When many of my friends moved toward a theology that affirms gay sexual relationships, they did so because they grew weary of saying “no” to love. Several of them described an experience where they were fully committed to the church’s traditional teaching on sexual ethics when they grew to deeply love someone of the same sex. They remained chaste for a season and prayed for direction, then eventually sensed the Lord saying: You’re free to love.
While many Christians considered their shift an act of rebellion—a plunge into sin—they saw it as the only path to love and intimacy. They recognized that “It’s not good for man to be alone,” and they longed to serve the one they love, share their lives with the one they love, and mutually draw energy from that love to better serve those around them. Many felt like the traditional ethic required them to cut off fundamental aspects of being human in order to be chaste: they felt saying “no” to sexual relationships meant saying “no” to love, and that saying “no” to love meant saying “no” to any intimacy, and that saying “no” to intimacy meant saying “no” to feelings altogether, which eventually led to detachment and isolation. The burden felt unbearable.
Describing the new community of the baptized, Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free”—and then you’d expect him to follow it up with “there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). But he doesn’t. He breaks the rhythm of the sentence and writes, “there is no longer male and female” (ouk eni arsen kai thelu). He trades in the “neither/nor” structure and substitutes instead the simple conjunction “and” (kai), which is puzzling.
Numerous readers have noticed that Paul is here alluding to the Greek version of Genesis 1:27, which reads: “God made man; according to the image of God, he made him; male and female he made them.” The implication, then, of Paul’s words would seem to be that there is something about the structure of creation itself that is now being altered or reconfigured by the work of Christ. As the great biblical scholar J. Louis Martyn has put it, there seems to be in view here a “new creation in which the building blocks of the old creation are said to be nonexistent.”
Here’s something that may interest some of you.
On Saturday I spoke at a conference on singleness at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, and the videos are all online if you want to watch them. My session starts (I’ve been told, I think!) around the 40-minute mark in the video labeled “Morning Sessions,” and I was also on a panel with the other speakers in the afternoon.
It was a real joy to finally have the chance to visit Redeemer. I’ve been listening to Tim Keller’s preaching since I was in high school, so it was a huge honor to meet him and Kathy and Brent Bounds the other amazing conference organizers. If any of you are reading this, thank you again for the warm hospitality and the stimulating conversation!
I wrote a post earlier this week that highlighted some of my fears for the future related to loneliness. As some of my closest friends have moved away, I’ve caught myself coming home to an empty apartment more often than I’m used to, more often than I would like. People responded with such thoughtful feedback: encouragement, challenges, pertinent questions and words of solidarity.
It seemed fitting to respond to some of the questions in a consolidated manner, and this one opens the door to exploring some related questions about how exactly we might all come alongside one another: “Julie, when you put on your hoodie and stare into space in your apartment, what are you really longing for?”
“I’m lonely”, I said a few weeks ago in a phone conversation with a friend. I wore my favorite grey hoodie with the hood pulled over my head as I leaned against a bookshelf in my empty apartment. A few of my closest friends recently moved away, and not only are they top-notch folks that I miss for who they are, they’re also glue-like folks who bring people together.
When they left, they left a hole significantly larger than the size of their lives because the relational dynamic they created dissolved along with their physical presence. “I know I just feel lonely tonight, and that when I wake up tomorrow I’ll be bright-eyed and chipper, but I can’t keep from blowing this moment up into an entire future strung together by thousands of nights like tonight until I become an 81 year old sitting in a cold cabin with cats scurrying around while I listen to Lesbian Campfire Music and reflect on the tragedy of a long life shared with no one.”
I can be dramatic. But few things are as adorable as elderly intimacy. Whether it’s lifelong friends laughing together or an old couple holding hands, elderly intimacy wins the Most Adorable award in my mind. The laughter and hand-holding tell stories of years of intimacy created over witnessed embarrassment, shared silence, long rants, quotes read aloud, being let down, saying “I’m sorry”, choosing forgiveness, choosing vulnerability, choosing “Yes” day in and day out for a shared lifetime. It looks sacrificial and painful and comforting and boring and beautiful and—when it’s shared with the same person for tens of thousands of nights in a row—adorable.
During college, I was part of a young men’s prayer group, and our leader, an Anglican priest, once gave us a copy of a letter C. S. Lewis sent in 1956 to Keith Masson, an American reader of his. The topic of the letter was masturbation. Here is an excerpt:
For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…. And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.
The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world—e.g. picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.
This is a wise and humane letter, and when my fellow students and I received it from our mentor many years ago, it generated several lines of fruitful conversation. But rereading it now, I’m struck afresh by its particular vantage point: It is written with the assumption, it seems, that its recipient will one day marry. The harem that the lustful young man keeps in his imagination “works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.” I’m sure Lewis was right to take that approach, but it makes me wonder what he would have said to many of us who are celibate and not planning to be married. If we are going to avoid masturbation, we need a different incentive than the one Lewis offers, since few of us expect to “unite with a real woman” someday.
The anonymous blogger, Frau Luther, is frustrated with the way we (or perhaps just I, since I seem to be the one who throws the word around the most here) at SF talk about hospitality:
Like, there’s a LOT of trendy talk in those circles about “hospitality” and communal living and whatnot. Those who are outside traditional families are supposed to find some way to link up with this. Those inside them are supposed to somehow reach out and pull them in. This is allegedly the cure for loneliness. And as someone who is firmly ensconced in the very kind of traditional family they look towards, I have to say their understanding of what it’s like in here must be based on a 19th century novel or something, because it sounds nothing like my reality. Maybe it’s class-based (I strongly suspect this), as their visions seem to be filled with dinner parties and wine glass clinking and rich conversation over great books and fine liquor, and calendars full of ~social obligations~. Or something like that.
The idea that life in a family is not lonely is laughable. Think it through. Do you remember Betty Friedan? I spend most of my life in a static-space between utterly alone and never alone. I rarely have a soul to talk to and I can’t go to the bathroom for 5 minutes without someone interrupting. I’m not complaining, here, and I am not claiming that my status in the family constitutes oppression. I mean that the lot of the human being is loneliness, to some degree, and mutual incomprehensibility, and toil and weariness and weeping in hac lacrimarum valle. And life in a family isn’t all hobbit-like coziness and ale. It’s more of the same, with people you’re related to.
What I get from these writings, what puts me SO on edge about them, is that these folks who completely romanticize family life want to come warm themselves by the hearth and have a glass of wine and let a child amuse them for an hour or two, and call this “being part of our community” or somesuch. They will go home reflecting, thoughtfully, and write an essay about the deep meaning of it all, and with some tinge of envy and tsking about how plain boring hausfraus don’t appreciate our fortune. And then I will clear the plates, load the dishwasher, switch the clothes into the dryer, treat someone’s cough, sit half a precious hour in the room until she sleeps again, mend the blanket, thaw the chicken, mix the filling for the lunch entree, put on the TV and try to read 30 minutes before I fall asleep, alone.
I’m a little late to this party, but Meredith Schultz has a good piece over at Fare Forward on hospitality for and among millennials. At the end she offers a few suggestions for habits and postures that will help with the practice of hospitality. I was particularly struck by her remarks on leaving some unstructured time in our schedules:
The accelerated pace of modern life means time is one of the most significant obstacles to practicing hospitality. “‘Being busy’ has become a status symbol,” says Henri Nouwen, “and most people keep encouraging each other to keep their body and mind in constant motion.” If we fill every spare moment of our lives, we will not be free to welcome unexpected guests or have the energy to care for them. Leaving unstructured time in our schedules is a countercultural act, which faithfully anticipates divine encounters. A late-night conversation. Another plate at dinner. Three strangers by the Oaks of Mamre.
In my experience, this is especially hard for single people to do. One of my single friends at my church in England (whom I’ve mentioned before) and I once talked—“What! You do that too?!”—about our tendency to fill our calendars with social events, more than we really needed or wanted, because we knew if we didn’t, chances were we’d be spending the unfilled time alone. Living with family or roommates, you at least know other people will be physically present if you happen to have an evening or weekend free of planned events. But if you’re single and live alone, unstructured time often means time spent by yourself.