A Mission, OP

JMJ

Always on Christmas, there is a sense of disconnection for me. Back when I thought I was going to be an Episcopal Priest there was the same sense of disconnect. My Family was hundreds (and later thousands) of miles away. My friends all did their family things. Later I discovered the “orphans’ Christmas” which was a collection of people getting together because they had no other place to go. It always seemed to be at least as dysfunctional a gathering as the families we were all avoiding. I stopped going after a while. We are meant to be with blood-Family, I think, on Holy Days. Family is the smallest unit of the church and it’s not replaceable. So while I can call home on Christmas (and I do) I miss the gathering of 65 people (or more) that were all my relatives in one small town – that was a Holy Day. All I have now is a day off from work with religious obligations.

So I was struck after Midnight Mass by a tweet from a friar calling attention to the Christmas Message of the Master of the Dominican Order. The Master hits on this curious point in the First Christmas story:

At times, we tend to “sanitize” the disturbing details of the Christmas story. The nativity scene in our churches and convents appears to be a tender and warm picture of a loving and peaceful family. But as we pause and ponder, we realize that it must have been extremely painful for Joseph to be homeless in his hometown,  for he could not find a single relative who could give them a room for the night, thus they had to look for a room in an inn. Probably, Joseph’s kinsmen shunned him for having a young wife who got pregnant even before they were married. It must have been terribly difficult for Mary to deliver a child in a smelly stable and then have a manger for his bed. It must have been terrifying to know that a king who feels so insecure threatens their newborn son and has ordered the killing of many innocent male children. The Gospel on Christmas day speaks about the world rejecting the One they needed the most: He came to his own yet his own people did not receive him (John 1:11)There is a “dark side” to Christmas. No matter how big or little they are, the sadness and emptiness we feel even during Christmas day is part of that dark side that we have to acknowledge in order to let Jesus, our LIGHT, shine through that darkness. 

Fr Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP

I’ve never actually thought about it before. Our culture turns the Holy Family into Politically Correct stand-ins for political refugees, migrant workers, or homeless people. Then Christians fight over this reading. The Biblical text tells another story that will be far more familiar to any Christmas Orphans out there. In this story, the Dysfunctional Family of David tried to ruin the first Christmas. …[I]t must have been extremely painful for Joseph to be homeless in his hometown, for he could not find a single relative who could give them a room for the night, thus they had to look for a room in an inn. Probably, Joseph’s kinsmen shunned him for having a young wife who got pregnant even before they were married…

After St Joseph’s experience, the Church spent the first 300 years of her life rescuing not only lost souls, but also those who were rejected by their families: babies, elders, and the infirm who were abandoned on the hillsides. Families could literally throw people away. These are not just the “poor and the homeless” as we think of them today in our cities: these were the rejected, the broken, the used up. Slaves that could no longer to the tasks allotted them, daughters who dishonored their families by getting children outside of wedlock, elders who were too sick and drained the family wealth, unwanted babies (especially girls), or the blind, the deformed, the mentally ill. The Christians went out to the edges of the city and brought these folks in, healed them, raised the babies, comforted the dying. In this way, the Church evangelized literally by action: the religion of your Pater Familias abandoned you to die on the hillside. The religion of your rescuers told them to love and told you to forgive. The early Church didn’t ask these folks to change as the price of admission to love (as Roman Paganism did) but rather these folks changed their lives as a result of the love they experienced from God through the Church.

Pope Francis calls us “to the peripheries”. Speaking before he was elected Pope, then-Cardinal Bergolio said:

The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.

Today on the peripheries we might better think of our homeless encampments as more of the same: adding drug addiction and even prostitution to the list of ways that men and women might end up on this list of Unwanted Family. When I read a newspaper story earlier this year about the Homeless of San Francisco, I was surprised by how many of them had family – but couldn’t go to them.

So, not just peripheries of geography (are there any peripheries there any more?) but the Church also has a mission to the peripheries of sociology.

Many of the homeless men and women in my neighborhood are rejected by their families for issues around sexual morality. This is especially true of the youth. I wish it were not the case, but “Get out of my house…” seems a horribly common thing for religious parents to say to their children. How are we supposed to act, as Christians, in this case? I know there are some who want to use this sort of story as an argument for changing the Church’s teachings. Sed Contra, I see it as a chance to enforce the Church’s teachings on charity, love of family, and mercy. We should make it a mission of the Church to welcome in those who are shunned and even shamed by their families.

One Christmas, after Midnight Mass at the Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Divine in NYC, I went down to what I used to call “My Parish” in Greenwich Village. If you go into any gay bar you will find men who are angry at the Church. But on Christmas you’ll find something else entirely. In NYC the bars close at 4AM, but by 2AM on Christmas morning you’ll find the real orphans: the men who have no “orphan Christmas party” to go to, who have no other place to be, who are lost. When I walked into Ty’s the only people in there were the Bartender (he had a home to go to, but he was at work…) and a drag queen who was in “boy drag” as the saying goes, sitting all alone. The bartender greeted me warmly, gave me a drink (4 actually) without charging me and left me to chat with the other patron as he went about cleaning up. We were watching Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.

It was all chitchat. We sang along to the movie. I shared about Mass and the guy remembered St John the Divine and commented on the beauty there. And he grew wistful talking about fond memories. There’s no religious conversion here, but when I moved away from NYC, I got a going-way card from the man who thanked me for that night of friendship in a bar when it was very dark in his life. Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.

Let me point in another direction: as many of our parishes become rest homes for aging members of the over 6os set, who wish to be unchallenged in their cultural hegemony, we should realize the peripheries also contain Techies and other Millenials who are very successful in the world but, for exactly that reason, are disconnected from their families and any social structures. Many of them lack the social sense even needed to recognize the need for religion in their life. But they need God as much as anyone. I mentioned this once to an Parish Council as was greeted by stony silence. These folks need Jesus, too.

Fr Timoner points out that “Christmas is not just a celebration but a mission.” We each have missions, of course, but the Church’s special mission has been outreach – we go beyond. Beyond the boundaries of the Jewish People, she embraced the gentiles. In Roman culture, she embraced the outcasts. She reached out to the Barbarians – the enemies of the Roman State. She embraced other cultures and peoples at every turn.

This is the Church needed today. This is the Church we have, to be honest, even though there are some who try to deny this along the lines fear of the Other in all forms: race, nationalism, populism, and sexual morality. We have forgotten again that the way to bring folks in is not to demand they change as the price of admission, but rather to let them change as a result of being loved. “…[T]he mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery” lives on the edges of our lives: usually just outside of our doors or in the discard pile of our social media.

Can the Church reach out in these directions: on the one hand to the lost, the marginalized, and on the other hand to the folks who seem to reject us as quaint and old fashioned? Again, the interesting point is that from a societal, political point of view, each of these groups is “successful” in some very worldly ways. But how can they find the Gospel unless they hear it first, and how will they hear it unless it is preached?

Not According To

I’ve been thinking about rule books today, viz sex and the church.

There’s only two books: The Church’s Rules and Not the Church’s Rules, although the latter comes in several various, often unique editions. Many people outside the Church use their favorite version of the Not the Church’s Rules. And I’m ok with that: I don’t expect people who are playing Baseball to follow the rules of College Football. I don’t expect NASCAR to follow the rules of Lawn Darts, and I don’t expect people to play Pinochle following the rules of Spit and Malice. People outside the Church are not expected to follow The Church’s Rules. But inside the Church now…

My journey began with a jettisoning of The Church’s Rules and the discovery of Not the Church’s Rules in a college youth group at a retreat center in upstate New York, in the winter of 1982-1983. Prior to that time, I’d worked really hard at using the same rule book everyone used for ever. From that point on, I tried to play by Not the Church’s Rules while staying inside the Church in various ways until, late in 1988 or so. Things were very odd., let me tell you. You can’t play golf without the right set of rules. Even croquet is not close enough to golf to let you play the same game.

So I decided the problem was I was using Not the Church’s Rules inside the Church: I left the Church. Cuz Not the Church’s Rules let me be me. And I was having fun. I was kinda ok, for nearly ten years. But oddly, whilst having fun, something was missing.

So, for a brief time, I tried again to play Not the Church’s Rules inside the church… but then I decided I actually wasn’t in the church since everyone was playing by Not the Church’s Rules in sex, in theology, in Bible, in economic culture… didn’t matter.

So I went and joined the Church.

But I still tried to play Not the Church’s Rules.

And… Still didn’t work.

So I left the Church again.

This cycle continued, unabated, until rather recently in Salvation History. I decided that maybe – just maybe – I needed to try the one thing I’d not tried at all: Being in the Church and playing by The Church’s Rules.

At no point in here did I think I needed to make the Church jettison her Rule Book: but I tried pretty much every version of not-following that book I could come up with. I finally decided that getting rid of one part of the Rule Book made all the other parts of the same book (Fiscal, Moral, Theological, Sacramental) as weak as possible, until it was easy to tear them out too.

When you’re left with the Church’s Empty Binder of Nothingness, oddly, you don’t have Church any more either.

This is why hearing folks trying to force the Church play by Not the Church’s Rule Book makes me really, really nervous, annoyed, sometimes angry. Then I remember the Church has stood up to people who were trying to kill her over that Rule Book for two millennia. So I’m ok with waiting this round out.

She always wins.

Book Meditation: Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay (Part 2)

This is part 2, thinking about Daniel C. Mattson’s Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay. For part 1, now see here.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 of Mattson’s book move in a wide arc from theology to friendship, from love to loneliness. There are ample quotes from his journals, and there are odd moments where I nearly threw the book across the room (and, especially, two places where I wrote “no” in the margins).

Part 3, How to Run the Race: Living Out the Daily Battle for Chastity, saddles up along side part 1 as the best sections of the book, most especially the chapter entitled “The Wisdom and Example of the Saints.” I need to know very little about how they teach gender theory to kindergartners (which is covered in the blogger-voiced part 2) but I need to know a lot more about the saints! This section, citing saints from Cyprian of Antioch and Basil the Great to Ignatius of Loyola and Alphonsus Liguori, is filled with encouragement, and acknowledgement that many of our saints were scoundrels, and not a few of them helped rescue people that make my life seem rather pedestrian. Lots more of this is needed! The Story of St Mary of Egypt, advice from Pope St John Paul, St Francis, St Benedict… St Teresa of Calcutta… there’s so much out there. That this chapter was so short and so good, though, points to what I think was a major failing.

There are no demons in this book; no, nor angels.

In fact, the book seems largely, psychotherapeutic rather than, to coin a term, nousotherapeutic. This follows in the footsteps of many a modern (pardon the language) Western and a few modern Eastern Christian writers who forget the Christian Anthropology taught by the saints. We don’t need Freud, Jung, or any other modern pagans to enlighten the teachings of a Liguori or Loyola. This school of thought seems to treat our temptations as, largely, a psychological issue, and hardly at all as a spiritual malady; always addressed in a mental rather than spiritual way, as in a school of prayer. A good confessor or spiritual director/spiritual father knows that Psychology might get to the root of how this happened, but it won’t fix the who or why as effectively as a prayer against demons who inhabit spiritual wounds, who lurk in dark places in the soul, ready to trip or trigger us. Yet we like to sound modern and scholarly. Even the good Fr Benedict Groeschel in his brilliant “Courage to be Chaste” makes this a mostly psychological and moral issue, rather than a spiritual one. (At one point Groeschel even makes fun of those who used spiritual weapons without seeking a psychological cure, and so fell.)

Our weakness may result from fault lines in our psychological makeup, scored by parents, teachers, bullies, or ourselves. However it takes a Nephew Wormwood or Uncle Screwtape to bring them to full flower and it takes our own willing, human dance to keep them going. The verse that needs to be at the heart of every Christian’s struggle for chastity is Ephesians 6:12: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our psychological damage (real enough) or our culture, our nurture, whatever, is nothing until it’s taunted, teased, and bullied out into full on fantasy life (the prideful fantasy of an existence lived contra the plan of Life). I think the author gave himself too much credit in the creation of his mistakes, to be honest. And likewise, it is the angels on our side that help us fight the warfare that leads us to victory. Mattson does advise fasting, prayer, Adoration, and frequent recourse to the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, but the Church is filled with other weapons for use in this Angelic Warfare. In a how-to book like this there could be nearly half-again as many pages of prayers, novenas, listings of confraternities, prayer groups, etc. (Liturgy of the Hours and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity do get footnotes.)

In part 4, there is a wonderful essay on the language of “Disorder”. It talks about how we are all out of order, how we are all working our way back into God’s pattern for life. I find language of disorder to be liberating. This chapter gave me so very much support in that area! My mind was blown by the passages regarding the human reproductive system. I remember sex ed, where the teacher in Monticello, NY, taught us all the stuff about zygotes, spermatozoa, and all the rest. Yet it never dawned on me until reading this book the the “human reproductive system” is entirely split in two. It’s two three-piston halves of a six-piston engine. It’s an organic system in two parts. I’m sure that’s clear as day to readers who are married, but welcome to my brain. My grasp of the Church’s teaching (following Aristotle as much as Moses) that function follows form, that form dictates telos, that the shapes and meaning of bodies are self-evident, was just abstract to me until I read that passage. Recognizing disorder also results in hope – for order, for direction.

The passages on friendship were, again, autobiographical and I did recognize some of my own missteps. But the blogger’s voice returned here. The reader felt sorry for the friend (the pseudonymous Jake) who seems to have endured rather a long friendship with the author and also gets to endure it again in the reading of the book. I was happy to learn so much about my own mistakes, but I felt sorry for Jake that he was made to be the Example. (Unless Jake is a hybrid of several people…)

There was a chapter on loneliness. I didn’t identify very well here, so, maybe I’m not as introverted as I thought, or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it, or maybe I’m in denial. But alone time, for me, is different from loneliness. The author shares some very painful moments, some very jarring images of emotional pain. I nearly tossed the book away when he compares this to a story from a Nazi concentration camp and learning to “offer it up” for the salvation of the world. It was at that point in reading that I began to wonder uncharitably if there would ever be a spiritual cure here.

Today (Thursday, as I write), coincidentally, I listened to a Byzantine Catholic priest in a podcast talk about getting away from his loneliness by taking all the money in his wallet and buying McDonalds gift cards and giving them away to strangers on the street. I remember a priest in confession telling me to get out of the house, to go to the park, to just sit there and be with people. The cure for loneliness is love: self-giving to other people; to will the good of another. I feel the walls of loneliness closing in on me when I listen to music in my headphones as a way to avoid talking to homeless people. Open up, give, share. It’s the cure.

The author is happy in church, but he talks very little about it. It comes up in the acknowledgements, so I know he’s doing it! But the Church is also the cure here. St John Paul reminds us

For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church – the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate – must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden.’
Pope St John Paul II Familiaris Consortio

So I think there’s a challenge here – to elicit more writing from Mr Mattson. He’s come so far, and there’s so much more to do! There’s the Rosary and daily mass, there’s mens fellowships and choir. There’s a whole spiritual side to this battle that I think he’s using that wasn’t in the book. I’m leery of over-psychologizing this: that’s the weapons of the other side. We have entire armies of majestic fear and disarming beauty on our side. Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17) and we have a cloud of witnesses around us. We are never alone in this battle.

I’m getting off track. I want to close with this other thought… there’s a temptation to cave into the cultural war.

Christians are seemingly aligned with one or another side of this war, but I don’t think that’s right. Our battle is not with flesh and blood. It’s certainly not with political parties or politicians. When we let our writing (about chastity, about liturgy, about whatever…) get suckered into the political sphere, we are in danger of losing our prophetic voice. There is only one illustration in Mattson’s book. If a random reader were to pick this up in a bookstore and flip through, it’s likely that that one illustration would catch their eye – it’s the rather controversial sheet explaining gender theory to young kids. Our hypothetical shopper will, likely, judge the whole book on page 99. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I sold an article once to Touchstone Magazine. It became the go-to thing for a time, as far as SSA was concerned. It was edited to avoid the context of a then-recent Episcopal Election in Massachusetts, and turned into a full-on broadside against the gay movement. At the time I didn’t care: cuz I got published! But later, I regretted it. Once in awhile I used to get an emails about it, but they are all some version of “See, I knew we were right…” and I think, “I never reached anyone with this, only confirmed people’s hate.”

Preaching to the choir is much easier than preaching to the Areopagus. But the latter is what is needed.

When we realize that our sins are our own dance with the devil, when we realize that our family, God’s Church, stands ready to help us, we finally have very little time to worry about the people we used to sin with save as regards their souls. In those cases, Bishop Barron is right: leading with “Disorder” may not be the best thing.

Right at the end, I wrote “no” again in the margin. The author seems to be saying “this world sucks and as soon as I can get out I can get to heaven.” No. No. No.

A quadrillion times, No.

We’re here because we have work to do. We’re here because we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We’re here because we need to love, more and more and more until that love becomes a fire that consumes us and we merge into the fire of God. We’re here to be the fire that consumes the world in love. We are here to struggle against whatever our passions are so that we can learn to love first, in spite of them, then, eventually, to their cure.

One Lent, reading the Life of St Mary of Egypt in the Matins service devoted to her (in the Byzantine rite), I broke down. Another reader had to jump in and read for me. Mary realizes she spent years leading others astray. Having made that realization she prayed for them and their salvation. I’m not quite there yet, but that’s where the road to healing lies. We can’t go there if we buy into the Cultural War language of us against them which pits humans against humans. There is an us, and there is a them. We are all the humans whom God loves so much he became one of us: them are the demons. Full stop.

Three quarters of this book was so good that I want more of it. I imagine the one-quarter that seemingly caters to “our side” in the Culture War will get quoted more, though. Stuff in the one quarter needs to be said, sometimes; but I think of how little anger one can hear is when certain clergy talk about sexual sins as compared to the anger I nearly always hear coming from people in the middle of this path. We need to wait until we can speak like St Mary of Egypt.

May she pray for us.

Book Meditation: Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay (Part 1)

TL;DR – Good book. Although I’ve some style issues in Part 2 and 4, all the parts are all engaging and thought provoking. All parts, too, are educational both in a spiritual way (if you want to be a faithful RCC) and in a “getting inside the mind of” way if you don’t want to be RCC at all. Excellent as a spiritual guide for the faithful, this book would also be a strong placement alongside other works with differing POV in a group discussion setting in or outside the RCC. 

Back in 2014, reviewing Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic, I took issue with her ascribing a sense of beingness to her sexuality. It seemed to me that Eve’s approach was “I am this way, and now I have to live – still being this way – into the Church’s rules.” Reading with her filter in place, it was easy for me, from outside the Roman Church, to interpret all of RCC teaching the same way. My objection to this line of thought as posted in that review was:

I “am” gay because I like sex with guys as I “am” a carnivore because I love bacon. I can be a vegetarian – but I’d still love bacon. I can even be an “ethical vegan”, opposed to the anthropocentric use, objectification, and slaughter of other living creatures – but still admit that the taste of bacon is one that I love. I “am” gay rather as I love bacon. It’s fun. It’s a preference, but it doesn’t mean I am gay in my being.

My essential response was “I am Orthodox and a sinner.” (You can read: Review part 1 and Review part 2 if you wish.)

Now I’m Catholic, and it is largely because of a group that I met at that time, ironically, as a result of reading Eve’s book. I discovered that Eve’s tack isn’t really all of the RC’s teaching. This doesn’t surprise me: I’m a convert too.

This idea that one is gay the way one used to be considered male, or white, or 53 years old seems to be common. In fact in a culture where much of what used to pass for “identity” seems fluid, orientation is given an oddly concrete status. It is also rather recent and socially constructed – as people from Foucalt, to Paglia have pointed out. What we do with this sense of being we have, though, that’s the important part.

Into this conversation now comes Daniel C. Mattson with his wonderful and challenging Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay. It is the spiritual autobiography of a man trying to live faithful to authentic Christianity’s teaching on sexuality – towit, that sex as a vibrant and powerful gift from God, is intended to be rightly used in one context, and outside of that context it is not only wrong in a moral and spiritual way but also harmful to the human person.

Liber est omnis divisa in partes quinque.

The whole book is divided in five parts, but I’ll address the review in two posts. Here parts 1 and 2, then there will be another post on parts 3, 4, and 5. In defence of this division, I note that Parts 2 & 4 are the ones I had trouble with so that will divide these two posts into “some good/some bad”. And I do not want, in any way, for the discussion of the bad to eclipse the good.

Mad props for getting Robert Cardinal Sarah to write the foreword! In the front matter, the book raises a crucial issue: Cardinal Sarah and Fr Paul Check (writing in the introduction) both point out that we need a Church that moves along side of those who are struggling. Tushnet points this out as well. Two of my brothers in Christ recently punched a hole in my gut talking (also in two parts) about the compassion that Catholics need to feel along side these struggles (The Catholic Man Show, Episode 61, and Episode 62). A recent movie, called “The Third Way” did this as well. It does my heart good to feel not-alone, but fully a part of the Body of Christ in ways that mere denial or mere affirmation never allowed me to feel.

Part 1 is the most autobiographical. It’s the story of a boy conceived on the night of the first Moon Landing (I rather like that story more than mine, which involves the weekend of the JFK assassination, but anyway…) and who grows up feeling lost among boys and men who are athletic and jocular, easy going with themselves, confident and outgoing with women. His own sense of inadequacy was such that he got turned in on himself.

It continues with him sexualizing these feelings, and then finding ways to express those sexualized feelings. Once the feelings get sexualized, then it becomes only a matter of finding ways to express them.

It’s worth a read: I had the exact same experience. All the way through I was like “um, wow.”  And the same story came up again in another place recently, a film. So alike were Daniel’s story to the other story that I had to jump to the film’s credits to see if this were not the same guy! There may be a number of reasons for having these feelings, but “Falling for the guy I want to be” and then sexualizing it seems to be the most common one. It also explains why some men get locked into dating the same aged guys over and over again: that’s the age that one wants to be, wants to be for ever, that one keeps trying to “fix”.

There were a couple of places where my experience parted from Mattson’s path, most notably in his adult attempts at dating women (which I stopped trying to do in college – even then hurting dear friends). Also, I had the departure from the Church phase, coming back at about the same time as the author, although I only had anger at the Church – in a real sense – for a couple of years in my darkest occult phase. Still, the author’s stories of flipping the finger at a church made perfect sense – and I’ve seen others do it as well whenever they passed a church.

The sense of disempowerment in the World of Men becomes, itself, the driving force. Although Daniel is not going to get to this phase (or if he did, he didn’t discuss it), the inadequacy and downward spiral can continue, until – far from eroticising the men you wish you were like – you end up eroticising the inadequacy itself. You stop acting the role of the class clown, the jokes on me, look I’m about to swing a bat… and you end up playing the class fool: go ahead, beat me up, please.

I found this first part as valuable in understanding the spiritual journey as I found parts of Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain and for much the same reason: it underscores that no one has a unique story. There is only one story, with variations on the theme. In my pride I want to be the only one. But really, we all have the same story. It only takes the breaking of a rare few things to result in the same scars, the same inflection, the same inversions, as they used to call it. Reading this story though, was earth-shaking. Each moment of “What, you too?” was like a brick gone from my wall: not a loss, for it was never a gain, but still, an absence to be filled by Grace. When the whole wall is gone, then I’ll be dead… but it will be a pretty bridge.

The second part, though, I wrestled with. As a blogger I can hear the blogger’s voice. This is not a voice for putting thoughts in print. In fact if it had continued for much longer I would have put the book down and written a bad review never realizing there were other parts to read. To my mental ears, this part is Daniel’s “I was in Hell” moment. It’s his chance to say how unsatisfactory the gay world was. I get that. My experience though is this anger is like admitting one has had sex with an astronomical number of people: it may be true, but the left doesn’t care and the right only cares for the scandal. Yes, the idea of “Coming out” is all empty promises. But so what? This seems to be the part of the book written for other people – not for people struggling with church teaching on sex, but people who want to be scandalized or at least titillated about people not wanting to live that way. It’s the part that will sell the book to people who don’t really care about a collection of struggling Christians, but do want to feel superior to them. This is the part I imagine I’ll hear quoted in certain circles – this part and part 5. I’ll discuss this more, though, in the second post. Part 2 is not the longest part, though. I agreed with most things said, but it’s the tone. (I begin to think tone is everything in Evangelism.)

What else can a book about the sexual teachings in the Church be, but evangelism? As I said, this would be a good book in a discussion group with different points of view. But this book raises some interesting issues – especially in the “this is my life” portion. These are not all comfortable questions, perhaps, for the author. I’ll get to them later. But – vague spoiler – here’s where I think there is a huge difference between several sorts of books in this genre. They fall on a spectrum:

1) I hate this. I love God.
2) I hate this. I hate God.
3) I love this. I hate God.
4) I love this. I love God.

Each category then asks different questions. All four category can be written with one of four endings:

1) Yes-Gay Yes-God
2) Yes-Gay No-God
3) No-Gay No-God
4) No-Gay Yes-God

Eve Tushnet’s book falls into category 3 with something of a 1-4 Hybrid ending. Mattson seems to be a Category 2 with a 4 ending.

I don’t think that’s good evangelism, but it is a good part of mystagogy, the after- initiation teaching. Tushnet’s book was good evangelism in that it’ll get you through the door.

I have not yet talked about the title of the book – but the title is why I bought it. In 1995 or 96 I was getting off the N train at 42nd Street with my housemate, Ray. Ray was explaining to me why he didn’t feel a part of anything called the gay community. “Basically,” he said. “The only thing we have in common is what we like to do in bed. And, really, we don’t even have that…” It was a throwaway line that I ruminated on for nearly a decade. We have nothing in common. Wait, if there is no gay community, is there a gay? And all through college and on into adult life, I met well adjusted folks – most of whom were also attracted to the same sex – who said things like “I don’t want to be called gay” and “I hate gay as a noun”.

The fact that most all of these people were “Teh Ghey” – and sexually active, etc – but yet didn’t want to be using the word was interesting to me. And, like I said, made me examine my own thoughts, words, and deeds in this area. There are some that might say most of those folks suffered from some sort of internalized self-hate, but I’m not a psychotherapist and I don’t want to diagnose people based on my level of Psych 101 at NYU.

I did feel uncomfortable reading parts of Mattson’s book. There were places where he sounded remarkably sound, able to navigate the nuances of a person working out his salvation in fear and trembling. And there were places where he sounded simply hurt and angry. I found myself in those places saying, “I’m not sure what went wrong here, but you don’t seem to be telling the whole story.” Like in Seven Storey Mountain where Merton never comes clean about fathering a child… but notes his life was a mess sexually. I don’t want Mattson to do a kiss and tell chapter, or write out a true confession of his life, but the Bio Part seems a bit short, to be honest, and a bit light on the workings. Has much as I loved it, I wished there had been more.

That would be evangelism, I think. And it would be the blogger’s voice rightly used. It may also require a different life pattern – one where “This felt really good” was a thing. I think of St Mary of Egypt, really.  Although, later in life, she realized she had made a grave error – earlier it was not that way. And she was honest about it not being that way. I don’t think she laughed or bragged, but she was honest that the younger girl was not prone to really care about morality.

Daniel Mattson’s story might work for some while St Mary of Egypt’s story works for others.  I hope there’s a “Gay St Mary” out there… forgive my phrasing.

In the second posting on this book I will discuss parts 3, 4, and 5. Which I think are the spiritual fruit of Mattson’s labor in some ways – and quite well done in all ways.

That’s for reading – part 2 is here.

Disorder as Liberation

One year in High School our Marching Band raised money by working at Six Flags in Atlanta. I’m unclear how it worked, but basically we performed various minimum wage jobs around the park for one of three half-day shifts and all the money went to the band. In exchange for working 4 hours the volunteers got to spend whole day in the park. It was a fun day (although I will never eat park food ever again) and I got to ride the Mind Bender 15 times.

The Mind Bender opened that summer and was billed as the world’s first triple loop roller coaster and I had no reason to want to do any of the normal stuff which I’d done before. This was not only new to me, but new to everyone! Until the pre-monastery purge, I still had the commemorative coin they gave out that year. Anyway, that day I rode the thing until I got bored, literally. After 12 times through (in fairly rapid succession, since I had an employee pass and needn’t stand in the whole line), I couldn’t have cared less: all my adrenaline burned out, the endorphins went away, and all I had was a jolting and jerking sensation caused by the motion. I was numb. Still, I rode it thee more times, then I stopped.

I was talking to my brother in Christ yesterday over wings and biscuits; there was some beer as well. We were talking about how moral theology has basically two categories: the way God intended something to be (aka properly ordered) and every other way we try things, (aka disordered). It’s important to realize that moral theology doesn’t use “disordered” as we might when describing a mental disease. It’s more along the lines of putting a penny in a fuse (if you are old enough to get the reference), or what happens when you use a flat head screwdriver that is also too small on a Phillips-head screw.

Since the human spirit is made to follow God’s will – and yet we do not – we are disordered. Disorder is a sign of the fall. To find in one’s life is disordered is to admit that one is human – no less than any other. Given what we know about the human propensity to sin, as my friend said, even ketchup packets are a sign of the Fall. All of Creation groans under the situation caused by our fall: man was intended to be the crown of creation, the Primus below God. That we have fallen from grace disorders all things.

The Jesus Psalter, a 16th Century English Catholic devotion closes with two prayers referring to the disorder of our dance: Jesus, grant me grace to set my mind on thee; and, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to thee. Both of these points (our minds and our lives) are to be ordered – focused, line up behind, pointing at Jesus. When we say something is disordered we mean its pointing the wrong way. That “wrong way” may only be a fraction of a degree off course, but in the distance of Eternity, that fraction grows until we miss the mark. Please note: disorder, itself, is not missing the mark. We miss the mark when we deny the disorder, when we treat SNAFU as “right”.

Imagine that you have a square peg – and you have to fit it in the proverbial round hole. Imagine you spend your whole life shoving and pounding, chipping off corners, trying to stretch the hole, all in vain. In the end, you give up: you settle down, the hole unpegged, the peg without a home. What if someone came by and said, “I have a square hole over here…” It would finally feel as though you’d found a home. You’ve finally connected. Only connect, as E.M. Forster sys in Maurice, it’s the solution to the isolation that cuts us off.

In talking about human sexual expression, “disordered” as category applies to everything outside of the procreative act within sacramental marriage. Anything else is using tools given by God in ways not intended. The Church’s tradition, beginning in scripture and unfolding in the lives of the saints, is pretty clear about this. There are degrees of departure from plumb, but all such – even by half a degree – proceed from a fall and miss the mark entirely.

My friend asked me how I – a Catholic man who experiences sexual attraction to other men – felt about that label “disordered”. I did not think twice before I said, “Liberating!”

All of our modern world is about catering to our whims, our desires. Everything we do is “because we want too/feel the need to/crave…” It’s bloody exhausting! To “follow my bliss” when what I want to bliss out on changes from moment to moment is like trying to navigate with a compass through a maze made out of magnets. We are told that we must consume, that we must get our just desserts, that we deserve more than we have, that when we die we should leave a proper viking horde of stuff and experience behind to prove that we were here at all: when the sex and the shopping stops, we’re dead.

Worse, we become so involved in this that we don’t even notice when we continue the pattern in strange parts of our lives. Amazon – mistress of all the vices – feels better than therapy. Online dating is only a 70s Singles Bar or Bathhouse that needs no brick and mortar expenses. Church shopping and parish hopping is just the Tinder or Growlr app, but with God. We choose our name, religion, job, residence, friends, medications, and whatever all based on only our drives and tastes; only in hindsight do we realize that “drive” and “taste” are more matters of “peer pressure” and “marketing”. “My” taste is not personal to me. I can walk out of the house in purple sneakers and yellow socks firm in the knowledge that there’s probably another 100k or so people dressed exactly the same way within 500 miles.

Disorder is a way out! To realize that this not at all how it has to be, or even how it’s supposed to be; to realize that this chaos is not what is intended, that this chaos is self-replicating, and only a re-ordering from outside will fix it is to be graciously liberated from the ever-spinning wheel of illusion.

Living a life fulfilling every desire, every whim, running away from every pain and every sorrow, is like trying to dig one’s way out of a pit: each fulfillment gives rise to more craving – even if only for a repeat performance. Mmmm that felt good. Do it again! Like my ride on the Mind Bender, we do it over and over until all the chemicals in our brain burn out. Then we just keep going on some autopilot function. Our cravings have turned into an addiction, our lives into empty recreations of patterns we claim to enjoy. But we are not free: we are enslaved to our reasons, our cravings.

No! You don’t have to fulfill that whim, that craving, that lust! Let it go: if you hold on it will only take you further and further off course. Simply: Let. It. Go.

Disorder, as self-realization, is discovering the square hole for the square peg. It’s realizing that one is human: not special, but average; not unique but a son of Adam, a daughter of Eve. There is nothing unique or special about your desires: they are shared by millions of others in history. There are only differences of response. Desires, as such, are only a sign of being part of our fallen humanity. They are not needs to fulfill, but rather comments on or signs of our human weakness. A disorder – experienced as an action or only as desire – is a sign that we need God. Knowing it is a disorder, something that needs to be reordered, to be fixed, turns it into an on-going opportunity for grace to be poured in. And the Church is both the fountain from which grace is poured and the vessel that contains us as we are filled with that gift.

In riding the Mind Bender, I not only got bored, I also kinda ended my fear-love relationship with Roller Coasters. I don’t really like the adrenalin rush that one gets. It’s not at all heathy to trigger one’s own fear mechanism. I feel the same way about horror movies too. Like, I have only so many “Endo-Dolphins” as a friend’s daughter once called them. I don’t want to waste them by crying wolf too many times. Using the endorphins this way – a hit of adrenalin, a rush of fear – is disordered in a minor way, just has a hit of lush, a rush of sweaty fun – is disordered in a major way. But we live in a society that says “fulfill it!” at every turn. That’s not what we are here for. In fact, we’re here for the opposite. And when you grow tired of jamming the square peg into all the wrong holes, you can finally settle down and let the proper ordering of things take over. The Church is the school that not only teaches that solution, but resolves the conflict, and heals the resultant pains.

Recognizing the Disorder and yielding to grace are, in fact, the first three of the 12 steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over Fill In the Blank —that our lives had become unmanageable. 
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 

St Paul says, in Galatians, “Christo confixus sum cruci. Vivo autem, jam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus.” With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. Our cravings produce a false sense of need and that need/craving produces a false self. This is not me. I am not my cravings. I am not personified by my temptations. We crucify our fallen self, as Jesus gave himself up for us so that we can finally live – yet not us, but Christ living in us. Grace (which is God’s energy, God’s presence in our lives) orders our life to Christ. We can only get there when we see everything is not good as it is. We are liberated by seeing the disordered lives we lead, the disordered world in which we live for exactly what it all is: Disordered.

Neologism Alert!

Today’s readings:

  • Hebrews 13:1-8
  • Psalm 27:1-9 (Responsorial)
  • Luke 8:15 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 6:14-29

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE

Propter iusiurandum et propter simul recumbentes noluit eam contristare.
Yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her.
Mark 6:26

King Herod and I share a birthday, at least liturgically: August 29th is the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist and so the day of Herod’s party and also my birthday. This story always resonates with me: the illicit, sexualized relationship with his stepdaughter, who is also his niece, the child of his own brother. The family drama of it all, pardon the unintentional double entendre, but I didn’t write this. It always reads to me rather like The Edge of Night or maybe Dark Shadows. Today though I think there is a payoff: the connection of this with a lot of sin.

At Courage last night we were discussing entropy: things fall apart, it’s scientific. It came up that the Evil One is trying to get us to dissolve, to fall apart as well: that is his goal. And there was a connection with this false self we’ve constructed and feed by indulging our passions, those sins that make us think they are really “me” when, really they are not. (How can I really be a sin?) So we create this false self, and by continual reindulgence it becomes stronger: it becomes the only me that really is left. I have entropically dissolved into my passion. In the end the sin, itself, becomes about destruction: courting death, demanding pain, ever greater and ever more. Repeating the patterns until they are only echoes of themselves. There is nothing left to be saved. I become my sin: there is no me left, nothing left to sin, and sin and me vanish in a puff of ontology.

Herod swears an oath of which he repents almost immediately, but because he swore the oath in front of guests on his birthday he won’t go back on it. In less than six verses in the Gospel of Mark, Herod creates a false self and dissolves into it in front of his guests. His evil is crafted by his adultery and lust, sealed by his oath and performed at his orders, even though he, himself, is sorrowful and wishes this would all stop.

How often do we do this to ourselves, missing the hope that comes from Christ: the hope that says by faith we can be made whole, the entropy can be reversed. “For he hath said: I will not leave thee: neither will I forsake thee. So that we may confidently say: The Lord is my helper: I will not fear what man shall do to me.” Yet we swore an oath! Our pride will not let us go back. We start a job and, even though it is immoral, we keep doing it because someone has to feed me. We obey a leader because we are Patriots, even when the leader, himself, is not. We continue in our lust for fear of what our friends will say. We continue to dance even when there is no music, because we can’t shake off the bugs.

We create, feed, and enliven a false self, a golem.

So that into it we die.

Who will save us from this mess?