Friendship in the Valley of the Shadow

Via David Mills, here is a remarkable essay that touches on tons of themes we’ve covered over the past few years on this blog. The author is Matthew Teague, and the title of the Esquire magazine piece is simply “The Friend.”

When Teague’s wife Nicole was diagnosed, at age 34, with ovarian cancer that had metastasized to her stomach, the couple’s friend Dane Faucheux left his hometown, his apartment, his own friends, and his girlfriend to move in with them and help see them through the nightmare.

There is so much to appreciate in this raw, unsparing piece, but what stood out to me most were the places where the author reflects on the sheer mystery of why and how someone who’s made no vows, has no blood ties, and has nothing material to gain from the relationship decides to commit to it nevertheless. “I had married into this situation,” Teague writes, “but how had [Dane] gotten here? Love is not a big-enough word.”

Although Teague’s piece is a meditation on the death of his wife Nicole, not Dane his friend, this essay may well be a prime instance of what Eve Tushnet has called “the death-haunted art of friendship.” Teague is paying tribute to Dane in the awful wake of cancer, and what he’s describing is an enormous instance of self-sacrifice. “It may help,” Eve says, when we are trying to understand friendship specifically as a vocation, “to ponder the humiliations of caring for vomiting, querulous, or bedridden friends, and the humiliation of being cared for by a friend when we’re in that state ourselves, as part of the cross borne by those whose love is poured out in friendship.”

If that’s what you want to ponder, I would really urge you to read Teague’s essay. It is brutal and beautiful.

A New Project on the Christian Theology of Marriage

Some readers here may be interested to know about a theological project I’ve been involved with over the last several months—a project that touches on many themes that are near and dear to this blog.

Beginning last summer, a group of clergy and lay people, most of whom belong to The Episcopal Church (TEC), began working on a series of essays to try to articulate some of the key aspects of a Christian theology of marriage. We’re calling our project Fully Alive. As the brief description on our website says,

There is an important conversation going on about marriage today. It is happening in society. It is also happening in the Church. People are asking questions about what marriage is and what it is for. Fully Alive is a project by a group of Christians who are seeking to answer these questions deeply and prayerfully, while also considering some even bigger questions that lurk in the background of our conversation on marriage. What does it mean to be a human being? What does it mean to be a woman or a man? Is it possible for people who come to radically different conclusions about these things to live together with integrity in one society? What about in one church?

In the weeks and months ahead, Fully Alive will be publishing essays and creating resources. This website will have all the latest information. Fully Alive is sponsored by the Communion Partner Bishops.

The background to our work is as follows. At the 2012 TEC General Convention, a Task Force on the study of marriage was created to report back to the next convention—which is happening this year, in June, in Salt Lake City—on the history and theology of marriage. The Task Force’s report was released in February. At General Convention next month, the Task Force will propose Resolution A050 which would change the church’s canons to allow for same-sex couples to marry alongside opposite-sex couples.

Today, we at Fully Alive are responding to the Task Force’s report with an article of our own in the Anglican Theological Review. I played a part in crafting this article, and I wanted to alert readers here to it. Our essay tries to lay out a different picture of what marriage is and what it is for than the picture the TEC Task Force has offered.

If you’re so inclined, please do help us spread the word. We’d like to see our essay widely read and discussed and—please God—used next month to shed some light on the debates at General Convention. More than that, we’d like to see what we’ve written benefit the church catholic, as we all together seek God’s will for the meaning and practice of Christian marriage.

Detachment in Friendship

A while ago I was talking to my spiritual director about some anxieties I was feeling in one of my friendships. This was a close friendship which had been tested by time (and by my own idiocy) but I was still having a hard time trusting that it would endure, and coping with the changes that were occurring in the friendship.

My spiritual director nodded and said, “It sounds like you’re ‘attached’ to this friend, in the sense that you’re relying on the friendship for your well-being. This isn’t a Christian approach. Only Jesus can always be there for you in the way that you need; what you want right now is understandable, but your friend really can’t give it to you. You need to be willing to let go. Maybe the friendship will fade away. Maybe you need to invest more in your other friendships, as this one changes. Whatever happens to you, you will be loved and sheltered–but by God, not by the specific other people you’ve picked out.”

That was tough to hear, as you can imagine. But I came to see that my priest was basically right. I did start to invest more in other friendships–and also give thanks for them more often. For the first time, I realized that when Jesus says we must hate mother and father, wife and children, and even our own lives, to follow Him, He is talking to me; I must be ready to live without the relationships which mean the most to me.

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Corvino v. Anderson

This morning, the New York Times published a conversation between John Corvino and me, in which we address the question, “Can People With Dementia Have a Sex Life?” Predictably, controversy ensued. The dispute began when Dr. Corvino linked to the dialogue on Twitter:

With the violent rhetoric that readers of the New York Times have come to expect from conservative Christian thinkers, Matthew Lee Anderson responded:

Things went downhill from there:

The simple answer is: it’s complicated.

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Interview with Jonathan Merritt

Over at his Religion News Service site blog yesterday, Jonathan Merritt interviewed yours truly about my new book Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian.

The interview started off with my saying,

According to Christian writers of the past, spiritual or Christ-centered friendship—the kind of friendship I’m writing about—is a bond between two (or more) people who feel affection for each other. But it’s also a bond that has a trajectory. It’s a relationship that’s about helping one another along towards deeper love of God and neighbor. I like that but would add that as those sorts of friendships mature and deepen, they often start to become more committed and permanent. It’s almost as if the friends want to become more like spiritual siblings.

And it goes on from there. Read the whole thing.

“The Gift of Friendship”

SF book cover

Some of you will know already that I have a new book that’s just been released. It’s called Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, and I’m very happy (and a bit nervous, too, truth be told!) that it’s now out in the world and finding its way to readers.

Today, over at my publisher’s blog, I’ve got a guest post that explains how I came to write the book and that gives a bit of teaser-taste of its contents. Here’s an excerpt:

Being gay and celibate can leave you wondering whether you’re left out in the cold when it comes to committed, stable, intimate relationships. Watching many of your friends pair up and get married, you wonder if you have to settle for something less than that—for relationships that always end with separation or distance. And sometimes friendship, which is all too fleeting in our mobile society, comes to seem like a consolation prize. As blogger Casey Pick has written, “No community is quite so sensitive to the reality that, for all its virtues, friendship isn’t family.”

But what if Christian friendships, or at least some of them, were able to become more committed, more bound by promises, and more recognized as integral, lasting parts of gay Christians’ lives? What if friendship were able to look more familial?

If I were to describe the hope and joy I’ve found in my own gay, celibate life, I would point to moments where that shift has happened in my friendships.

Please click through and read the rest of the post, if you’re interested.

Travelogue from Oz

Last week I was in Sydney, Australia (or “Oz,” as they abbreviate/pronounce it!) to give a series of talks. I spoke at two day conferences hosted by Liberty Christian Ministries. I also spoke at Moore Theological College (and some enterprising student wrote up a nice summary of what I said!), as well as St. Barnabas’ Anglican Church and a few other places. (There’s a video here, if you want to see the kinds of things I discussed.) It was a wonderful, refreshing trip—one of the highlights of my entire (relatively short, admittedly) career of public speaking on matters gay and Christian!—and I wanted to talk about a few of the things that stood out to me.

What I think I’ll remember most are two conversations I had with two different small groups of people, not more than 20 or so, after the two day conferences finished. When I was done speaking, I hung out in an upstairs Sunday School classroom at the church where the conference had been held and just chatted with whomever stuck around.

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My Friendship with Ron Belgau

One of the things I’d like to do more often here at Spiritual Friendship is tell stories of friendship. Theological reflection, of the sort I usually do in my posts, can only go so far. What we need more of—what I need more of—are stories of real life friendships that describe how vital Christian friendship can be.

With that in mind, I’d like to pay tribute to my friend Ron Belgau in this post. Ron and I met initially via email, through a mutual friend. When he expressed appreciation for my first book, Washed and Waiting, I asked him to share further thoughts on it. Then, due to how thoughtful and rich his response was, I decided I couldn’t answer it until I had time to produce an equally thoughtful and rich reply—which meant that I stayed silent for about six months. Ron waited patiently, and then he wrote again, and from there our friendship took off. We wrote, we talked via Skype with him in the U.S. and me in England, and, eventually, we had the chance to meet in person at a speaking gig I had and enjoy a long walk along the Battery in Charleston, South Carolina.

Out of those conversations, we started a private online gathering for gay/lesbian/SSA Christians who wanted to try to live by traditional biblical sexual ethics. The conversations we helped nurture there were among the most significant I’ve been a part of. And, eventually, they became the basis for what Ron and I are trying to do here with SF, the sort of public face of our earlier private effort.

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“Celibacy for the Common Good”

Over at First Things today, I posted a summary of my 9-minute(!) talk last week at “Q Commons” at Gordon College in Massachusetts. Here’s a snippet:

I suggested that celibacy is an important reminder that love isn’t reducible to what we do in bed or over a candlelit table for two. It is a reminder that love exceeds the boundaries of the nuclear family. Celibacy is not about a heroic feat of willpower. It’s about giving up one way of expressing love in order to be able to love widely, profligately, indiscriminately. It’s about foregoing a spouse in order to love a community. It’s about giving up the possibility of children in order to become a spiritual father or mother in the family called “church.” It’s about being a little less entangled in the life of the world in order to be a little more free to celebrate the coming kingdom of God, in which none of us will be married and all of us will be spiritual friends with everyone else in the new creation that God will usher in. In the words of Ronald Rolheiser, “Celibacy, if properly lived, can be an important way to keep alive, visible and in the flesh, that part of the incarnation which tells us that when one is speaking of love, the human heart is the central organ.”

Please click through and read the whole thing! There’s a great quote from our own Eve Tushnet at the end.

Does Your Church *Like* Gay People?

On Sunday, while I was in Denver to see my brother and sister-in-law, I visited House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS), one of the most well known queer-inclusive churches in the country, I suppose. But that reputation wasn’t the only reason why I visited, despite my obvious personal investment in those matters and my intense curiosity on that front. Mostly I chose to visit because I’ve been pretty powerfully affected by Lutheran preaching—with its law/gospel dialectic—and HFASS’ pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, is preaching some of the most potent Lutheran sermons around these days. I first heard about HFASS and Nadia from this article by Jason Byassee, I think, and then I read Nadia’s book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint. Suffice it to say, since then, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to hear this tattooed, foul-mouthed preacher in person, and this last Sunday was my chance.

Now, I disagree with Nadia Bolz-Weber pretty seriously on a whole host of things, many of which I take to be urgently central matters of Christian faith and practice. As a theologically conservative believer who thinks that traditional Christian moral teaching on (say) gay sex can’t be neatly separated from creedal orthodoxy (as if the former were revisable, with the latter able to be preserved intact), I don’t want to offer unqualified praise in this post for what Nadia Bolz-Weber’s ministry is about. Still, though, I find myself agreeing with Rod Dreher that I have something—or more than one thing!—to learn from her about what it means to be a Christian. As I sat there on Sunday night watching her interact with her congregation, and listening to her preach, I found myself wishing that what she models were more characteristic of the conservative churches and communities in which I live and minister. In short, I’m provoked and instructed by her, and I expect to go on learning from her in the coming years.

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