At least, that's one way to take the fact that I wrote a post that got approving links from two guys as different as Joel and Mark Shea. Actually, it got linked by a lot of people, bringing an unexpected (and much appreciated) avalanche of hits.
The discussion has gone on partly because Sullivan ran a longer piece yesterday on the subject. I mentioned in the earlier post that I don't necessarily know what spiritual struggles he's going through, but we get more of a picture here. He says he hasn't really left, but is "somewhere in between." (Boy, I know how that feels.) "There is no ultimate meaning for me outside the Gospels," he writes, "however hard I try to imagine it; no true solace but the Eucharist; no divine love outside of Christ and the church he guides."
I've been thinking today about a friend I had in San Francisco, a gay man named Joe. He had come not long before from New York, and over the four or five years that I knew him he never put down roots. He lived in San Francisco, then drifted to Silicon Valley, then went to the Northwest, then seemed to become fully nomadic and floated up and down the coast, crashing at my place a couple times.
Joe had been a Catholic too once, although his reason for leaving, oddly, was not his homosexuality. He said he was upset that the local priest refused to give his mother last rites because she was divorced and remarried, and he'd never gotten over that. But he was, quite clearly, still looking for love. He kept meeting people he would glom onto, and be all about them and do whatever they wanted him to do, to the point where some of us thought he was being jerked around. Although he was sexually attracted only to men, he could glom to women too; in fact, before we realized he was gay, everybody in my office thought he had a crush on me. But he never found anyone or anything permanent, and he kept growing more restless and aimless, until finally a few years ago he just took off. I heard from a friend he went to Florida, but none of us heard from him even by email.
I think Joe haunts me not just because I worry about what he's doing now, but because he seems like a kind of nightmare of what could happen to me. My post on Saturday was partly inspired by my own frustration with the individualist attitude toward religion, which ultimately comes from my frustration with the modern individualist attitude towards everything. I am certainly glad for the freedom that I have in this society compared to others I could be in, especially as a woman. But the dark side of basing society on elective groups is that a lot of people, like myself and Joe, never really find them. And if you do find them, there is always the fear that, if someone gets a job in another city, or gets a new boyfriend, or just finds you more difficult or needy than someone else, they will elect not to be with you any more.
Tom T. (to whom, by the way, I owe thanks for the kind words) wondered what exactly I don't like about the current sexual culture, and like I said, that has a very long answer. But broadly speaking, it's that culture of transient individualism as applied to romantic life. And I felt that Joe was coming up against it even harder than I was. He would go to a city and basically exhaust the gay scene there, and then move to another one. And I suppose it's not surprising, because gay scenes are essentially formed around, not just any gays, but gays who left conventional environments for places where they could have freedom. Yet Joe -- much like me, now -- really needed a little bit less freedom. Though I can't say for sure all that he was looking for, it seemed clear that he needed commitment and direction, a secure love.
But what to do about it? This whole thing also reminds me of the only time I remember talking about homosexuality with Telford. I can't remember now how the subject came up, but he said he'd heard some speaker at a Christian event say that God had cured him of his homosexuality.
"I thought, well, if that's true, that's fine," said Telford with a shrug. "But you can't force sanctification. If you have a relationship with Jesus you can become sanctified through that, not because there's some rule."
At the time I thought this was a bit of a dodge, a way of saying homosexuality was a sin while avoiding annoying me. And at first glance, it sounds a bit like the let-everyone-go-his-own-way spirituality that I was just disapproving of. But I know Telford better than that, and in fact, I think he was trying to make a similar point to the one I was trying to make in Saturday's post, about relationships and doctrines. The idea of a church as a place that says, "This is who we are, here are our rules, fixed for all time; if you agree come join us, if you don't agree good riddance!" seems all wrong to me. As I understand it, the first business of the church is to serve. Underlying all the laws, the Bible tells us, is the principle to love God and love your neighbor. So what Telf was saying, I think, is that you need to turn people's hearts first, and the other matters will follow.
That certainly fits when I think about Joe. I think that's why a lot of the Christian commentary about homosexuality bothers me: not just that it's a sin, but that it's a sin that can be fixed purely by discipline, like training your kids to wipe their shoes before coming in from the yard. But this is about eros, about the desire to unite with another; and as such, a recognition of the fact that we are not complete, and we long to be whole. That has certainly driven me in many of my relationships, and that was pretty clearly the case with Joe too. And so it seems to me that, if anybody wants to effectively evangelize Joe, they would first have to minister to the desperate needs in his heart, and not start off telling him he has to give up one of the only ways he's known to connect with people.
In regard to Sullivan, the other Mark made a similar point:
Here is a clearly intelligent, articulate man who feels rejected by the Church, and yet seems to believe that in the Church he ought to be most free, most himself, most filled with faith, hope, and love. What makes me sad is that no one has been able to present the Church to Sullivan in a way that precipitates a few solid crystals of sense from what he sees as a murky, swirling solution of incoherence.