An Offer You Can’t Refuse

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

One God and Father of All, who is over all, through all, and in all.

Ephesians 4:6

P AUL CONTINUES HIS Meditation on the Fatherhood of God. It’s important to note that Paul is speaking to Pagans (and some Jews) who are now followers of Jesus. It’s important because of the difference in theology. In the Greco-Roman world there were a few “crossbreeds” of divine (or semi-divine)+humans. Some of these even resulted in traced bloodlines: for example, Caesar was divine, but his children were not (unless someone should become Caesar). But the bloodline of Egypt was considered divine (even as it was petering out). Alexander was called a god, but those who came after him, not really. Although they played it up a bit.

Now, here’s a father who loves you. Who wants what is best for you and – at the same time – what is best for everyone.

Why say no? Well, to be honest… we all know the answer. Yes, sin but it’s not enough just to say, “I’ve sinned.” It’s the realization that this Father requires everything:

  • Certainly Submission to his will; but also
  • full reliance on him even when you don’t understand
  • even for the little things which he enjoys doing for you
  • trust (faith) even when the lights have all gone out and it’s time to move forward
  • accepting that what he knows is best might actually hurt
  • an active, ongoing participation in the relationship
  • ideally, asking him for help means letting him do it
  • not letting anyone else get in line ahead of him; and finally
  • he’s got a list of do’s and don’t’s to talk about and he’s serious. They are not the one’s you think. Yes, sure, don’t kill anyone, for example, but don’t get angry with them either.

This Father is more than Dad.

He’s God.

And we need to let him be God, or this isn’t going to work out.

But if we let him do things his way, “over all, through all, and in all” will make perfect sense to you as will St Paul’s other interesting line about God, “In whom we live and move and have our being”.

How can you refuse?

Pro Patria

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

From whom every family on earth is named.

Ephesians 3:15

THERE IS A WORDPLAY here: the Greek word for Family is the same as the word for Father. Patria. In Latin Patria does double-duty as Father and Country (as in Fatherland) although some countries are “mother” like Russia. Anyway, Lay aside any issues the reader may have with God picking his own pronouns and focus on what Paul is actually saying here. Paul is paralleling the relationships of a person with their natural father, on the one hand, with the relationship of a redeemed person (in Christ) with God the Father.

Through the Spirit (sent by the Father) may the Son dwell in your heart that you may know the fullness of God within you.

It’s one of my favorite Bible passages, with Paul waxing poetic (and mystical) about “the breadth and length and height and depth” with nary an object in sight. Some translations stick in the love of Christ here, so that we can know that love, but that’s not the point. We’re not comprehending the love of Christ at all. “The breadth and length and height and depth” refer to the fullness of God.

Christ’s love is there… to give us the strength… to bear up with our high calling as Sons of God on earth. That’s not a metaphor: you have an earthly father, and now you have a Heavenly One as well. St Francis and a few others would say instead.

We are called to live, on earth, participating in the fullness of the Trinitarian Fellowship. Members of the Body of Christ (again, not a metaphor, but a spiritual reality) offering continually the Son’s worship of the Father, as Sons in the Son, and the love between us is the Holy Spirit.

This is the Fire that Jesus sets on the earth, mentioned in the Gospel. And this fire does divide us from those around us: if it’s not doing so, something is horribly wrong.

Thing is: we are to invite others into the fire with us.

Srugim Theme Song

JMJ

OK, I knew I liked the song, but I wasn’t picking out many words except the bit about this world and the world to come. I had a general idea that it was sorta religious… but wow.

I pursue Your laws, on the one hand
On the other, my passion pursues me.
Ashamed and embarrassed, I will enter Your gates.
And the long nights and the loneliness and the years,
And this heart that has not known peace.
Until the sea becomes quiet, until the shadows disappear.

אני רודף אחר חוקיך, מחד
מאידך תשוקתי אותי רודפת
בוש ונכלם אבוא בשעריך
והלילות הארוכים והבדידות ושנים
והלב הזה שלא ידע מרגוע
עד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
Where shall I go, to where will I turn, when Your eyes gaze upon me?
Where shall I flee, how will I not turn away?
Between truth and truth,
Between law and practice.
Between the days of yore and modern times.
Between the hidden and the revealed,
Between the world to come and this world.

לאן אלך, אנה אפנה, כשעיניך מביטות בי
איכה אברח, איך לא אפנה
בין אמת לאמת
בין הלכה למעשה
בין הימים ההם לזמן הזה
בין הנסתר לנגלה
בין העולם הבא לעולם הזה
I pursue Your laws, on the other hand my passion burns me
Fierce as death, terrible as troops with banners
The long nights and the loneliness and the years,
And this heart that has not known peace.
Until the sea becomes quiet, until the shadows disappear
Bring me back!

רודף אחר חוקיך, מאידך תשוקתי אותי שורפת
עזה כמוות, איומה כנדגלות
הלילות הארוכים והבדידות והשנים
והלב הזה שלא ידע מרגוע
עד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
השיבני
Where shall I go, to where will I turn

לאן אלך, אנה אפנה

Not the Right Monks (repost)

Another repost from 2004 LiveJournal.

I know I am, but what are you?

JMJ

I DON’T KNOW WHERE I picked up the line “these are not the right monks”. I know it’s either patristic, or Merton (Sign of Jonas), or Lewis (Screwtape) or Schmemann. Hell, it may be me.

It refers to the idea that all that I’m doing to work out my salvation is wasted because I’m surrounded by idiots or heretics or both. It says, in clearest terms, “These folks are so unholy I’ll never get saved.”

And that saying is a true saying: If I can see how unholy those are around me, I’ll never get saved.

But the sword, decidedly, does not cut both ways. The answer is not in cutting off the neighbor that offends me but rather in plucking out the eye that offends… mine.

I am trapped in a world that constantly urges me to compare myself with others as a measure of “how’m I doin?” And the last thing I want to do is go get some feedback (positive or negative) from those in authority over me. I’d much rather ask the (obviously moronic) dolt who is standing right next to me. And when I get an answer I don’t like? “FEH! What does he know anyway?”

I am overcome this evening by the fact that one of the traditional monastic vows is stability. I know how much I like change, I know how much I need to have my tuchas kicked to get me out of a rut, but really, when I’m honest, I do not enjoy the responsibilities that come with being stable. You stay in one place, stay in one job, stay in one apartment, you don’t ever have to worry about moving, about finding a vocation about living the life God may be calling you to.

Change is, of course, sometimes required… except it’s called “growth” and transformation. The changes we make are in ourselves. It’s called Salvation.

The one thing I’ve noticed is after an idea has percolated in my head, it’s time to ask my Spiritual Father. Yes, I know, cultism rears its ugly head. But that’s the man God has placed in Authority over me. Oddly enough I’ve never brought a major life change to my priest (either of them) that he didn’t bless (like moving to NC, or getting this new job).

And you know, things go better with blessings.

I know, someplace in my heart, that these are the right monks because there are times when I’d really rather be anywhere other than here. I know these are the right monks because when I manage to put my ego away I learn some things that I don’t know. I know that these are the right monks because these are my family. I know these are the right monks because suddenly I see Christ where ever I look: except in my own heart. Most importantly, I know these are the right monks because this is where God has placed me. It’s not a matter of feeling, or of warm fuzzies. It’s a faith thing. When these are not the right monks… I’m losing my faith in God.

So, thank You, God. I’m not really smarter than You. I can’t go one better than You saying “no, really, I know where I’d do better than where You put me. Oddly enough I always seem to do worse there.

Gen X @ 40 (Reposted 18 years later)

An essay from my Live Journal Days, dated 29 Aug 2004, my 40th Birthday. I called it the beginning of midlife. I’m kinda past that now a few years away from Officially Old. So, reposting.

JMJ

Hmmmmmm. Lessee…

  • New two-wheeled vehicle that goes faster than anything I’ve owned previously… Check.
  • Vehicle painted red… Check.
  • Ditched previous friends, jobs, home and relocated… Check.
  • Dated person(s) between half and two-thirds current age… Check (I’ve done that so many times I feel like Tom Sellick in Friends)
  • Consumed with thoughts about the meaning of life, mortality and lack of impact on the surrounding world… Check.

Let Midlife BEGIN!

Ten years ago I was trapped on Fire Island. T was sitting in a hot tub looking off into space like someone who had just died and gone to limbo while we missed ferry after ferry back to Long Island, thus missing train after train back to the City. When I arrived finally, at the class I was to teach that afternoon – nearly 2 hours late (class was two hours long) I slammed open the door, stomped up the stairs and found my co-teacher standing in the middle of the room wearing a face that, well, only J could wear. I started to apologize and, in the long dressing mirror over her shoulder, I saw a gang of people jammed into the corner of the kitchen with flowers and glasses of champagne. They were giggling in the way that people do just before they all yell SURPRISE.

And so, there I was in my first ever surprise party at the age of 30. I had asked for one. I had given my roomie a list of invitees and left it to him. How was I to know that he would conspire with nearly everyone to pull it off?

And here I am, ten years later.

Oddly enough none of the people at that party are still in my life other than the occasional email. I’ve moved from that apartment in Richmond Hill – to a house in Astoria and thence to San Francisco from whence I most recently hied to here, Asheville, NC, CSA. I’ve lost my dwarves and my wizard…

I was thinking of profound things to write here, having reached half of my fourscore (if in strength), and so I was ruminating through my past: famous people I have known or touched or with whom I have otherwise congressed; events and actions that made me happy or sad, proud or ashamed; places I’ve gone, things I’ve seen. I stumbled on a pattern that, perhaps, is what I need to work on over the next decade, insh’Allah.

Most of the things of which I am proud are really silly – they are not lasting things but rather only things that made me look important in the eyes of other people. Most of the things of which I’m ashamed are things that really only damaged my standing in the eyes of other people: even the things that now make my stomach churn and my heart drop into my feet are only things that any socially inept person would do. They too are of no lasting value – outside my own ego. The things, however, that I did but would no longer do – the debauchery, the libertinism – of those the only sentiment (for that is all it is) that comes to mind is “they made me what I am today…”

Gack.

For all that I’m sure that I do not want to “go back there”, I can’t seem bring myself to honestly admit (in my heart of hearts) that it was wrong to have been there in the first place. My pride steps in and demands to know “who would we be without our past?” I suddenly know the meaning of the Prophet’s words, “I acknowledge my sin and my sin is ever before me.” Yes, I can admit I was wrong… but I can’t go on as if it never happened.

Who would our fallen first father have been without the fall? Well, we can imagine, we can theorize, but really all we can say is “he’d have been who God created him to be.” We can’t know what that was to have been like for it never happened until Christ.

Who would I have been – who would I be – if I hadn’t been the me I became? Well, as much as I’d like to be that me, I won’t know. The best I can hope for is for that me to finally grow up in God’s time from the grace given in Baptism and the holy Mysteries.

Ten years ago this Autumn I and five friends moved into a house on Ditmars Blvd in Astoria, NY: we called the house Castle Ebola. In organizing that community, I set in motion events that would carry me through that decade: one of the persons I met there was to become my boss in San Francisco, which position would eventually lead me to finishing my BA, going into my vocational discernment process, and in ways that are very difficult to explain, eventually my conversion to Orthodoxy. Yet it was not my *doing* of that all that brought me here, but rather, as Vladyka SERAPHIM noted to me once, “there is grace before and behind”. God’s grace tracked me down; the hound of heaven would not let me go.

We were discussing, yesterday at work, the process by which one moves through the various Twelve Steps to recovery. The more I learn about the Twelve Steps, the more I realize how well they fit with the Orthodox Christian understanding of sin: sin is not a legalistic mumbo jumbo of lawbreaking. It is a sickness we all have. We need to work, to struggle, to pray, to daily strike out against the sickness. But the victory doesn’t come all at once, indeed, it never comes in this life, at least in the sense of getting Olympic Gold. No one will stand me up and raise a flag high while the world looks on. Rather the victory is in the daily on-going struggle to “run the race set before me” as St Paul saith.

When a person enters a Twelve Step meeting and announces that he is an addict and desires to live life clean and sober, he gets what is called a White Chip. He may get different chips of different colours for a week of sobriety, a month, a year. But if he falls, and gets back up again, it all starts over with the White Chip.

When you stretch a look back over decades of addiction, when you stretch a look forward over hypothetic days as yet unnumbered, it can all be very overwhelming. Sobriety stretching into a mythical eternity seems silly and impossible compared to a literal, physical past of addiction and a present of craving. As I said to the community at work today – paraphrasing a sermon Fr J gave a few months ago – Every day, in some way, you pick up a white chip.

Perhaps therein lies the best grace of all, the most joyful birthday gift: I can never know what life would have been like without the last ten – without the last forty – years. I can not know the me that could have been without the sin, without the ego, without the pride, without the mess I made of my life. I can not and I bless God for that grace: without knowing how truly far I have fallen I can not see how far I have yet to climb. I only know I’m not where I should be. I can only see the next step in the race.

I’ve lost my dwarves and my wizard, but I’ve found the Way. On my fortieth birthday, again, I’m given only the grace to pick up my white chip.

Same Problems

Holy Pontiff St John XXIII, pray for us!

JMJ

Certain it is that the critical issues, the thorny problems that wait upon man’s solution, have remained the same for almost twenty centuries. And why? Because the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus Christ. Either men anchor themselves on Him and His Church, and thus enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace; or they live their lives apart from Him; many positively oppose Him, and deliberately exclude themselves from the Church. The result can only be confusion in their lives, bitterness in their relations with one another, and the savage threat of war.

From the Address of Pope St John XXIII opening the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Office of Readings for this feast.

About Those Nine

From: Good News for Modern Man
The Readings for the 28th Sunday, Tempus Per Annum (c2)

In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18 (Alleluia Verse)

ARE THE OTHER NINE Bad or ungrateful? There’s a clue in Jesus’ command, “Go show yourselves to the priests…” Lepers were completely ostracised. They had to enforce their own banishment by announcing that they were unclean in order to scare others away. Yes, Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers is important, but there’s more going on here than just a cure.

Reading in Leviticus 14 you’ll find a long process of returning the banished Leper to full communion in Jewish society. There’s an eight-day waiting period, some sacrifices, a full body examination, the whole body must be shaved, there’s a red cord… it’s quite a deal. The 9 are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do to the letter of the law. There’s a hitch though: the Samaritan rejects the temple priesthood. They are unable to document his status as “clean” or “unclean”. In fact, to their eyes, he’s just unclean, full stop, because he is a Samaritan. And he probably doesn’t feel much different about the priests, himself.

All ten of them found out their status had changed: they were no longer leprosy positive. Nine of them had a long legal process to go through before they could see their families or get back to life in any way. Might as well get that process started: according to their religion, they had to do that eight-day thing even before Jesus could talk to them again.

But not the Samaritan. He is free to come back, indeed he has nowhere else to go. Time for some Geography. To “go to the priest” the lepers would have to go to Jerusalem. Indeed, Jesus is already on his way to Jerusalem so he’s (basically) sending the Lepers in front of Him. And, since Jesus has already traveled through Samaria (verse 11) on his way to Jerusalem since the Samaritan had turned back from Jerusalem, he would have to cross paths with Jesus again: that’s how he needs to go to get home. What’s happening in the Gospel Story here is only the logical result of a social divide between Samaritans and Jews and Luke’s knowledge of geography: Jerusalem is one way, Samaria the other.

Again, I want to be clear: the nine religious Jews would need to be certified as clean by the priests before they could interact with anyone. They are following the rules correctly. Additionally, they are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do – go show yourselves to the priest – that is, Jesus told them to obey the Torah.

Jesus’ response is telling: “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” First off, the foreigner is thanking Jesus (v. 16) so the “to God” is made to point at Jesus. (The Greek parallels it as “give Glory to God” and “giving thanks to Jesus“.)

Thus, there is some way in this story in which God and Jesus are the same and where “Giving thanks/glory” to God is more important to Jesus/God than following the Jewish Law.

Giving thanks is a hallmark of Christian piety. Pauls command that we give thanks in all things is just the direct form of the teaching. We give thanks for everything so much so that Prof John Koenig questions if we’re not cited in the Mishna (Berakhot 5:3) “one who recites: We give thanks, we give thanks twice, they silence him” because “we give thanks/we give thanks” is the form of the Eucharistic prayer over bread and wine. This makes it a Christian thing rather than Jewish, which latter tradition forms prayers as blessings rather than thanksgiving. “Blessed are you, Lord our God… for having done this thing.”

The Nine Lepers went off to Jerusalem to recite the prescribed Blessings while the Samaritan came to Jesus giving thanks.

There is something else going on here. Two somethings else, actually.

Thing 1: Thanksgiving implies (I think) a more personal relationship. We send thank you notes to persons – generally not to institutions or agencies. We say thank you to people doing good deeds (even officials doing them) but rarely – or only ironically – do we thank ATMs, Siri, Google, etc. We say “thank you” to someone who has given us something freely, as part of a very intimate (even if momentary) relationship. It’s a sign of communion. While uncommon in the Hebrew liturgy, it’s not entirely absent, of course. “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving” (Psalm 95). But on the personal level, Blessing God is far more common. Even in modern Israeli Hebrew, where many Americans might say “Thank God!” (with no particular deity in mind…) an Israeli speaker will say “Baruch HaShem!” It is often translated as “Thank God” but means “Bless the name!”

A blessing can imply a subordinate relationship (a parent blessing a child, for example) but that’s not what is going on when we bless God. This article is rather interesting since it calls blessings a way to “draw God” into the world.

The Zohar explains that “blessing” G-d is not simply praising G-d as the source of blessings; rather, it is related to the word hamavrich (הַמַּבְרִיךְ) found in the Mishnah,5 which means to “draw down.” In this sense, the word baruch means to draw blessings from their source.

Thus, when we bless G-d, we are asking that He draw down His G-dly revelation into the world. For example, when we say, “Blessed are you, G-d, who heals the sick,” we are requesting that G-d express His revelation by breaking the nature of this physical world and healing the sick. When we say, “Blessed are you, G-d, who blesses the years” in the blessing for livelihood and produce, we request that G-dliness become revealed, causing rain to fall and vegetation to grow.

To draw an unwanted parallel, a blessing of God is a sort of sacrament. So it is like making Eucharist in a real, theological way.

Luke is generally seen as writing to a Gentile Audience – those evangelized by St Paul. Paul had many struggles with folks who really tried to make these Gentiles into Jews first (following the Torah rules). Luke seems to be asking his non-Jewish readers to bypass any Jewish tradition and just do the Gentile Believer thing of thanking Jesus. And he saying that’s ok: you don’t need to go through all those things if you’re making Eucharist (giving thanks) with Jesus. Further, though, the Samaritan giving thanks to Jesus is a way for the author to ask his few Jewish readers to realize that God’s Blessings Have Come into the World in this one Man. The power of God is active and present in a new – and permanent – way.

But Thing 2 is even more interesting: he’s sent the Nine Cleansed Lepers ahead of him to Jerusalem. They are apostles sent to the priests: here’s one last chance to get this right. Here’s the Good News if you’ll hear it. They won’t and don’t care. In fact, they get even more jealous at this point. But, there it is: Jesus has obeyed the law and sent them the cleansed Lepers. Rather than say, “Don’t tell anyone” he literally said, “Go tell the priest”.

They don’t listen.

Weekend Update

JMJ

Just a few photos, really.

Chillin with a deacon
This tastes like a Blue Icee
After class tonight I took a walk. There was fog.
First Christmas Tree sighting, 2022.
Gotta work hard to get all your steps after 6 hours of class. 7.5 miles.

Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

Other Brands Are Available

JMJ

This is an assignment for my Homiletics class. Randomly picks out of a hat, as it were, it’s a coincidence that these are the readings for last Sunday. Yes, these homily assignments are extremely on-brand for me.

The Readings for the 27th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you.

Luke 17:9-10a

THERE WERE SIX months when I tried my vocation as a Benedictine Monk, 8000 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. 11 inches of snow on May 1st, 2016 and our traditionalist monastic practice seemed to go on forever, like the snow. 

4:30 wake-up, Matins at 5. 45 mins for meditation. The offices of Lauds, and Prime, then a house meeting where we planned out the day. The 3rd hour was sung, then Mass. Then coffee. 

Father Abbot seemed happy for any pious excuse or extra devotion to maximize our liturgy. It kept growing longer.

One day as I was struggling, trying to pray through this telescoping dreamscape of liturgy, a thought came to me:

Remember: you’re a monk. What else do you have to do today?

That was the right idea! I relaxed into the deep end of liturgical traditionalism and began – anew – my monastic struggle in earnest.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The psalmist is not calling us to a beginning but rather into the middle of an ongoing story. The people of Israel are already on their journey. They have heard God’s voice several times.

If today you again hear his voice, harden not your hearts again. Nor tomorrow for that matter.

Jesus speaks of beginnings in our Gospel: Mustard seeds are tiny. Yet, elsewhere, Jesus says the mustard seed grows into the largest of trees and the birds of the air live in the branches.

But here? Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

When a servant finishes one chore, does the master say, “Good job! Come chill out with me!” No. When you’re done with that, the master says to you, here’s another thing to do. And another. There will be rest when I’m done with you.

If you’re married, is there any time you get to say, “For a few moments I shall pretend I’m not married…”

No. There is not.

When we first give our lives to the Lord, we can imagine a one-and-done deal. But the Christian life is not like that at all. There is no minimum for success.

Jesus wants to be the Lord of our entire lives: our sexuality, our piety, our emotions, our politics, our friendships, our social media, our reading, our media consumption, our clothing choices.

Not a day passes when at least once, or more often more than once, Jesus says, “Huw? You forgot to give me that bit over there.”  Yet, when I hear his voice, often my first response is O, now hold up a minute God…

Jesus reminds us today that – like marriage – there is no time in the Christian life when you can pretend you’re not called to holiness,  no time to pretend you’re not in a deeply personal relationship with your Lord; no time to pretend you’re not a Christian. 

We all can recognize when such pretending happens: it’s called sin. We harden our hearts like that all the time. Rejecting his call. Refusing his love. Refusing to share his love with others.

Don’t.  If you hear his voice do not harden your heart!

Jesus reminds us of beginnings, but if a mere seed of faith can move blueberries, imagine how much more power there is when the tree is fully grown and providing shade and home for birds! Even then, Jesus reminds us to say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what we were obliged to do.”

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

In today’s 2nd Reading, Paul calls Timothy – and us – to “stir into flame the gift of God.” We must – by faith – stir our cooling embers back to full flame. Ask God what is needed and he will show you where to gently puff on the coals, where to stir, where to rake back the ashes.

And when you ask, don’t turn away from what God has for you next! It’s always your salvation. It’s always for your healing. He’s always calling us forward to holiness and sainthood. But, it is work!

Give yourself – entirely – to Jesus again. Invite him at Communion Time to be the Lord of your whole Life again.

Plant your mustard seed then let it grow.

Remember. You’re a Christian. What else do you have to do today?

Crocheted

JMJ

FINALLY CATCHING THE Binge Bug this late in Covidtide. I’ve been Rapidly Consuming the Israeli TV Drama Srugim – סרוגים (the word means knitted or crocheted as a plural adjective) from 2008-2011. If you’ve been watching Shtisel on Netflix, this was Israeli TV’s Shtisel-before-Shtisel. Many of the ways Netflix show is said to break ground were already broken on Srugim. Yes, I realize it’s over ten years old so it’s hardly “binge-worthy” but previously I’d been found binging MASH and Mary Tyler Moore, not to mention the original seasons of Roseanne. Don’t bother me: I’m old.

NEway, Srugim is billed as a drama but it’s somewhere between Friends and 30 Something. I recognize the characters both from my past and from my present: not only did I run with folks like this in the 1980s and 90s, but I know these people intimately now from Church, on the one hand, and from Tech on the other. They all suffer from indecision and a strong fear of missing out. I used to think that was a millennial issue, but it’s an Xer one as well. And I’m only halfway through season two (of three) so my evaluation of the morals that follow may be way off. But so far I’m impressed.

There are five or so main characters in their mid-to-late twenties. They are all single, Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. I’m not sure if it’s this way now, a decade later, but at the time of the show it had the reputation of being a “Swamp of singles“. In that way, it reminds me of life in Hoboken in the early 90s, Asheville at the turn of the Century, and Buffalo in 2008. And my life in Tech for 25 years where I was nearly always the oldest person around – often old enough to be even the founders’ father. All of the characters in Srugim are looking for love and stressed out: it’s Orthodox practice to be married much younger than nearly thirty. They walk around second-guessing their choices, worried about Mr or Miss right instead of Mr or Miss right in front of me, and wondering if religion was the right thing for them to stick with.

The plot line that’s currently holding my interest is about Roi and Reut. Roi experiences same-sex attraction although he’s never acted on it. Reut wants to date him but Roi is torn between being 100% honest (and scaring her away) or breaking it off entirely. He tries the latter but she pushes through and demands a fully explained reason. After a very rough spot, they agree to try the relationship and work towards marriage.

To me, this is the right way for most folks to deal with SSA. Full stop. Get you a spouse that will support you in your struggle and, being 100% honest with them, keep working out your salvation. That is literally the way most of human culture has dealt with SSA since forever. The full, self-sacrificing love a man offers his wife or a woman her husband is a sign of Christ and the Church. Marriage is a sign of Christ and the Church, of God’s Covenant with Israel, of how humanity and divinity are united in Jesus. It’s a real union of opposites for the purpose of fructification in human lives and in the world. Where we take it, where it takes us is a participation in grace. There is a purpose for love: it heals us. Real love really heals.

In Transformation in Christ we are invited to consider contemplation in one of two forms: I-Thou-Contemplation for relationships and It-Contemplation for things (ie, of Beauty, as in a sunset). The author, Dietrich von Hildebrand, says that I-Thou contemplation involves a reciprocal nature on the human level. When a man and woman love each other in a self-sacrificial way it can be compared to contemplation. Friendship also is a form of contemplation, but disordered disire is not – for it posits misuse and anthropological mistakes. Building on my earlier post on Celibacy, contemplation then opens up the fuller meaning of forgoing the natural good of marriage. We get bored or selfish and these vices disrupt our contemplative action. It-contemplation is one-direction and very stable. But there is no real return.

Contemplation of God, however, combines these two: yes, God is a person who loves us, but he is also infinite being, so far beyond our experience that we cannot at all comprehend him with our minds. When we contemplate God we are engaging in I-Thou and also It-Contemplation. Reciprocity, here, cannot be – but the weakness is on our part. God’s infinity loves each and every human infinitely. We can only ever love in finite terms. Celibacy pulls us away from the natural good of marriage to engage in the supranatural good of Divine Contemplation.

The folks in Srugim spend a good bit of mid-season plot-time asking two questions: Can someone who’s never had gay sex be properly called gay? And can someone be gay and religious? At least as it stands now the answers in the show appear to be No and therefore No. One character in the show even paraphrases a rather famous line from the late Rabbi Moshe Tendler זצ״ל, then Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University. He said (in 1999) that being Gay and Orthodox was like saying, “I’m an Orthodox Rabbi and I eat ham sandwiches on Yom Kippur.” I agree. And if one is not actively engaged in (or promoting) same-sex sexual activity, it seems illogical to lump them into the “gay community”. It is a mistake (if not an outright lie) to label someone by a psychological accident. When we tag an entire person with a misken label we can no longer enter into self-sacrificing love (contemplation) with them. And – with that in mind – while there are many (o)rthodox Christians of various denominations who experience same-sex attraction, there are, properly speaking, no (o)orthodox Christians who can be called gay. I recognize the word “orthodox” is doing a lot of work there, but there are many liberals in many denominations who disagree with me. I think that disagreement makes them liberals rather than orthodox. Using gay as shorthand for everyone who experiences SSA only confuses the issue: it’s blending too much in with the world, I think. It’s making the one broken thing to be the totality of the person – to which the Church expressly says no. Additionally, labeling something as not-broken when it is actually broken only leads to more brokenness.