Reflections on Language, 2

In my previous post, I discussed language, creativity, vocation, and control. This post will focus on who speaks and why it matters.

“He meant to impugn my father for being rich and living far away and having nothing to do with me, but all these qualities, even the last, perhaps especially the last, made my father fascinating. He had the advantage always enjoyed by the inconstant parent, of not being there to be found imperfect. I could see him as I wanted to see him. I could give him sterling qualities and imagine good reasons, even romantic reasons, why he had taken no interest, why he had never written to me, why he seemed to have forgotten I existed. I made excuses for him long after I should have known better. Then, when I did know better, I resolved to put the fact of his desertion from my mind.” -Tobias Wolff

Speaking involves breath, the principle of life. We spend much of life trying to kill off the things within and around us which we fear, by denying them breath. What actually happens is that we bury them more and more deeply within us, so that they don’t actually die. And they never leave us either. Continue reading “Reflections on Language, 2”

Reflections on Language, 1

“It is plain from the history of architecture, painting and sculpture, that men begin to theorize critically only when inspiration has died down. But inspiration has only died down because the theoreticians, the horses of instruction, begin to dissect, analyze, and then codify into rules what yesterday’s great artists did from their true selves.

Another reason I don’t like critics (the one in myself as well as in other people) is that they try to teach something without being it. They are like all those feeble, knock-kneed women afraid of bugs and burglars, who say to their husbands… ‘Go out and fight, you coward!’ They are second-eaters who have not the courage or the love to make anything themselves. Or they are like big game hunters, killing from a great, safe distance, with great ego-satisfaction (though they are entirely safe themselves and the shooting requires no muscular effort and not much skill) some nice little creature.”

-Brenda Ueland

“Don’t bring that here. I’m serious, Don. Don’t talk to me about her. It makes me feel cruel.”

-Midge (the mistress) in Mad Men

I recently wrote on why I insist on calling myself a “gay Catholic,” even in the face of categorical criticisms by Catholic leaders, such as Courage International’s Father Paul Check. Some Catholics argue adamantly for the term “gay,” while others insist on “homosexual,” and many others insist upon “same-sex-attracted.” The divisions within the Church can be largely identified by who uses what term. For outsiders, who may not have a personal investment in these debates, such semantic arguments may seem unnecessary and pedantic. Why argue over what people can or should call themselves? Why not leave this up to them? Continue reading “Reflections on Language, 1”

Millennials Discuss Anxiety…

“My anxiety is propelled by fear. I feel trapped, stuck, and I’m seeking an exit. I become goal-directed, trying to get out. It’s an oppressive feeling.”

In 2016, I hosted a discussion on anxiety. Anxiety is a common experience among Millennials, but we rarely discuss it. I prompted participants to discuss how they understand anxiety, what role it has played in their lives, how and whether it can be good and creative, and what they think Christianity has to say about it. We had a wide-ranging discussion on anxiety, shame, fear, vulnerability, personas, social media, vocation rhetoric, disclosure, and other topics. Some of the major points are below. Continue reading “Millennials Discuss Anxiety…”

But if it smells like a marriage…

After a certain point, Catholic criticisms of my decision to “date” another dude come down to, “Well, yes, you say that it’s not something directed towards marriage, and that you ascribe to Catholic views of sexuality. But you shouldn’t do it, because it looks too much like dating between men and women. And its just… It’s just not.”

Along similar lines, some have criticized civil unions between persons of the same sex. They’ve argued that Christian values preclude same-sex couples from entering into civil unions, because these unions look too much like marriage and should thus be forbidden.

In the end, this strikes me as the same perspective which brings about same-sex marriage in the first place. Continue reading “But if it smells like a marriage…”

The Blessing of “Same-Sex Unions”

German Catholic bishops made headlines recently, in calling for the establishment of Catholic blessings for “same-sex unions.” Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck recently said in an interview,

“I’m concerned with fundamental questions of how we deal with each other; although ‘marriage for all’ differs clearly from the Church’s concept of marriage, it’s now a political reality. We have to ask ourselves how we’re encountering those who form such relationships and are also involved in the church, how we’re accompanying them pastorally and liturgically… Same-sex relationships are generally classified as a grave sin in the Church, but we need to think how we can differentiate a relationship between two people of the same sex. Is there not so much that is positive, good, and right that we have to be fairer? For example, one can think about a blessing – which should not be confused with a wedding ceremony.” [1]

Bishop Bode kept his remarks on this topic brief, but several American news outlets have picked up the story. Some have praised his comments, and others have condemned them (you can easily guess which publications took which stance…). One area of concern from some critics is his ambiguity as to whether such couples would be expected to live by–or at least attempt in good faith to live by–Church teaching. Of course, in classic German bishop shadiness, Bishop Bode did not attempt an answer this question. To be fair, he may answer this question at a later time, and an interview is not the place to give a theological discourse. Nonetheless, this question is important for Catholics looking to consider these questions, not only at a pastoral level (the level at which he made his comments), but also at a theological level. Continue reading “The Blessing of “Same-Sex Unions””

The Victim II: Anne Frank’s Paradox of Freedom

In my first post, I identified a particular kind of victim, the kind of victim who encloses himself in self-effacing and self-aggrandizing narratives, the kind of victim who makes himself into a victim in ways that may defy external freedoms. In this post, I will explore the paradoxical nature of freedom.

“There it is, I’ve introduced you to the whole of our beautiful secret annex.” -Anne Frank

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” -Leonardo da Vinci

Themes of freedom, powerlessness, and victimhood often saturate shows centered around figures of power. But so too with their actual lives. We all struggle with freedom. But we often choose immaturity over it. Continue reading “The Victim II: Anne Frank’s Paradox of Freedom”

The Victim I: Who are the Victims?

“Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.” -David Foster Wallace

I sat in his armchair, while he sat at his desk. We were having what would end up being our break-up conversation. Exasperated, he told me, “You do this thing, where you constantly make yourself the victim! It’s exhausting!”

“What do you mean?” I asked him, utterly bewildered.

He looked at me seriously, sternly, incredulously. “When we spoke about your past, and you started to—“ Continue reading “The Victim I: Who are the Victims?”

The Comic Gospels

A Catholic convert once breathed new life into the Bible for me. Her conversion came largely through a literary relationship with the Bible. That is, she read the Bible as if it were any other story, and she told me how struck she became by the character Jesus.

It reminded me of a seminar I attended run by non-Catholic Christians. Though the seminar centered around cultural issues dividing their churches, the most interesting conversations tended to be about Scriptural encounter. One Biblical scholar suggested that perhaps we should read the Bible “like any other book.” That is, don’t just take each character by his word. Get to know the complexity of characters, accept the literary devices that give the story a variety of conflicting hooks, and receive the text as an encounter with a world, rather than with arguments. Continue reading “The Comic Gospels”

Catholic Young Adults Discuss Chastity

I recently attended a discussion with Catholic young adults on chastity (a follow-up from the first discussion on masculinity and femininity). The conversation began with a quote from Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility:

“Chastity is very often understood as a ‘blind’ inhibition of sensuality and of physical impulses such that the values of the ‘body’ and of sex are pushed down into the subconscious, where they await an opportunity to explode. This is an obviously erroneous conception of the virtue of chastity, which, if practiced only in this way, does indeed create the danger of such ‘explosions’. This (mistaken) view of chastity explains the common inference that it is is purely negative virtue. Chastity, in this view, is one long ‘no.’ Whereas it is above all the ‘yes’ of which certain ‘no’s’ are the consequence. The essence of chastity consists in quickness to affirm the value of the person in every situation, and in raising to the personal level all reactions to the value of ‘the body and sex.’ This requires a special interior, spiritual effort, for affirmation of the value of the person can only be the product of the spirit, but this effort is above all positive and creative ‘from within,’ not negative and destructive.”

Our group first discussed how chastity, purity, and abstinence are often treated as synonymous, and how this can lead to toxic cultures among Christians. I distinguished them, first, by saying that abstinence is simply avoiding sexual activity, and probably the easiest to define. I then discussed purity as involving a kind of single-mindedness. We all act from a variety of mixed motivations, and the work of purity involves clearing away the motivations which are not oriented towards the love of others, moving towards “pure intentions.” Chastity, on the other hand, involves an integration. The catechism identifies chastity as an integration of sexuality within the person, which itself involves the integration of man in body and soul, especially in his affectivity and capacity for procreativity. Continue reading “Catholic Young Adults Discuss Chastity”

On Writing Wrongly

“If stories and novels used the selective form of funeral elegies, no one would read them.” -Charles Baxter

Some people think it’s best to write about your life when you’re at the end of it. Conventional wisdom says to write when you can look back with an accumulation of experience, give a neat little narrative about yourself with the vignettes you decided to remember, and then die before you can contradict your story. This isn’t what I’ve done. Continue reading “On Writing Wrongly”