Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Back in the U.S.A.

It’s hard to believe but it’s been almost a week since my return to the U.S. from Australia.

I’m really happy to be resuming my work as executive director of the
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and reconnecting with my friends in the Twin Cities.

On the night of my arrival (Thursday, January 25) several friends organized a wonderful party to welcome me back.

Since then I’ve been kept busy with completing CPCSM’s annual membership report to Community Solutions Fund - one of our chief funders. With this task complete (as of this afternoon), I can now turn my attention to planning CPCSM’s next Rainbow Spirit journal and our spring program of educational events.

In addition to CPCSM-specific programs and initiatives, there’s a couple of other upcoming events with which I’m looking forward to being involved.

Next Thursday, for instance, I’ll be facilitating a discussion on the book
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men with members of the Basilica of St. Mary’s Boulevards group.

Then in March, my friend Julie Madden and I will lead a workshop entitled “Breaking Bread: Gay and Lesbian Parish Ministry” at New Ways Ministry’s Sixth National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality.

Held this year in Minneapolis, New Ways Ministry’s 2007 symposium is entitled “Outward Signs: Lesbian/Gay Catholics in a Sacramental Church.”

Speakers and workshop presenters include author Brian McNaught (speaking on “Baptism and the Experience of Coming Out”); Archbishop Francis Hurley (“Healing Our Wounds and Building a Eucharistic Community”); internationally-renowned advocate against the death penalty, Sister Helen Prejean (“Reconciliation, Liberation, and Lesbian/Gay People”); author Gregory Maguire (“Gay Parenting in a Sacramental Church”); and theologians Margaret Farley (“Matrimony and Same-Sex Relationships”); Richard McBrien (“Ordination to the Priesthood and Gay Men”); Diana Hayes (“The Sacrament of Reconciliation and Homophobia”); Luke Timothy Johnson (“Word Made Flesh: Scripture and Homosexuality”); and James Alison (“Faith and Coming Out”).

As you can see, it’s going to be a incredible gathering of some of the most preeminent Catholic thinkers and pastoral ministers, and I’m honored to have been invited to join their ranks as together we discern and facilitate discussion on the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the Catholic Church.

See also the previous Wild Reed post: CPCSM's Year in Review.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Last Days in Australia


Good News: On Monday I was granted green card status at the US consulate in Sydney!

As many of you know, Monday’s “interview” at the consulate was the last step in a much longer-than-expected process – one which has seen me living back in Australia since May of last year.

Now with green card status secured, I will be able to return to the U.S. and continue my work with the Minnesota-based
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities. It’s shaping up to be a big year for the group – especially in light of the upcoming publication of our first book, Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective.

Last Thursday’s medical examination (a necessary procedure in the green card application process), along with Monday’s “interview”, both went incredibly smoothly. Thank you to all who have sent positive energy my way and who have kept me in your thoughts and prayers. And a big thank you to my wonderful immigration attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I’m still finding it hard to believe that my long sojourn in Australia is finally coming to an end. Although I’ve certainly enjoyed spending time with my family and reconnecting with friends, I’m nevertheless looking forward to getting back to my own space, work, life, and friends in the States.

Above: Sydney - Thursday, January 18, 2006.

Above and below: While in Sydney for the various appointments necessary to secure my green card, I stayed in the nearby city of Wollongong with my friend Garth.

On Sunday, January 21, my friend Kerry traveled to Wollongong from her home in Exeter in the Southern Highlands. Together we visited the
Nan Tien Temple – the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere.

Above: The view from my room at the Wynard Travelodge where I stayed Sunday night, January 21. My appointment at the U.S. consulate, located on the 59th floor of the MLC Centre (building at center right) was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. the next morning.

Above: Back in Port Macquarie after successfully securing green card status, I enjoyed a surprise visit on Wednesday, January 24, from my childhood friend, Jillian (see Gunnedah, Part IV) and her family, currently holidaying on the coast. Pictured from left: Me and my nieces, Jillian and her family.

Above: My nieces lend me a helping hand with sorting and packing on the afternoon of Wednesday, January 24 - the day before my departure for the U.S.

Above: With my parents, brother, and sister-in-law - Wednesday, January 24, 2007. I leave tomorrow for the U.S.

Above: Sunset over Port Macquarie.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
CPCSM's Year in Review
An Australian Christmas
This Time Last Year
Update from the Great South Land
Australia Bound

The Many Forms of Courage (Part III)

Part II of “The Many Forms of Courage” concluded by explaining why Catholics can, in good conscience, reflect upon and dissent from the Vatican’s stance on issues like homosexuality.

This third and final installment begins by looking at the supposed biblical condemnation of homosexuality, before exploring the question of authority within the Roman Catholic Church.

Adam, Eve, and Steve

So what about the Book of Genesis and the “design” supposedly laid out by God through its story of Adam and Eve – a “design” vigorous defended and promulgated by movements such as Courage and by theological undertakings such as Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body?

All such efforts leave me to wonder: are we to subscribe to
Clement Butel’s view that “whatever may be a Catholic’s personal beliefs, faith requires acceptance of the Genesis account of human creation as being literally and historically true”?

Contrary to Butel, I and many other Catholics view the Genesis account of creation as metaphorical. I also think that every aspect of creation speaks of evolution. And “every aspect of creation” includes human sexuality and our understanding of it.

Dr. Simon Rosser, a renowned researcher in issues of human sexuality, has noted that “ultra-conservatives are fond of saying that ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ ”

“Well that’s not reality,” says Rosser. “Based on science’s current understanding of the origins and stability of sexual orientation, God made Adam, Eve, and Steve; and until we have a theology that can deal with that complexity the Church is neither healthy nor living in reality.”

In light of such an insight, I’m intrigued when people like
Alice Von Hildebrand declare that, “God did intend to create human beings of two different sexes. [ . . .] He clearly had His own divine plan in mind, and we ought to discover reverently what this plan is, for it will give us guidelines as to how we – men and women – should shape our lives in order to conform to our Creator's design”.

I’m intrigued because I’m left wondering: what are the sources being used to support such a theological claim and such an assumption about “the Creator’s design”?

Is it solely scripture and tradition?

And what of those who don’t fit this “design”?

And perhaps most importantly, should the design dictate the reality of human experience, or should the diverse reality of human experience inform our understanding of the design?

At best, a literal reading of Genesis could be used to champion heterosexuality. But such a reading, besides being intellectually dishonest, does a great disservice to the spirit behind the text. Also, it’s ludicrous to use such a reading of Genesis to champion heterosexual marriage as we know it today, or to say that the Catholic Church has always understood marriage as it understands it today. It’s indisputable that marriage, and the Church’s understanding and recognition of it, has changed over the centuries.

Also, Pope John Paul II interpretation of Genesis in his Theology of the Body is just that, an interpretation – one of many that theologians have offered throughout the ages. Like all interpretations it needs to be measured against a number of things – scripture and tradition, of course, but also reason and human experience. All four should be in dialogue. Yet in the case of the latter, the pope’s interpretation (obviously shared by Von Hildebrand and others) fails to acknowledge or reflect the fullness of human sexual experience.

The sources of our understanding

The reality is that GLBT people, along with heterosexual people, can and do experience sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love.

Shouldn’t such experiences be considered as sources in any theological discussion on human sexuality? And if not, why not?

What exactly are the sources of the Vatican’s current theological reflection on human sexuality?

Shouldn’t such sources include the findings of science and people’s experience?

Science, for instance, tells us that gender and sexuality are vastly complex realities. When will the Church’s official teaching begin to reflect such complexity?

These are the types of questions that many Catholics are asking. They are legitimate questions with important theological implications.

Yet sadly, the Vatican’s response to such questions is woefully inadequate. It’s simply not good enough to say, “Well, this is how it’s always been, so it must be right,” especially since it’s clear that the basis of “what it’s always been” has been informed by limited sources. And when we limit our sources, we’re limiting and obstructing God’s wise and loving outreach to us.

I think that Catholics are intuitively sensing the truth in statements like the following by National Catholic Reporter editor, Tom Roberts, who in January 2006 wrote that, “[Some insist] that current thinking that is tolerant of homosexuality [is] ignoring ancient wisdom. I happen to think that current wisdom that welcomes homosexuals is, more correctly, finally dropping centuries of ancient ignorance.”

The editors of the 1994 anthology Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources of Theological Reflection suggest that this ignorance stems, in part, from the fact that “throughout most of Christian history the vast majority of theologians who wrote about sexuality tried to approach the subject from one direction only: they began with affirmations and assertions of the faith (from scriptures, from doctrines, from churchly teachings, and so on) and then applied those to human sexuality. Now, theologians are assuming that the other direction of inquiry is important as well: What does our sexual experience reveal about God? About the ways we understand the gospel? About the ways we read scripture and tradition and attempt to live out the faith?”

Such questions, I admit, can be unsettling. But I think that it is not the Catholic way to shy away from them and to retreat instead into some fantasy world where, despite evidence to the contrary, we insist that we have all the possible answers (and thus knowledge) available to us about what it means to be human.

A question of authority

Supposed scriptural condemnation of homosexuality is highly problematic as “homosexuality” as we understand and define it today is a very recent development. Accordingly, many reputable biblical scholars question if condemnation of homosexuality can be backed up by the Bible. And of course, the historical Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexuality.

Some Catholics maintain, however, that Jesus has and does speak on this issue whenever the Magisterium speaks. This attempt to basically equate the Gospel with the Catholic “tradition” which developed afterwards is highly problematic. For a start, this tradition, when it comes to matters of human sexuality, has been clearly shaped by previous eras’ limited understanding of this complex human reality. And that’s fine and appropriate. We are, after all, a pilgrim Church growing in awareness and understanding.

Yet ever since the papacy declared (relatively recently) that it can never be wrong in matters of faith and morals, and that therefore the Church’s teaching on homosexuality has always been correct and can never change, the teaching charism of the Church has been seriously compromised.

Such an “infallible” way of thinking prevents many within positions of church leadership from taking on board the insights and findings of science and human experience as they can’t risk proving that the church has been wrong and that its understanding of such matters has and can change. In short, the Magisterium has painted itself into a corner.

Most Catholics recognize this dilemma, but rather than address it head on and demand and work for structural change within the Church, they choose instead to quietly do their own thing – especially when it comes to matters related to sexuality. They no longer put their trust in the authority of the Church hierarchy, but rather in their own experience of ever-deepening relationship with God mediated by their struggle to be true to themselves.

It really does come down to the question of authority. Therefore, I think it’s important to remember that ultimately it is the spirit of the risen Christ which is the one true pastor of the church. And this spirit speaks through the life experiences of all people – regardless of their position in the male-designed and dominated structure of the church hierarchy, a structure which due to its homogeneous development and maintenance cannot adequately represent or speak definitively for the richly diverse reality of the Body of Christ.

In 2004, in my role as executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), I interviewed Catholic theologian and author Mary Bednarowski for The Rainbow Spirit, the organization’s journal. She had the following to say about authority:

“Church history is very helpful [on this matter] – essential, I would say. To think of ‘the Magisterium’ as highly authoritarian and centered in Rome and in the authority of the Pope is a fairly recent interpretation of a kind of teaching function that, historically, was perceived as somewhat speculative.

“By speculative I mean creatively reflective in responding to the realities of human life and experience in and of the world. It is also an interpretation that has not gone unopposed. In reality, the Church has always had what I consider realistic and sophisticated means by which to ‘question authority’: the emphasis on the primacy of the individual conscience, for example, or the system of ‘probabilism’, are ways through which change emerges.”

The Body of the Faithful and the Infallible Church

Clearly, personal experience, including the personal experiences of LGBT people, should not be ignored when, for instance, the Catholic Church makes ethical and/or doctrinal judgments on matters related to human sexuality. Having said that, I don’t believe personal experience is the sole norm governing behavior. Scripture and tradition obviously have their role. But all too often, we forget that it is human experience which is the locus of divine revelation and accordingly, the seedbed for the emergence and ongoing interpretation and development of both scripture and tradition.

When we acknowledge the significance of human experience in discerning foundational truths about human life and relationships, the role of the laity comes into much clearer focus. Australian theologian Paul Collins, for instance, reminds us that, “Consulting the laity in the formulation of doctrine is part of Catholicism’s theological tradition. Also, the whole Church’s acceptance of papal and episcopal teaching is an integral part of testing the veracity of that teaching. The hierarchy does not have a monopoly on truth.”

Collins finds support for such claims in the writings of the great English theologian, Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90), “who said unequivocally that the laity have to be consulted in matters of doctrine, especially when teachings concern their lives so intimately”. (Collins, P., Between the Rock and a Hard Place: Being Catholic Today, ABC Books, Sydney, 2004, p. 12.)

Wrote Newman: “The body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine, and [. . .] their consensus through Christendom is the voice of the Infallible Church”. (Newman, J.H., On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, (1859), ed. John Coulson, Collins, London, 1961, p. 63.)

Gospel democracy

In relation to issues of faith and morals, however, the Vatican operates from a model of leadership that assumes to always have the last word. Yet in the hierarchy’s insistence on such a model, many detect an element of fear and mistrust towards the laity, qualities that are totally alien to the trusting and compassionate model of leadership personified in Jesus.

In one of her Lenten reflections, author Donna Schaper writes on the model of leadership that Jesus exemplified. She notes that Mary Magdalene’s confusing of Jesus with the gardener on Easter morning, indicates “the radical nature of the risen Christ: he is more like a friend, more like the gardener, more like a woman. He is not big but little, not strong but weak, not above us but one of us. We will be raised from the dead when we understand that Jesus is accurately confused with the gardener. He is more like the gardener than he is like the owner of the garden.”

Schaper goes on to apply this example of “gospel democracy” and the “friendship model” of leadership it procures, to ministry. She notes that “we minister in a world that is ideologically hostile to the gospel, [to] that word from God in which Jesus says to all disciples, not just the ordained ones: ‘I have called you friends’. Here Jesus is illuminating us to a radically new relationship between people and God [. . .] It is like a garden we all work in together, not a garden where one is the employed and the other the employer”.

Loving the unfolding truth, and loving truthfully

Such an understanding of leadership reminds me my favorite saying of Pope John XXIII: “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flowering garden of life”. It’s an understanding of church that implies that revelation is an ongoing process.

I’ve come to believe that such an understanding of revelation is central to our faith. It’s compels us to build and maintain a relationship with that sacred source that is behind and ultimately beyond all our limited scriptures and doctrines; it ensures that our faith is a living faith; and it compels us to seek right relationships with others as together we continue our journey as a pilgrim church, loving the unfolding truth, and loving truthfully (to paraphrase Pope John Paul II).

As history has shown, such an understanding of revelation has meant the periodic changing of the way we “package” our understanding of God. Such theological transitions can be very traumatic, and can incite resistance and even violence on the part of those secure in the old packaging and/or fearful of change.

As a way of illustrating this, I recall Robert J. McClory recollection of Patty Crowley in the December 9, 2005 issue of the National Catholic Reporter. In remembering how Patty and her husband Patrick, as members of the Papal Birth Control Commission of the late 1960s, clashed with those fearful of change, McClory writes:

“The Crowleys were outspoken in their own views on the subject [of birth control]. During a heated discussion about how the Church could save face if it were to allow couples to decide how to limit offspring, Marcelino Zalba, a Spanish Jesuit member of the commission, asked, ‘What then with the millions we have sent to hell’ if the rules are relaxed? Patty immediately responded in what became perhaps her most memorable quote. ‘Fr. Zalba,’ she said, ‘do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?’”

It’s so true: so much of what we attribute to God is in fact our own historical and cultural “packaging”. And this seems especially true when it comes to matters of human sexuality.

Amazing and courageous choices

Thankfully, things are changing. The old packaging is being discarded and we’re glimpsing and recognizing God’s love in ways we once did not – primarily, in this current time, in the lives and relationships of LGBT people open to God’s spirit of transforming love.

This spirit can inspire some amazing and courageous choices. I don’t doubt that it can compel some to live lives of celibacy. Yet it is also capable of compelling others to seek and maintain a loving relationship with another of the same gender – a relationship that is experienced and expressed both sacramentally and sexually.

And then there’s the beautiful choice of my friend Chad. For a while he was a member of Courage. Becoming disillusioned with the group’s “ideological commitments,” he chose not only to abandon Courage but also the Catholic Church. Yet he has recently returned to the church, and earlier this year I asked him to write about his journey for The Rainbow Spirit.

To conclude this post on the “many forms of courage”, here’s an excerpt from Chad’s article. Note that Chad acknowledges the presence of suffering in his life. Yet this suffering is not the result of his homosexuality, but rather of the homophobia within the church:

“Now I have come back to Mother Church in spite of herself, really. The only thing more influential than Rome’s rivers of shame, fear, and anguish, is the love I have profoundly experienced in Jesus Christ. And so I choose to march on, uniting myself to the Catholic Church. I offer up to God the sufferings I will endure as a result: the pain Rome will try to inflict upon me.

“Such suffering has meaning and I am able to endure it. Such suffering has power because it flows from a love of Jesus and his message. I pray that such suffering can break the monolith of Rome, and fill the Church once again with the unconditional love and grace of Jesus Christ for all peoples.

“In the midst of such suffering my experience of God has been one of peace, love, and joy. And it has been this experience, echoing throughout the ages, that has given me the courage to move beyond the rivers of the Vatican; to swim to the other side and find myself.”

Image: Two Saints by Ted Fusby, used with permission.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:

The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part II)
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Dreaded “Same-sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: “Complex and Nuanced”

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Billabong Koala Park

Last Wednesday, January 17, members of my family and I visited the Billabong Koala and Aussie Wildlife Park located just outside of Port Macquarie.

The park has over 50 species of animals – mostly Australian (emus, kangaroos, wedge-tailed eagles, cassowaries, a large range of reptiles, and of course, koalas) but also some exotic species such as spider monkeys and peacocks.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts: A Visit to the Koala Hospital, Ellenborough Falls, Christmas in Australia, Boorganna (Part I), Boorganna (Part II), Afternoon, Goulburn Revisited, A Summer Afternoon, Flynns Beach, Rocky Beach, Pacific Skies, Alva Beach, Bago Bluff, Coastal Views, and A Solitary Ramble.

The Many Forms of Courage (Part II)

In the first part of “The Many Forms of Courage,” it was observed that for Catholics who disavow the term “gay,” and opt instead to describe themselves as “same-sex attracted,” an unquestioning obedience to the Magisterium, i.e., the teaching ability and authority of the Pope and those bishops in union with him, is often a major theological and ideological commitment.

This second installment of “The Many Forms of Courage” further explores the role and history of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.

A bishop-centered church: “Not absolutely intrinsic to Christianity”

In theory, the Magisterium serves as the normative teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church. Such an office is appropriate and, indeed, necessary. Yet in current practice, the Magisterium is clearly hampered in its discernment of the Spirit within the Church as the People of God, as the Body of Christ.

Why is this? For the Magisterium to be a genuine normative teaching body within an understanding of “the church” as the living Body of Christ, it needs to be comprised of representatives from the entire Body of Christ – an entirety that includes, for instance, women and LGBT persons.

But what of the teaching that says that those who currently comprise the Magisterium, namely the pope and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, are the successors of the apostles? If this is true, who are we to question their authority?

In light of such an important question it is helpful to recall the observation of Catholic theologian and historian Hans Küng who notes in his book, The Catholic Church: A Short History, that “[A] church constitution, centered on the bishop, is by no means directly willed by God or given by Christ, but is the result of a long and problematical historical development. It is human work and therefore in principle can be changed.” (p.19)

Küng also observes that, “[In the early] Pauline communities there was neither a monarchical episcopate nor a presbyterate nor an ordination by the laying on of hands.” Despite this, the early Christian churches were considered “complete and well-equipped,” and “did not lack anything essential.” (p.20)

So what happened? Well, according to Küng, “After Paul a degree of institutionalization was unavoidable . . . [Yet] it cannot be verified that the bishops are successors of the apostles in the direct and exclusive sense. It is historically impossible to find in the initial phase of Christianity an unbroken chain of laying on of hands from the apostles to the present-day bishops.” (p.21)

What then can be demonstrated historically? “In a first post-apostolic phase,” writes Küng. “local presbyter-bishops became established alongside prophets, teachers, and other ministers as the sole leaders of the Christian communities (and also at the celebration of the Eucharist); thus a division between ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ took place at an early stage. In a further phase the monarchical episcopate, of an individual bishop, increasingly displaced a plurality of presbyter-bishops in a city and later throughout the region of a church. [. . .] A monarchical episcopate can be demonstrated for Rome only from around the middle of the second century (Bishop Anicetus).” (pp.21-22)

Accordingly, says Küng, “The presbyteral-episcopal church constitution [in place today] is not based on any institution by Jesus Christ and can in no way be seen as absolutely intrinsic to Christianity, if one uses as a measure the words of Jesus himself, the earliest community, and the charismatic constitution of the Pauline churches.”

So has the development of the leadership model within the contemporary church been a mistake?

No. Küng is adamant that the presbyteral-episcopal church constitution “was not apostasy, and beyond dispute [was] of great pastoral use.”

“For good reasons,” he writes, “it became the norm in the early ecclesia catholica. All in all it was a meaningful historical development which gave the Christian communities both continuity in time and coherence in space, or as one could also put it, catholicity in time and space. So it is not to be criticized as long as it is used in the spirit of the gospel for the benefit of men and women and not to preserve and idolize the power of the hierarchs.”

“In a word,” says Küng, “the succession of bishops is functional rather than historical; the activity of bishops is rooted in the preaching of the gospel, and they should support the other charisms rather than quench them. In particular, prophets and teachers had their own authority.” (pp.22-23)

Good Catholics can dissent

For a growing number of Catholics, the “prophets and teachers” of the contemporary church are those men and women calling for reform of the church’s teaching on human sexuality. The experiences and insights of such people – including LGBT people – need to be incorporated into the deliberations and pronouncements of the Magisterium.

Until that time, Catholics can in good conscience reflect upon and dissent from the Vatican’s stance on issues like homosexuality. This is because in our Catholic tradition we have, in addition to the
primacy of conscience, the system of “probabilism” which, as Catholic theologian Mary Bednarowski reminds us, basically says that, “if five or six truly reputable authors/scholars hold an opinion, it can be seen as a sign of its intrinsic probability.”

We also must not forget that there’s always been a strong and consistent calling within our tradition to come down on the side of compassion rather than condemnation, of trust rather than fear. Such compassion and trust leads us to be humbly open to the guiding Spirit of God, alive within the entire Church. These same qualities also serve to protect us from our own hubris, as the openness engendered by compassion and trust guard against embracing a triumphant, all-knowing mentality - one that, in actuality, limits where and how we seek and respond to the presence of God in human life.

NEXT: Part III of “The Many Forms of Courage.”

Image: Bearded Saint by Ted Fusby, used with permission.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:

The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Dreaded “Same-sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: “Complex and Nuanced”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)

I recently came across Sed Contra, the blogsite of David Morrison, a Catholic who lives his life “beyond gay” – an expression which serves as the title of a book he has written documenting his journey from gay activist to chaste Catholic.

The stated trajectory of Morrison's journey clearly reflects a perspective which considers being gay and/or an activist as inferior to being Catholic and chaste. I actually strive to be all four - although unlike Morrison, I don't necessarily equate chastity with celibacy. The former, after all, refers first and foremost to purity of heart not to sexual abstinence.

Morrison is also the founder and moderator of
Courage Online, a cyber community for Catholic men and women “living with some degree of same sex attraction who wish to do so chastely”.

A clash of ideological commitments

Those within the Courage movement disavow the term “gay,” insisting that when someone refers instead to a person as being “same-sex attracted,” it simply describes an experience and condition. “Gay,” on the other hand, supposedly implies a whole set of ideological commitments.

Of course, it’s ludicrous to think that the term “same-sex attraction” and its substitution for the word “gay,” doesn’t itself connote certain ideological commitments.

For Roman Catholics like Morrison, chief among these “commitments” is an unquestioning obedience to the Magisterium, i.e., the teaching ability and authority of the Pope and those bishops in union with him.

Ironically, those who base their Catholic identity on such obedience have, in fact, grafted a reactionary, fear-based ideology onto a religion that in actuality is all about inclusion, justice, community, and compassion – all of which convey a sense of ongoing journey or pilgrimage when it comes to understanding and living our Catholic faith.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, and indeed all who advocate for the basic human rights of LGBT people within both church and society, embody such an understanding of the faith. Accordingly, they seem to me to be more aligned with the authentic Christian values of inclusion, justice, community, and compassion, than those who commit to unquestioning obedience to the teachings of the Magisterium and, by extension, an understanding of church modelled on the paradigm of absolute monarchy.

It’s important to remember that such unquestioning obedience to the Magisterium also means unquestioning obedience to the discredited science, impoverished sexual theology, and biblical and doctrinal fundamentalism which, sadly, goes along with the Magisterium’s understanding of human sexuality.

The Magisterium and human sexuality

The Magisterium teaches that homosexual acts are an “intrinsic moral evil” because, like masturbation and heterosexual sex involving contraception, such sexual activity is not open to the transmitting of life – which is solely defined in terms of biological procreation.

For the Magisterium, “genital sexual activity” is only ever morally acceptable when it takes place within a “heterosexual marital relationship” and when each and every sex act of this relationship is open to conception and thus, potentially, biological procreation.

In this series of three posts I’d like to explore the various questions and implications for theology and the lives of LGBT people that result from the Magisterium’s understanding of sexuality. Such a discussion will take us beyond issues of sexuality. After all, any questioning, discussion, and potential reform of the church’s official teaching on sexuality must also address issues relating to our understanding of revelation, authority, and the very nature of “the church”.

Experiencing God – as celibate or in a gay relationship

First, however, I need to stress that I’ve always maintained that if someone feels called to live a celibate life than they need to do so. I support them in their choice to be celibate.

No one should feel pressured by outside entities to be sexually active.

Yet no one should feel pressured by outside entities to be celibate, either.

I respect and celebrate anyone’s experience of God in their life of celibacy. I also respect and celebrate a gay couple’s experience of God in their loving and committed relationship.

David Morrison and the Courage movement, however, cannot. And the reason for this, more often than not, is because they are told not to by the Magisterium, the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church.

For the members of Courage, the various doctrines of the Magisterium that attempt to address the issue of homosexuality comprise the final word on the matter. After all, as a proponent of Courage once told me, it is not just the Magisterium that is speaking but Christ himself.

Doctrinal fundamentalism

Such a perspective reflects and encourages doctrinal fundamentalism, which, unfortunately, is just as Christ-denying and soul-destroying as biblical fundamentalism. Simply throwing either scripture or Vatican rhetoric at complex and deeply human realities such as sexuality doesn’t cut it with the vast majority of Catholics – gay or straight.

Homophobic documents such as the Vatican’s 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons are far from the definitive and final word on the matter of homosexuality. In actuality, that “word,” for the vast majority of LGBT Catholics, continues to unfold in their lives. And its message is very different from that of the Vatican’s Magisterium.

For instance, the aforementioned 1986 letter describes the homosexual orientation as “disordered”. Yet disordered from what? The “naturally ordered” way God intended and designed people to live, argues the Courage crowd.

Furthermore, this “ordered” way or “design,” they declare, is clearly laid out for us in the Book of Genesis, in “natural law,” and in the moral teaching of the Catholic Church which they insist has not only never changed, but is incapable of changing! So much for a living Magisterium and the living Catholic faith.

What happens, though, when LGBT persons don’t experience their sexuality as “disordered”?

What if accepting and expressing their sexuality leads LGBT persons to experiences of wholeness, love, and deeper connection with self, others, and God?

Of course, questioning and dialogue of this nature are not encouraged by the Vatican. Indeed, the message is clear: further dialogue on the matter is unnecessary and any attempt to facilitate such dialogue is an expression of disobedience.

Yet given the wealth of information and insight from both science and human experience currently available (and which clearly needs to be integrated into the Church’s living and thus developing teaching on sexuality), this cutting off of dialogue and hostility to other insights is very troubling to many Catholics.

Also, as Catholic theologian Daniel Helminiak has observed: “No Catholic ethical teaching is defined infallibly. Certain beliefs have been proclaimed infallibly, but never an ethical teaching. The Catholic mind is smart enough to know that right and wrong often depend on concrete circumstances and limited human understanding.”

NEXT: Part II of “The Many Forms of Courage.”

Image: Two Saints: Tete-a-tete by Ted Fusby, used with permission.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Dreaded “Same-sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: “Complex and Nuanced”

Southern Highlands

As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts, I recently spent time with my friend Kerry at her home in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

Kerry lives in the village of
Exeter. Pictured above is Exeter’s picturesque railway station, which was originally called Badgery’s Siding when it opened in 1878.

Above and below: During my time in Exeter, Kerry was taking care of a relative’s nine-week-old Kelpie pup. The pup’s owners hadn’t named him, and because Kerry wouldn’t be keeping him, she felt she couldn’t give him a name. We just called him either “puppy” or “no-name”! He was certainly a beautiful little creature, and both Kerry and I remarked on how unusually calm and mature he was for his age.

Even though I lived and taught in nearby Goulburn for six years (from 1988 to 1993), I never really spent much time exploring the Southern Highlands’ many beautiful towns and places of interest.

One of these “places of interest” is the
Sunnataram Forest Monastery (above) on the outskirts of the village of Bundanoon, which Kerry and I, along with little “No-name,” visited on Sunday, January 7, 2006.

For more images and reflections on Sunnataram Forest Monastery, visit my previous post, Learning from the East.

Above: His visit to the Sunnataram Forest Monastery was a bit too much for little No-name who, by the time we were ready to return to Exeter, was all “tuckered out,” as we say in Australia.

On Monday, January 8, Kerry and I drove to Jamberoo Abbey – a Benedictine retreat centre and abbey situated on the Jamberoo Mountain Road between the Southern Highlands village of Robertson and the coast.

Pictured above is a side view of the beautiful altar in the
abbey’s church. The beautiful candles on the altar are handcrafted by the sisters. Candles for a range of occasions can be purchased at the abbey.

Little No-name was a real hit with the nuns at the Jamberoo Abbey, with one of them insisting we feel free to take him with us when we visited the abbey church. The nuns’ own dogs frequently accompany them to prayer, we were told.

In the photo above, No-name is resting outside the abbey’s
bookstore where I purchased from Sister Gertrude two books (An Authentic Life: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Everyday Life by Caroline Jones, and An Introduction to Spiritual Direction: A Psychological Approach for Directors and Directees by Chester P. Michael). I also found in the bookstore a beautiful set of Rosary beads handcrafted by the sisters from the seeds of the Persian lilac, also known as the Chinaberry or Bead Tree.

Above and below: The Southern Highlands township of Jamberoo - January 8, 2006. Earlier in the day we visited the town of Robertson where, in a little antique store, I found a second-hand copy of Doris Lessing’s autobiography, Under My Skin. I've been enjoying reading it ever since.

Above: This beautiful rose was photographed in the grounds of the Quest for Life Centre in Bundanoon. In the centre's bookstore, I bought an infomative book on Dru Yoga, something which I hope to get into once back in the US.

Postscript: No-name no more! Kerry recently informed me that she decided on the name Leicester for the little Kelpie pup featured in the above photos. Leicester is now with his brother back on the farm where they were born. Both pups are being trained as farm work dogs.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:

Learning from the East
Goulburn Revisited

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Learning from the East

After attending the previously mentioned Rosanne Cash concert in Sydney on Saturday, January 6, I spent several days with my friend Kerry at her home in Exeter in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

Even though I
lived and taught in nearby Goulburn for six years (from 1988 to 1993), I never really spent much time exploring the Southern Highlands’ many beautiful and towns and places of interest.

One of these “places of interest” is the
Sunnataram Forest Monastery on the outskirts of the village of Bundanoon, which Kerry and I (along with a Kelpie pup currently in Kerry’s care) visited on Sunday, January 7, 2006.

Established in July 1990, Sunnataram is a Theravada Buddhist monastery constructed in the tradition of the forest monasteries of Thailand. The Sunnataram Forest Monastery is renowned throughout Australia and the world for its Buddhist teaching and retreat programs.

Above: The Sunnataram Forest Monastery’s Gratitude Pagoda.

Rising to a height of 18 metres, the Gratitude Pagoda has two chambers: one in the ground floor level of the building and another in the smaller second floor level. Both chambers enshrine the relics of the
Buddha and other enlightened monks who lived in India over two thousand years ago.

Above: The exterior wall of the first floor of the Pagoda contains representations of the Buddha from every Buddhist country. This one, for instance, is from Vietnam.

Above: The Pagoda is also in the process of being decorated with numerous sandstone reliefs – handcarved by artisans and volunteers at the monastery.

The design of the Gratitude Pagoda is modeled on three famous pagodas in the North of Thailand: Wat Doi Suthep, Wat Phra That Jomkitti, and Wat Pasak. The Gratitude Pagoda, however, has a natural stone finish in keeping with its Australian bush setting.

Above: The Sunnataram Forest Monastery is built on 100 acres of land bordering the beautiful Morton National Park. This image depicts the view from the monastery looking out over Kangaroo Valley, with Jervis Bay at Nowra on the distant horizon.

Interestingly, one of the books I’m reading at the moment is Caroline Jones’ An Authentic Life: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Everyday Life. At one point in her book, Jones explores what we in the West can learn from the spirituality of the East. Here’s an excerpt:

We are complex and contradictory. That is the nature of the human condition. It is not to be resolved but relished and explored for its nuance and possibility. . . . [T]here is much insight to be gained in paradox.

. . .The writer Barbara Blackman told me that the principle of many insights she gained in the East was not either/or, but both. It is a profoundly useful concept to incorporate into your habits of reasoning, in order to think more freely, to gain a more imaginative view of the world and to avoid the limiting pitfull of fundamentalism – taking everything literally. But what is the authority, or the origin of this concept?

It is found first in the Tao Te Ching, thought to have been written by
Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Confucius, some five centuries before Christ. Other scholarly theories place it in the third or fourth century BCE and suggest more than one author.

Bede Griffiths, in his book Universal Wisdom (Fount, 1994), says that, whatever its authorship, the Tao Te Ching belongs to that breakthrough in human consciousness which occurred in the first millennium before Christ, and is a supreme example of the great mystical tradition that underlies all religion.

The Tao Te Ching affirms, as the Hindu Upanishads and Buddha had done, that the ultimate reality has no name. While Hinduism speaks of ultimate reality as Brahman, and Buddhism speaks of it as Nirvana, the Chinese preferred to refer to it as Tao, or the Way.

The understanding of God (i.e., “ultimate reality”) as a mystery ultimately beyond human comprehension, is, of course, not foreign to Christianity, as Paul Collins explains here.

Here’s how Bede Griffiths describes “Tao,” the Chinese expression for ultimate reality, in his book Universal Wisdom:

Tao is the “rhythm” of the universe, the “flow” of reality, like the “ever living fire” of Heraclitus or the field of energies of modern physics. Its character is the union of opposites, the Yin and the Yang. . . . The western way of thinking, based on Greek philosophy, thinks in terms of opposites, of good and evil, truth and error, black and white. Its way of thinking is logical, based on the principle of contradiction. But the Chinese mind, and with it the eastern mind as a whole, thinks more in terms of complementarity. It is aware of the Unity which transcends and yet includes all dualities, of the whole which transcends and yet unites all its parts.

As Caroline Jones reminds us, “The West was offered this insight later by the Christian philosopher, Nicholas of Cusa, a cardinal of the Roman church, who spoke of the coincidence of the opposites. Yet as Bede Griffiths points out, ‘for centuries now the western world has been following the path of Yang – of the masculine, active, aggressive, rational, scientific mind – and has brought the world near to destruction. It is time now to recover the path of Yin, of the feminine, passive [i.e. receptive in a dynamic and creative way], patient, intuitive and poetic mind’.”

I’d like to add two points to this conversation: First, many insights of the East can be discerned embedded in the life and teaching of Jesus – especially if one explores the various Gnostic gospels and/or read any of the gospels in their original Aramaic context. Doing so will illuminate the origins of Christianity as being more eastern than western,
more esoteric than exoteric. (A book I’ve found to be both helpful and insightful in this matter is Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition by Richard Smoley.)

Second, if one defines “male/female” solely in terms of the anatomical apparatus found between one’s legs, then homosexuality could be condemned in the eastern view because of its failure to embody “the union of opposites,” “the Yin and the Yang.” Yet many concur with Caroline Jones when she notes that when talking about the male/female opposites, we’re actually referring to an “attitude of mind, not with biological gender.” Understanding male/female in this way means that we can confidently say that the tenets of eastern spirituality (along with the esoteric stream of spirituality within Christianity) do not condemn homosexuality.

Yet what about the problem of the overt emphasis on the male “attitude of mind” in the West?

Says Bede Griffiths: “The world today needs to recover [the] sense of feminine power, which is complementary to the masculine and without which [humanity] becomes dominating, sterile, and destructive. But this means that western religion must come to recognize the feminine aspect of God.”

In society, too, the “sense of feminine power” needs to be recognized and embodied by all. I’m heartened when I read of people working towards such recognition and embodiment – people like champion kickboxer Paul Briggs, whom I’ve written about previously.

When discussing the mentoring group he has started so as to “give young blokes a different experience of what masculinity is,” Briggs notes that “the most common word used to describe what is manful – macho – is all about ego, nothing about depth of character. . . . Boys need to fathom that being a man is not about being aggressive, sexist, homophobic, emotionally mute, overconfident, and pig-headed. Such qualities have no business being used as reference points for manhood. We have evolved too much psychologically to allow boys to be so limited in their thoughts and feelings”.

Accordingly, says Briggs, “I’d like to show them a fresh take on masculinity, one that is not rooted in physicality and ego but in vulnerability, self-love, and noble values. . . . The torrent of gung-ho, aggressive, and vacuous male role models steamrolls over qualities such as kindness and gentleness and caring. They are seen as weak, disdainfully feminine qualities a man should avoid like rattlesnakes. I say the opposite. I say women are lucky. Generally speaking, they are closer to their emotional centre of gravity. They seem to be born with an emotional maturity that men inherently lack. So unless we develop this asset ourselves, we will never acquire it. If men made the effort, they’d realize what powerful, enriching rewards are to be had by tapping into their emotional wisdom.”

“To do so,” says Briggs, “is to become more of a man, not less. I think one of the greatest gifts a man can give himself is to learn to understand and process his feelings.”

As a Christian, I’m well aware of one man who famously embodied this particular “greatest” gift Briggs talks about; a man who calls not to be worshiped but simply followed in his embodiment of consciousness and compassion.

I’ve experienced this embodiment in my own life and in the lives of many others – regardless of religion. And I certainly experienced it in the Sunnataram Forest Monastery – in the monks I encountered there and in the calm and beautiful atmosphere they’ve created in the Southern Highlands.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Passage to India
In the Garden of Spirituality: Paul Collins
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
The Thorpedo’s “Difficult Decision”
Keeping the Spark Alive: A Conversation with Chuck Lofy

Images: Michael J. Bayly.