I will be spending the weekend with some friends of mine who graciously invited me to stay with them in Portland. I’ve wanted to visit the city for ages, it being more or less the capital of hipsterdom, and, let’s face it …
I’m particularly interested in seeing Powell’s City of Books, reputed to be the largest bookstore in the world, which sells new, used, and out-of-print books. If I’m very lucky I may be able to lay my hands on some Dunstan Thompson—I’ve been fascinated by him since I first learned of him through William Doino Jr. and Dana Gioia championing his work, but his books are extremely difficult to find. So far I have only Lament for the Sleepwalker, his second and perhaps best-known volume of poems, and I’d be interested in acquiring his first as well; but I’d really love to lay my hands on Poems 1950-1974, which I understand has some of his most elegant religious poetry. Fingers crossed.
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I wonder whether there have actually been more shootings of persons of color over the last couple years, or if we’re just finally starting to hear about it. I could honestly see either one being true: I haven’t experienced race-based prejudice in my life, but based on my experience of being gay, I know that sometimes bigotry merely becomes more visible and sometimes it actually increases, and those two phenomena don’t seem to be correlated.
It has been upsetting and frustrating, though, to see many of the reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement. On the one hand, I have run into one or two people being pretty horrifically racist about it. But the liberal outrage that dismisses all questions and uncertainties has been frustrating too, not because I consider the BLM movement dubious, but because scorning people who don’t agree with you is so terribly counterproductive—something else I’ve learnt in the LGBT community.
One of the greatest difficulties is something that I discovered only two or three years ago: that the right and the left mean quite different things by the word racism. Conservatives tend to mean prejudice against people of a certain race; liberals tend to mean actual advantages for a given race embedded in the social system. And the cross-purposes here are really important, because when you’re using the first definition, most conservatives I know genuinely aren’t racist, but when you use the second, the problem lies not with people but with entrenched systems. And those are essentially different problems that require different solutions. Sinful attitudes demand repentance; flawed systems demand systemic reform. But when leftists, as so often, allow their zeal for racial and systemic justice to trump the patience, clarity, and readiness to listen that are prerequisites of successful dialogue, they just come off as self-righteous jerks. Nobody wins.
From the Interaction Institute for Social Change, by Angus Maguire.
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Thanks be to God and my brother-in-law, I have a car again! I was in an accident late last year and my sedan was totalled, and my grandmother allowed me to borrow her minivan for a few months (she lives on the west coast, but had been considering moving out here, so the car was just here gathering dust otherwise). Then one night, my sister’s husband and I got together for beers, I mentioned in passing that I needed a car, and he offered to sell me his (or, more accurately, gave it to me at a stealing price, which will allow me to do other exciting things like register and insure it).
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As I believe I’ve mentioned in passing here before, I am slowly entering on a fresh attempt at celibate chastity. I’ve been seeing a counselor at Regeneration Ministries in Towson for a while, which has been really helpful. I was pretty skittish at first, because Regeneration used to have ties to Exodus, and I am six hundred percent done with ex-gay nonsense; but apparently they detached themselves even before the grand ex-gay implosion back in 2013, and the counselor I’m seeing has proven himself genuinely accepting of me as a gay man, and a trustworthy source of wisdom. There’s been no demonization of gayness, no language war, no homosexuality-equals-addiction lectures, no imposed farther-and-smother pseudoscience.
All the same, it’s been a challenging experience, just because dealing intimately with any profound element of ourselves is challenging. Our deepest impulses are powerful, and usually quite unfamiliar—after all, we live on the surface of our minds most of the time. Coming to understand the things that draw me to other men, sexually, affectionally, spiritually, that’s mysterious stuff. Not impenetrably so. But it is difficult; particularly because we bury so much pain in the recesses of our minds, and going in there with a lamp makes it start hurting again.
But that’s how healing works. And if I really do propose to be celibate, I need a healthy soul to do that with, an integrated soul, whose passions and instincts are under the governance of my will; and, both morally and practically, government must be by the consent of the governed.
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God is weird and amazing. I mean, just think about it: the Mind that made, contains, and sustains literally everything wants to give Himself to me. That’s nuts. I wonder whether a lot of the darkness, pain even, that goes with pursuing God—or allowing yourself to be pursued by Him—is more a matter of being ‘stretched’ so that His infinity can inhabit your smallness, than it is of sin or imperfection or even mere immaturity.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve had locutions exactly, but if there’s anything I think He has wished to convey to me, it’s this: Do not do; simply be. Which is great, because it sounds all Eastern and shit, but it’s remarkably hard to not do. Of the two sisters, Martha’s behavior is far more obvious to all of us, in spirituality as much as everything else. I don’t think this is because of the ‘works righteousness’ theory of most Protestantism, the idea that the most basic human impulse (apart from grace) is to earn our salvation; I don’t find that idea justified by Scripture or by the observable facts of human religion. I think it’s just because doing things is easily graspable to our minds, and being is not. Consider for a moment that Descartes’ notorious Cogito ergo sum literally reasons from the fact of doing to the fact of being—which is about as cart-before-the-horse as you can possibly get.
The Mediævals are underrated here. They had learned well from their Master that Mary had chosen the better portion, that doing proceeds from being, and that contemplation was a deeper thing than action. To be, that is, to be still in intentional receptivity to God, waiting upon Him to act, is quite the challenge. Which is ironic, since challenge implies doing, and … sigh …
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’1
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1The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Joseph of Panephysis §7 (p. 103), trans. Sr Benedicta Ward, SLG.