Collect


Collect for Hallowmas or All Saints' Day

O almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, November 29, 2013

An Appendix to Raw Tact: A Catholic Perspective on Homophobia

In going through the comments to the final installment of Raw Tact, I realized that I never really made clear what precisely I mean by homophobia. Considering that the series was, in one sense, sort of about homophobia ... er ...


My cover story is that I am actually a shaved polar bear, specially trained to type Catholic 
gay pacifist brony essays. Because ... my handlers are Japanese, that's why. Shut up.

I won't belabor the point of whether homophobia exists, something some people (generally Christians) are fond of disputing. I am defining homophobia as injustice against persons who are homosexually attracted, for no reason other than their being homosexually attracted. I propose to take the following for granted: that there are people who are, largely or exclusively, homosexually attracted; that there is such a thing as injustice; and that injustice can be directed towards them for that reason. If any readers want to dispute those premises, well, I'm a little afraid to have anything to do with them. If anyone wants to argue that homophobia shouldn't be the word used to cover such things, I will quietly tear out a few handfuls of hair over my keyboard and count to ten, and then say that they have a right to their opinion and I to ignore it. I decline to adopt the cumbersome circumlocution injustice-against-persons-who-happen-to-be-homosexually-attracted. As a very perspicuous woman once remarked, ain't nobody got time fo' dat.

The Catholic doctrine of the morality of the act of gay sex is well known, and need not be belabored either. What is a little less well known, on both sides of the discussion, is the paragraph which immediately follows in the Catechism. I therefore quote it in full.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. -- The Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2358

Now, there is a great deal in this paragraph to raise the hackles of LGBT activists. I haven't much taste for it myself. However, I don't propose to go into that matter, legitimate though it is, in detail, save to say the following: that most of the phrases that are offensive to the modern American ear are technical terms of Catholic theology, which don't at all mean what they would in their vernacular use; that I've discussed the subtleties of their meaning elsewhere, here particularly, and cordially request that comments wrangling with those definitions be made on that post rather than this one, simply to keep this post on track; and that I am not, in posting this paragraph, demanding that anybody believe what it says. I am concerned here only to set forth exactly what the Catholic doctrine is, and why I think, on these very premises, that we can still have a meaningful dialogue about homophobia and its wrongness.

Let us begin with some basic human rights: the right to live, the right to liberty, the right to work, the right to privacy. Well, gay people are, first of all, people. Gayness doesn't alter that. Therefore, any proposal to interfere with these rights simply because someone is gay meets the definition of homophobia. Saying that gay people should be executed, beaten, locked up, expelled from their homes, fired from their jobs, or monitored because of being homosexually attracted -- still more, doing any of those things -- is wrong, on Catholic premises.

It is, alas, abundantly clear that all too many Catholics have not lived in accord with these precepts. Catholic parents have thrown their own children out of their houses for being gay, or sent them into the abusive nightmares of the ex-gay world. That is one of the things that makes our message unbelievable; or, to put it in scriptural language, the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of us.

Some people would argue that this doesn't forbid us from attempting to reintroduce, say, sodomy laws, because those are concerned specifically with the act, and not with the person just as such. I consider this argument specious. It might be consistent to try to legislate all sexual mores, I guess; but in that case, we ought to institute laws against masturbation and extramarital straight sex just as much as against gay sex. To pick one over the others, when all equally are treated as sinful by the Catechism, again takes us into the territory of injustice, and, if the one we pick is homosexuality, into the territory of homophobia in particular.

I shall be bold to presume that Christian social conservatives are not, in fact, going to propose the introduction of laws against straight fornication or masturbation. (The latter being a singularly challenging thing to legislate on, given how frequently the act is consensual.) I don't think this is solely a matter of hypocrisy. It involves two other things. First, there is the fact that such laws would most certainly have no effect whatsoever. The same argument could be made about sodomy laws, since putting men in prison is, I gather, of limited value in getting them to quit having gay sex.


And with a setting as romantically sensual as this, who can blame them?

The other problem with legislating such morals is that we live in a de facto post-Christian society. I'm not going to argue whether homosexuality is a specifically Christian issue, or whether it's good or bad or indifferent to live in this kind of society. But apart from a society which is genuinely suffused with Christian values, not by the exterior pressure of the law, but by the majority of the people being practicing Christians, I don't think that baptizing the legal system is going to do any good. You might just as well baptize a crib and expect it to keep the baby out of trouble.

It isn't inappropriate, at this juncture, to reference a passage of C. S. Lewis', written in an era far more homophobic than our own. I first read this before realizing I was gay, and once I had realized it, it was a comfort to me that a man I so admired had written in such terms, instead of in the ugly and angry terms I had so often heard from World Magazine or Focus On the Family:

"People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this. But why? Because those of us who do not share the vice feel for it a certain nausea, as we do, say, for necrophily? I think that of very little relevance to moral judgment. ... Is it then on Christian grounds? But how many of those who fulminate on the matter are in fact Christians? And what Christian, in a society so worldly and cruel as that of [his boarding school], would pick out the carnal sins for special reprobation? Cruelty is surely more evil than lust and the World at least as dangerous as the Flesh. The real reason for all this pother is, in my opinion, neither Christian nor ethical. We attack this vice not because it is the worst but because it is, by adult standards, the most disreputable and unmentionable, and happens also to be a crime in English law. The World will lead you only to Hell; but sodomy may lead you to jail and create a scandal, and lose you your job. The World, to do it justice, seldom does that." -- Surprised by Joy, pp. 108-109.

Now, when we speak of rights, it is important too to recognize that the rights of every person and institution must be carefully prevented from legally trampling upon the rights of other persons and institutions. Further distinctions are therefore needed.

So, let us take a Catholic school as an example. Let's say that there's a teacher there called Bill, who, as it happens, is gay. (I know, I know, it would never happen, but work with me.)


And let's say that Bill comes out. Doesn't say anything about his sex life, or lack thereof. Just mentions that he's gay. Firing or disciplining him, just for admitting that he's gay, is homophobic.

Now, if he said that he had an active sex life with another man or men and saw nothing wrong with that, there might possibly be grounds for disciplining him -- not specifically because it's a gay sex life, but, if teaching at a Catholic school involves agreeing to trying to model Catholicism to his students and Bill openly refuses to do that, then he simply isn't doing what he agreed to do in the first place. In that case, we're dealing with something more like a breach of contract, and he isn't entitled to special treatment.

But let's add another twist. Bill admits to an active gay sex life, and the administration fires him. Another male teacher, Frank, who is straight, admits that he's having sex out of wedlock, and sees no problem with that; and nothing is done, or he's given a meaningless slap on the wrist. In that case, the administration has been shown to be homophobic, because they're making a double standard between gay and straight. If their concern were really for the integrity of the Catholic faith and its modeling to their students, Frank would have been fired too.*

And the bad facts are, this kind of thing happens all the time. Christians, and perhaps none more than Catholics, are so caught up in winning a culture war that we aren't applying our own principles consistently. That doesn't just look bad and embarrass us. It is a sin against God that we need to repent; it is a sin against our fellow man that we need to apologize for, and desist from.

Other important examples of homophobia -- negative opinions about homosexual people that do not follow from Catholic premises -- would include:

- The persistent idea that LGBT people are likely to be deranged sexual maniacs of one kind or another -- pedophiles, rapists, whores, &c. I have found very little statistical evidence (whether by research or my own experience) of any correlation between being gay and being anything else in particular,** let alone promiscuous or a predator; and I learned pretty quickly that, as the old saw goes, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. I have seen some studies on the subject, and I'm not sure I've seen any that didn't appear to have a bias. However, even if any such correlations could be shown, there are two grave objections to making anything out of them: first of all, the Results of Scientific Inquiry change every forty minutes or so; and second, even a correlation, if there were one, would prove exactly nothing about causation.


xkcd 925, by Randall Munroe. And he would know, he used to work for Science.

- The idea that homosexuality is somehow specifically diabolical. Reasons for this idea elude me, though unfortunately examples of it do not. The grossly irresponsible press around Joseph Sciambra's memoir of his experiences in the sadomasochist scene springs to mind (to which Melinda Selmys wrote an intelligent and measured reply). I assume that no one except Christians indulges in this particular kind of homophobia, since it relies upon belief in the Christian devil; I will therefore content myself with pointing out that, in the five Scriptures*** that directly address homosexuality at all, the devil and his angels come up exactly zero times; and the doctrine of the Catholic Church, set forth in the Catechism, does not bring him into it either. Individual theologians may do so, but they are voicing their own opinion, not the formal belief of the Church, and I shall therefore be so bold as to call their opinion silly.

- There are plenty of conspiracy theories abroad about gay people. The only one that's true is that we are working with the Greys to inculcate the protocols of the Elders of Zion and bring the Illuminati to -- oh, dammit, I forgot, we're not supposed to bring that up.


What is perhaps even more worrying and mysterious is what the Greys are doing with that magisterial coif.

Anyway, one of the conspiracy theories that I personally find most baffling, to the point that I'm almost too confused to be offended, is the belief among some people that the LGBT community is trying to turn people gay, children particularly. Um ... we're really not. Considering that a great many of us -- possibly most -- think that gayness is an inherited trait rather than an environmental one, we wouldn't, would we? There would be no point.

So what mean things can we Christians think about gay people?

Well, my own advice would be to stick to that thing about the Greys. That's got some promise.

But if something more is insisted upon, I'd reply that, taking the Catholic doctrine as our premise, the only thing we need to do is consider the view held by most gay activists to be incorrect. We do not need to think them stupid, evil, or crazy, because disagreement does not require any of those things in order to exist. Friendship and mutual respect can exist between people who disagree severely, and even between people whose aims are profoundly opposed to one another. For example, a close friend of mine is a conservative Lutheran, who is currently grieving over what is to me an occasion of rejoicing, the conversion of a mutual friend of ours to Catholicism; and my Lutheran friend and I have condoled together over his sadness, because we respect one another despite our grave theological difference.**** Each of us is quite frankly trying to convert the other, and respects the other's attempts to do so -- indeed, we'd both be disappointed if the other did not take our convictions seriously and value the other person enough to care what they thought; and because of that mutual respect, we explain ourselves carefully, try to listen to one another equally carefully, and try to conduct ourselves civilly. Similarly, I hold to the hope, not that the debate between traditional Christianity and the LGBT advocacy movement will cease or will cease to matter, but that it can be conducted with -- well, in a word: respect.


*I've simplified these examples, of course. Obviously there could be extenuating factors -- misunderstandings and so forth. But even there, if misunderstandings are shown to tend in one direction or another, we begin to wonder what exactly is being misunderstood -- whether maybe it isn't so much the circumstances or the facts of the case that are being misunderstood, as it is our duty to our fellow man.

**With the possible, and weirdly specific, exception of being disproportionately apt to be interested in philosophy and/or the arts. But that probably says more about the kind of people I tend to make friends with than it does about queer people in general.

***Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13, Romans 1.26-27, I Corinthians 6.9-10, and I Timothy 1.9-10. Other Scriptures are conjectured by some to be addressed to homosexual behavior, or have traditionally been applied to it, such as the Sodom and Gomorrah passage (Genesis 19.1-11). Considering that the passage involves attempted gang-rape, which would be wrong anyway, it logically can't be used to demonstrate anything one way or the other about homosexual acts as such. Only after we have a conclusion about the morality of gay sex can we return to that passage and apply it -- reasoning made all the stronger by the fact that the hideous parallel in Judges 19-20 concerns heterosexual assault.

****If the difference doesn't sound that grave, you probably don't know the Missouri Synod very well.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Five Quick Takes

I.

I think I may be getting lazy. I mean, more so. I only discovered quick takes two months ago, and this is already my third set of them, and my second in a month.

But otherwise I would have no pretext to share this bit from Douglas Adams' wonderful The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, because I can't figure out a way to make an actual post out of it.

     "'Now this produces a very interesting, not to say somewhat embarrassing situation for scientists because the means by which the information is reaching us seems to be completely contrary to the meaning of the information.'
     'It's like Uncle Henry,' said Kate, suddenly.
     Standish looked at her blankly.
     'Uncle Henry thinks he's a chicken,' Kate explained.
     Standish looked at her blankly again.
     'You must have heard it,' said Kate. '"We're terribly worried about Uncle Henry. He thinks he's a chicken." "Well, why don't you send him to the doctor?" "Well, we would only we need the eggs."'
     Standish stared at her as if a small but perfectly formed elderberry tree had suddenly sprung unbidden from the bridge of her nose.
     'Say that again,' he said in a small, shocked voice.
     'What, all of it?'
     'All of it.'
     Kate stuck her fist on her hip and said it again, doing the voices with a bit more dash and Southern accents this time.
     'That's brilliant,' Standish breathed when she had done.
     'You must have heard it before,' she said, a little surprised by this response. 'It's an old joke.'
     'No,' he said, 'I have not. We need the eggs. We need the eggs. We need the eggs. "We can't send him to the doctor because we need the eggs." An astounding insight into the central paradoxes of the human condition and of our indefatigable facility for constructing adaptive rationales to account for it. Good God.'
     Kate shrugged.
     'And you say this is a joke?' demanded Standish incredulously.
     'Yes. It's very old, really.'
     'And are they all like that? I never realized.'
     'Well --'
     'I'm astounded,' said Standish, 'utterly astounded. I thought that jokes were things that fat people said on television and I never listened to them. I feel that people have been keeping something from me.'"

+     +     +

II.

It's kind of interesting to me that introversion has become so fashionable. I'm born and bred that way, and I always kind of wished I could be the gregarious, life-of-the-party kind of person, because I wanted to be liked and likable. Everybody does, I guess. But ever since introverts became weirdly chic, I've been finding more and more that, even apart from the mere tiresomeness of the bandwagoneers (great name for a slightly-worse-than-mediocre indie rock band), the attention upon introverts becomes sort of -- not oppressive, that's the wrong word -- tiring. Being around people can be extremely fun, but it takes so much energy.

+     +     +

III.

I believe at least one of these quick takes is obliged, by law and custom, to be profound. This is not that one.

+     +     +

IV.


Neither is this.

+     +     +

V.

I've been rereading Brideshead Revisited. It's not without its weak points, but the picture it paints of Catholicism is so remarkably authentic. One of the things that Waugh has a real talent for is exposing the failures even of his legitimately attractive characters (like Cordelia or Sebastian or Cara), and that kind of artistic honesty, which some people find cynical, is deeply attractive to me. (I have read very little Flannery O'Connor yet -- I read A Good Man Is Hard to Find in school and found it dismally depressing, and read Wise Blood a couple of years ago and am pretty sure I didn't get it -- but she seems to have the same quality.) It's kind of one of the things I like about being Catholic, this feeling of being mixed up with deeply flawed people who are intensely loved, and should be. It seems like a perfect portrait of God: you can just see the blood, earth, and sweat on His hands, and He wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Raw Tact, Part XI: Prolegomena to Any Future Gay-Christian Dialogue

This is my final installation in the Raw Tact series. The chief purpose of this series, throughout, has been to facilitate gay-Christian dialogue. I admit that I have developed an aversion to the word "dialogue"; it seems like it's become one of those Christian-hipster catchwords.


I'm trying to live an emergent missional paradigm that imbues ancient-future values into an intentional community.

On the other hand, it's probably a little rich of me to be annoyed by other Christian hipsters. (Or maybe it's the crowning jewel of my Christian hipsterdom.) In any case, dialogue seems like the most serviceable word.

For it is dialogue, rather than dogmatics, that I think useful and desirable here. Now, there can (in my view) be no meaningful dialogue between people without defined beliefs, if only because in that case they have nothing to discuss; and dialogue is, as the word suggests, bidirectional* -- I want the gay community to listen to the Church quite as much as I want the Church to listen to the gay community. But the point is that I feel strongly that the Christian approach to queer issues has, with whatever good intentions, been seriously misguided, from the Sexual Revolution up to now. And it is especially gay Christians (I Tiresias, throbbing between two lives**) who have to pay for that.

I've stated before my affirmation of Catholic teaching, on this subject as on all, which follows from my belief in the Church's infallibility. But that applies to her teaching, not to its application in pastoral practice, and certainly not to the attitudes and behavior of Catholics in general, let alone of Christians in general.

There are many particular mistakes in the Christian (and specifically Catholic) approach to this that I could point to: the dismal failure of the ex-gay experiment, itself largely premised on the profounder mistake of idolizing marriage, to say nothing of homophobia; the damaging and unjust conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia; the nightmarish fact that Christian parents have been known to cold-shoulder, brutalize, and even expel children who admit to same-sex feelings and experiences. But I think that there is a more fundamental error underlying the wrong-headed tactics: one that is much harder to correct and requires in amendment a great deal more humility and love than apologizing for a specific offense.

That fundamental error is that of not listening to the gay community.


Surprisingly, no one's mind was changed after this exchange.

The reasons for this are legion, including some that have an appearance of great wisdom; as that the Church must be wary of the influence of the World. That is quite true. But the World does not only try to influence the Church to dilute her sexual mores and her authority to define them; I think that, in the American churches particularly, it has infected her with its view of success and of "winning" in controversies. Far be it from me to say that, e.g., political stances are unimportant, whether in themselves or as instantiations of religious freedom; but does anyone seriously believe that one single soul would be won by the passage of any law whatsoever? If they do, why do they think that, when the very Torah was powerless to save anybody? If not, why do so many believers give the impression of caring far more about laws than about the people with whom those laws are concerned?

I'd argue for the following basic points, in order, as Christians, to approach gay-Christian dialogue with intelligence and love:

1. Keep always in mind Martin Luther King's powerful saying, "Whom you would change you must first love, and they must know that you love them." And the thing about love is that it isn't conditional. It isn't a matter of loving people because that will change them.*** No change will happen without love, precisely because real love makes space for authentic change by not demanding it, by being present and open to the beloved simply because the beloved is there.

2. Listen before you speak. If your beliefs are settled, you can talk about them any time; they're not going to run away. If your beliefs are not settled, not listening to the group of people whom those beliefs chiefly concern is, well, either foolish or bigoted. By not listening, you're setting yourself up to be powerless to communicate -- you have no frame of reference for what the other person thinks or cares about, or for what language will actually convey your real meaning.

3. Learn to distinguish between being right and knowing what you're talking about. In my experience very few Christians know what they're talking about when it comes to LGBT issues, with the mostly consistent exception of LGBT Christians ourselves (and some of us leave something to be desired). A given moral stance about behavior is one thing. To suppose, based on such a moral stance, that you have the faintest idea what it is like to be one of us -- that is where the clumsiness and offense typically come in, especially when that actual gap in knowledge is filled by assumptions derived from a mixture of media portrayals and aging stereotypes that were shallow and crass even in their own day.


Note the tiny mustache, the age-old visual Esperanto for "creepy pervert."

4. Drop the language war. If "gay" is good enough for the Pope, it's good enough for the rest of us. The Gay Agenda did not persuade people because it stopped using the phrase "same-sex attracted." No one cares except you, and it's making you look hysterical and stupid.**** Considering the disadvantage we're at in proclaiming both Christian love and Christian truth to the culture at large, I don't think we can afford either the energy or the bad rap that this costs us.

5. Drop the social war. I am not saying here that the Church's doctrine does not impinge upon politics or has no right to do so; but I'm not talking here about politics. I'm talking about everyday life. A lot of Catholics seem to think that by doing normal things with LGBT people -- like having a gay couple over for Thanksgiving dinner -- they're somehow lending their approval to a sinful lifestyle. Do you apply that same rubric to literally any other group of people? I damn well hope not. Christ invites us to love as we have been loved, and our sins and shortcomings (many of them unrepented and even unacknowledged) are far more visible to His love than anybody else's are to ours -- yet here He is, in the midst of our messy lives. And if, by being involved in the lives of gay people, we find ourselves accused of being gluttonous men and winebibbers, friends of tax collectors and sinners ... well, I guess we must be wrong then, better cut that out right now.

It may seem strange to some readers that I spend so much more time talking to, and rebuking, fellow Christians, than I do trying to evangelize fellow gays. There are a lot of reasons for that, one of them being that I'm not stupid.


Famous last words.

Fellow gays who are already believers are, well, already believers; and those who aren't, if they read a Christian blog at all, are not likely to be persuaded by a stranger telling them how they ought to conduct their lives, whether he's also gay or not. If I were someone they actually knew, then I would try to live as a witness; but that primarily means displaying love, not proselytizing; and considering my life, I don't know that I dare proselytize anyway. I'm narcissistic like the next guy, but I'm not quite as narcissistic as that.


I've never even attended the VMAs, for one thing.

But there's more to it than that. Christians have a unique calling, and a higher standard of conduct. That the sons and daughters of this age should live as if they were not intimately acquainted with the love of God, that they should prize success and winning a kulturkampf, that they should treat certain groups of people as their enemies, all this is comprehensible. For Christians to do that, when we consider the supernatural Life to which we are called, is squalid and pathetic. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, and our victories are not political or social in character. There is no human being, living or dead, whom we may legitimately hate, even if we may legitimately oppose them in one way or another. Sit back for a moment, and contemplate the fact that Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, too.

Since childhood, I have seen the interaction between gays and Christians take the form of a culture war. Even as a child, this struck me as utterly nonsensical. Shouldn't we have been expecting to be at a disadvantage, to be shoved aside, to be socially -- perhaps, one day, politically -- disfranchised? Why the shock and outrage? Why not, if we are so convinced we are being persecuted, put the Beatitude that blesses the persecuted into practice? Why not imitate the Apostles, who rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer for the Name? It's not like God can't take care of Himself, anyway.


Though He does consistently choose not to.

But. It does take two to tango, and the incredible butthurt that characterizes gay-Christian dialogue is not only the fault of traditional Christians.

I would therefore close on a note of equal appeal to my queer sisters and brothers. I would, first of all, beg forgiveness for our errors and sins, and ask you to believe that, though not all, yet many of those errors and sins were committed out of ignorance and clumsiness rather than spite. I would ask that we be judged individually and on our own merits, not based on your experiences of other people, or worse, what you assume or imagine might well be the case about us. If you revolt at the injustice of other people treating you that way, you must be just as careful not to do it to others; that is only right. I would ask that you take care to understand exactly what we are saying, and to take it from us, rather than relying on hearsay and reacting in anger. I would remind you that some of us, including some traditionalists, are gay ourselves, and are just as hurt by being lumped together with deranged homophobic fanatics as you would be (perhaps, have been) by being lumped together with criminals and lunatics. In a word, I would repeat that "Whom you would change you must first love, and they must know that you love them."



*Heh.

**T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, III.218.

***It should be unnecessary to clarify this (but unfortunately it is necessary): when I speak of "change" I am not taking about reorientation, direct or indirect.

****I'm not saying that language is unimportant or that it doesn't shape how we think; I studied Classics so that I could read the New Testament in the original language. But the particular fight over the word "gay," which is now common parlance to both sides of the A/B divide, and doesn't in fact have any specific philosophical connotations (even if it used to), has become so pointless and pedantic that the only practical effect it has is of making the people who conduct the fight look like homophobes, and, in Louis C. K.'s sense, faggy.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Music: The Irrepressibles

Every time I listen to this song I'm simply bowled over by it. If you have not encountered The Irrepressibles before, you're welcome.


These are the lyrics. I think. It's hard to tell in a couple spots.

Show me your reasons to fight
The new world tonight
I will be here by your side
So true
'Cause I can see truth from my eyes
They blinded me with rules from when I was a child
'Cause all around the vain ones decide
The ways in which we live our lives

Show me the truth that you hide
The world needs to know
That there'll be no sacrifice
The love we share has to grow
Take off that burden that burden that was set
There'll be no miracles to make you fit
And look deep into my eyes
You'll see the truth you long to find

And we'll breathe
I'll dream
We'll scream
Louder so we'll be seen

Show me the tears that you cry
Some problems can cut deep inside
But I believe there's ways to climb
Out into another time

And we'll breathe
I'll dream
We'll scream
Louder so we'll be seen

Ah, ah, ah, ah

Breathe

Dream

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tactics of a Perplexed Celibate

ATTENTION, THE INTERNET. THIS IS MY ONE HUNDREDTH POST ON MUDBLOOD CATHOLIC.


Though I suppose Pinky Pie blowing a noisemaker would've been more appropriate. 
But whatever, Fluttershy is my favorite and always will be. #bronies4eva

Now that I've mentally scarred you by coming out as something even weirder than a gay anarchist Catholic, on to my actual topic.

A commenter on my latest Raw Tact post posed me a very significant question. I've discussed before my failures vis-a-vis chastity, though I've tried not to bore anyone with the gory details (to be more honest, I've been scared to embarrass myself and maybe gross out a lot of my readership; plus, it just doesn't seem necessary). His remarks ran, in part, as follows:
You say, "What I am trying to do at the moment is see if I can find my way into some sort of self-restructuring." I think this is good! I'd just be careful, and forgive me for being a bit skeptical. 
Can you identify for us ... any concrete ways in which you are actually trying to restructure, any sort of logic regarding why you hope certain causes would lead to certain effects, or any experimentation you are implementing with new approaches (this might require spiritual risk taking!) to see just what sort of effects occur?
Because if your attempt at restructuring is just continuing to try to "enforce the law" by sheer repressive power, and the reason it is restructuring, not war, is merely because you hope some structural transformation will suddenly occur out of nowhere ... (perhaps, you imagine, God will give it to you like a miracle as a result of your Semi-Pelagian attempt?) ... I have to predict with moral certitude that this will not work, and indeed it seems rather disingenuous to call this a restructuring ... rather than a repressive approach.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. There are, in my view, only a few things as dangerous and destructive as a spirituality that has "zeal without knowledge," whether it lacks knowledge through naivety, carelessness, having been deceived, or deliberate self-blinding.


Lack of zeal is not a problem with anyone in this picture.

So how exactly does one try to be chaste without merely repressing? I used to think that as long as I acknowledged that I felt these feelings, I wasn't repressing. But even so, my only recourse at the time was to try and steel myself against doing it (whatever constituted "it" at that moment), and, if I lost that fight, going to Confession later. And that wasn't wrong. But it also wasn't helpful, fundamentally, for the same reason that mere indulgence doesn't get rid of temptation: neither mere refusal nor mere assent deals with the root of the matter.

And what is the root of the matter? ... Oy.

The trouble about discussing sexuality -- and this is not peculiar to gay sexuality -- is that it involves you in nearly everything. There's a sense in which sexuality is the crossroads of our being: every level of our self is involved in it at once. The biological elements are the ones we're perhaps most apt to think of; but it even the psychological elements are more complex than I think we give them credit for, and the ties between sexuality and the spirit are profound indeed. When we think, not only of the sacramentality of marriage as discussed in the New Testament, but of the fact that it is from sexuality that new life comes, so that sexuality is one of the chief modes in which we bear the image of God* ... well, we're in deep waters, for bad or good.

Being gay doesn't make any of this less true. That's part of what makes it so hard (you in the back, quit giggling). The common Catholic tactic of implying that giving up sex shouldn't be such a big deal to someone who isn't selfishly hedonistic, betrays a woefully shallow outlook on sex and sexuality. Yes, there are other modes of experiencing and expressing love; yes, we don't "need" sex the way we need food and drink; that isn't the point. The need to love and be loved as a specifically incarnate being, the need to give of oneself, and the need to create, are real needs of the human person; and erotic love -- truly or falsely -- holds out the promise of all three. (Remember, the fact that gay sex won't in fact result in children doesn't make the psychological significance of our sex drives any different.) Just saying "Nah" is not an adequate reply, and even less so when telling somebody else that should be their reaction.


"We literally made this. But that's boring. Have you watched any good TV lately?"

So, as a gay Christian, what am I doing or trying, other than saying "Nah"?

Well, speaking of boring, prayer and the sacraments are prerequisites for any serious attempt at the spiritual life. God is remarkably prosaic. His own earthly life was so prosaic that the Gospel writers had almost nothing to tell of it: some neat things around when He was born (which was surely as dirty and messy an affair as any birth in first-century Palestine, and more so from taking place in a reeking animals' stall), a curious little episode when He was twelve, and nothing else between infancy and the age of thirty. Likewise, the practice of prayer and taking part in the sacraments have a very unspectacular appearance. But they are of the essence. Prayer is our lungs; the Eucharist is our heart; Confession is our immune system.


Hey, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us is important. Who knew.

However, these are not enough by themselves; not that God doesn't dispense great graces to us in them, but that wrapping those graces in a napkin and burying them, instead of investing them, will not earn us any profit to bring back to Him.** Going back to the bodily analogy, God provides all the organs of the body, as well as the food, but you still have to eat the food or it won't nourish you.

Now, I'm going to say something all of my gay readers who've made any attempt at the traditional lifestyle, whether as celibates or as ex-gays, have heard till they're sick of it: you need solid friendships. But I have to qualify that in two ways. 

First of all, a lot of the authors I've read seem to imply that, once you have some solid friendships under your belt, you stop being lonely and don't want a partner any more. To that, I have to respectfully cry bullshit. Loneliness is a feature of all human life, and, yes, being the single one in a group of predominantly married friends can exacerbate that instead of helping. You need friends because intimate friendship is something that every person needs to be a healthy person, not because they act collectively as some kind of surrogate spouse. (For that matter, spouses seeking emotional support exclusively from each other is a great way to ruin a marriage; but that's another topic.) The reason this universal need comes up at all is that friendship is weirdly scarce in our culture, and that cultural lack, which makes marriages harder than they have to be, can make celibacy borderline impossible.

Second, I'm not saying, like a lot of ex-gay theorists, that these friendships are how you gain male (or female) affirmation and learn your gender role through imitating worthy models and all that. I mean, if you feel the need for that, fine; I certainly have; and I'm not above imitating friends that I think are worthy of imitation coughJoeyPrevercough. But that applies to both sexes coughMelindaSelmyscough, and anyway, friendship is not primarily about finding role models. That's what role models are for, actually.


Um ... not quite what I meant.

So, prayer, sacraments, friendship. But I was doing all that last time, and, as my priestly interlocutor pointed out, old methods do not bring about new results. Anything else?

I haven't got a lot, honestly. I admit I'm partly hoping that I've grown enough -- and that maybe my sex drive has calmed down enough -- that I can do without a boyfriend now. I don't know; but it seems like the only way to find out is to give it a try. At this point, I don't feel I've been trying long enough to have a confident answer.

A lot of people would jump in here and argue that powering through is absolutely the way to go; just keep trying, and God will give the grace to succeed. I've written about that mindset before, and, without being too harsh, I can't help feeling that it smacks of Job's comforters. God gives everyone the grace necessary to come to Him -- not necessarily the grace to be perfect. Only one person was ever immaculately conceived; and Jesus did have the foresight to institute the sacrament of Confession.


"Father, I wore those weird shoes with the individual toes."
"This problem is beyond me, my child."

However, with those caveats in place, I would bring up creativity. I take creativity to be one of our fundamental human impulses, of which our sex drive is a biological expression. Now, the fact that our sex drives happen to be misdirected doesn't mean our creativity will necessarily be distorted, and, when we consider the massive amount of magnificent art from homosexual artists, I think we can safely say that it isn't true in practice, either. My own opinion is that every celibate, gay or not, needs some type of creative outlet. For a straight, married person, sex can be at least part of the outlet for the creative urge; for someone who's trying to be celibate, that's not possible, and so the whole creative impulse must, if possible, be given expression in a non-sexual way. A repressed desire, especially one linked to so many levels of our being at once, will manifest itself sooner or later, and if it is refused legitimate satisfactions it will find others.

But sexuality involves more than just the urge to make; it also involves the more specific urge to beget -- to be a mother or a father. The fight of the LGBT movement for adoption rights is not just about making a political point about equality; I think it is linked to this far deeper desire.

And begetting? -- for me specifically, being a father, somehow? How should that need be satisfied?


"Cocaine."

I'm not sure. There is such a thing as spiritual fatherhood, of course; priests, among others, have that. St. Paul speaks of having fathered St. Timothy in the Lord, and I don't think he means exclusively having been the one to baptize him. But what spiritual fatherhood is, especially outside a priestly context, I just don't know. I suspect that without it, I probably won't be able to manage chastity, long term; or if by some chance I do, it'll have a partially empty feeling -- as of spending a great deal of energy to accomplish something that was challenging but not, in itself, very important. But I simply don't know. I haven't found out yet what the solution is, or what the problem will be like if it goes unsolved.

*I think I first ran into this point in an essay of Dorothy Sayers': it is a remarkable fact that if you look at the first account of creation, the only salient characteristic of God that we are told about before being told that we are made in His image, is that He makes things. We do not make out of nothing like He does -- all our creation is organization and reorganization of things that already existed (at least in terms of what it is made of) -- yet we too are makers; and not only of things that are useful. We often make for the sheer delight of making. That sex, which is the means of begetting a new life, should therefore be among the highest of pleasures is therefore deeply consonant with the Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation, and perhaps even more reflective of the specifically Christian doctrine of the begetting of the Son as the perfect expression of the love and being of the Father. But all this is way too much to deal with in a footnote.

**So to speak, since of course it is all His, both in principle and in fact -- He has a right to everything, and everything is in fact sustained in existence by His will. But I am the bolder to speak this way on the grounds that He did Himself.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Defiled

Though I've mentioned it briefly before, this was a really hard post to write. Warning: it contains language and subject matter that may be triggering for people who've experienced traumas. To make myself feel better, and probably alienate my readers in the process, I will be interspersing inappropriately amusing photographs.


It's my defense mechanism.

For forty minutes I've been sitting here, and I've written two sentences. Wow. Okay. There is just no good angle from which to tackle this, is there. This is kind of disjointed.

When I was an adolescent, I was raped four times.

Talking about it doesn't make you feel better, but not talking about it is like living in hell.

The thing about rape is that it shatters your psyche. It isn't just a physical violation, it's a violation of every level of your personhood at once. Emotional, sexual, relational, spiritual.

The first time, I was a thirteen year old boy. He was eighteen or nineteen, I think. It was on a church trip. Nobody knew, for years.

The church didn't do much when they found out, years later, three more rapes later; asked him to leave the congregation. I don't think they did anything else. I'm not sure why: afraid the scandal would hurt the congregation, maybe, or hurt me. Perhaps they wanted him to have a chance to repent. It's a damn shame that forgiveness and indulgence get confused so often. There's no inconsistency in forgiving a man and still demanding that he be disciplined.

For a year after that, I believed there was no such thing as free will. At the time, I thought it was just the logical outworking of my Calvinism, and it was. But it was also a reaction. I didn't want there to be a me that that had happened to; but if it happened to a thing, a puppet, that wasn't so bad. Looking back, I'm stunned at my own callousness.


On the credit side, that is a beard for the ages.

I started thinking about killing myself when I was fourteen. I was too scared to do it, but I fantasized about it for hours at a time. The thought recurred every few months at least, until my conversion to the Catholic faith. I've never seriously entertained the idea since.

The second, third, and fourth times were when I was sixteen. They stopped because we were caught. I got yelled at, twice, the second time by my therapist (not the therapist I have now). I felt I was to blame; no one told me any different.

I started cutting after that. It lasted for maybe a year. I think I only told two people; I gave my pocketknife to one of them. I pretty much quit after that, barring an episode when I was twenty, shortly before converting, where I beat myself against a brick wall, after hearing a talk about chastity at a campus ministry I was involved in.

I still have a very complicated relationship to touch. It's my primary love language; I crave it like I crave water when I'm thirsty. And yet, if I'm touched unexpectedly, I jump as if I've been shocked. I think this, far more than being gay, is also a root of my ambivalence about sex.


I don't know why it's from Star Trek, just go with it.

The thoughts I had about myself -- self-hatred is weirdly addictive -- would be unreadable if they weren't indescribable. Even recollecting some of the words makes me almost dizzy: filthy, ugly, piece of shit, worthless, disgusting, slut. I remember once thinking vindictively of myself, after a cutting session, There, the outside matches the inside.

All this is part of why Victor literally saved my life. Without trying to, and without knowing he was doing it. He actually believed that God loved people, and he showed me love -- and this is important -- without thinking about it. It was just the natural thing to do, as far as he was concerned. The idea that I could be -- was -- an object of love ... I can't describe the change.

The same thing, curiously, has happened again over the past couple of weeks. I'm not sure why, but I've awakened recently to the fact that there are people in my life who, for whatever reason, give a shit about whether I live or die, and are not always secretly waiting for me to get the hell out so that they can have a relieving break from my presence. The thing is -- and this will probably sound strange to my sane readers, if there are any -- that concept blows my mind. The idea that somebody would want me around, me the person, is so alien to my mind that, most of the time, I literally can't believe it.


Please note that, as grateful as I am both for love and the power to accept it, this still applies. Sorry for any mixed signals.

Being raped turns you into a thing in the most degrading sense: sex, which is supposed to be (among other things) perhaps the most intimately personal act of embrace, is made into a vehicle for predation, for using someone like a thing and throwing them away like a thing, treating their very personhood as if it didn't exist. You're wanted exclusively for your physical mechanics.

In a way, this confirms my rejection of ex-gay theory twice over. My homoerotic desires and impulses predate the rapes, for one thing; for another, if this were really the formative influence, then frankly, ex-gay stuff should have worked for me, and it absolutely didn't.

Why talk about it? In my experience, and in that of the handful of other victims I've known, being able to talk about it is a prerequisite for survival. That which is not acknowledged cannot be healed. And seeing someone else talk about proves two things: first, that survival is possible; and second, that it can be talked about -- there are safe people in the world, people who get it.

In addition to that, the responses I've sometimes heard (secondhand -- I've been spared most of these, thank God) leave me flabbergasted by their heartless stupidity. Blaming the victim for being manipulative or provocative? Yeah, because kids are sexually alluring all the time, and they certainly understand the gravity of the situation, which is why it's their responsibility and not that of the adult.


Neil Patrick Harris, on the other hand, I make no apology for.

Saying to just forgive it and move on? Forgive, absolutely, but there is no such thing as just forgiving: Christ didn't just forgive His executioners; He forgave them. That is an act of heroic compassion, powered by Divine grace -- that is, by the life of God, manifest in us. And as for moving on, what the fuck kind of advice is that to give somebody who has to grieve their own innocence? If I can trust my own experience, you don't move on, you pick up the shattered pieces of your psyche and build a new one. And that takes years. And the task defeats some of us.

Talking about it can help restrain some of the idiotic, cruel replies some people make. I tend to think a lot of those replies are fueled more by the fact that the subject makes people uncomfortable than by anything to do with wisdom or charity. If there's one thing everybody seems to hate, it's not knowing what to say; and when it comes to this, a lot of people don't know what to say. Which would be fine, if it were admitted.

Not least because a lot of times what we need is not advice, but just someone there with us, showing that they don't think we're a thing and they don't think we're ugly. That we're wanted, and worth wanting.


And if touch as a love language doesn't come naturally, just pretend that we're in an adaptation of a Stephen King novel that inexplicably doesn't seem to take place in New England, and you need to reassure yourself that reality is still there. But try not to think about the leech thing.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Five Quick Takes

I.

Reflecting partly on the subject of my last Raw Tact post (which, in less than a week, has become my fourth most read post ever), the links between suffering, joy, and God's work in us have been on my mind lately. I often play this song when I think about these things. It may be my favorite song ever -- reading it through a spiritual lens its authoress most likely didn't have in mind.


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II.

My friend Joey Prever, the author of the Steve Gershom blog, just put up a new post, which is (as always) excellent. One of the things that struck me about it was that, as it happens, he touches on the subject of pedophiles in it, and takes a very human perspective on those subject to that terrible condition. I've sometimes wondered whether our nation's massive and reflexive loathing of pedophiles may not have more to do with our reassuring ourselves that we do have moral standards about sex -- kind of a "We don't demand much, but for that very reason, you damn well better give us what we do demand!" -- and a little less, maybe, to do with our real (and legitimate) horror of the act. I am not insensitive to that horror; I was victimized myself; but if we really believe that every sin can be forgiven, that one counts.

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III.

I'm an exceedingly flippant person, to the point that I frequently joke about my own griefs and those of other people. Some people find this an amiable quality; I like it, but I've always worried that it makes me a bad person, or that I'll accidentally hurt somebody's feelings. To me, it feels totally natural -- chiefly because I don't see that making a joke out of something makes it unimportant, or even suggests that you don't feel deeply about it. Chesterton (I think it was) said that all the best and oldest jokes are about the most momentous things, and I believe he was exactly right. Long faces don't make things easier to bear. Of course, there are places where I don't crack jokes because it would spoil the mood, like Mass. But I would happily tell a joke about Mass.

+     +     +

IV.

I'm sorry, Fleet Foxes, but your music is not any more interesting just because you made it sound echoey. Please stop calling in the middle of the night and blasting "White Winter Hymnal" at me over the phone.

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V.

One of the things that attracted me to the Anglican Use community, in addition to the enchanting liturgy, was the ties (many of them expressed in that liturgy) to the English literary tradition. The Book of Common Prayer and the King James translation of the Bible are obvious examples, though we use neither of them directly; the poetry of men like John Donne and T. S. Eliot, and the writings of authors like Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers, all entranced me with their beauty and literary power -- whether homely and direct, or elevated and magnanimous. They were, additionally, influences in my own conversion to Catholicism, though my conversion predates the existence of the Ordinariate: both their rationalism and their mysticism suggested that a multitude of things I had taught (or taught myself) to dismiss simply because they were Catholic -- like the veneration of the saints or the use of Confession -- could be believed just on the strength of being true, that is, on their historical, Biblical, and rational merits. Their fidelity to Christian history, their sense of going back through the centuries in an unbroken succession, was powerfully attractive as well -- not like the tradition I was raised in, which seemed almost to feel that the Church had more or less ceased to exist between the departure of St. John the Divine (or St. Augustine, on a good day) and the nailing up of the Ninety-Five Theses.



I don't regard the Anglican heritage in the same light Anglicans do -- well, obviously, or I'd be an Anglican myself. But I have not forgotten my debt of gratitude.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Music: Tchaikovsky, "The 1812 Overture"

I take it that a blog that is both gay and anarchist is, after the release of V for Vendetta, legally and morally required to post this on Guy Fawkes Day. I am, also, a fan of Tchaikovsky in his own right. Admittedly this is only the finale, but it's the bit with the cannons that everyone loves.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Raw Tact, Part X: Agony, Ecstasy

I've been struggling a lot with depression over the past few weeks. What would have been my anniversary with my ex-boyfriend came up late last month; work has been running me into the ground; and I'm feeling like a real moral no-show -- alternating fits between unchastity and anger, with the occasional nervous breakdown for flavor.


Regrettably, adorable drunk lesbians formed no part of any of this angst.

2013 has been a rough year: a dear friend of our family died, my youngest nephew was born nearly two months premature, one of my sisters had to have her thyroid removed, my car (as of today) is in the shop for the third time in six months, Brett Ratner is still alive.* One of the things I've found disappointing and disconcerting is that, in all of this, my main focus has been on Me: My pain, My loneliness, My holiness, not only in contrast to all the suffering people all around me (that is, everybody), but even in contrast to my family and my friends. In one sense I take that to be a good thing -- I mean, that I'm increasingly aware of my selfishness. Saint John of the Cross says that one of the illuminations Divine grace gives us is an awareness of our imperfections, so that it seems at first as though we are losing ground, simply because we're seeing shortcomings that had escaped our notice before. "Dark with excessive bright Thy skirts appear," Milton says of God somewhere in Paradise Lost** -- the light is so brilliant that, until our eyes adjust, it causes blindness rather than sight. At least, I sure hope that's what's happening.

The question of why I would remain a Catholic through all of this, when I could greatly simplify things by, at the least, renouncing the Church's teaching on sexuality, has been posed to me more than once -- not only by others but by me. The simplest answer is that I'm persuaded that the Catholic faith is true, and with that comes the conviction that the Magisterium is reliable. Any dissent from the substance of her teaching on my part would be intellectually inconsistent, and, for someone built like I am, knowingly engaging in intellectual inconsistency would be the height of dishonor. I can be a whore, and that's one thing; but being a liar -- that would be a far deeper violation. It would remove the conditions by which I am able to sin and still repent, and I need those to function as a Christian. Even, perhaps, to function as a man.
"You think a wife might feel sensitive about her husband's honor -- even if it were sacrificed on her account?" said Miss Stevens. "Well -- I don't know." 
"I should think," said Miss Chilperic, stammering a little in her earnestness, "she would feel like a man who -- I mean, wouldn't it be like living on somebody's immoral earnings?" 
"There," said Peter, "if I may say so, I think you are exaggerating. The man who does that -- if he isn't too far gone to have any feelings at all -- is hit by other considerations, some of which have nothing whatever to do with ethics. But it is extremely interesting that you should make the comparison." He looked at Miss Chilperic so intently that she blushed. 
"Perhaps that was rather a stupid thing to say." 
"No. But if it ever occurs to people to value the honor of the mind equally with the honor of the body, we shall get a social revolution of a quite unparalleled sort -- and very different from the kind that is being made at the moment."***
But there's something else going on, too. Something I don't understand, except that I sense its presence, and it is not simply intellectual; it's deeper than that (by which I don't mean it is emotional -- as important as emotions are, they are not more core to a person than the mind, just different). I certainly haven't got the strength, and don't know whether I will receive the grace, to continue on the path of celibacy. But, deep within, something is happening -- God is doing something in the dark.

Man, this guy. He really knew what was up.

Why remain here in the dark -- without hope of marriage or children or earthly happiness or simple rest? So many answers pop up, even within the doctrinal framework I accept, that I just can't espouse: like You could still get married some day, or Everyone experiences loneliness, but it passes, or Celibacy is a beautiful gift from God -- you can do so many things as a celibate that married people can't, or You can adopt, you know, or ... the mind swims in a sea of meaningless encouragements. 

Meaningless, not because any of them aren't true in fact, but because none of them are what I want. When a man wants water, explaining to him that he can have as much steak as he likes is not likely to console his thirst. And what I want is a husband.


And that, on Catholic premises, I cannot have. Not even "am not allowed to." It just plain isn't possible.

I'm sure (on the basis of my theology) that there is some -- how can I put this -- some legitimate meaning in that desire, which I can have; but I don't really know what it is. I have for many years repudiated the ex-gay explanation that it is a confused mixture of the desires for a father, for male friends, and for a wife (because when you put all those roles in a blender, a husband comes out, obviously). Yet in this confusion and uncertainty, I can sense something happening, some activity of God's. I don't get it, and I don't sense it all the time -- in fact, more often than not, I'm simply unhappy. But when I do sense it, it is unmistakeable.

It would be very easy to interpret all this as comforting self-delusion, built to protect me from the vulnerability of a relationship or the risk of questioning my theology. Given that I'm a convert to Rome who passed through Calvinism, atheism, and witchcraft first, and that I've had gay relationships and gay sex, I do not find that way of reading the facts convincing; but you could read them that way if you insisted. What is at least equally interesting is that one can put the shoe on the other foot and read a lot of the LGBT movement as showing signs of an elaborate evasion of God**** -- not so much in its deviation from traditional morality or the explicit irreligion of some of its members, but rather, in its determined exaltation of romantic love as something almost like salvation. And that, I think, is something that a lot of us can sympathize with, gay or straight. Apart from Divine grace, it is called "idolatry," which is open to people of both sexes and all sexualities. With grace, such love can become something more like an icon of salvation, a means of approaching the Creator through the created -- as Dante did with Beatrice.

But I digress. (Maybe.) The point is, such suffering, and being in the dark about it, are not necessarily signs that God is absent, or uncaring, or trying to nudge me to go in a different direction. Christ Himself, in His agony in Gethsemane, shows us that. What God is doing, I don't know, and I don't know what comes next, nor how I will fall and fail. But my faith is in Him and not myself; if He knows, then the person who chiefly needs to know knows. Consoling? Occasionally. The point, whether consoling or not? Yes.

And when I do feel it, when I do receive consolations --



*Yes I'm still angry; the franchise started so well with X1 and X2, whatever their fridge-logic flaws. And then X3 was -- well, "Everyone says forgiveness is wonderful, until they have something to forgive," C. S. Lewis said.

**I don't know where, because the only place I recall reading this line is in Lewis' Preface to Paradise Lost -- oddly, though I have very little taste for Milton, I find Lewis so engaging as a literary critic that I read his commentary over and over again, at least once a year.

***Gaudy Night, pp. 376-377, by Dorothy Sayers, who was incomparably wonderful in all the ways. This is one of my favorite novels, of hers or anybody's, and gave me a clarity about the interplay of heart with intellect and about discernment that I have never gleaned from any deliberately spiritual manual.

****It should go without saying (but regrettably doesn't) that this would not apply to those Christians who, for theological reasons, take a different view of sexuality, like Justin Lee or Matthew Vines. That is also an important dimension of gay-Christian interaction; but it is a different one.