Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of thy Name; increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Introduction in Defense of Everything Else

I became a Catholic nearly five years ago. I had been considering it for years: my theological convictions, my interest in Christian history, and my love of ritual all pointed me in that direction; and a growing sense of exile, of wanting the Church as my mother and the saints as my brothers and sisters, stirred a longing for Rome in me. At long last I swam the Tiber, and became one of the most popular -- and, to a lesser degree, potentially difficult -- things in the Catholic world: a convert.

Though a lot of people (myself included) are intimidated by their first contacts with Catholicism, I've never experienced any dislike on the grounds of being raised a Protestant. Converts are not at all the social equivalent of Muggle-borns from the Harry Potter universe -- despised for their non-magical ancestry by aristocratic Purebloods, even subjected to derisive epithets like "Mudblood." Converts are generally well-liked, and most Catholics are eager to hear their stories of the road to Rome.

But I did begin to notice, after a year or so, a different sort of disconnect. It wasn't so much that I have a mouth like a sailor. The radicalism did disconcert some people: my politics are what many people would politely call "eccentric," though "brain-numbingly lunatic" is closer to the mark; so in that regard I was expecting to be a social anomaly. More difficult has been the fact that I am openly a chaste gay man -- though at least once, on mentioning it in passing, I was told, "No, you're not." It was all I could do not to laugh.

I don't intend to blog chiefly about being gay and Christian; plenty of other people have told their stories eloquently, and with more erudition -- Melinda Selmys, Steve Gershom, Joshua Gonnerman, and Eve Tushnet spring to mind. But the combination of two very different worlds -- the postmodern, left-wing, avant garde world, and the hieratic, labyrinthine tradition of Catholicism -- experiencing both of these things in myself gives me a keen sense of how tragic the division between them is; and, at times, a keen sense of being unwelcome, or at any rate of being a second-class citizen -- a Mudblood, as it were -- in both. My friend Nathan said just recently, "I think the hardest part of being gay and Christian has nothing to do with sexuality or scripture, but everything to do with trying to live between two tribes of hurt, and therefore hostile people who are too tired to try and speak each other's languages." That is, of course, susceptible of a wider application.

It is that kind of gap, that inability to understand, that I want to bridge. I hate us-them mentalities with an irrational passion, and find them specially culpable among Christians; after all:

"Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh." -- The Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 2.13-17, in the King James because it sounds awesome.

This isn't an abstract piece of argument, though it expresses through mystical ideas the binding together of very different kinds of people. St. Paul, born and raised in the rabbinic tradition of ancient Judaism, was also (as his letters show) well-educated in the classics of pagan Greek culture, and drew freely from both sources for both language and ideas. In other words, St. Paul listened as well as talking. And that makes sense. It squares with the Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus; nobody likes to not be listened to (I find it pretty difficult to school my temper when I feel I'm being disdained or ignored). It has practical advantages, too: St. Thomas Aquinas, in baptizing Aristotle, revolutionized the Catholic faith, making it more philosophically expansive and dextrous than it had ever been before. It also sets a good example: Gandhi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world, so if we want our voices heard, we must prove by example that people's voices being heard is important to us. And there's only one way of doing that.

And finally, it is better from an evangelistic perspective. Pope Benedict has spoken much of the New Evangelization, of the need to proclaim the Gospel again to regions once Christianized. To do that effectively, we need to know what people outside the faith think and why they think it; and that requires a respectful and receptive set of ears more than an open mouth. Talking and not listening is not admonishing the sinner; it is being a bully and a bad witness. If we value the expansion of the faith as much as we say we do, we'd better do what it takes to remove the obstacles to that expansion, including the obstacles of our own superiority, rightness, and comfort.

So -- to translate Mark 1.15 in a more modern idiom -- open your heart; the kingdom of God is at hand.


  1. Very well said. I look forward to hearing more from you here.

  2. Huzzah! Good for you, Ian. I know we don't always see eye-to-eye on some things, but I do understand that feeling you have of having one foot in each camp of two warring factions. I feel much the same way about my science and my faith in Jesus. So it will be fun and informative to read what you are thinking, and probably encouraging as well. Maybe I'll even start writing myself more often! ^_^

    True freedom to think comes when the mind is His!