Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OTHER SPAGHETTI, DIFFERENT WALLS: In my NormBlog profile I mentioned that doing a blog is especially exciting now for those of us on the Right, as we try to renew and reexamine our beliefs, because on a blog you can throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. A newly-launched blog, Secular Right, is attempting to do just that for the unbelievers among us. Walter Olson is involved, which bodes well.

I will be especially interested to see how any lib/trad-type splits play out on this site. You all know that I believe all political and moral/ethical talk is either incoherent or based on some object(s) of love. That's one reason atheist conservatives (as vs. libertarians) are so fascinating to me: Whom do they love, and how do those loves resemble or differ from love of God? How do those loves shape and contradict their conservatism, as love of God might shape and contradict a believer's conservatism? (Obviously, there will be a lot of different answers to these questions!)

When I was an undergrad, we sometimes referred to the "Romantic Atheist Faction" of conservatism. I hope we'll see some of that on the blog.
MARRIAGEDEBATE, the blog of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, is back after a tech snafu. Just a heads-up....
The tiger that walks in her gestures
Has the insolent grace of the ships

--Alberto de Lacerda, via Marianne Moore via DarkOctober618

Sunday, November 23, 2008

IF YOU WANT TO HEAR "WE'RE SAVING OURSELVES FOR YALE." It's at the bottom of the page, with the little play-arrow. You who emailed me about this, you're welcome....
HEY, REMEMBER HOLYOFFICE? No? Let me refresh your memory with a quote from the Field Guide to Common Christians:
This is the belief among some Christians that, ever since Jan. 1, 2000, it has no longer been possible, in the words of the Prince song, "to party like it's 1999." Postmillenialists are those Christians who believe that it will always be possible to do so, while Amillenialists believe that in this context, "1999" cannot be understood literally, but must be read as an allegorical term roughly meaning "a time at which it is especially appropriate to party."

Well, he's got a book now! Here are some FAQs about The Messiah Formerly Known as Jesus: Dispatches from the Intersection of Christianity and Pop Culture.

Ohhhh, you know you want to.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

MIXING MEMORY AND DESIRE: NOTES FROM MY THEOLOGY ON TAP THING. This isn't going to be an outline of my presentation, because a) it was ridiculously scattershot (hey man, I could barely speak! Don't expect brilliance from a petrie dish!) and b) a lot of it was stuff I'd said before, most notably here and in my essay in Faith on the Edge. (So if you liked it, read that piece and buy the book!)

So instead, these are notes about what I said, and what I was asked. I'll try to say things I've never said before. In order from least to most interesting, I think.

1. "Do you believe gay sex is a sin?" The TOTNYC people collected questions on paper during and after the talk, so I could answer them, and this was one of the more frequent ones.

I think this speaks to a problem on my part: I find it, in fact, humiliating to say that I do. I'm okay with saying, "I believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches"; c'mon, I said this at my baptism. But to say, "Hey, I'm the chick who doesn't get to git wit' it," seems a bit more humiliating!

There are more defensible reasons I got this question several times over: I truly believe it's important to focus on sublimation as the opposite of repression, and on how I can express my lesbian desires while not merely respecting but even strengthening chastity. Possibly that focus can make me sound like chastity isn't crucial to me, when in fact the need for chastity is precisely what's pushing me to develop this understanding of sublimation as expression of eros.

But I need to keep in mind that the fact that a statement is humiliating is never a reason to avoid making it. I need to practice more humility and honesty--I know this--and I think these virtues would have helped my talk be more clear. As well as being good for, you know, my life.

The other thing, though, is that it's worth keeping in mind that I am pretty up-front about where I stand on Catholic sex stuff, and yet it's still very difficult for me to say some of these things. I think just as it's very easy for gay people to underestimate the tragedies and humiliations inherent in heterosexuality, it's easy for straight people to underestimate the ditto inherent in homosexuality. I don't in any way mean to say, oh my life is so hard!--not at all, more just that I was startled by how difficult this particular thing turned out to be. It reminded me that there will always be difficulties I don't choose, no matter how trivial.

2. Gay marriage. This is one of the other questions I got on several different slips of paper. (The third was some variation of, "How do I talk to my gay friends without being horrible?", which is a real question, but which depends so much on your own persona, your friend's persona/self-conception, and your relationship, that I don't feel comfortable answering it on the blog, where I can't get into the nuances of circumstance.)

First, and most importantly, I want to separate this question from the question of what Catholics who find themselves erotically drawn to the same sex should do. They are somewhat related questions, because both turn on the nature and meaning of human sexuality, but the differences are at least as important as the similarities. And so I focused, at TOTNYC, on drawing this line of separation, because I thought it might give people some degree of emotional space in which to work out their beliefs about the personal question--what should I do?--before moving on to what the laws should be.

But I think also that people asked me this question because they were grappling for a language with which to address marriage. Marriage, as a pre- and non-liberal institution, is exceptionally hard to talk about. Eros in general is pre- and non-liberal, and extraordinarily hard to talk about--this may be why feminism is both so attractive, and so convoluted and self-opposed--because eros is not really about happiness or choice, and those two categories are the only ones in which we've been taught to think.

So, while I want to re-emphasize that I do not think this question is the same as, or even follows obviously from, the question of Catholic chastity--I do want to give people some sense of how I talk about gay marriage. This post rounds up several other articles/posts I've written on the subject.

3. Ars longa, vita brevis. One of the best things about being Catholic is that there has been a lot of Catholicism already. This is also one of the most difficult things about being Catholic!--viz. my posts on the mintiness of the Pope. But for gay Catholics, specifically, the Church's age is important in at least three ways:

a. We are not sola Scriptura, in part because that doesn't make sense. Every text needs interpretation; every interpretation requires tradition (language is itself a tradition); every tradition requires a beloved or Beloved, real or imagined, Who gives content to its abstract nouns.

It is easy to pick apart the references to homosexual acts in Scripture. It is much, much harder to argue against the entire orthodox interpretive tradition (i.e. what the Church has for two millennia taken those curt phrases to mean) or the overall symbolic pattern of Scripture (i.e. the fact that marriage is treated as a mirror of the divine love affair with humankind, and so is same-sex friendship, but the latter is never conflated with the former).

Let me unpack that parenthesis a bit. There are many metaphors for God's love in Scripture, covering just about all of our human loves: filial love, friendship, eros, even the love of the stranger, even the love of the enemy. And yet these metaphors are all different facets of the crystal broken at the Fall. If we are going to be excruciatingly precise about the translation of arsenokoitai , shouldn't we be equally clear on the fact that the Bible can portray many different kinds of love without ever suggesting they are the same love, or that they should be expressed in the same way? And that sacred Tradition might have something to say about that?

b. Keats and Yeats Are on Your Side, While Wilde.... The second important point about the Church's age is that She is rich in resources for contemporary gay people--because She is rich in resources for just about anybody. You have incredible models of sublimation, people who poured out their friendships or their eros as oil across the feet of the Crucified. (The Roden book here is the book I mentioned at the talk, btw.) Why aspire to be liberated when you could aspire to be Teresa?

c. Fra Angelico cats come out tonight! The last, and perhaps most controversial, way in which the Church's age is important is that She has provided images of vocation even outside of those officially recognized.

The most obvious of these is the artistic vocation. Who will stand up to say that Flannery O'Connor was a bad Catholic? Perhaps soon the same will be said of Oscar Wilde, or even Morrissey. (I'm of the belief that if the Messiah tarries, Wilde will be canonized sometime in the next few centuries.)

I don't have any problem with the privileging of the vocations of marriage and vowed religious life. But I do think the Catholic Church, with its eccentrics, its holy fools, its uncanny and astonishing saints, offers a whole bestiary of forms of love for God; and the diversity of that bestiary is the freedom of Catholics.

4. What is the point of you? The previous points blend into this final one. I think one of the most pressing questions for gay Catholics--and maybe for anyone, but there is only one thing that I know how to do well etc--is, "What is the point of me?" Why am I the way that I am, with my besetting weaknesses, my strange silences, my crimson joys?

A guy wrote to me at one point to ask, among other things, whether he would still be gay in Heaven. I wrote back a bunch of things, but one thing I said is that we know from Scripture that there will be neither marrying nor giving in marriage in Heaven. Whatever marriage is here, it is a foretaste of and preparation for what we will experience if we end up in Heaven. And similarly, St. Aelred delineates how friendship can be our means of seeing the face of Christ, and presenting His holy face to those we love.

And so where there is love in homosexual relationships, that love too, I think, is a preparation for something in Heaven, as all love is. It likely reflects a different aspect of our love of God. Marriage, for example, plays on the eros of difference, the thrill of la difference. But anywhere there is love, be it capable of chaste sexual expression or requiring complete sublimation of sexual expression or completely absent of any desire for sexual expression--anywhere, that love is preparing us for Heaven. Maybe by bringing us to the Cross; maybe by teaching us how to sacrifice with joy; maybe by teaching us to sacrifice while expecting nothing in return; maybe by pushing us outside the bourgeois world of society and family, the world that makes things work, and exposing us instead as fools for Christ.

What love does to you will depend--like drinks at Philip Larkin's party!--"on where you are; or who." But there is a point to you, and to your love. Christ is Lord of Time, and He has brought you into this world in this time and place and culture for some purpose; you have been given some unique way of manifesting His love to the world.
DO YOU KNOW OF A GROUP IN THE DC AREA WHICH IS DOING CHRISTMAS BASKETS/GIFTS? Can you email me, if your group still has spots open? I have a pregnancy center client who would really love a Christmas basket, and our slots are filled at least as of right now. This is for a family of four: mom, dad, infant daughter, two-year-old son. The mom says anything at all would be welcome.

Thank you so much. If you don't know of any group doing this, but you do pray, please pray for this family; I'd suggest asking for the intercession of St. Elizabeth, St. Cecilia, and Dorothy Day.
It was not just that the Edwardians tended to project futures where every restraint would still hold true except the one they planned to abolish, and the decencies they took for granted would continue to operate, insulating and domesticating their wildest notions. They were also sure that they viewed the present with clear eyes. They were already persuaded that they understood the uncomfortable truths; how much more likely the world was to be harsh rather than kind, how the balance of nature favoured the strong and condemned the weak.
--I May Be Some Time

Friday, November 21, 2008

PERFUME AS A FINE ART: Terrific little book review. The last quotation from the book is just awesome. Via A&L Daily.
YOU'RE A HANDSOME DEVIL. WHAT'S YOUR NAME? I did the NormBlog profile, over at Norm Geras's place. Polar exploration, my Muppet self, and similar glimpses into the maelstrom that is me.

Also, you may have noticed that I'm back. Thanks to those who wrote in concern! I'm fine now, just had a lingering bronchitis thing. Later today, expect notes from the Theology on Tap gay-Catholic-whatnot discussion; more on polar exploration; maybe a science-fiction review; whatever else slithers across the horizon.

Oh! and Monday was the feast day of my patron saint, Elizabeth of Hungary. Here's an old post I did about Jean Genet's Miracle of the Rose, which was one of the reasons I chose her.
a veil of ice between my heart and the fire
--more Michelangelo, from that same scrap of paper with quotations from Looking at Italian Renaissance Art

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PARENT OF PERSONS, OLD YALE: You can hear "Mother of Men" and even "Daddy Was a Yale Man" here.

Much thanks to TKB of the Yale Free Press.

I suspect I should give some kind of explanation of how I can love "Mother of Men" and the theology of the body and women's leadership all at once... but you know, it's late, and I'm going to put this one off for the moment. Remind me!

I am not being paid to tell you this, but the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy has a model adoption statute which institutes marriage preferences (PDF) without prohibiting anyone from adopting. Given that more states prohibit marriage preferences than require them (PDF), I suppose we can be grateful that the Arkansas total prohibition on unmarried adoption is a bizarre outlier.

I doubt that will comfort any children whose adoption is prevented by this horrifyingly blithe and simplistic statute. The marriage movement should not merely withhold support from this kind of initiative but actively disavow it.
THE CHISEL ON THE ROCK: A reader kindly provided the full Italian text of the Michaelangelo poem I cited earlier:
Giunto è già ‘l corso della mia vita,
con tempestoso mar, per fragil barca,
al comun porti, ov’a render si varca
conto e ragion d’ogni opra trista e pia.
Onde l’affattuosa fantasia
Che l’arte mi fece idol e monarca
Conosco or ben com’era d’error carca
E quel c’à mal suo grado ogn’uomo desia.
Gli amorosi pensier, già vani e lieti,
che fen or, s’a duo morte m’avvicino?
D’una so ‘l certo, e l’altra mi minaccia.
Né ginger né scolpir fie più che quieti
L’anima, volta a quell’amor divino
C’aperse, a prender noi, ‘n croce le braccia.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The new slang sense of north from the 1800s on, meaning strong, where drinks were concerned, came from the Navy. Grog that was due north was absolutely neat, no water in it at all. Too far north--desperately, incapably drunk--now carried the sense of being hopelessly lost up there in the ultima Thule of booze. Elaborated into a jovial saloon-bar or shipboard witticism, it even brought together the degrees proof of spirits with the degrees of north latitude. Another point north, Steward: mix that a bit stronger, won't you?
--Francis Spufford, I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

hi, I'm really really sick, so while I do have fun stuff to post (like notes from that Theology on Tap thing I did, and two book reviews), it will have to wait... check back soon....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

JEUX SANS FRONTIERES, OR THE PAST REPUBLICAN TICKET IN '80s VIDEOS: I don't think anyone can dispute that McCain/Palin was the "Games Without Frontiers"/"Big Time" ticket.

I think even Reagan might have cued up "Land of Confusion" instead.
The Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine argues, in "The Jewish Century" (2004), that Yiddish did not evolve typically: if you study its form and structure, you discover its deliberate and fundamental artificiality--it is the language of people who are interested, in Slezkine's words, in "the maintenance of difference, the conscious preservation of the self and thus of strangeness."
--The New Yorker, via Ratty

Saturday, November 08, 2008

oh and I'm out of town, so posting will resume on Tuesday, when I hope to have a lot of interesting stuff for you all.
SEE ME IN NYC: I will be speaking at Theology on Tap in NYC this Monday, about blah blah blah gay Catholic blah! It'll be awesome!

Details: It takes place at Metro 53, which is located at East 53rd Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue -- much closer to 2nd on the north side of the street.

Happy hour starts at seven. The talk will start at 7:30pm, and "we typically aim for about a 45-minute talk followed by 15 minutes of Q&A." (I doubt I will really yap for 45 minutes, guys.)

The title for my thing is "Gay and Catholic? Wrestling with God and the Church." Hope to see many of you there!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

IN THE DESERT, MAYBE YOU CAN REMEMBER YOUR NAME!: Seven silver linings for right-wingers.

#1: Your hangover will go away eventually. I suggest sports drinks if you can (I never can), Tylenol, and sleep. Tomato soup, esp. w/curry powder, might help. Cancel all your appointments except those with the Porcelain God and/or the confessional.

#2: A big-government candidate who thinks the First Amendment is really more of a suggestion lost!

...To another big-government candidate who etc etc. But hey,

#3: The Fairness Doctrine won't apply to blogs!

#4: No, for real though, the daughter of a slave voted for a black President. There aren't words to convey how amazing that is. God bless America, for real.

#5: The candidate who flip-flopped on torture (despite his amazing personal story and general staunchness on this issue) because the Republicans decided to go bats crazy lost.

#6: Just remember, we're the party that believes in the necessity and meaning of suffering--and especially humiliation. So really, we win again! Offer this $#@! up, y'all.

#7: Conservatism is inherently a tradition of complicity, satire, internal conflict, and cynicism. So with the Messiah as our next president, we're in like Patricia Quinn!
LADYBLOGS DRINK FREE: I have two posts up, on polar explorers as Gothic romance heroines and an open thread asking for your best Obama-supporter victory cries, with my own nominations from downtown DC.
From what sharp, biting file
Does your tired skin keep growing thin and failing,
O ailing soul?

Neither painting nor sculpture will be able any longer to calm my soul, now turned toward that divine love
That opened his arms on the cross to take us in.

--my notes say that this is Michelangelo, from a book (and likely a translation) by S.B. McHam, book title Looking at Italian Renaissance Art

Saturday, November 01, 2008

THE MOON UNDER WATER: The video for "Video Killed the Radio Star" is surprisingly sophisticated--its timing, cross-gender identification, frame-within-a-frame, and general ability to do more than what was promised (see the title of this post) push it well past what you might expect from first-gen MTV.
I'M AFRAID PHILOSOPHY IS JUST TOO MUCH RESPONSIBILITY FOR ME: One of the most awesome links I've ever had the privilege to click.
"She thaws nothing but Facts, do what I would, not one unfathomed Mystery in the Lot!"
--Masie Tuck-and-Frill in re: Cynic Sal, Ladies Almanack