(See Part 1 & Part 2)
Part 3: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Community
I’m a verbal processor and am usually a miserable failure at not gushing most details of my life with anyone trustworthy who will listen. I must have shared about my feelings for Corey with dozens and dozens of friends those first first two years, even if it was difficult for me to find the right language. Many of my celibate friends empathized and connected through their own stories of heartache and longing—friends who listened to the same laments over and over again and friends who called things as they saw them. My Side A friends, who were open to same-sex relationships, were thankful that I was finally coming to terms with my humanity and experiencing what most typical boys experienced a decade earlier. They helped me know that what I experienced is merely a part of life and a part of growing up. I had few examples of what to do with romantic feelings as a celibate gay man, which made it difficult to know how normal or abnormal my experiences were. As I learned, falling in love and going through heartache and heartbreak is just a part of life, celibate or not. I was thankful for the advice and empathy my friends shared as well as their enduring patience with me.
As a celibate gay man, I never thought I was supposed to fall in love. Matthew Vines, the popular gay-affirming apologist, has said that one of the worst things that can happen to a celibate gay man or woman is to fall in love. I don’t know if it is the single worst thing, but I think it is an especially excruciating challenge for many of us. In the celibate world, there are few models or examples of just getting through experiences of falling in love, and as a result, few talk about that experience openly. More than one of my celibate friends have participated in the wedding of the man or woman they were in love with at one time. For many of them, that was a heartache they endured silently. What they were feeling was something they believed they needed to reject or fear. So often they endured these intense feelings silently and alone.
©️ Gregg Webb 2014
Some of my affirming friends lost faith in their convictions about celibacy after they experienced mutual romantic connection. It was easy to get caught up in the rush of feelings that you never thought were possible and a connection you never believed could really exist. In most cases they eventually experienced heartbreak but almost always didn’t stop pursuing romantic relationships after that first experience. The veil had been torn down, and they suddenly realized what, in a sense, they’d been missing. The challenge for celibate gay Christians is: How do you walk right up to the edge of the brink, look your feelings in the eye and acknowledge that they are real and important, but still choose not to walk down the path that these feelings are naturally inclined to lead? Continue reading
(See Part 1)
Part 2: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Heart
The second time I fell in love was with a new friend I met during my last year in St. Louis. I’ll call him Brad. This time, I wanted to learn from my last experience and decided to dive head first into the feelings and try and embrace them as best I could. My friends and counselors had been showing me all the ways I had grown callous and dismissive toward my emotions, and they encouraged me to try a different approach than repressing them. I was threatened by my feelings, and so if they didn’t make sense, or if it seemed pointless to feel them, I would try and reject or repress them. As the wiser voices in my life knew, though, rejecting and ignoring them only made them fester. This time I decided that I was going to take these newly learned lessons in emotional congruence and let my feelings be rather than fighting them. I was moving away from St. Louis several months after meeting Brad, and so whatever happened, it would have a firm end when I moved to Chicago.
Part of expressing what I was feeling was finding language for it. Unlike my experience with Corey, I more readily admitted to a few close friends my attractions to Brad and would effusively share with those friends around me about the feelings. I was a man who had a crush on (and eventually fell in love with) another man—it seemed simple enough. I had no intent of pursuing anything with brad other than, perhaps, a lesson in increased emotional intelligence. Even after my experience of falling in love with Corey, I still felt that I’d never fully accepted the part of me that was romantically attracted to other men. My lust and sexual desires were all too familiar, but I still largely resisted and ignored the more complicated side of my attraction to other men. This side of myself longed for a deep, intimate connection with another person, which I had largely ignored or repressed. I knew that all of us long for love and connection and that self-sacrifice and deep love can exist in friendship as well as marriage. What I didn’t know was if there was some goodness in my romantic feelings for Brad that could be genuinely loving and selfless without having to be rejected altogether.
©️ Gregg Webb 2014
I believe that part of why I was so emotionally shut off to my own experiences was out of a fear of what those feelings might mean about me. They scared and threatened me because they weren’t as clearly rooted in sin as my lust was. My lust was selfish and grounded in my own pleasure, but my feelings for Brad felt more connected to what I believed was selflessness—the same feelings that lead someone to forsake father and mother and give over their life to the good of someone else’s. This self-giving and person-focused side of my attractions was what I wanted to begin opening myself up to in a way that I hadn’t with Corey. I wanted to try and be more open to the parts of these feelings that could be pleasing to God, like selflessness. My faith told me that I was called to resist lust for the same gender, but it wasn’t as clear to me if these other parts of my feelings for Brad could somehow be good. Continue reading
Part 1: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Myself
How do you live with heartbreak when you were never supposed to fall in love? What happens when you fall in love with a friend and you don’t want to ruin a friendship? How do you find the goodness in loving someone even if those feelings are, at some point, also romantic? I still don’t think I really know the answers to these questions, although the circumstances of my life seem hell-bent on teaching me. Heartaches and heartbreaks have taught me about myself, about my heart, and about my community. These are lessons I’m slowly learning, and I hope that in these ramblings maybe you too will find some semblance of an answer. At the very least, you’ll find something that you can empathize with, because at some point, gay or straight, heartache and heartbreak happen.
Twice in my adult life I’ve fallen in love with a man. Early crushes may have happened before adulthood, nothing significant enough to write about. The first time I fell in love was for a writer I’d gotten to know through his blog. I’ll call him Corey. As much as I struggled not to fall in love with Corey, I eventually did. I was madly in denial about what I was experiencing because it felt so incongruent with my values and, in many ways, pointless. Hundreds of miles separated us, and he never reciprocated my feelings, so there were fewer kicks to the face emotionally that would have made the nature of my feelings more apparent to me.
©️ Gregg Webb 2014
Caught up in all of the heartache was fear. I feared what these feelings meant for me and for my future life as a celibate gay man. I couldn’t figure out which of the feelings I experienced were acceptable and which I was supposed to try and kill off. It took me over a year just to start finding language I felt comfortable with to describe what I was feeling. In many ways, because falling in love seemed pointless as a celibate gay man, I just wanted to forget about the whole thing altogether. My heart, and sometimes my dear friends, never really let me ignore it entirely, though I tried. It took Spotify listing my number one song of 2014 as “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else,” by A Great Big World, for me to begin accepting that even the music I was (cluelessly) listening to somehow expressed what I could not. Experiences like the one I wrote about in “Forsaking All Others“ also helped me come to terms with my myself and slowly began to help me identify what I was feeling. Continue reading
Gregory Coles’ Single, Gay, Christian releases today. Go buy it.
Writing a review for my friend Greg Coles’ new book is a bit like taking a photograph of the Grand Canyon… using an old-fashioned camera… with a cracked lens… and overexposed film. It is doomed to fail utterly at the task of representing the experience of actually journeying with Greg as he relates his personal story of how he discovered that God could love gay people like himself, like me, and like others. For this reason, as well as due to the genre of Greg’s book (memoir), my comments here will not follow the pattern of a standard review, but will be instead a somewhat stream-of-consciousness reflection on how I was personally impacted by Greg’s story.
The recent debate surrounding the essay “Conjugal Friendship” by Giacomo Sanfilippo has yet again reminded me of a the importance of dialogue surrounding sexual minorities in the Orthodox Church. I’m not an expert in the theology of Florensky so I will leave the theological particulars to Sanfilippo and other theologians. I do have experience though in how the Church discusses sexual minorities and interacts with the LGBT community. I have read a few critiques and seen several posts by Orthodox writers and clergy reacting to the post on “Conjugal Friendship.” Most seem to be reading into his essay or assuming the worst about it and lamenting what they see as just another attack on the Church’s steadfast commitment to the traditional sacrament of marriage. I would like to take this opportunity to offer a few reflections on how we as a Church can better discuss the various paths available to sexual minorities within the Church rather than Sanfilippo’s specific content or that of his critics.
©️ 2017 Gregg Webb
What I took away from Sanfilippo’s essay was less the specific arguments or case he makes for developing an Orthodox theology of Same-Sex love, and more the fact that he is attempting to find paths of living for sexual minorities within the church. As both a gay man and an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I wrestle daily to try and figure out what I am called by my church to surrender and to give up. I am constantly reminded of all that I am asked to forsake at the Church’s request of fidelity to its, and my own, understanding of same-sex sexual expressions. I don’t need to be reminded that the path my heart most naturally is inclined towards, that of pursuing a husband and a family in a same-sex partnership, is not available to me. I don’t need to be reminded that I am called daily towards chastity and celibacy and to remain steadfast in following all that the Church teaches related to sexual intimacy. I know these things all too well and those battles within my heart rage continually. I need no reminders of these battles or allegiances. Continue reading
Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I know I speak for Ron and all the other contributors too when I say that we are so grateful to be in this virtual community with you all, and we’re thankful for every interaction we’ve had with you here.
Just today, Comment magazine unlocked a piece I wrote for their latest print issue on “how to die in marriage and celibacy.” An excerpt:
… Jesus goes on to discuss the matter of singleness, on which topic he is equally stringent. Don’t make the mistake, he seems to say to his followers, of thinking that if you opt out of marriage, you are thereby exempted from martyrdom. Whether one is unmarried due to a biological incapacity for spousal union or prevented from it by circumstances or embracing that state voluntarily, Jesus imagines the unwed as those whose lives are to be lived “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (19:12). Christian singleness too, like Christian marriage, is not about “brief joy and long sadness,” to return to Luther’s quote above. It is instead one more way in which we begin to unlearn selfishness, to embrace a kind of spiritual martyrdom, and find our desires redirected toward the city of God. Singleness too is about holy dying, about the sanctifying transformation of desire and belonging.
The whole piece is about how, whatever vocation we’re led into, it’s going to be a pathway of dying to our “old selves” and embracing our new life in Christ. As C. S. Lewis memorably put it, “Die before you die. There is no chance after.”
Maybe it’s an odd thought for Thanksgiving Day, but I hope that it’s an encouraging one in a roundabout way. So many of you who stop by here to read and think with us are living this life of daily death-and-resurrection, and it inspires me to no end.
For the month of October, Patheos is hosting a conversation among different faith traditions on “the spirituality of sex,” and they asked me to contribute an entry. Here’s how it starts:
Next time you’re near a time machine, I recommend traveling back to one of the earliest Christian churches—say, in 2nd-century Rome—and paying close attention to what you see and hear. You’ll be struck, of course, by the diversity and the odd, sometimes troubling juxtapositions: Here is a community where slaves and slave owners are drinking from the same Communion cup, where the grip of Caesar’s reign is loosened by a stronger cry: “Jesus is Lord.” Here is a group of people who give alms to the poor, who fast and sometimes mourn for the world’s pain, and sing hymns in open defiance of death, as if dying has somehow lost its terror for them. And here, perhaps most strikingly of all, is a community in which a large percentage of people are single—by choice.
The early Christians, in spite of the “family values” their differing Jewish and pagan pasts had taught them to celebrate, prized virginity. Women and men alike in the early days of the new Jesus movement gave up sex and marriage in droves. As many historians have noted, it’s one of the most extraordinary things about the beginnings of Christianity. In a world where sex was as readily available as the body of the slave in your anteroom or the prostitute in the brothel down the street, a disproportionate number of Jesus-worshipers opted for celibacy. And this may be our first clue as to what a Christian “spirituality of sex” might be: Sex, for Christians, isn’t necessary. It doesn’t “complete” anyone. It isn’t god, and it doesn’t save. If the early Christians shocked Rome by their refusal to worship Caesar, they were equally shocking in their refusal to worship sex.
You can read the rest here.
Copyright 2015 Gregg Webb
It has been a difficult season for me. I’ve been transitioning cities, working through heartbreak, living with nearly constant heartache, beginning the long-term career job hunt, and learning to live life without the basic structure provided by classes and coursework. Many of my friends are also struggling through difficult break-ups, divorce, depression, addiction, and deep loneliness. Life is difficult and it is messy, but it also has profound moments of beauty and restoration woven between the pain and lament.
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.
In my previous post on Protestants and celibacy, I focused primarily on the Scripture passages that address celibacy directly. Another important part of Scripture to consider, and one frequently brought up, is the account in Genesis. God’s claim that “it is not good that the man should be alone” in Genesis 2:18 (ESV) is a common proof text for a negative view of celibacy. As I have written previously, I do not believe that equating “alone” and “unmarried” is a responsible way to read this passage.
I would like to focus on understanding what Scripture is really teaching us in the Genesis account. I will do so by focusing on one of the most important principles of interpreting Scripture, namely paying attention to context. In examining various areas of context, I’ve come to the conclusion that procreation is a significant component of God’s solution to “being alone.” Adam’s difficulty lay not in being unmarried: the difficulty was rather that he was the only human being. Humans, after all, are designed to need connections with each other. Marriage is but one form of this connection made possible by a world where people follow the command to “be fruitful and multiply.”
Celibacy, in turn, has its own inherent difficulties. Most people desire the kind of shared life usually found in marriage and have the biological desire to have sex. These desires, particularly the sexual ones, are unlikely to go away just because one has other forms of community. But we also need to learn to view celibacy the way Scripture does, which includes reading Genesis 2:18 in the light of what the passage is actually saying. We must not read something into it other than what is actually there. Without further ado, let’s look at one of the major areas of context. Continue reading