Emails From the Past

I’ve been going through old journals and emails in order to glean a few things for a book I’m writing. Today, I stumbled on an email I wrote in 2000 to a guy I’ll call “Dave.” I met Dave through a mutual friend I’ll call “Jessica.” Jessica’s love for us each allowed us both to confide with her about our attractions for men during a time where neither of us felt comfortable sharing it with many people at all. Eventually she connected us together so that we could talk about our lives and our thoughts. The email below is one of the first emails I sent him.

Here’s the email–with a few thoughts as a follow up.

Hi Dave,

Thanks for writing, and feeling comfortable to do so, even though it is “a bit awkward.”  Like you, though, I too feel quite comfortable talking to you about this whole issue.  I remember when Jessica first told me that you were her “friend who struggles with this.”  I knew that I hoped at some point that we would have the chance to get together and talk about our similar issues.  (I find it strange talking about the whole topic–it inevitably ends up being referred to by using euphemisms:  issue, struggle, situation, etc.  I guess it works o.k.).  I have to admit I found it somewhat surreal that two of Jessica’s closest friends have dealt with the same issues.  Long ago I became aware of the realization that whenever I encounter someone who deals with same gender attraction (no euphemism!) there is an incredibly strong identification with that person, and in a way, a strong bond, even if I never actually become friends with them at all.

I have seen that in the music world so many times–knowing people struggle with the same thing I do–I feel connected to them in a very real way, even though I have, for the most part, hidden my own struggles from them.

The commonality that I saw between you and me after Jessica told me made that “identification” quite easy, and right away I hoped that somehow God would see fit for us to have a chance to talk about this whole thing.  I appreciate your desire and willingness to talk about it, Dave.

I really would like to know what life has been like for you.  I’ve reflected quite a bit about my time in high school, silently struggling with this, feeling there was no one to talk to.  I kept up the image of the perfect Christian guy, viewed as a “spiritual leader,” yet dealing with something which made life pretty hellish.  How many times did I sit in church, and hear the pastor talk about the “Christian life” and feel like dirt because I was turned on by the guy a couple pews ahead of me?

I really would like to have a chance to get together and just talk about this stuff and to know what your life dealing with this has been like. I’ve longed for years to be able to TELL someone about it, and in the past couple of years, I have been able to tell some people and finally talk about it, open and honestly.  I so often think back to my time in high school, and wonder what life would look like if there was an environment there which would have allowed me to talk to someone there, someone I could trust and who I knew would not reject me, but love me and help me deal with the issues head on. Hmm…perhaps that’s not fair of me.  I suppose someone like Mr. Q____ would have been a good person to talk to, though I don’t know.  But regardless, the common history we share, and the common friend we have in Jessica, definitely gives me reason to want to get together with you.  I do hope we can be of support to one another, and I have no doubt in my mind that God does desire his body to work in this area.  As I’ve reflected on it, I guess I feel that God has been at work in allowing us to connect through Jessica.  If there no other reason that we get together and talk besides simply being able to say to each other, fellow Christians, that we both struggle with the same thing, then I’ll be grateful to have the chance to talk with you. And it’s good to simply know we’re not alone.

I’ve been praying for you ever since Jessica told me.  I have to say I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this in your life.  I suspect you’d say the same thing to me!  It is not easy, it’s been really hard for me, and it pretty much zaps a heck of a lot of joy out of life.  And here is where God, I think, desires to see his body work:  to journey together in the vagaries and struggles of life. C.S. Lewis spoke of friendships that begin with the phrase, “What?  You too?” I think God sees fit to bring people together who are hurting often in the same way, to allow them to help each other along the path.  “Bearing each other’s burdens” I think equals, or perhaps is the definition of, friendship.  Though I won’t be premature and presume on the future, I will express the desire, heartfelt, that we become friends, Dave.  Thanks again for writing me, and thanks for willingly allowing Jessica to tell me that it was you who struggles.

I look forward to having the chance to get together.

Dan

 

As I read this again, it brings back the memories of those difficult, lonely and isolated years I experienced for so long. I note how often I speak of “struggles.” It was a terribly difficult struggle to live with attractions that I didn’t want, didn’t ask for. It was a struggle living in the confused state of both wanting and not wanting to act on those attractions.

I can see the transformation of my thinking on sexual identity had already begun by this point. I think it was Andy Comiskey who first made the intellectual, theological and anthropological case of my sexual identity being soley as “male,” not “gay,” as I thought of myself often during my twenties. That transformation would be a topsy-turvy ride for a few years however.

I notice too how the terminology of 2000 was “same gender attraction,” but wisely, that term has faded into the background, in favor of the more anthropologically precise phrase “same sex attraction,” which springs from the acknowledgement that the concept of “gender” is flawed, as Pope Benedict XVI so wisely told us during his Pontificate.

Above all, however, I realize looking back on those years that it was no accident that Jessica was one of the first people I told about being attracted to men. I knew she loved me for me, unlike any other teacher I had ever had. She showed remarkable compassion in her life, and I think it was this part of her that opened the door more than any other. Over time, I learned that several others besides Dave and I had also confided in her about this most intimate of details. I know all of us who have confided things to Jessica over the years knew that she loved us, that she cared immensely about us, and that she was a safe person to talk about personal aspects of our lives. There was something tangible about her enthusiastic love for us that made us feel comfortable sharing things that were difficult to share with other people we knew. That is the kind of love our youth pastors, teachers and high school chaplains need to cultivate towards their students if they want to make an impact on their lives.

It took me until I was 28 to share this with Jessica, or anyone else for that matter, other than the people I talked to online about it. My counselor at the time was the first person I told, followed by my family. Soon after that I shared this with some of my oldest and closest friends, and since that point my life has been much better for it. But my life would have been easier if I had felt comfortable enough to share this back in high school with a teacher, or a high school counselor, or with my pastor and most of all, with my family.

The Church needs to create an environment where no child feels the burden of keeping their attractions a secret out of shame. In my email, I wrote the painful line of feeling “like dirt” in high school because of my attractions. The Church needs to create a safe environment where children can share this part of their lives and get the love and support they need, all the while proclaiming the good news of the truth of our true sexual identity as men and women.

In an ideal world, this should, and would happen in the family. The best people for kids to tell about this will be their parents. However, I’ve met and talked to a lot of children who don’t feel comfortable talking about this with their parents. These children range from 15 to people in their twenties. In these situations, the child will be looking for another outlet. We can’t control whether or not a child will tell his or her parents first, but we can control the sort of environment that exists within our Churches. We can control what environment and culture we create in our Catholic schools. Where the child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to parents, they will find the avenue that feels safest for them.

That can be the Church, or it can be someone online somewhere, telling the child things that are opposed to the truth, and opposed to human dignity. That’s where the Church can be, standing in the gap, loving the child who hasn’t yet found the courage to talk to his or her parents.

Then, with much compassion and tenderness, and with pastoral charity, the Church can bring the parents into the discussion, and together, minister towards, and love that child with the love that only parents and the Church can provide.

Everything Leaks

IMG_3948Everything’s broken.

The roof leaks. The new car pulls to the left. The refrigerator needs repair. The dog ripped up some carpet. The guys who I hired to refinish my bathroom didn’t do what I asked them.

It’s just not right. It’s not perfect–they did the wrong thing, in the wrong way, in the wrong place.

The shop vac has a short; thought it was the switch–turns out it’s the plug.

How many trips to the hardware store?

The long-planned trip to Chicago for the weekend, sabotaged by the stomach flu.

Inconvenienced. Disappointed. Irritated. Frustrated. Sick. Plans shattered.

The roof leaks. The basement leaks. The sink leaks. The three day old dehumidifier leaks.

Everything leaks.

A friend announces on Facebook he’s getting divorced.

He says to the world, “the kids won’t suffer, because both their mom and dad love them.”

We tell ourselves lies that leak.

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Friends are heartbroken and lonely. They feel forgotten, like damaged goods past their usefulness.

All is broken, and everything leaks.

Nothing ever satisfies. Nothing ever fulfills. No one ever understands us. No one ever loves us enough.

These inconveniences, these tragedies, these little deaths–why do they happen?

We sense we are made for happiness, but nothing ever sates us. Nothing ever is “just right.” Nothing ever works without complications. Everything is in a state of entropy.

The author of Ecclesiastes speaks truth:

All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied.

IMG_3999If we live in a world that is this way, then why are we so unsatisfied? Why are we frustrated when things break, when we know we live in a world where everything decays? Why are we disappointed when everything leaks, when we live in a world where everything is always falling apart?

Why should we expect anything else, unless we know that there is something else we are made for?

The answer is because we aren’t made for this world. We’re strangers in a strange land, exiles.

Nothing ever satisfies us, but God alone. No one ever fully understands us, but the God who made us, the one who understands us better than we can ever know ourselves, the one who the Church Fathers said is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

When everything leaks, it helps me remember the source of my true happiness.

When everything leaks, I’m reminded of the woman at the well.

When everything leaks, I remember that I can only be satisfied by the Living Water, He who makes all things new.

When nothing is ever “just right,” when I see the pain of those around me, when nothing ever makes me fully content, it’s a reminder of where I belong, and to Whom I belong. It reminds me that it’s a foolish hope to hope that things will ever be fully fixed, just so long as we still live on this leaky, broken world.

Thank God this world is never “just right.” If it was, what man would know his need for the one who made Him, He who is Life and Love itself?

The saints help us remember that when all goes wrong, when all seems to go ill, when our hopes are dashes and our dreams shattered, we need to view these as little deaths, allowed by God to channel us more and more towards Him, like the banks of a river that flows to the sea.

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When everything leaks, I remember my favorite quote of C. S. Lewis, one I have often quoted before:

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.

When everything is leaking, the best thing to do is to try our best to fix the leak, and ask other people to help us–and to help them fix their leaks too.

And if you’re in a leaky boat, you should always have a cooler with you too.

The blue link above comes from Ecclesiastes, that heart-wrenching look at the futility mankind often feels enduring the daily existence of life:  “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” Solomon tells us.

There’s another verse I like very much:

Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart.

Breaking bread with friends with a bottle of wine or beer is proof that “this world’s not half bad.” Even if everything seems to be falling apart around us sometimes, we’re still here, we still have friends who love us, and we have wine to cheer our hearts, and food to sustain us.

But of course, there is more to that verse. We are invited to eat bread and drink wine, in happiness and with a cheerful heart: a foreshadow of the Mass.

The most fulfillment we will ever experience on earth is the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, the gift that is with us until the end of time. The Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Love Himself is what sustains us in this broken world.

There is joy in this leaky world, and it’s found in love. Love of God, love of neighbor, and love of ourselves, all which springs from the fountain of love, Love Himself.

I’ll end with a favorite poem of mine, which I first read in the book A Severe Mercy, inspired by the death of the author’s wife, mutual friends of the author of the poem:

If Everything Is Lost

If everything is lost, thanks be to God
If I must see it go, watch it go,
Watch it fade away, die
Thanks be to God that He is all I have
And if I have Him not, I have nothing at all
Nothing at all, only a farewell to the wind
Farewell to the grey sky
Goodbye, God be with you evening October skye.
If all is lost, thanks be to God
For He is He, and I, I am only I.

- Dom Julian, OSB

 

Up North Volume 2 459A note about the photos: these are all photos I took in northern Michigan. The decrepit buildings are all in Calumet, MI. I’m intrigued by the decay of the city that once was almost the capitol of Michigan. I have family history there–my great grandfather worked as a timberman in the copper mines there. The last photo is a picture on Lake Michigan.

The Nature Of Man

I’m happy to announce that I’ve been invited to be a blogger for Catholic Answers’ website Chastity.com. My first installment is up today. This came from an article I wrote a few years ago for Catholic Answers Magazine on my conversion to the Catholic Church because of Her teachings on sexuality, and homosexuality in particular. I never planned or wanted to become Catholic, but my reason directed me there, and beauty, grace and forgiveness pulled me the rest of the way.

Here’s the link.

Life On The Rock Appearance

I flew down to Birmingham, AL last week to do a taping for EWTN’s television program Life On The Rock. The episode will air several times this weekend. I have to thank Dawn Eden for the recommendation to Fr. Mark, host of the show. Dawn is the author of two books I highly recommend: The Thrill of the Chaste, and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

If you get EWTN, it will air at 8:00 Friday night, Saturday at 1:00 AM, and again Sunday at 11:00 PM. All times are eastern time.

While we’re talking media, I’ll be on the Teresa Tomeo Show at 9:40ish this Friday morning as well, and today I spent about 20 minutes today on the Al Kresta Show. That should show up in the archives there fairly soon, and I’ll pop it up on here when it does. Once the EWTN episode shows up on YouTube, I’ll link to it here too.

I had a great time down in Birmingham at EWTN, which included a fantastic visit to the Sister Servants Convent, where I was treated to a delicious lunch by the wonderful sisters there. I was able to sit next to their resident priest, a 97 year old Irishman, Father Lambert Greenan, OP. He’s a feisty and entertaining man, and he seemed happy to have a fresh set of ears to tell stories of his 30-plus years serving in the Vatican. These ears were happy to hear him!

Besides EWTN and the Sister Servants Convent, I made sure to make time to visit this shrine too.

 

St. Ambrose On Chastity

Recently I was reading some of the letters of St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan who helped bring St. Augustine back into the church.

His writings are filled with pithy wisdom, like this short sentence on chastity:

Chastity is increased by its own sacrifices.

What more can be added to that? No matter where we are in our journey towards chastity, the little efforts that we are able to make build up the strength of that virtue like exercising builds the muscles of the body.

Sometimes all we can do is a little bit. But over time, those little bits add up to big bits. By the grace of God the virtue of chastity can be built up in us , one little sacrifice at a time.

The key is to keep trying. As so many of the saints have said before, God doesn’t put a premium on success. Any success we have in building any virtue is by his grace alone, but he wants us to at least want to grow in virtue, and to keep trying the rest of our lives, with a firm intention to try to overcome whatever weaknesses we have. Where we fall short, he delights in giving us the strength to overcome.

It’s good to remember that God is pleased with even the “widow’s mite.”

Maybe someone reading this is addicted to porn–even choosing not to turn on the computer for one evening is a sacrifice that leads to chastity. Perhaps someone reading this is caught up in the thrill of hooking up each weekend. Even one weekend of not hooking up is a sacrifice God is pleased with, and it is a sacrifice that leads to chastity, and to freedom and peace.

St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, who famously said, “give me chastity–but not yet, Lord!”, pray for us.

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Further Up and Further In

In light of my most recent post, I’ve been thinking a lot about “gay celibate relationships” this week.

The way I see “gay celibate relationships”–and have always seen them–is that they are pursuing an apparent good in place of a true good. I always feel when I hear about them that the people involved are stuck in a place of being “almost there.” I think that probably sounds offensive to some ears, or remarkably hubristic, but I write it not to be a critical blowhard, but because I want to urge them to go “further up and further in,” to quote C. S. Lewis in The Last Battle. I want to say to them, “Hey there! The path to peace, joy and happiness is this way! Don’t stop where you are–you haven’t gotten there yet! Keep going. It’s just over the next bend!”

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What I mean by this can be summed up in something I just read today in Blessed Dom Columbia Marmion’s great book Union With God:

Ask your patron [saint], as I do for your, to obtain for you such an ardent love for your Divine Spouse that all other love may flow from it. We may never share our love for God with any other creature; His commandment is formal: “Thou, shalt love the Lord God with thy whole heart.” But in the same way as we love God, we may love others, because He loves them, and because He desires that we should love them, and in the order and degree in which He wills that we should love them.” [Emphasis in the original.]

Our love for God must be such that when we love others, we will love them “in the order and degree in which He wills that we should love them.”

The “order and degree” in which God wills that we love members of the same sex is in the form of friendship, one of the true and great gifts of God. If we try to squeeze our love for our fellow members of the same sex into the mold of something else, or some other order of love, it will be a distraction and impediment to true and complete union with God: it is settling for an apparent good, instead of for the true good.

Not only would it be a distraction to us, it would be an impediment to the one we love most in the world: the “partner” we’ve chosen to share our lives with.

I think we are settling for something far short when we strive to ameliorate our loneliness by working out what it might be like to live in a “celibate partnership” or viewing ourselves as “a couple.” Any sort of pseudo-spousal relationship, or a “committed relationship” between two members of the same sex is outside of the bounds of “the order and degree” in which God wills that we love our neighbor. “Committed friendships” or “coupled friends” are a strange and novel view of friendship, and really have nothing to do with friendship at all. I think urging people towards that vision of the fulfilled life for the person living with attractions to the same sex is mistaken.

My criticism of this way of thinking isn’t motivated by thinking the people doing this are off their rocker. Far from it. I understand keenly the isolation and oppressive loneliness people can feel when they desire to be faithful to God, and yet find their desires to be out of step with God’s plan for humanity. For many long years of my life I had moments when I thought that if I weren’t to wake up in the morning, life would finally be better, because it would be over. The loneliness I felt would finally be gone, the isolation I felt would be over, and the constant tension in my life between my love for God and my desires would be over too.

In that frame of mind, naturally a “celibate gay partnership” would seem like a good idea. But God save me from anything that would impede me from realizing that my whole self must become wholly reliant on God.

That awareness only comes through pain and suffering, and thus, the most valuable and precious thing to me in my life now are all of those years of pain, loneliness and isolation I endured.

In the light of the hellish lonely existence that so often accompanies this life, especially in the early years of this journey, gay celibate relationships seem to be an understandable form of self-triage that attempts to stanch the flow of that pain in one’s life. But it’s done with the ignorance of the poor child who has to undergo surgery to save his life, and can’t possibly understand why.

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St. Francis de Sales has helped me immensely in all of this.

Here are some words of spiritual direction he wrote to one of his directees:

Yes indeed, my dear daughter, it is certainly true; these eternal and irrevocable renunciations, these immortal adieux which we have said to the world and to its friendships cause some grief to our heart, and who would not shrink under the action of this keen-edged knife cutting between, and separating, the soul and the spirit and the flesh’s heart from God’s heart and ourselves from ourselves? But thanks be to God that the knife has been applied, and it is over: no, never shall there be a rejoining of one with the other, by his grace to whom to join ourselves with inseparably we have separated ourselves for ever from all else.

I don’t want to be cheated from all of the good that God desires to do in my life because of the loneliness I have felt–and sometimes still feel. That’s why I have no interest now in a gay celibate relationship, or why I’m not really tempted to try and date anyone anymore. And it’s why I think gay celibate relationships take us in the wrong direction.

This letter from C. S. Lewis to Warfield M. Firor, dated December 5, 1949 has helped me make sense of all of this:

Well, thank God (for there is still part of me, a tiny little infantine voice somewhere amidst all the strong, confident natural voices, which can just thank Him, or perhaps only thank Him for being able to wish to thank Him) we shall not be left to the world.  All His terrible resources (but it is we who force him to use them) will be brought against us to detach us from it—insecurity, war, poverty, pain, unpopularity, loneliness.  We must be taught that this tent is not our home.  And, by Jove, how terrible it would be if all suffering, including death itself, were optional, so that only a very few voluntary ascetics ever even attempted to achieve the end for which we are created.  A propos—dare we gloss the text ‘Strait is the way and few there be that find it,’ by adding “And that’s why most of you have to be bustled and badgered into it like sheep—and the sheep-dogs have to have pretty sharp teeth too’!  I hope so.

I don’t want the teeth pulled from the sheepdogs.

Sheepdog

God, in his inestimable mercy and love, allowed loneliness, isolation and feelings of hopelessness to enter into my life. This is a paradoxical view of pain, that makes no sense outside of God’s love for us.

Blessed Dom Marmion once again helps me understand all of this:

Your soul is in God’s hands; He loves it, He looks upon it unceasingly and He makes it pass through the states that, in His Wisdom, He sees to be necessary for it.

Gay celibate partnerships have always seemed to me to stem from the sheep not liking the sheepdogs who are doing the will of the Good Shepherd. If we are wise, we would run to the sheepdogs, instead of running away from them, and realize that loneliness, isolation and pain are the instruments of the Great Physician, shaping us to become divine works of art.

The smartest and wisest course of action is to lay still on the surgeon’s table, and accept the fate God has planned for our lives. That’s the way to true peace and happiness and joy.