Saturday, March 30, 2013, 10:36 AM
In his book The Crucified God, Jürgen Moltmann famously suggested that Mark’s Gospel, with its recording of Jesus’ cry of dereliction—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—provides us with the only theology that can speak to “protest atheism,” the kind of atheism that says, with Ivan Karamazov, “God may exist, but given that God has permitted such horrific suffering to occur in the world, I don’t want to have anything to do with God. I respectfully return my ticket.” In other words, Mark gives us a God we can believe in because he tells us about Jesus’ doubt and loneliness and abandonment.
Moltmann drew on Elie Wiesel’s story (found in Night) of the dying boy in Auschwitz, hanging from a gallows. Someone in the crowd witnessing the execution said, “Where is God?” And another voice replied, “He is there, hanging on that gallows.” God is dead, in other words. Or if God is not dead, he deserves to be. Moltmann takes that story and says, in effect, “Yes, that is exactly right. God has come to Auschwitz, through his death in Jesus Christ. God has suffered with us. God has died with us.” Only such a God—only a God who suffers—can be believed in.
Friday, March 22, 2013, 1:00 PM
I’ve been rereading Josef Pieper’s lovely little exposition of Aquinas on hope, and it strikes me as being very much in line with the point I was trying to make in my last post that quoted Vaclav Havel.
Pieper writes: “The concept of the status viatoris is one of the basic concepts of every Christian rule of life. To be a ‘viator’ means ‘one on the way.’ The status viatoris is, then, the ‘condition or state of being on the way.’ Its proper antonym is status comprehensoris. One who has comprehended, encompassed, arrived, is no longer a viator, but a comprehensor.”
Following Aquinas, Pieper places hope in between the vices of both despair and presumption, and this seems to me to offer those of us who are gay and Christian a useful opportunity to pause and evaluate the way that we conceive of our own “station” on the way.
Friday, March 15, 2013, 10:17 AM
In the June term this year at the seminary where I teach, Trinity School for Ministry, I’ll be the instructor for a week-long intensive class on a Christian theology of friendship. I’m excited about this opportunity not least because I’m working on a book about friendship, and teaching a class on that theme will give me a chance to try out many of my ideas in group discussions and receive helpful feedback and criticism. (And vice versa: because I’ve been reading and writing so much on the theme, I expect I’ll be of more benefit to the students than I otherwise might have been. As Mark Noll has said, “There can be no good teaching without good scholarship.”)
Monday, March 11, 2013, 11:23 AM
Many of you have thought much more deeply and carefully about sexual orientation change efforts than I have, and none of what I say here is meant to minimize the complexity of that discussion. But I just wanted to note that my understanding of the character of hope leads me to approach that discussion from a particular angle.
I’ll let the amazing, and recently much lamented, Vaclav Havel speak for me:
Hope… [is] a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation…. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons…. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
Friday, February 22, 2013, 2:30 PM
Early on in Mark Vernon’s insightful book The Meaning of Friendship, there’s this throwaway observation: “In TV soaps, the characters always have their friends to return to when their sexual adventures fail; lovers come and go, but friends remain.” Reading that sentence, I think not only of old favorites like Seinfeld and Friends but of more recent sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother or Happy Endings: the string of the characters’ romantic attachments is forgettable; what keeps you watching these shows is the constancy of the (mostly twentysomething) friendships among the protagonists. Romance is fleeting; friendship is permanent.
Friday, February 1, 2013, 4:11 PM
At a conference where I spoke this week, the question came up again: “Why would you call yourself a ‘gay Christian’?” Others have posted about this—I’m thinking of Joshua Gonnerman and Melinda Selmys and Eve Tushnet—but I never have, so here’s my brief take on the question.
First, what’s behind the question? One of my interlocutors this week suggested that a parallel case would be if someone were to label himself an “adulterous Christian” or a “stealing Christian.” Those terms are self-evidently problematic in that they make sinful behaviors part of an identity description for believers, and therefore gay Christians should find their chosen label equally problematic. My response to this is that those are not, in fact, parallel cases. “Gay” in current parlance doesn’t necessarily refer to sexual behavior; it can just as easily refer to one’s sexual orientation and say nothing, one way or the other, about how one is choosing to express that orientation. So, whereas “stealing Christian” certainly denotes the behavior of stealing, “gay Christian” may simply refer to the erotic inclinations of the Christian who claims that identity and leave open the question of whether he or she is sexually active with members of his or her own sex.
Monday, January 21, 2013, 9:30 AM
Over at Christianity Today, Allison Althoff has a story about the growing attention to LGBT issues on evangelical Christian college campuses:
Same-sex attracted students at several Christian institutions have attempted to start on-campus organizations with varying degrees of success. Seattle Pacific University’s Haven is an “unofficial club” organized by students. It hosts weekly meetings on campus to encourage honest conversations about sexuality while holding to the school’s “Lifestyle Expectations” regarding sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
“Haven is recognized by the university administration, but not as a recognized student club through the student government system,” vice president of student life Jeff Jordan said.
Friday, January 18, 2013, 2:09 PM
Last week I caught up with some friends in England, my former next-door neighbors and parents of my godson. My friends have just had their second child and were remarking on how their fellow church members have been bringing meals and helping with household chores and in general offering support. “We couldn’t have survived these last few weeks without that,” they told me.
None of this struck me as surprising or remarkable until my friends recounted a conversation they had with their neighbors. Also new parents themselves, those neighbors expressed their astonishment at the network of support my friends enjoyed. “How do you know so many people?” they asked, incredulous. “How do you have so many friends? I wish we had half as much help as you’re receiving. We have friends we go to the pub with, but we don’t have any friends who brought us meals after our baby was born.”
Friday, January 4, 2013, 1:37 PM
If friendship needs to be seen afresh in our time as an intimate love in its own right, distinct from the love of spouses or romantic partners, then we need stories of friendship that show us how its rediscovery is possible. I’m always on the lookout for such stories, and I just finished reading one of the best I’ve encountered in some time, Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship.
Published a couple of years ago, Caldwell’s book narrates her friendship with a fellow writer, Caroline Knapp. The two women met in middle age, both of them unmarried at the time. They quickly discovered they both shared love of dogs and the outdoors, and some of the most artful prose of the book describes Caldwell and Knapp’s frequent rowing on a lake near their respective homes and their walks in the adjacent woods. Eventually, their friendship led to deeper intimacies and a mutual disclosure of their drinking histories. Both women were sober when they became friends, but their past addictions cemented their sense of solidarity with one another. (Caldwell’s description of the spiral into addiction is unblinking and one of the real gifts of this book.)
Monday, December 31, 2012, 10:12 AM
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This was published last summer in the NYT, but it’s just now coming to my attention (via Luke Neff): “Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?”
In studies of peer groups, Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, observed that people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife, but that they grew closer to the friends they already had.
Basically, she suggests, this is because people have an internal alarm clock that goes off at big life events, like turning 30. It reminds them that time horizons are shrinking, so it is a point to pull back on exploration and concentrate on the here and now. “You tend to focus on what is most emotionally important to you,” she said, “so you’re not interested in going to that cocktail party, you’re interested in spending time with your kids.”
As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.