“Gay in Christ” Day 2: Rah! Rah! Augustine! Lover of the Holy Queen!

“Gay in Christ” Day 2: Rah! Rah! Augustine! Lover of the Holy Queen! November 3, 2014

(…I’m so sorry.)

This round-up is going to be hampered by the facts that a) I didn’t sleep well so my attention span wasn’t being all it could LOOK A SQUIRREL, and also b) I left my notes at Wesley Hill’s house by mistake. Bear with me.

If you want some live-tweeting, Seminary Guy was workin’ hard, though his tweets are of course in reverse-chron order.

I opened Day 2. I basically wanted to do three things: 1) by listing several different understandings of “vocation” as they’ve been presented in Church documents and pop-Catholic commentary, underscore just how absent this concept has been from most Catholic writing on homosexuality; 2) give a super-fast overview of vocations available to gay or same-sex attracted Christians, suggesting ways the churches themselves need to change in order to support these vocations but also how fruitful these vocations could be for the entire Body of Christ; and 3) address the fact that our discussions of “discerning one’s vocation” often act as if vocation is typically a free choice in response to a dramatic and obvious call.

I pointed out that vocation isn’t always obvious (this is where I said, “Your vocation is not a Hogwarts letter,” which people liked). Vocation can seep into your life slowly. It can sneak up on you. The “call” can sound like the wail of an ambulance siren, when you’re the only one around who knows CPR.

Similarly, some of us do experience our vocations as largely a matter of choice, discernment based on introspection. But for many of us vocation is a response to circumstance, including deeply unwanted circumstance: a family member’s illness; your own addiction and recovery, which leads you to give and receive love by sponsoring others. “That second line comes up on the drugstore pregnancy test and suddenly you’re staring down the barrel of your call from God.”

These are the issues I raised here, and they touch on the issues in A Queer Calling’s post today as well. I closed by suggesting that we emphasize acceptance of vocation as much as discernment, and noting that every understanding of vocation requires a theology of suffering and failure.

My favorite questions were 1) How can we accept suffering but also fight against injustice? (I basically did the Miss Manners “You’re fighting for other people, not just for yourself” thing), and 2) What about work as a vocation? We hear a ton about work as vocation but we don’t hear a spirituality of acceptance. It’s all pursue-your-dream stuff.

Also in the Q&A I used Leah Libresco’s really sharp line, “Before you can be your brother’s keeper you have to be your brother’s brother.”

Next up: Chris Damian, “Desire as Pain and Pregnancy.” My main thoughts about this talk are: 1) If you did a shot every time this conference invoked Augustine you would be dead before Chris’s Q&A. It might be interesting to explore the reasons for that; I’d be interested if any attendees have thoughts on: why the constant melodic line of Augustinian thought?

2) This was a brave presentation in multiple and contrasting ways. Chris was very comfortable invoking the concept of “intellectual sodomy,” using Dantean imagery of sodomy-as-pride; yet he also marshaled Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s work on eros in support of fruitful homoeroticism, which “gives birth in the beauty” of art, prayer, and friendship.

Also, great catch bringing up the way one translation replaced John’s “reclining against Jesus’ breast” with “reclining next to Jesus”!

This was my personal favorite paper and I highly recommend you check it out once it’s published. Imaginative, tender, twining around the trellis of Tradition.

Joshua Gonnerman, “Rethinking Disorder.” I was really conflicted about this paper. I suspect I just didn’t get it, and especially, I didn’t get how the front half (an attempt to rescue language of the “intrinsic disorder” of homosexuality by narrowing its scope) connected to the back half (an exploration of whether gay identity/culture/communities may promote a deeper understanding of friendship than mainstream society). So let me make some really scattershot points.

First, this conference as a whole attempted to embrace the Catholic tradition: Her Scriptural interpretation, theology, and historical practice. Can a gay person find succor, guidance, and hope in the tradition? Throughout the conference you see renewal, ressourcement, a return to the wellsprings: an unwillingness to be purely twenty-first century creatures. On Dia de los Muertos we sought to live with the dead, with the cloud of witnesses. And the attempt to grapple with the language of “intrinsic disorder” was a part of this attempt to avoid simply dismissing the parts of the Tradition we don’t like.

But “intrinsic disorder” is quite new language. Because of that, I’m more willing to treat the Church’s language here as provisional and even clumsy than I think Joshua is.

There are cultural problems with language of “disorder.” It seems to invoke not the order of Creation, but psychological disorders: disordered eating, attention deficit disorder, etc. Given the cruelty which has attended the treatment of homosexuality as a psychological disorder, this language just strikes me as toxic. One of the Protestants asked, “When you say ‘disorder,’ is it what we mean when we say ‘our fallen condition’?” and Joshua said yes, and I thought, Why on earth don’t we say that?

If that’s what the language means, it basically means (I think), “From the beginning it was not so,” same-sex sexual desire is the result of the Fall. I’m fine with that–lots of stuff is the result of the Fall btw, from journalism to America to nurses to saudade–but of course then same-sex desire could become “ordered” in two different ways. The really obvious implication is that same-sex desire becomes ordered by becoming heterosexual. The vastly more fruitful and less damaging approach would be to say that same-sex desire becomes ordered by expressing itself nonsexually: sublimation, or simply the intimacy of friendship. I think Joshua was trying to make this move, helping us see this better understanding of what it would mean for same-sex desire to become “ordered,” in the second half of his paper–which was quite moving, I should add.

The Q&A for Joshua’s paper was mostly people attempting to translate his careful distinctions into language they could better understand, which suggests to me that we should just be using other people’s language to begin with. I suggested that he was “really” trying to baptize gay culture–to take what’s good and holy in it and make that its central organizing feature, as CS Lewis argued Edmund Spenser did with the “courtly love” tradition–but I think I was oversimplifying and/or projecting.

Melinda Selmys and Kyle Keating on “gender, sexuality, and trans identities” and mixed-orientation marriage, respectively. I don’t have much to say except that Melinda’s presentation was a really good, clear, empathetic intro-to-trans/intersex/genderqueer issues presentation. Many Catholics seem to feel that the Church has settled trans questions, which is laughable since She has barely begun to address them. The point I most appreciated, personal-hobbyhorse-wise, was the fact that many societies have much less rigid gender boundaries than we do. Why are all the ballet clothes at the pregnancy center for girls, and all the soccer and basketball clothes for boys?

Kyle, too, did a highly responsible, “this is only one path, I’m attracted to my wife but still pretty darn gay, please don’t get married because you think you have to or because you want to be straight” intro-type presentation. The most interesting thing for me came out in the Q&A, which is that he actually had an earlier heterosexual relationship, which “looked great on paper–but only on paper,” and which broke up. So at the time that he met (the woman who became) his wife, he was actually preparing himself for a celibate life. For me that story added nuance and trustworthiness to his account in ways I can’t necessarily articulate. Anyway it was a solid paper endearingly presented.

I will say that when Kyle described Mark Yarhouse’s research he used a phrase which I think was “Minimal Movement Along a Continuum Is Possible for Some,” which in my mind is a short film by James O. Incandenza.

Sr Ann Astell presented basically a biographical sketch of Henri Nouwen, focused on his work at L’Arche. She explored how his celibacy as a priest (and gay man) allowed him to stand in solidarity with the mentally handicapped people at L’Arche, who were also celibate due to their condition. The concept of celibacy as a form or parallel of poverty and disability, and therefore a pathway to solidarity, really worked for me–you guys know I have High Humiliation Theory–and this presentation worked much better for me than I was expecting it to, tbh.

I also rode a hobbyhorse of a different color in the Q&A when I noted how many celebrations L’Arche hosted: birthdays, arrivals, departures, commitments to the community, etc. These were ways of publicly honoring the lives and vocations of L’Arche’s community.

Daniel Hoover on shame. Paraphrase: “There’s a kind of holy shame which is really contrition, or acknowledgment of our littleness before God; I’m not talking about that, but using Brene Brown’s distinction between guilt as ‘I did something wrong’ and shame as ‘I am bad.'” Several powerful stories from his own life and his work in pastoral care. We need others to remind us that we are loved. “We think, ‘If I do better, I will be worth more,’ and that’s a lie. From the Devil.” Preach it.

John Cavadini uses Origen’s reading of the Song of Songs to work out how eros can fuel agape. It’s important that the Church is a bride and Christ a bridegroom; both the eros and the heterosexuality of the book are key to its allegorical meaning. In agape God, the neighbor, the stranger, even the enemy, can become an object of love. I hate that I was completely exhausted by this point, because everyone else tells me that this was exactly the kind of theology I want: vivid, iconic, exploring the symbolic meaning of the created world. I was just so tired, you guys.

Overall: I initially walked away thinking we’d advanced the ball a lot on pastoral care, but very little on theology. Having mulled and discussed things a little, I’m less negative about our attempts to trace an orthodox Catholic theology which isn’t anti-gay. And anyway the more creatively, personally, and humbly we approach pastoral care, the more likely we are to understand the theology, since we understand the faith by living it.


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