Here’s something that may interest some of you.
On Saturday I spoke at a conference on singleness at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, and the videos are all online if you want to watch them. My session starts (I’ve been told, I think!) around the 40-minute mark in the video labeled “Morning Sessions,” and I was also on a panel with the other speakers in the afternoon.
It was a real joy to finally have the chance to visit Redeemer. I’ve been listening to Tim Keller’s preaching since I was in high school, so it was a huge honor to meet him and Kathy and Brent Bounds the other amazing conference organizers. If any of you are reading this, thank you again for the warm hospitality and the stimulating conversation!
I wrote a post earlier this week that highlighted some of my fears for the future related to loneliness. As some of my closest friends have moved away, I’ve caught myself coming home to an empty apartment more often than I’m used to, more often than I would like. People responded with such thoughtful feedback: encouragement, challenges, pertinent questions and words of solidarity.
It seemed fitting to respond to some of the questions in a consolidated manner, and this one opens the door to exploring some related questions about how exactly we might all come alongside one another: “Julie, when you put on your hoodie and stare into space in your apartment, what are you really longing for?”
“I’m lonely”, I said a few weeks ago in a phone conversation with a friend. I wore my favorite grey hoodie with the hood pulled over my head as I leaned against a bookshelf in my empty apartment. A few of my closest friends recently moved away, and not only are they top-notch folks that I miss for who they are, they’re also glue-like folks who bring people together.
When they left, they left a hole significantly larger than the size of their lives because the relational dynamic they created dissolved along with their physical presence. ”I know I just feel lonely tonight, and that when I wake up tomorrow I’ll be bright-eyed and chipper, but I can’t keep from blowing this moment up into an entire future strung together by thousands of nights like tonight until I become an 81 year old sitting in a cold cabin with cats scurrying around while I listen to Lesbian Campfire Music and reflect on the tragedy of a long life shared with no one.”
I can be dramatic. But few things are as adorable as elderly intimacy. Whether it’s lifelong friends laughing together or an old couple holding hands, elderly intimacy wins the Most Adorable award in my mind. The laughter and hand-holding tell stories of years of intimacy created over witnessed embarrassment, shared silence, long rants, quotes read aloud, being let down, saying “I’m sorry”, choosing forgiveness, choosing vulnerability, choosing “Yes” day in and day out for a shared lifetime. It looks sacrificial and painful and comforting and boring and beautiful and—when it’s shared with the same person for tens of thousands of nights in a row—adorable.
I’ve got an essay in the new issue of The Other Journal, which is now available online. It’s called “The Problem of Gay Friendship,” and it will give you some idea of how the book I’m writing is taking shape. Here’s an excerpt:
Going back to Aelred, it’s significant that most of the saint’s gay admirers admit that, although the eleventh century abbot likely experienced what we now call a “homosexual orientation,” he himself was celibate. The man who could describe a friend as one “to whom you so join and unite yourself that you mix soul with soul” and one whom you could embrace “in the kiss of unity, with the sweetness of the Holy Spirit flowing over you” apparently never had gay sex. What Aelred called “spiritual friendship” was a form of same-sex intimacy that sublimated or transmuted erotic passion, rather than sanctioning its genital expression. In light of this, I wonder what it might look like to part ways with Aelred’s largest circle of admirers today and attempt to recover the abbot’s original vision of an intimacy between friends that didn’t involve a physical, sexual union.
I’d love to hear from you in the com-box if you have a chance to read this. (That would help as I work on revising my manuscript.)
My main gripe about my own essay is that I think I should have engaged more deeply and carefully with the objection Gerald Bray raises—that speaking of “gay friendship” runs the risk of making sexual desire part of the definition of a friendship and therefore subverts friendship’s true character. Bray is not the only one to voice this worry, and it’s a question that deserves more of a response than I was able to give in this article.
I know that Wes closed the comments on his last post because Frau Luther had taken offence—and justly so. I wanted to weigh in, though, because I’m the writer for Spiritual Friendship who has the experience of being the lonely hausfrau and I think that talking about what hospitality looks like, not only from the point of view of single people longing for inclusion in family life but also from the perspective of people with families who are willing to open their doors, is important.
I want to say right up front that I get completely what Katharina is talking about. It’s not that she’s overwhelmed because she made bad choices or any of the other things that some people in the com-box seemed to imagine. It’s that she’s a mother with multiple kids, and being a mother is frustrating a lot of the time. I have six. Lonely single people often don’t appreciate the loneliness of being stuck in a house day in, day out with a group of people whose conversation consists primarily in blaming one another for the large hole in the fabric of your sofa (and you just replaced that sofa. Like a month ago. Because your autistic kid ate large holes in the last one), and in babbling endlessly about who is in love with whom in Artemis Fowl. Yes, I love them. Yes, I’m happy that I had them. Yes, there are times when they are just so cute it breaks your heart (my two year old, for example, has recently composed his first song. It goes “I love you! I love you too! I LOOOOOOVE YOOOOOOU!!!” He sings it with incredible emotion and vocal expression given his age.) But there are also times when you are sitting in a dark corner digging your nails into your pillow and wanting to die—or else kill the children/husband. But generally suicide looks like the more rational option. On those occasions if I read about the sufferings of my celibate brethren I think “The biggest problem you have is that you have too much time to yourself? Seriously? Poor baby. Why don’t you go watch a play and drink a frappacino until you feel better. I’m gonna go change my fifty-seventh poopy diaper of the day.”
The anonymous blogger, Frau Luther, is frustrated with the way we (or perhaps just I, since I seem to be the one who throws the word around the most here) at SF talk about hospitality:
Like, there’s a LOT of trendy talk in those circles about “hospitality” and communal living and whatnot. Those who are outside traditional families are supposed to find some way to link up with this. Those inside them are supposed to somehow reach out and pull them in. This is allegedly the cure for loneliness. And as someone who is firmly ensconced in the very kind of traditional family they look towards, I have to say their understanding of what it’s like in here must be based on a 19th century novel or something, because it sounds nothing like my reality. Maybe it’s class-based (I strongly suspect this), as their visions seem to be filled with dinner parties and wine glass clinking and rich conversation over great books and fine liquor, and calendars full of ~social obligations~. Or something like that.
The idea that life in a family is not lonely is laughable. Think it through. Do you remember Betty Friedan? I spend most of my life in a static-space between utterly alone and never alone. I rarely have a soul to talk to and I can’t go to the bathroom for 5 minutes without someone interrupting. I’m not complaining, here, and I am not claiming that my status in the family constitutes oppression. I mean that the lot of the human being is loneliness, to some degree, and mutual incomprehensibility, and toil and weariness and weeping in hac lacrimarum valle. And life in a family isn’t all hobbit-like coziness and ale. It’s more of the same, with people you’re related to.
What I get from these writings, what puts me SO on edge about them, is that these folks who completely romanticize family life want to come warm themselves by the hearth and have a glass of wine and let a child amuse them for an hour or two, and call this “being part of our community” or somesuch. They will go home reflecting, thoughtfully, and write an essay about the deep meaning of it all, and with some tinge of envy and tsking about how plain boring hausfraus don’t appreciate our fortune. And then I will clear the plates, load the dishwasher, switch the clothes into the dryer, treat someone’s cough, sit half a precious hour in the room until she sleeps again, mend the blanket, thaw the chicken, mix the filling for the lunch entree, put on the TV and try to read 30 minutes before I fall asleep, alone.
I’m a little late to this party, but Meredith Schultz has a good piece over at Fare Forward on hospitality for and among millennials. At the end she offers a few suggestions for habits and postures that will help with the practice of hospitality. I was particularly struck by her remarks on leaving some unstructured time in our schedules:
The accelerated pace of modern life means time is one of the most significant obstacles to practicing hospitality. “‘Being busy’ has become a status symbol,” says Henri Nouwen, “and most people keep encouraging each other to keep their body and mind in constant motion.” If we fill every spare moment of our lives, we will not be free to welcome unexpected guests or have the energy to care for them. Leaving unstructured time in our schedules is a countercultural act, which faithfully anticipates divine encounters. A late-night conversation. Another plate at dinner. Three strangers by the Oaks of Mamre.
In my experience, this is especially hard for single people to do. One of my single friends at my church in England (whom I’ve mentioned before) and I once talked—“What! You do that too?!”—about our tendency to fill our calendars with social events, more than we really needed or wanted, because we knew if we didn’t, chances were we’d be spending the unfilled time alone. Living with family or roommates, you at least know other people will be physically present if you happen to have an evening or weekend free of planned events. But if you’re single and live alone, unstructured time often means time spent by yourself.
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 > > >
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.
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!