Talking about Spiritual Friendship at Calvin College

Last week I spoke at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My talks were part of an ongoing series of Faith and Sexuality events they’re hosting, and it quickly became apparent that the campus is having a much deeper and more nuanced discussion of these matters than I’ve seen in similar places, which was encouraging. It was a wonderful visit. Here’s one student, Ryan Struyk, with his take on the kinds of conversations we had, and here’s the campus newspaper report on my talks.

Video recordings of the talks are also available at Calvin’s website. The first one was titled “Between Presumption and Despair: Practicing the Virtue of Hope as a Celibate Gay Christian,” and the second was called “Spiritual Friendship: A Gay Christian Perspective.” As always with this sort of thing, I immediately noticed some places where I wished I’d put things differently, and places where I wished I’d significantly expanded on what I was attempting to say. (It’s just really hard to talk about these themes in a way that acknowledges both unanswered questions and a certain confidence in Scripture and the Christian tradition, both personal and communal pain and joy, both ongoing tension and reliable grace. I am coming to believe that the book I’m working on will only be satisfying—to me, at least—if I can find a way to write well, to write hopefully but also unflinchingly, about all the hardships of friendship, including jealousy, betrayal, frustrated longing, etc.)

If any of you have feedback for me on how to do a better job next time, I’d love to hear from you in the combox. I’m trying to get better at speaking publicly on these topics.

And finally, I’ll just add one more note about the visit. I invited a very good friend of mine to travel with me to Calvin, and immediately after my talks, he and I met up for dinner to debrief with another friend who had attended the talks. I found that having these two friends in the audience was comforting (“I’m not out here doing this alone!”) but also helpful in reminding me not to venture beyond what I know. It’s harder to romanticize your own struggles and portray friendship as some kind of problem-free solution to celibate gay Christian loneliness when you know that you’re speaking to at least a couple of people who know you personally and know the ways you’re singing along with U2: “I still haven’t found what I’m lookin’ for….”

If anyone at Calvin is reading this, I want to say a huge “thank you” again to your community. I hope that some of the conversations we started about “spiritual friendship” in Christian history will continue and bear good fruit on your campus.

4 thoughts on “Talking about Spiritual Friendship at Calvin College

  1. there are times when I find my situation of a gay christian as the permanence of Moses in the Madian desert…there is need for an intelligent person like Jetro to find out our deep vocation, without calling vocation something unclear…we must only be resolute in our confidence to God’s action of grace, to repeat that His is the action in our life, that our initiative even if good could be an hindrance to His own…naturally you feel yourself valueless…it is the real preparation to be missionaries, but even a great proof.

  2. It was a great pleasure to have you at Calvin, Wesley! We were challenged and blessed by your thoughtful, honest, and Christ-honoring words. Thanks again!

  3. Pingback: A Person Synonymous with Controversy | Spiritual Friendship

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