Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of 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.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Revoice 2019: A Brief Retrospective

And O! such joy I saw my Lady wear
When to that shining heav’n she entered in,
The planet’s self grew brighter yet with her;
And if the star laughed and was changed, what then
Was I, whom am but flesh, and ticklish
To touch of change, and all the moods of men?
As in a fish-pond still and clear, the fish
Draw to some dropped-in morsel as it goes,
Hoping it may provide a dainty dish,
So I saw splendors draw to us in droves,
Full many a thousand, and from each was heard:
‘Lo, here is one that shall increase our loves!’

—Dante Alighieri, Paradiso

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I was at Revoice 2019 [1] from Wednesday till this morning. My mom came this year, and she really enjoyed it. Saturday was technically the last day, but since our flight didn’t leave till Sunday and a lot of people hang around anyway, I stayed and observed Pentecost in St Louis, in the beautiful basilica cathedral.

It always feels huge, being at gay Christian events. There’s a weight that comes off you when you’re among people you don’t have to defend yourself to. A weight you forget you’re even carrying most of the time, and you wonder sometimes why you feel hunched and aching; and then you get to a place like Revoice, and suddenly you can stand up straight again.

Just like last year, the workshops were great: even better, a lot of the ones that I loved last year were given again this year so I know other people got to profit from them, and a lot of the ones I missed last year due to scheduling conflicts were also given again this year and I got to go to them this time. I probably enjoyed Eve Tushnet’s workshop on healthy celibacy the most, closely seconded by Ty Wyss’s on intimacy as an antidote to sexual shame; I also went to the lovely and talented Grant Hartley’s talk on redemptive aspects of queer culture, and Raw Low’s on how to protect your witness from being coƶpted by heteronormative Christians. I’m looking forward to them all being posted on YouTube so I can rewatch them.

Both Ty and Eve touched, perhaps accidentally, on some things that I really profited from last year, at the workshop on recovering from spiritual abuse given by David Gill and Sara Collins—for instance, Eve’s incredibly succinct and clear summary of spiritual abuse: ‘People can try to make you obey in ways that are about them and not about Christ.’

But the thing I’ve been especially ruminating on, since I heard it, was something from Ty’s talk. The ways he spoke about experiencing and understand shame lay partly on a gradient: shame tends to tell us that we are either Not Enough, or else Too Much (or sometimes both). He gave the example from his own life of his coming out: that same week, his parents went to church and got saved; which, yay, but it also sent the message: You’re so Too Much that we had to call on the God of the universe to be able to deal with our own son. But shame is far more diverse than that of course, and he laid out a sort of sample phrase for understanding how it operates in our own lives (using Too Much and Not Enough as prompts more than as rigid categories): ‘Shame tells me that I am _____.’

I thought about it for a minute, trying a phrase or two that were true enough but didn’t really resonate emotionally. Then it came to me: Shame tells me that I am on probation. Screw up too much, and you’re done.

Especially when I believed in sola fide, I was abjectly terrified that I wasn’t good enough for God. My experience of sola fide was toxic because the way the doctrine was articulated to me was that, while you’re saved by faith alone, genuine faith produces good works—which trapped me in the inescapable prison of wondering whether my works were good enough to prove my faith was genuine. I gaslit myself for a decade, doubting every thought, word, and deed as perhaps being (how could I ever tell?) the secretly rotten fruit of hypocrisy.

Catholicism, which offered me a means of placing even the most mixed motives under the influence of grace, saved my faith and probably my life; yet Catholic culture too provides lots of space for scrupulosity, self-righteousness, and fear, and a greater multitude of methods by which to seem to oneself to be earning celestial approval. The mechanics of Catholicism, just as such, aren’t enough. Without the matured and patient wisdom of many guides, living and dead, I would probably have wound up merely in a larger prison—one defined by the concrete acts of confession and penance, instead of the bottomless chasm of whether I were sincere, but a prison all the same. And I’m neither surprised nor angry nor scornful that others, finding themselves in such a prison, have chosen to break out of it. Who wouldn’t? If God sounds like a jailer, why would you want to go to heaven?

Thus far, most of my attempts at reconciling my sexuality with my faith have had a strong element of shame in them. Not, for a long time now, shame about the bare facts of who I am and what kinds of relationships and sex I long for. But shame of a different and more calculating kind, a shame rooted in that idea of being on probation with God. The God that shame depicts for us doesn’t love us; he wants something from us—a performance. Which, given a moment’s thought, is ridiculous. As if he needed anything! Or as if a parent would evaluate their child’s drawings and decide whether to keep the child based (however gently and reasonably) on an increase of skill!

I haven’t altogether worked out where to go from here. But simply to name the problem seems like progress.

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1 For those who don’t know, Revoice is a nationwide conference founded for Side B Christians (queer-identifying Christians who subscribe to a traditional sexual ethic), to provide support and fellowship and increase visibility. It first met last year.


  1. minor typo: "living a dead" -> " living and dead"

  2. Thanks for sharing. Meant to say hi to you at the brewery Sat night but didn't get the chance to. I think Ty's seminar was the most impactful for me, as well.
    - Victoria

  3. Thanks for writing this, Gabriel. I think it represents important work. I hope the idea of probation continues to clarify itself in your mind and heart. I'll also be happy if it produces more written insight.