Those Who Run Toward Love
Getting arrested and other Catholic traditions
Creatures, rejoice! Yesterday was the feast day for my patroness, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. (My partner’s patroness is Elizabeth Ann Seton. The two-Elizabeths thing does seem a bit Hevelyn and Shevelyn….) In this edition, two book notes and a talk I gave at Notre Dame.
I recently read The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery of Dark Harlem. Published in 1932 by Rudolph Fisher, it’s apparently the first mystery novel by a Black American. It promises a window into Harlem society, a portrait of an African psychic/scientist/philosopher, and a complex murder mystery in which the corpse returns to either solve his murder or frame somebody for it.
It delivers on all counts! The atmosphere is fun and eerie. There’s plentiful banter; there’s early twentieth-century forensic science; there are mistaken identities galore, disguises and betrayals, financial crimes and “the rite of the gonad.” You have to accept that a lot of these characters will voice various prejudices (e.g. colorism, or ideas about what “Africa” is) and the author seems to share at least some of them, some of the time. But overall this feels like exactly what it promises: a Golden Age mystery written from within the Black community.
Also read Leticia Ochoa Adams’s Our Lady of Hot Messes: Getting Real with God in Dive Bars and Confessionals. This is a book of short essays on Catholic faith and practice. It’s hard to summarize, honestly, because so much of its power comes from Adams’s voice. She writes about trauma and healing, getting baptized twice in case maybe the second time would “take,” racism and surviving her son’s suicide, waitressing and running away from home, praying the rosary for good reasons and for not so great ones; and it all just feels very real. Very no-BS. The contrast between consuming social media and consuming the Eucharist will stick with me—it’s very homily-ready, hint hint—and the chapter on “Holiness in Dive Bars” is a true drunk’s delight.
I can hardly summarize the book better than this quote: “I had actually been Catholic all my life, despite attending the First Baptist Church, because I had been baptized Catholic as a baby. I also checked the ‘Catholic’ box every time I was arrested, but that was it.”
Adams is a storyteller and a catechist. There’s comedy here, because the worst things that happen to you will also be pierced by moments that still make you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks. And every story of heartbreaking youth or hilarious pain is being shared for a purpose: to help others heal and to help us follow Jesus.
This would make a good Christmas gift for somebody in your life who’s down to hear about the Catholic faith, but needs something that is real and not cute.
Order in Same-Sex Love
Autumn is so strange here in the Bay Area. It’s not like LA, which has two seasons, “another beautiful day here in Los Angeles” and wildfires. The leaves turn here. Crimson leaves like petals fluttering down on wide California streets; fallowing trees and trees tossing locks of flame; and above them, spiking up here and there in majestic incongruity, the palm trees.
Nature isn’t always what you expect. Notre Dame recently hosted a conference on the meaning of the created world, and I gave a (very) short talk adapting the chapter “Order in Same-Sex Love” from Tenderness. I thought the talk went well, and I’ll likely use this framework again, in spite of some misgivings about it. My notes are here.
My main qualm about this way of presenting questions of gay life in the Church is that it likely overemphasizes one specific form of love, the devoted or vowed pair. I talk about vowed friendship/covenant friendship/“wedded brotherhood” so much for a bunch of reasons: It’s beautiful; it’s the form of same-sex love that Scripture uses to teach us about God’s love for us and ours for Him; for that reason, highlighting it can reshape gay Christians’ relationship to our own longings for same-sex love and intimacy, and also our relationship to Scripture; and now it’s a v. active question for my own future, see above re: the Elizabeths. It’s simultaneously countercultural and deeply rooted in Scripture and Catholic practice. You can bring in prayer and song and poetry.
But the real thing I want to do was summarized neatly by my co-coordinator on Building Catholic Futures: We’re moving Catholic approaches to gay people “from chastity to vocation.” And there are plenty of vocations for us. The same ones as for anybody else, really, though I would have some pretty strong cautious about marriage (and if you’re discerning religious vows you’re gonna need to be very careful about where you go). Our vocations may include intentional community, ordinary non-vowed friendship, art, teaching, adoptive parenthood, godparenthood, caring for our families of origin, building a chosen family… there is no “one best way.”
So, that’s the caveat. But alongside all the beauty you can display when you’re willing to talk about Catholic models of same-sex love, you also get to show people that when they walk through an orthodox door—the door precisely of ordering our loves to bring them into harmony with the Church—what’s on the other side of that door may look unorthodox. It can look pretty gay! At Notre Dame I talked about holding my partner’s hand at Mass; I said that if our churches get better at forming people to live their longings for same-sex love well, “our churches will look gayer, and that’s awesome but some people are gonna feel some kind of way about it.”
There are many conclusions to be drawn from this fun fact! You can note that churches that are unsafe or unwelcoming to gay people and gay couples who have not accepted the Church’s sexual ethic are also unsafe and unwelcoming to me as somebody trying to live obediently to Her. You can note that those who profess to be “against heterosexuality”* or who seek “the end of sexual identity” will get their way only by passing through the middle stage where heterosexuals who love their friends are willing to look queer. Right now, the large majority of people I know who are seeking to renew same-sex forms of vowed kinship are lgbt, because we need models of same-sex love urgently enough that we’re willing to deal with all the discomfort and confusion of living in a countercultural way. That’s a fairly simple situation: more like Jesus and John than Ruth and Naomi, and more like Ruth and Naomi than David and Jonathan. But all vocations really are open to every sexual orientation, and plenty of Christians throughout history have discovered a soulmate or life-shaping love with another man or another woman.
*Yes it is catty not to put a hyperlink here. AND WHAT OF IT.
What I loved most about my talk at Notre Dame was probably the chance to share Dunstan Thompson’s poetry. I’d forgotten just how good “Statues” is. I didn’t read from it, because Thompson’s sentence structure is often fairly complex and hard to grasp when you’re hearing it for the first time, but it’s such a playful imagining of the relationship between sculptor and model—and model and God. Those who see beauty in our bodies can awaken our souls.
And then in “Halfway House” Thompson gives a perfect précis of my talk, and the relationship between order and love:
This ordered life is not for everyone.
Never, to their surprise, for those who run
Away from love.
I wrote about the new movie “Tár.” I have a lot more to say about it, but for now I will just say that it does an extraordinary job of showing the main character’s charisma while bluntly (with unsubtle artistry!) displaying the cruelties she commits.
Pet Shop Boys, “Miracles”
And also: this list of gift ideas is fantastic. Lightly geeky, which I think many of you are also. I’ve already sniped a bunch of these.
Photo of three Harlem women by James van der Zee, and used under a Creative Commons license.