As Lent moves rapidly towards its close, I’ve been trying (and mostly failing) to make space in my life for some more meditative reading, and right now I’m inching through Frances Young’s God’s Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity. It’s a remarkably unclassifiable book, as Young weaves her work in Patristics (the study of the church Fathers) together with personal, pastoral reflections, largely revolving around her disabled son Arthur. Today this passage struck me in an especially forceful way:
Arthur’s limited experience, limited above all in ability to process the world external to himself, is a crucial element in who he is, in his real personhood. An ultimate destiny in which he was suddenly ‘perfected’ (whatever that might mean) is inconceivable—for he would no longer be Arthur but some other person. His limited embodied self is what exists, and what will be must be in continuity with that. There will also be discontinuities—the promise of resurrection is the transcendence of our mortal ‘flesh and blood’ state. So there’s hope for transformation of this life’s limitations and vulnerabilities, of someone like Arthur receiving greater gifts while truly remaining himself. Perhaps the transformation to be hoped for is less intellectual or physical advance and more the kind of thing anticipated in the present when the fruits of the Spirit are realized in relationships.
Not only am I intrinsically interested in what Young says here—in disability and resurrection theology—but I also can’t help but be struck by how this relates to my situation as a gay, celibate Christian believer. As readers of this blog know, I (and others) sometimes reach for the metaphor of disability as way of thinking about our sexual orientations. In my book Washed and Waiting I used the metaphor of “healing” to describe how I thought my sexuality would be transformed when Christ returns. In my chapter on Nouwen, I wrote, “I expect to stand with Henri Nouwen at the resurrection and marvel that neither of us is homosexual anymore.”
The Spectator has just published an article by Dan Hitchens, a deputy editor at The Catholic Herald, asking what conservative gay Christians want. The essay does a good job of addressing both the gifts that we can bring to the Church, and the ways that the Church could better support gay, bisexual, and lesbian Christians while remaining totally faithful to traditional teachings about love and human sexuality.
‘As a pastor,’ [Ed Shaw] says, ‘I thought being open about my sexuality would be a disqualification for the job, and would mean that people would stop coming to me.’ Instead, they started calling on him more than ever. ‘Because they think, this guy finds life tough, it’s not easy for him, he might be able to help me. I think previously I thought the deal was, try and fake it as a perfect person, and then people will listen to you.’
He also quotes Eve Tushnet:
For Tushnet, the future became clearer when she asked where specifically God was calling her to love — which led to volunteering at a crisis pregnancy centre, and to a deepening of friendship. Tushnet sees this life as an expression of her sexuality, not a denial of it. ‘The desire for same-sex intimacy and love and the recognition of beauty in people of the same sex — these are inherently good things, and in many ways basic human needs.’ Some people find it possible, she says, ‘to take all of that energy and intensity of erotic love and let it flow into a relationship to women or to beauty or to God’. That kind of ‘sublimation’ has always made intuitive sense to her….
Tushnet suggests a couple of things which would make life easier for LGBT Christians. First, for people to recognise and affirm the ‘real power’ of their friendships and leave behind the fear that depending on your friends is ‘clingy’ or ‘weird’. Secondly, she wishes the Church would remember its original role as a family for its members: ‘the people who would take care of them when they’re sick, the people who they could share their secrets and their fears and their hopes with, the people who they could make a life with’.
Check out the whole article at The Spectator.
Cross-posted from Catholic Authenticity
The BBC has an interesting story today on an “intense” friendship between John Paul II and philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. The story itself is quite beautiful, but it’s also interesting to see the reactions that circle around it. On the one hand, someone at the BBC seems to be doing their best to milk a little bit of salacious click-bait out of the matter (as a writer, I suspect the hand of an editor in this – the lines that hint at non-existent intrigue seem a little forced, as if they were added or augmented after the original draft.) On the other hand, some of the comments that I’ve seen on FaceBook make it clear that a certain portion of the Catholic world would have been scandalized even without the BBC’s help.
In today’s Washington Post, our own Eve Tushnet has an essay about how modern American culture idolizes romantic love and neglects other forms of community, and gives a shout-out to St. Aelred.
This vision that exalts and even idolizes couplehood should feel alien to most cultures and should feel especially wrong for Christians. Jesus died a virgin, so romance and marriage could never be the “one best way” in the Christian tradition. In earlier eras, Christianity saw freedom in unmarried life: The unmarried were set apart for God, undistracted by the needs of dependents. They could risk martyrdom without worrying about their children, devote themselves to those who were hardest to serve and spend hours rapt in prayer rather than knocking off a few harried Hail Marys in between diaper changes.
The fascination with romantic love also forgets forms of love that were once common in society. Devoted friendships that functioned like kinship used to be normal. Friends would share homes and finances, and pledge to care for one another’s children; often godparenthood cemented these bonds. “Spiritual Friendship,” St. Aelred’s beautiful medieval work, depicts friendship as an arena for utter honesty and sacrificial love—a place where we can be known, shepherded, cared for and forgiven. Most people don’t want every friendship to be like this, and it’s certainly fine to just want to socialize. But many single people, married couples and single parents suffer without the kind of friends they can pour their hearts out to and share burdens with.
Check out the whole essay over at the Washington Post.
Caption: Spiritual Friendship celebrated friendship before Facebook thought doing so was cool.
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
For those few of you who may be interested in this kind of reflection, I’ve got a post up today over at Covenant, the blog of the Episcopalian magazine The Living Church, on what it looks like to try to be faithful as a gay, theologically conservative Episcopalian/Anglican.
Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Canterbury invited all 37 Primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion to come to Canterbury and talk and pray together for the future of Anglican unity. And, predictably, homosexuality and same-sex marriage proved to be one of the difficult issues that came up.
I wrote about what this gathering means for those of us who, like me, belong to the Anglican Communion as gay believers who are theologically “conservative.” Please have a look, if that interests you.
This is a request for participants from Mark Yarhouse, a psychologist at Regent University and occasional contributor to this blog. If you are in the target demographic and feel comfortable participating, please check it out.
We are in the process of conducting a research study that investigates the relationship between some psychological factors and spirituality of gay Christians. We specifically investigate the relationships between the attitudes and beliefs about same-sex attraction, milestone events in sexual identity development, social support, emotional and psychological well-being, quality of life, level of distress, attachment styles, and spiritual experience and practices. Remarkably, it will only take about 20-30 minutes to complete the survey, which you can go to here.
The study is conducted completely online through the Survey Monkey program and will protect the confidentiality of participants as no identifying information (other than basic demographic information) will be requested. Our hope is that, through this study, we can begin to provide a better understanding of the experience of gay Christians so that both church bodies and mental health practitioners can provide more effective support.
“He Went Down Upon His Knee Before Her On The Poor Mean Stairs, And Put An End Of Her Shawl To His Lips” (1870s) by Harry French
In Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times (1854), Stephen Blackpool works as a Hand in Mr. Bounderby’s factory of Coketown, England.
Stephen looked older, but he had a hard life. It is said that every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen’s case, whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of the same somebody else’s thorns in addition to his own. He had known, to use his words, a peck of trouble. He was usually called Old Stephen, in a kind of rough homage to the fact.
Although married to “a disabled, drunken creature,” Stephen’s spiritual intimacy lies with Rachael, another Hand in Coketown, who “had taken great pity on him years ago, and to her alone had opened his closed heart all this time, on the subject of his miseries; and he knew very well that if he were free to ask her, she would take him.”
Photograph of Igor Stravinsky by Irving Penn. New York, April 22, 1948
A single man, like myself, confronts solitude every day as patient friend or relentless enemy, as cure or ailment, as mountain vista or obscure cave. The 20th century Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, experienced these binaries in his own life. Without solidarity, solitude is unbearable, as Neruda said about his foreign service in Rangoon, Burma: “Solitude, in this case, was not a formula for building up a writing mood but something as hard as a prison wall; you could smash your head against the wall and nobody came, no matter how you screamed or wept.” With solidarity, however, solitude is not only bearable but even productive, as he said in 1971 Nobel Prize lecture:
There arises an insight which the poet must learn through other people. There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song – but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.