with a piece partly inspired by conversations here:
I’ve just finished Charles Williams’s 1937 novel Descent into Hell, which was recommended to me by a couple of Catholic friends. Williams might be called “the extra Inkling.” Everybody knows J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but far fewer people remember the other, less aggressively punctuated members of the club, including the philosopher Owen Barfield and Tolkien’s son Christopher.
Williams is the best-known of these auxiliary Inklings, and his writing is indeed what the youth of today call “extra.” It’s dense, clotted with time-bending clauses, full of switchbacks. Motives are interrogated and re-interrogated. The plot of Descent into Hell concerns a mysterious play being performed in a London suburb, on a hill with a bloody history of war and martyrdom. …
And it’s a book about acceptance. At a certain point I remembered that both of the friends who’d recommended Williams were gay Catholics. And that made sense: So much of the book is about receiving what God has given you to do in life, instead of the tasks you would have chosen for yourself. There’s been a lot of writing in the gay, celibate Christian blogosphere lately about unchosen celibacy, and learning to accept lifelong unmarriage as a gift—however much you wish the returns policy were more generous. We’ve been writing a lot lately about the need to accept the life given us.
But what stood out to me, as soon as I began to read Descent through this lens, was the emphasis on self-acceptance.
Hey all. I don’t have anything useful to say except to wonder whether your churches and local ministries offered any response to the horrific massacre in Orlando. At Mass yesterday here in DC our priest closed the Prayers of the Faithful by asking us to pray for the victims and their families, for the killer’s family, and for the killer himself, “that love may overcome hate.” His voice stumbled noticeably on that last part for reasons I think we all can understand. Right now we’re trying to work out what our gay & lesbian ministry will do as a memorial. Anyway, I’m interested in what you all have seen so far.
You can donate to a fund for the victims, organized by Equality Florida, here.
Last week I saw The Lobster, an extremely sad and violent romantic comedy about a world in which, if you don’t find a romantic partner within 45 days, you’ll be turned into an animal. It’s sort of “Why Our Culture Desperately Needs Spiritual Friendship: The Movie.” I hesitate to recommend it to you guys, because it was really hard to watch, partly because it’s so bleak and partly because it’s bleak specifically about loneliness and feeling like there’s no place in the world for someone who hasn’t found a spouse. But it’s a revealing movie–a funhouse mirror held up to our culture as it really is. I reviewed it here.
But here I’d like to talk about what isn’t in the movie even a little bit, because–and maybe this is spoilerous–what’s totally absent are the three theological virtues.
I loved Wes’s post on writing about friendship, and figured I’d throw some specific examples out there to see what actual novels and movies suggest about the nature of friendship. These are very much first-draft thoughts, as I hope you guys will riff on them.
[EDITED to add that I should have been much more clear that I’m not presenting the relationships in these works as models or ideals of friendship. Some depict what St Aelred would call “carnal friendships.” Some of them, like The Secret History and especially Let the Right One In, are arguably not about friendships at all, although I would say that these works gain their emotional resonance from the ways in which friendship and cruelty intertwine. If you want a clearer version of my take on LTROI my review is here.]
“The Body” & Stand By Me–friendship as childhood. This heartbreaking Stephen King novella, which was turned into probably the best adaptation of his work for the screen, tells the story of a group of boys who go on a journey to look at a corpse. Friendship is their haven from violence. It’s also their lost idyll. We know from the beginning that they will never again be as close as they were on that summer day long ago. Friendship is a place where you can be known in a way that lovers and spouses–the people you will end up binding yourself to in the adult world–will never know you.
Hey y’all. I’m talking with a publisher about doing a book of essays by Catholics who were badly mistreated by their churches or by Catholic communities or institutions, but who continue to practice the faith. My working title is Wounded in the House of a Friend, so that gives you sort of the idea. I’m looking for a wide range of experiences–there are so many different sorrows–and a wide range of genres, from personal memoir to hagiography, poetry, practical guidance, theological reflection, Scriptural reflection, and gallows humor.
What this is not is an argument, “I stuck it out with the Catholic Church and you should too!” The target audience of the book is fellow Catholics who are in parallel situations and who have already decided to stay in the Church—I’m hoping this book can be a companion on their journey. Outer rings of the target would be pastors and laypeople who want to know how better to accompany people in their churches who have been wounded within specifically Catholic settings.
I’m posting here because I know a lot of our readers—gay, straight, and otherwise—come to SF because we talk honestly about the challenges of church membership.
When I was in high school I spent just hours upon hours trying to suss out gay subtext in novels, songs, poetry. I longed for that moment of recognition: the moment when you realize that someone else has put into words and images something you have felt but never understood. It was so frustrating when somebody would slur through a pronoun (is that, “Was a lover, and his last”?) or skitter away from a revealing turn of phrase. And it was so thrilling when somebody–usually Morrissey, bless his heart–suggested that there was a place for all my queer stories and emotions.
It’s often easier to tell the truth in art than in plain speech. In art you can suggest and shade, you can show every angle of a situation instead of just the one you want to champion; you can explore your own doubts and despair within an overall context of Christian faith; you can show the world’s beauty and broken edges instead of just arguing for them. You can admit a lot under cover of fiction, and you can speak in several tongues at once. You can expand the imagination.
So in this post I want to see which stories are out there that show the intersection (or collision) of same-sex sexual desire and Christian faith, in which neither the desires nor the Christian sexual ethic are demonized. Are there stories–plays, paintings, poems, songs–that show people like us?
I welcome your nominations! My own suggestions are below the cut, as well as some ideas about what I’m looking for and not looking for.
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.
This is just a quick post to note that we don’t use sibling metaphors a lot on this site, and maybe we should. They played an important role in articulating the meaning of vowed friendship in both Eastern and Western Christianity (the terms adelphopoeisis and “wedded brotherhood” both use this metaphor) and they reflect an understanding of friendship as a form of kinship.
Wesley Hill quotes me talking about the way that certain friendships, over time, take on the quality of givenness which we associate with familial relationships: You’re stuck with your brothers. You may not be able to see or speak to them, but they remain bound to you, a part of your family for as long as you live.
This shouldn’t be the only language we use for friendship, or even for spiritual friendship. Many people value the choice and freedom of friendship, whereas sibling language emphasizes givenness and permanence. The people who prefer free friendship kind of baffle me, to be honest–to me, rituals, promises, and obligations are adornments which beautify any relationship!–but our different personality types should be able to coexist.
I’ve written before about how often gay or same-sex attracted people are treated as if the central spiritual and moral issues of our lives are all sexual. For some reason this story strikes me as the most poignant example. But we’re subjected to so many demands that we repeat, “I’m chaste! I’m celibate!” in order to earn an uncertain welcome in the church.
Some straight Christians seem to view everything we bring to our churches solely through the lens of our sexuality. I just heard a couple heartbreaking stories from friends who were told that the abuse they had suffered, or their struggles with addiction, were the result of their homosexuality. I’ve had friends whose pastors assessed friendships and other relationships solely on the basis of whether they helped the friend remain chaste—as if chastity were the only virtue, and friendship was a sort of chastity accountability partnership. Basically, gay people are sometimes treated as if all our experiences are unusually sexually-charged, and all our relationships are either a) focused solely on chastity, or b) near occasions of sin.
This sexualization harms us (and our churches) in a lot of ways.
Last week I had a great lunch w/another gay Christian woman. We differ pretty strongly on how one follows Christ, both in terms of communion/church (she’s a Protestant) and, relatedly, in terms of chastity. But the difference which I found most striking wasn’t a difference in belief; it was our respective emotional responses to some of the terms people use to describe “my side” of the Christian discussion of sexual orientation and chastity.
My new friend described me as “single,” which for her was a neutral to positive term. “Celibate,” which is the term I usually use for myself, sounded really negative to her. I wish we’d talked about this longer, since I don’t know exactly what she associated with “celibacy”: repression, frigidity, spinsterhood, perversion? I do know what I associate with the term “single,” though: stressed-out straight women made miserable by the unhappy prospect of dating (or, and this is sometimes even worse, not dating) straight men.