sunday Morning recently featured a story about ten childhood friends, now middle-aged, who meet annually to reenact a ritual from their school days: the game of tag. The game is really a pretext for these men to practice what is seldom practiced by men in our society: enduring friendship. Male friendship is difficult to practice for many reasons, including the primacy of heterosexual romance and the perceived homoeroticism of same-gender friendship.