David Morrison is Sed Contra's author and the author of Beyond Gay. He is a Roman Catholic by choice and the Founder and Moderator of Courage Online, an internet support group for men and women living with same sex attraction who desire to do so chastely.
Can "gays" change? On one level this is a silly question. Of course people living with same sex attraction are just like anyone else. We can and do change all the time, hopefully for the better but sometimes for the worse. But of course what the question goes to is the debate over whether Same Sex Attraction should be considered immutable or whether it can be diminished over time, particularly with the help of a trained professional, doctor or counselor.
Some months ago, the American Psychological Association published in Psychology Today an advertisement for a book co-authored by Joseph Nicolosi, founder of the National Association for the Reparative Therapy of Homosexuality. The editor, Robert Epstein, has been, it seems fair to say, harassed by gay activists about it. He wrote this editorial in response to the harrassment and made some points that I thought deserve highlighting.
But my [original harassing - DCM] caller was way off base on key points. The APA has never condemned sexual conversion therapy but has merely issued cautionary statements, one of which reminds psychologists of their obligation to "respect the rights of others to hold values, attitudes and opinions that differ from [their] own"-an obligation from which my caller clearly feels exempt. Although homosexuality was removed from the DSM-the diagnostic manual used by therapists-as a mental disorder in 1973, all editions of the DSM have always listed a disorder characterized by "distress" over one's sexual orientation (DSM section 302.9). Both gays and straights have a right to seek treatment when they're unhappy with their sexual orientation, and some choose to try to change that orientation. It would be absurd to assert that only heterosexuals should have that right.
Can gays change? Some people who wrote to me insisted that "orientation" is immutable, but behavior is certainly not, and it's common for people to ask therapists to help them suppress a wide variety of tendencies with possible genetic bases: compulsive shopping and gambling, drinking, drug use, aggressiveness, urges to have too much sex or sex with children and so on. A 2002 research review by Warren Throckmorton, Ph.D., published in an APA journal, suggests that sexual conversion therapy is at least sometimes successful. From this and other sources I've checked, I'd guess that such therapy is probably successful about a third of the time and that in perhaps another third of the cases, clients are unhappy or even angry about their failure to change. These figures might sound discouraging, but there are certainly many examples of clinical problems that resist change (e.g., agoraphobia and autism) or that produce angry outcomes after therapy (e.g., couples counseling or treatment for sexual abuse). Of greater importance is a new study by Robert Spitzer, M.D., of Columbia University, the man who headed the committee responsible for removing "homosexuality" from the DSM in 1973. After surveying 200 people who had remained "ex-gay" for at least five years-and even though he has been under tremendous pressure by gay activists to repudiate his findings-Spitzer has concluded that sexual conversion therapy can produce significant, positive and lasting changes.
Hear hear. Since before I wrote Beyond Gay (which does not endorse nor condem so called change therapy) I have believed the whole topic needed a good airing out. A lot depends on what definitions you use. For example, the original harrassing phone caller could assert to Epstein that that no gay person had ever successfully become straight in part because their is no set definition of either "gay" or "straight." When you control the definitions its quite easy to declare that this person or that person does or does not meet that definition. What I believe does and has occured, and I say this from my own life as well as observing the lives of others, is that people's degrees of SSA can and do change over time, both for the greater and the less. I today experience less SSA than I did three years ago and I fully expect to experience less three years from now than I do now.
The activists' standards for what counts as “orientation change,” in my opinion, are unrealistic and unnecessarily rigid. By way of comparison consider a person who has been smoking cigarettes for decades. After many years of cigarette breath and health risks, he or she gets counseling to stop. But the habit of cigarette smoking is deep-seated. Research has identified it has a biological component and the best the person can do is move from smoking two packs of cigarettes a day to smoking two cigarettes a month. Furthermore, even worse, if they see others smoking the desire for a cigarette still persists. They can’t legitimately be called “nonsmokers,” but no one looking at his situation fairly would say that their life and health have not experienced change. Likewise some people who work towards diminishing their same-sex attraction experience similar degrees of change, but under the activists’ definition, the change in their lives would not be recognized. A more realistic, compassionate and authentic way of looking at either therapy or faith-based counseling would reflect the reality that degrees of change along the continuum are every bit as valid as total shifts in both attraction and identity.
Finally, people who have experienced a diminishing or removal of same-sex attraction from their identities, personalities and lives do not deserve to be stigmatized or have their character impugned. Such attacks are particularly grievous, anti-intellectual and mean-spirited. It implies an enormous unwillingness to confront reality as it is but to adopt a view of people’s lives based primarily on bias. Same-sex attraction cannot diminish, the theory holds; therefore people who have experienced it diminish in their lives must be lying, deluded or fraudulent. This kind of stigmatizing doesn't help anyone, including the very people the activists most often claim as their own.
And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." (The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 3, verses 31-35).
Feelings of shame about the sexual temptations and desires they experience remains one of the pernicious stumbling blocks in the paths of men and women living with a degree of same sex attraction on their way to Christ. After being a member of Courage, writing publicly about Christ and His call to people who live with SSA, I forget sometimes what it was like to live in shame and fear. I forget the shame that I felt at experiencing these feelings and desires at all and the fear that someone might find out about them. And my case was not as bad as other people’s. At least I didn’t have any inner religious (mis)convictions that to even experience same sex desires at all marked me somehow as unfit, unclean or unlovable.
The way some folks who have identified themselves as Christians over the years have addressed the issue of SSA has often (if not usually) brought more heat and pain than light. I recall one friend of mine (who could be fairly described as having some effeminate mannerisms) whose Pentecostal minister, when he used to preach once a year on Genesis 18-19 (the story of Sodom and Gomorrah), would point at him in the congregation. At 16 he ran away from home and made his way to San Francisco and eventually to D.C., where I met him as a client in an AIDS program in which he died 18 months later. Or I recall another friend of a friend whose parish priest molested him as a young boy. Not only did he live with SSA as an adult, but the experience of abuse left him so alienated from the Church (and sadly from God too) that he could not enter a Church building without feeling nauseous.
Even today I run into this sort of attitude every once in a while. A priest I met at a reception after I spoke would not shake my hand and the hate mail I have received has usually run fairly evenly divided between correspondents (both Christians and non Christians) who are angry I promote the Church’s teaching on sexual behavior and those (usually -self-identified Christians) who appear to resent the fact I live with SSA at all.
But regardless of whatever shame and fear people living with SSA might draw from their temptations and desires, they need to understand deeply that when Christ looked into the crowd and said “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother,” He spoke to us as well. Living with SSA does not, on its face, keep us from following Him. Living with SSA does not preclude us from seeking Heaven. Living with SSA does not even prevent us from lifting our heads in response to His voice. All living with SSA means is that we are subject to a specific type of temptation that most other people will not share, - just like everyone else has temptations that we will not share.
Every once in a while someone will ask if I consider living with SSA a blessing. Sometimes this can be a trick question, the sort of question the Pharisees and Sadducees would ask Christ to trap Him. After all, seeing SSA as a blessing is one foundation upon which some have tried to build acceptance of homosexual sex. But I always answer yes. Living with SSA helped me come to Christ a lot more quickly than I might have otherwise, if I made it at all.
In God’s eyes sin is sin is sin. The distinction between temptations to socially acceptable sins and socially unacceptable sins is a purely human invention, born I suspect out our desire to feel better about our own failings while putting down the other guy’s. It has been grace in my life that God has allowed me to experience temptation to a socially unacceptable sin, because that has made it a lot harder for me to drown my temptation in the ocean of “everybody’s doing it.”
The bottom line for anyone, whether living with a degree of SSA or not, is that Christ invites us, you, to join His family, the Church. We’re a boisterous, quarrelsome, rowdy bunch to be sure. And Lord knows joining does not guarantee against temptation or even sin – in fact it virtually guarantees the temptation part. But participating in God’s own life with Him does bring hope; hope that the temptations and failures and sorrows we experience in this life are not the end of the story and that, one day, we will experience what it means to be really human and really loved – loved not on the basis of what we can do, or how much we make, or what we look like, but on the basis of who we are and were created to be – the people we will become.
I know deciding to join can seem huge. Even thinking about it can bring a thousand objections and fears and doubts to your mind. Do yourself a favor, ignore them and come in anyway. Nothing else you could ever do in your life, no recognition, no achievement, no treasure, no conquest, nothing else will be as lasting or as important a decision to join the family and become a part of Christ’s own life and have Him become part of yours.
Think about it. Drop me a line if you want. A thousand questions will not yield one worthy reason not to do it. I will be praying for you.
Rod Dreher, over at National Review Online, has a fairly scathing review of The Hours, the new picture which has already garnered critical kudos and seems destined to win some awards later this year. Rod didn't like the picture, casting it as somehow approving of or defending the notion of folks walking out on their families. Now much, if not most, of the time Rod and I share opinions, but this time we part ways.
My best friend and I saw The Hours recently and thought it the most well-done film we had seen all year. If it wins anything, it probably should. It is extremely well crafted and acted - and it is that fact that makes conversations like this possible. A more poorly made film version of this book would have seemed merely incoherent.
Now, about the characters. They were, we both thought, extraordinarily self-absorbed. And that is to their fault. But we both also thought that the Virginia Woolf character and the Laura character were fairly....dated. Both of them suffered, really, the effects of their choices. Choices which, for women at that time, were a good deal more constricting than for women (or men) today, and I think that is the major weakness of some of the criticism the movie has received. Rod and others want to attack the film for allegedly saying its ok for people in 2003 to have done what the Laura character did, when 1) I don't believe the film says that and 2) the folks judging Laura's actions are doing so through a contemporary lens that doesn't reflect he realities Laura faced.
I think a major clue to Laura's problem comes in the birthday party scene where her husband who IS a nice guy but who the filmmakers render effectively clueless, is going on about how he met her etc. Her discomfort during that conversation is palpable. He sees their meeting, courtship, the young girl so withdrawn, so quiet etc (i.e. maybe disturbed, maybe already fighting for identity and to form her life) as a great thing. She sees it, probably rightly, as the point in her life when she made her greatest mistake.
The fact is: not everybody is meant to be married and a parent. For any number of reasons, some degree of Same Sex Attraction, their parents poor marriage, their own personality and characters - yet in that age and time women were meant to be married and I think both Laura and Virginia in the film felt deeply trapped by their choices - albeit for different reasons and no doubt Virginia's mental illness (for which a popular method of treatment at the time was, I kid you not, to pull teeth) played a large role.
This is significant because I think the criticism of Laura's actions would be justified had she done it in 2003, precisely because a person struggling along similar lines now does have options, can much more easily reach out for help and is not boxed into a situation where it can seem like the only choices are suicide and flight.
In fact, I am a lot harder on the Clarrisa character than I am on the other two. Clarrisa is a weak character because she does have the choices the other women do not and she chooses not to take them. I am sorry folks, but Clarrisa is a portrait of the worst sort of co-dependence. She needs Richard to need her. She defines herself through Richard needing her. He can never, will never, be able love her like she wants him to and yet she cannot accept that and redraw the necessary boundaries. Codependence is NOT compassion, it is not love. It is not a loving someone for their own sake but, in Clarrisa's case, it is making someone a prisoner of her life in order that they can fill a niche she needs them to fill. Hard truth, but truth nonetheless.
Anyway, I am afraid Rod cast too harsh a moral light on this film. I think it is a good deal more complicated and nuanced than his black and white searchlight has rendered it and I urge people who think they might be interested to go ahead and see the film and tell me what you think. Just the fact that the movie has engendered this much thought and conversations suggests that its probably worth seeing. After all, if the purpose of good film making isn't sparking thought and discussion, as well as entertainment, then what is it?
Did anyone else happen to see PrimeTime Thursday's recent program on the pornographic industry. For some inexplicable reason, the show's web site about the program plays up the "love" angle between two of the pornographic "actors," but the show itself did a very good job of demonstrating how pornography is about money, lust, exploitation, disappointment, lies, drug use, and profits and nothing, really, about love at all.
I found the show hard to watch - but good to watch too because it made clear what I had long believed about the "industry" but had not really understood clearly. For example, the show's cameras captured, in detail, how the "agents" for the porn producers get young women to do this. They recorded the lies the young women are told, they recorded the pressure they are put under to keep doing it, they recorded the tears and the shame. I was surprised they allowed the cameras to film what they did, but I suppose as long as its legal it must be ok, right?
The show also did a very good job of reporting how many major U.S. corporations have become involved in this industry and how little money the "actors" make, as well as not using condoms (the movie fans don't want to see condoms," one actress said) as well as not having health insurance...These are basically throw away people, C Everette Koop remarked, at since an average "career" is 18 months, they are quickly disposable.
Anyway, anyone who has not understood just how evil the pornographic industry is, how horrific, how corrupting and how despairing, needs to see this video. David|link|
Friday, January 24, 2003
The February 6 issue of Rolling Stone has an article on "bug chasing," the phenomenon of self-identifying gay men deliberately seeking to be infected with HIV or, conversely, to pass on the bug to someone else, a practice often called "gift giving." The article has drawn a lot of attention, primarily apparently because it quoted Dr. Bob Cabaj, director of behavioral-health services for San Francisco County and past president of both the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists as estimating that 25% of new HIV infections among self-identifying gay men occur among men who sought it out.
I have a couple of thoughts about this. First of all, why is this news, with the exception of Cabaj's being willing to stick his neck out and actually offer an estimate of the prevalence, that is? As a sidelight, a lunch companion today mentioned that Cabaj had somewhat backed off his estimate, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were an accurate estimate. After all, given Cabaj's credentials and experience its not like this was an opinion offer by just a person on the street with no real connection to the problem.
But, sadly, I ask again why this is news? "Barebacking," the phenomenon of deliberately engaging in anal sex without the insertive partner using a condom has been around for quite a few years now. In San Francisco and New York, so-called "conversion parties," where men deliberately have sex with other men knowing that some of them carry HIV have also been around for a while. So, in a sense this article and the furor it has brought is a bit late on the scene, so to speak, though Freeman, the article's author, did highlight the internet aspect to this phenomenon which I have not seen written about widely before.
Much of the reaction to the piece has appeared to focus on heaping scorn and derision on folks who would engage in such behavior, which is understandable from a purely human point of view. There has been some debate about whether the behavior is as widespread as Cabaj said it was, as though somehow if only 5% of self-identifying gay men newly infected with HIV infected themselves deliberately would somehow be more acceptable or would somehow make the situation different. I won't rehash those thoughts. I have my own.
First, to a great irony, "bug chasing" has been made possible by the very same drugs that AIDS Activists pressed the government to approve during the 1980's and 1990's. If Silence=Death, in ACT UP parlance, the extremely sad message has to be that merely talking about the illness cannot be guaranteed to keep death at bay. In the 1980's, two of my closest friends were among the longest living men with HIV in the Washington D.C. area. They died before they could see the results of some of the examinations and research to which they offered themselves, but the protocols and AIDS wards of their day have largely vanished. HIV in the U.S. has largely become, in a day to day way, a private affair so it is not at all surprising that "Carlos" in the article could, with a straight face, compare AIDS with diabetes. For millions of infected men and women, HIV has become not an automatic death sentence as much as a manageable medical condition.
Second, efforts to educate men to prevent HIV have focused entirely too much on sexual practice and too little on the reality of what AIDS is in 2003. Yes, contemporary HIV/AIDS is "manageable," but someone needs to let these young men know what the price of management really is. Take Matt Butts, for example, who writes the Positive Thinking column for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Press. Here is part of a column from August 2003, called "Chasing the Bug."
Why would anyone want to consign themselves to a lifetime of pills with horrific side effects and so many blood draws their veins eventually collapse? Do they think people will still consider them cute when their faces explode with seborrheic dermatitis, or that their bodies will still be sexy when mottled with KS lesions? And who’s going to want to kiss someone with a mouthful of thrush? Think I’m being too preachy here? Well, mark my words: ten years from now, when these happily “pozzed” young men are stumbling on neuropathic feet to get to the biffy before they soil their tighty-whities with explosive diarrhea, they’ll be singing the same song. They might as well start learning the lyrics now.
Or listen to Doug Hitzel, from the Rolling Stone piece:
'Bug chasing' sounds like a group of kindergartners running around chasing grasshoppers and butterflies," Hitzel says, "a beautiful thing. And gift giving? What the hell is that? I just wish the terms would actually put some real context into what's going on. Why did I not want to say that I was deliberately infecting myself? Because saying the word infect sounds bad and gross and germy. I wanted it to be sexualized." He's particularly angered by the idea of HIV being erotic: "How about you follow me after I start new medications and you watch me throw up for a few weeks? Tell me how erotic that is.
Yes, anti-AIDS messages are not graphic enough. But they don't need to be more graphic about sex, they need to be more graphic about AIDS.
Finally, we need to be steadily more active and up front about the truths of the Faith. Not only do we need to strive to embody Christ more completely and generously, we also need to articulate more succinctly and coherently the Church's teaching on hope, on heaven, on purpose and meaning of the human life and the human body. In a way, the phenomenon of people seeking HIV infection as an enlistment in community, albeit one whose price is an expensive, debilitating and disfiguring disease, is the logical end to an age in which people have grown steadily more alienated, from each other, from themselves and most of all from God. To articulate the faith more completely and clearly will require us to stretch ourselves into heretofore unknown realms of virtue. For many of us, hopefully with grace all of us, it will mean striving even harder to become Saints. That's a hard task, but to paraphrase the Talmud, to save one life is to save an entire world. How much greater then is it to save not just one life but one soul as well?
To: David Morrison Subject: Re: Sed Contra
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003 13:28:38 -0800 (PST)
Thank you for responding to my email--I really appreciate it. I took your recommendation and ordered your book today, as well as a couple other ones. I heard Joseph Nicolosi speak at a conference I attended, and was really impressed by him, so I ordered his book on reparative therapy, as well as Bernard Groeschel's The Courage to Be Chaste. I look forward to reading what you have to say. I figure I need to be open minded if I want to be honest with myself in this struggle, so I look forward to your insights on the whole topic.
Thank you for sharing a bit of your experience with your former lover. As one who really hasn't been in a relationship like that (at least in the flesh, as it were) I can only begin to imagine how painful that would be, and the courage it took for you to do that. You speak of your love for him, and my rational mind accepts the fact that true love, inspired by the charity of Christ, always desires what is best for the beloved, so by extension, your greatest act of love towards him was to end your sexual relationship. I don't always like what my mind recognizes as the truth though, since it of course does battle with my flesh.
You're right--I have been richly blessed, far beyond what I ever hoped for. I have much to be thankful for.
I think I'm the type of person who's always hoped for some epiphany from God, a moment where God reveals himself in an awesome way, which just turns me on my head and causes me to follow him. But I don't think that's going to happen. I know what I need to do, I know the path that's laid out for me (at least the general path: turning away from my sin). I think the decision is actually quite clear. All that I've ever been taught points the way for me at this time in my life--all that I've ever read and loved in literature shows me the path laid before me. I liked your mention of Smeagol in your blog--how often I have thought of the LOTR in my struggle! There are so many metaphors in those books for one who struggles with SSA! I'm drawn to the majesty of Tolkien's writing about the quest and the journey, and I recently finished rereading the Return of the King. I was moved to tears at the beauty of the book. I thought how magnificent and noble a story it was that I had just read. And then the thought hit me that no matter how wonderful and magical the story of Frodo and the Ring is to me, how much moreso is the story of God's redemptive work in the lives of his children, including my life.
But despite all of that, I still feel at a crossroads, and I'm not wholly ready to die to my self and give over my desires to God. I guess it just needs to be a choice I make, and I suspect it will be a quiet, uneventful choice. And if I choose to follow Christ, it will have to be the beginning of many choices made to follow him. But Lord knows, I want to go my own way!
With sincere gratitude,
You're welcome, of course. A number of wise, solid, gentle and generous people have helped me along in my walk to and with Christ and there is definitely an understanding that "as you have freely recieved, so too freely give." I am just holding up one part of my obligation :).
A note of....awareness of Nicolosi et al. I think that he and the other reparative therapists have a pretty solid handle on HOW SSA happens in a number of men (not all, but many, perhaps even a majority). They are on less solid ground, in my opinion, when it comes to diminishing SSA through therapy. Can it be done? Absolutely! And even if SSA is only diminished significantly, and not to neglibility, it can definitely be done - but it doesn't happen with everybody and we have to be ready to accept the persistance of this thorn in the flesh if God allows it to persist. Also, there is a widespread misunderstanding that to diminish SSA is experience a
resulting increase in heterosexual attraction. That does happen too - but again, not always. We really don't know much about the treatment of this...imagine trying to treat cardiac ailments before the first open heart surgery and you have an idea of where I think we are.
And, please note, this is NOT meant to discourage you in the slightest. Engaging in reparative therapy is NOT a requirement of Courage membership, but we do have members who have chosen to go that route and we pray for and support them as best we can.
The Cross always looks huge and very heavy when its laying on the ground and before we pick it up. And SSA can seem like a very heavy cross at times. But its been my experience that Christ will help up carry it should we choose to do so faithfully.
It really comes down to what kind of people, what kind of men, really, that we choose to be. Are we going to be the kind of men that simply persist in a behavior even though there is mounting evidence and an echoing inner conviction that such behavior is not the best for us or the people we claim to love? How much worth do our claims of love for them have if we are willing to treat them in a way that is not loving? You probably remember Peter Kreeft's discussion of the difference between love and "luv."
And the thing is that dying to self is not a one time sort of decision, just like God rarely reveals Himself in single ephinanies. Dying to self is a series of decisions, often several in every day! It's a matter of training ourselves. I used to laugh at, and think foolish, the Saints who would advise regimes of small mortifications, no butter on the toast on Friday or no sugar in the coffee during Lent or some such. But I don't laugh any more! Each of those little self-denials are like the soccer drills we used to run endlessly to the point where we thought we would go mad from them. The point of practicing them in that small field condition and over and over again was so that when we were on the field in a real game our ball handling would be second nature. The point of dying to our selves in small things is so that we are strong when it come to dying to ourselves in big things even, should heaven ask it, we die for the Faith. Or, as is more likely, we are strong enough to more easiliy take a course we know to be right even though it is objectively painful.
Further, don't be seduced by the false choice. The lie that is being pitched runs something like "if you will only take the world's option you will be happy." But "happy" is a treacherous word. It's root is the Anglo-Saxon word "hap," which means luck or fortune. Thus we have happy, which means lucky, as well as "happenstance" and "happening." There is a sense in which the word means fortunate - fortune which could be withdrawn as well.
Both Christians and non-Christians suffer Dan. Nobody gets out of suffering. The sinful course that promises happiness today will not last, and for that matter neither will the virtuous course save us from suffering if that is what we are foolish enough to hope. The only thing the Christian has over the non-Christian in their suffering is the Promise. The Promise of the Resurrection. Christ's promise to us, through His Church, His scripture, and the Holy Spirit, that for Christians our suffering is NOT the end of our story. Non-Christians, suffering too remember, have no such promise. Being a Christian means walking daily in the shadow of the grave, but always with the light of heaven shining on our faces, if God grants us the grace to see it.
Anyway I hope this helps. With your permission I would like to blog this little exchange, just these two messages, with the names changed or deleted to (Dragnet Music) Protect The Innocent :).
Dear readers, there are number of things in the readings for this, the second Sunday in Ordinary Time (which I often think is quite Extra-Ordinary) to which I would like to draw your attention because they have spoken to me strongly.
First, the readings touch on the challenge people, including us, can face in recognizing Christ. In the Gospel today John the Baptist calls out “behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” and two of his disciples follow Jesus to meet Him. Well, someone who only read that part of that Gospel might not have known that John, as an unborn child, was the very first person on earth (other than His Mother) to recognize Jesus for who He is.
Remember in Luke’s Gospel (1:22) the unborn baby John leapt in his mother’s womb when he encountered Christ who had come in His own mother’s womb. But then in John’s Gospel, (1:31-34) John reveals that he had not recognized the Christ until the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove (the sign which had been revealed to John previously, be which he was to recognize the one who was coming after him and for whose arrival he was to baptize with water.)
One lesson here is that it is quite possible to see Christ, often with a childlike purity of vision, and then to lose sight of Him again as the pressures of the world, or of our own temptations and sinfulness, or even of just our own foolishness in not seeking “the better part” as Jesus tells Mary and Martha. In my own life I can testify that, as a child, when I was in Sunday School and my teacher played Jesus Loves Me and Jesus Loves the Little Children on the battered upright in the corner, I sang and believed that with all my heart. It was only later, as I grew older and more “sophisticated,” more “adult” (boy, now there are two loaded words) that I lost sight of Him.
The only remedy to this loss, I have become convinced, is prayer. Not just the sort of one-way sort of prayer that involves us talking to God, listing our needs, complaining, even in our better moments thanking Him for His blessings and interceding for others. Rather the sorts of prayers that young Samuel offered in the first reading. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.
To anyone reading this who is interested in jumping off into just this sort of conversational (in terms of their being both speaking and listening involved) I would recommend highly the ancient Christian practice of Lectio Divina, with the Church’s daily mass readings as the text. It’s definitely more of an art than science, but the mechanics of it are not hard to learn and I would be glad to correspond with anyone who sought more information about it.
One last word on this aspect of the readings. I know there are people in our community who, for a variety of reasons, find prayer very difficult. I cannot emphasize enough G.K. Chesterton’s maxim that anything that is worth doing is worth doing poorly. If our only prayer possible is even a sentence, “Lord, I want to pray, help me” that is at least a place to start and we need to start there. There will never be a “perfect” time or a “perfect” state of mind in which to pray. The one thing necessary is to start praying!
The second aspect of today’s readings concerns St. Paul’s beautiful observation that we are not the masters of our own bodies but that, in a very real since, we have been bought at a price. That price is the death of God, a God who is also our best friend and who went to the Cross for each one of us, and would have done so if it was only each one of us that needed saving.
This is not conveyed very well in much popular literature, but C.S. Lewis does a great job of it in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Readers familiar with the story will recall that Aslan, the Christ figure in the book, goes to a humiliating death at the Stone Table at the hands of his enemy’s for the salvation of just on of the children, Edmund, who had forfeited his life through an act of betrayal. Christ did and does the same thing for each of us.
Admittedly something in the soul objects even to the idea. How presumptuous that Christ went to the Cross just for me! How outrageous, even blasphemous really. But genuine humility neither reduces our worth or in inflates it. Genuine humility recognizes our worth as it truly is – and the truth of the Cross is that Jesus Christ, second Person of the Trinity, True God from True God, Begotten Not Made, went to an ignominious and horribly tortuous death for my sake – just as He did for yours as well.
Finally, the third aspect of today’s readings that spoke to me concerns our call from Christ to follow Him. There is among some, non-Christians and Christians alike, a misunderstanding of what following Christ brings. Yes, there is a deep peace in the very depths of the soul; yes there is a burden that is eased because Christ helps us shoulder it. All that is true. But there is also the reality that being baptized is more akin to enlisting than relaxing. Rising from the waters of baptism means, if we are adults at the time, gazing not so much on paradise as on a battlefield. The oily cross on our foreheads when we are confirmed brings with it a ticket to paradise, but a paradise we have to win, not merely accept.
There is a widespread misunderstanding that being saved is in an instantaneous phenomenon or that, once saved, heaven steals over one the way the sun rises over the horizon. But the reality is quite different. The reality is that the Kingdom of God is something we must take by storm if we are to have it, an effort we can only make through God’s grace, but an effort we must surely make if we are to see Christ one day face to face.
I didn't’ and don't claim to know whether Aelred lived with any same-sex attraction or not. I think it quite possible that he might have. But I do know from his writing that he expressed nothing but scorn in at least one of his most well known works for any sorts of friendship that are based on anything else but the deepest commitment to Christ and to living a virtuous life in Him.
In the last of his major works, Spiritual Friendship, Aelred did more than just pour scorn on the sorts of friendships that, in his view, did not deserve the name of friendship. He also sought to guide his spiritual brothers and sons, his fellow Cistercian monks and those Christians, even lay men and women, who would follow, about the sorts of friendship they need in the spiritual life and to guide them in forming and sustaining those relationships.
Friendship, freely offered and accepted, is an important part of living a faithful Christian life. Its significance to those who remain unmarried while committed to chastity stems from the need to find and build bridges of commitment, honesty, acceptance and affirmation to other people. But it retains an importance for the married as well, since many who have been married for many years have testified that strength of their long marriages has been found in the fact that they were marriages built upon deep friendships.
With all that understood I thought I would share some more of Aelred’s advice on friendship.
Friendship, Aelred writes, might be something essential but it is also something that should not be entered into lightly or too quickly.
For since there is no one more detestable than the man who injures friendship, and nothing torments the mind more than desertion or insult at the hands of a friend, a friend ought to be chosen with the utmost care and tested with extreme caution, Aelred wrote. But once admitted he should be so borne with, so treated, so deferred to, that, as long as he does not withdraw irrevocably from the established foundation, he is yours, and you are his, in body as well as in spirit, so that there will be no division of minds, affections, wills or judgments (Spiritual Friendship 3:7).
Aelred says a friendship well started should pass through four stages of growth in trust and acceptance: selection, probation, admission and the fourth perfect harmony in matters human and divine with charity and benevolence (Spiritual Friendship 3:8).
First, prudence must be exercised in the selection of candidates for friendship, Aelred writes, and friendship should not be automatically offered to the irascible, the fickle, the suspicious and the garrulous. Persons of this type should not be readily be chosen for friendship; but if their life and habits be found pleasing in other respects, one should deal energetically with them, to the end that they may be healed and so considered fitted for friendship, he wrote (Spiritual Friendship 3:14).
But this is not a hard and fast rule since there is much in friendship, perhaps even most of friendship, that is more art than science. An objection is raised to Aelred that had long had a friend who, it appeared to his fellow monks, had a personality that tended to anger and lacked patience. What about that, they asked. Aelred replied that if a friend has tendencies toward any of these faults [h]owever they may occasionally offend a friend by a thoughtless word or act or by a zeal that fails in discretion. If it happens that we have received such men into our friendship, we must bear with them patiently (Spiritual Friendship 3:17).
Now, Aelred makes a distinction between just general faults that serve to make us cultivate patience and actions that legitimately break friendship. In this regard, Aelred places slander and treachery, as well as patterns of behavior driven by insecurity and suspicion, fickleness or excessive talkativeness. Although it is not easy to find one who is never moved by the passions, there surely are many who are found to be superior to all of them; men who suppress anger with patience, restrain levity by preserving gravity, drive out suspicions by the contemplation of love. I should say that such men out to be chosen by preference for friendship on the ground that they are better trained in it. Because they conquer vice with virtue, their friendship is the more enduring as their resistance to temptation is the more valiant (Spiritual Friendship 3: 32).
Once, we choose a candidate for friendship, Aelred writes, they should be tested for their perseverance in four qualities: loyalty, right intention, discretion and patience. The right intention, that he may expect nothing from your friendship except God and its natural good. Discretion, that he may understand what is to be done in behalf of a friend, what is to be sought from a friend, what sufferings are to be endured for his sake, upon what good deeds he is to be congratulated; and, since we think that friend should sometimes be corrected, he must know for what faults this should be done, as well the manner, the time, and the place. Finally, patience that he may not grieve when rebuked, or despise or hate the one inflicting the rebuke, and that he may not be unwilling to bear every adversity for the sake of his friend (Spiritual Friendship 3:61).
And the testing of those qualities will be subject of the next posting on this topic.
Some of the most difficult and tangled mail I receive comes from the parents of children who have told them they are same-sex attracted and whose contact with them has suffered afterward. One such arrived just recently from a mother who told her same-sex attracted son that she is not ready to meet his same sex partner (yet) and that she did not feel she could attend the opening of his most recent economic venture, a gay bar. She asked for my thoughts about the situation and wrote later to say they had been helpful. They might also help other parents in similar situations so I offer them, without the names which I withhold for privacy's sake.
Dear Mrs. A---------
The ground that both you and your son and maybe the entire family have to find is the place where one can express love and affection and caring for someone without approving of every thing they do. Whether or not you approve of how your son and his partner are living in the sexual aspect of their lives, which is not the entirety of their life together, it seems to me that both still retain their identity as human beings made in the image and likeness of God and that, as such (as well as one being your son) they demand a charitable disposition - particularly from those of us who claim the name of Christ.
To give an example. I was still a gay activist when I came to Christ. When I "came out" to my evangelical Anglican pastor at my first Church, I was still sexually active with my then partner (and now best friend). There was no way that he, or anybody else at Trinity Church, approved of how I lived my life sexually. Yet, none of them declined to meet him, all of them asked how he was, the ones who invited me to their events, invited him too. All of them, I found out later, prayed hard for both of us. They did not approve of how I lived an aspect of my life, admittedly an important aspect but still just one, yet they kept the eyes and hearts on loving us as well and never gave up on engaging with and praying for us.
By not meeting your son's partner I am afraid you may have sent the message that you disapprove of the partner, and by extension your son, as a person and not just disapprove of his behavior. The teaching of the Church is that none of us can be boiled down to our sins, no matter what they may be and no matter if we are still performing them. We are more than the sum of our temptations. We are made in the image and likeness of God, the God who, we celebrated today, accepted Baptism from the John in the River Jordan to show us how much He had become Emmanuel (God-With-Us).
Now, when it comes to attending the opening of the bar, I think you are on much firmer ground. The opening of the bar, particularly one dedicated to serving and promoting actively gay life, is an act. It is an act which I, as a Christian, do not feel I could celebrate - even if a member of my family were to be one of the owners of the establishment. I probably wouldn't actively protest it, but I would not attend and, if asked why, would gently explain why I felt I could not go in good conscience.
Also, the challenge you face is a challenge you and your son share. Your son, for his part, has to have the maturity to recognize that he is not six years old any longer and that it is possible for folks to love him without loving everything he does. Unfortunately, none of us can control anyone else and so that ball has to remain in his court if and until he decides to hit it back, and that absence can be painful. Yet for both your sakes, your eternal sakes, you have to witness to the Truth that you have and hold as well as the Hope you hold for all your children.
Traditionally, the Church has offered St. Monica, mother of the brilliant St. Augustine, as a patron for parents in similar situations, particularly mothers. I would recommend her as well. But I would also recommend St. Cecilia, martyred under the Romans, of whom I have been reading lately. She had a powerful sense of prayer and witness to help her family attain heaven, converting through her example her husband and then her husband's brother.
This morning's reading from the First Letter of John got my attention:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.
You know, sometimes I wonder if the reason that the world does not see or know Him in me is because I myself don't/can't/won't see or acknoweldge Him in me. This business of knowing and being known is really a heck of a lot more art than science. For instance, Mother Teresa has pointed out that, other than His Blessed Mother, the first human being to recognize Christ for who He was was His unborn cousin John (later the Baptisizer) who danced in his mother's womb when Mary brought him (also in utero) near.
But even this degree of knowledge didn't remain with John, since in the Gospel of John the Evangelist records that John needed a signal from the Holy Spirit to recognize Jesus as the One he had been told to expect and whose coming he was to proclaim (John 1:33).
I think humility is key to the business of knowing Christ and recognizing how much He knows us. One leg of humility extends to our recognizing who we are, children of God, as John reminds us, but not Children of God because we have done anything inherently to deserve to be His Children, but because every single day, in all of our circumstances and in all of doings, we stand awash in the waves of Love he has for us, as our Creator, our Redeemer, our Means of Grace and our Hope of Glory. But, another leg of our humility extends to our recognition as well that we do have this love, that when we screw up, when we stamp our feet and throw a tantrum, when we stomp out the door yelling "and I'm never coming back," he doesn't stop loving us.
God, what a pain it is sometimes to be loved so much?! Why? Because love is work and sacrifice and suffering! The Hallmark/Hollywood and, dare I say it, all too frequent modern Christian view of love is all wedding bells and roses and dating and hugs and smooches and the obligatory romancing and dancing. And to be fair, a small part of love includes that. But only a small part. An awful lot of the rest of love means sacrificing our own wills and desires for the good of those we love, including Christ. It means getting up extra early to do both your and your brother's barn chores because you know that he has a big test that day and needs the sleep. It means seeing Christ in your little son when you get up with him in the middle of the night to change him or comfort him and your wife desperately needs some sleep. It means having the strength and discipline to say "no" to some activity when you know that, objectively, it is not the best for either you or your perspective partner.
So when we sin its not that Christ stops knowing us, its that we stop knowing Him, or we forget Him, and how much He has loved us from the beginning. You know, I am a convert so I don't know that this is true. But I have heard that in other times the Bishop would lightly slap the faces of those he had just confirmed in the faith, to remind them, in a small way, that they had entered not into something entirely easy and carefree but to something challenging, and difficult and dangerous. I think they should do that now as well, to remind them (and us) that knowing and loving Christ comes at a price we need to be prepared to pay. David|link|
Bring back the draft?
Representative Charlie Rangle (D-NY), has never been terribly high (understatement mode) on my list of favorite pols, but he has a bill he plans to introduce to reinstate the draft into some sort of National Service, whether military or otherwise. There has not been a draft since, I think, the early 1970's and one particular statistic that he cited really got my attention. According to Rangle, not one of the U.S. House of Representatives and only one Senator has a child in the armed services who, if we go to war in Iraq, could reasonably expect to be deployed into combat circumstances.
Now, if this is true, should this bug us a bit? I mean service in the military has never been popular and there have been various schemes to dodge it since at least the 1860's, but those arrangements have generally been understood to be detrimental to the notion that everybody, regardless of their station in life, should share the burden of keeping the nation free and safe. Further, does the lack of having family members at risk of war color the judgement of the men and women who will be called upon to render decisions about the conflict? David|link|
Thursday, January 02, 2003
There and back again and do we have an Inner Smeagol?
Well, I am back. After the previous surgery the doctor was gracious enough to let me go spend my Christmas with some friends in Middle Michigan, where there was snow and frozen bodies of water and hockey to watch (in other years I have been able to be play but, alas, when I asked my doctor about the possibility before I left his exact quote was "don't be an idiot.") But I am back and very happy to be able to write you all and I want to say thanks for all of the folks who were kind enough to send me a note about getting well and more notes about Christmas etc.
A couple of things of note from this holiday time. First, I was able to take in the latest in the The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which I really enjoyed despite the various licenses the filmmakers took in the construction of the film. While there is lots to praise and discuss about the movie, I was really struck (and moved actually) by how well the film makers depicted Smeagol, also known as Gollum.
Tolkienites will recall that Smeagol (Gollum) was the possessor of the Ring of Power for many years before the Ring made its way to Bilbo Baggins, the hero of the The Hobbit and the Uncle to the Ring-bearer Frodo Baggins. Smeagol had been once much like the Hobbits, and had lived in sunshine and above ground, before being seduced by the Ring into (if my memory serves) murdering his brother and then being led by the Ring into the state of physical and moral depravity where the story finds him.
Anyway, I think the film did a very good job of depicting Smeagol's inner fight to cooperate with a call to virtue and the real grace that the two Hobbits try to show him during the course of their travels together. Among the characteristics of temptation and sin are the ways temptation will initially suggest sin and prompt sin and then, after we have sinned, accuse of it and try to convince us that we can never do any better or, even more insidious, that we are not worth even TRYING to do better, or seeking forgiveness!
There is a great scene were Smeagol is fighting his Accuser, who begins to remind him of what he has done because of the Precious Ring of Power, but Smeagol prevails in ordering the accuser to leave - as we must do too if we are to get on with the business of picking ourselves up, washing ourselves off, and heading back to the Father to get put back on the right road again. When he finally does banish the accuser, at least for that time, for the first time he has ever done it, they really do a good job of showing the joy at least setting out for repentance can bring.
So, was anyone else struck by the Smeagol depiction and what did you think of the movie? David|link|