Yesterday, Tom Daley, the Olympic medalist in diving from England, came out in a short five-minute video on YouTube.
You’ll note I said, “came out,” which in current parlance can mean several things, but is most commonly taken to mean publicly identifying as gay. Indeed as this article in the Guardian points out, many major media outlets took it this way, describing Daley as having come out as gay. However, if you watch the video, Daley never claims a particular sexual identity (gay, bisexual, or otherwise), but simply says that he is in a relationship with another guy. Indeed, he adds that he still fancies girls and that his relationship with this guy seemingly took him by surprise. What do we make of a statement like this? And is it even our job to make something of it?
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.
The Fall, 2013 issue of Leadership Journal has an article by Stanton Jones up entitled, “Help, I’m Gay.” It is billed as “A pastoral conversation about same-sex attraction.”
The editors chose to illustrate the article with the picture at left.
This would be a good image to use on a gun range, where shooters can see the outline of a human head with no human features to disturb them as they practice aiming to kill. It is not an appropriate image for preparing Christian leaders to respond like Christ to the plea, “Help, I’m gay.”
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people have faces. If Christian leaders want to offer pastoral care to us, they need to be able to look us in the face. If they will not show our faces, or are uncomfortable looking at our faces, they are not seeing us as human beings, and are not ready to be Christ to us.
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.
I was in California last week to speak at Biola University about spiritual friendship (I’ll post a link to the video when it becomes available), and I got to spend a lot of good time with a friend I’ve known since college days, named Chris. As we were talking one night, Chris pulled out a passage from a sermon by the twentieth-century German theologian Helmut Thielicke that struck me as unusually powerful:
I once knew a very old married couple who radiated a tremendous happiness. The wife especially, who was almost unable to move because of old age and illness and in whose kind old face the joys and sufferings of many years had etched a hundred runes, was filled with such gratitude for life that I was touched to the quick. Involuntarily I asked myself what could possibly be the source of this kindly old person’s radiance. Otherwise they were very common people and their room indicated only the most modest comfort. But suddenly I knew where it all came from, for I saw these two speaking to each other and their eyes hanging upon each other. All at once it became clear to me that this woman was dearly loved. And it was as if she were like a stone that has been lying in the sun for years and years, absorbing all its radiant warmth, and now was reflecting back cheerfulness and warmth and serenity.
Let me express it this way. It was not because she was this kind of a cheerful and pleasant person that she was loved by her husband all those years. It was probably the other way around. Because she was so loved, she became the person I now saw before me.
This thought continued to pursue me and the more it pursued me the more it lost all its merely edifying and sentimental features, until finally they were gone altogether. For if this is true, then I surely must come to the following conclusion. If my life partner or my friend or just people generally often seem to be so strange and I ask myself: “Have I made the right marriage, the right friendship; is this particular person really the one who is suited to me?”—then I cannot answer this question in the style of a neutral diagnosis which would list the reasons for and against. For what happens then is that the question turns back upon myself, and then it reads: “Have I perhaps bestowed too little love upon this other person, that he has become so cold and empty? Have I perhaps caused him to become what perhaps he really has become? The other person, whom God has joined to me, is never what he is apart from me. He is not only bone of my bone; he is also boredom of my boredom and lovelessness of my lovelessness.”
Andrew Sullivan points to an unenthusiastic review by Stuart Kelly of A. C. Grayling’s new book on friendship, which just arrived in my mailbox and which I’m looking forward to perusing. In particular, Sullivan highlights Kelly’s criticism that Grayling doesn’t give enough credence to the way Christianity changed the shape of the classical virtue of friendship:
Grayling being a notable anti-theist, it is no surprise that he treats Christian views of friendship as an opportunity to take a few pot-shots at some large fish in a particularly small barrel. By doing so, he misses the chance to comment on a radical difference. In Cicero, for example, there is a vexed discussion of whether or not it is possible to be a true friend to someone who holds different political or ethical beliefs. The idea of treating people as if they were friends already seems to me to be a more profound shift in the concept than Grayling admits. He may have some fun with the idea that the infinite, self-sufficient deity should require being chums with sinners, but it is at the expense of realising that in religious ethics there is the very openness that he wishes for in terms of contemporary secular friendship. He praises the notion that “children in kindergarten will be unconsciously friends with anyone at all, of any persuasion, background, colour, faith or political family”. That one might consciously choose to befriend despite difference seems to me to be a religious rather than a philosophical proposition. The “as if” (treating people as if they were friends) is a leap of faith, not a cold piece of ratiocination.
Many of you have likely seen this picture that Nevine Zaki posted in 2011, depicting Christians in Egypt protecting Muslims during prayer:
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.
Over at her always-stimulating blog today, LaVonne Neff writes about some of the ironies of her mother’s practice of hospitality in the late 1950s:
Something you should know about tall women who seem reserved and even distant—they may just be shy or socially awkward, and they may really want to be your friend. I’ve understood this all my life, of course, but I was well into adulthood when my mother told me she understood it too.
My mother was not the kind of woman who could chat easily with strangers or charm other people’s children. She would not have survived as a social worker, therapist, or nurse. If she had belonged to a church that equated righteousness with personally comforting the deranged or the homeless or the dying, she would probably have changed denominations.
I tell you this only to point out that hospitality has many faces.