Monthly Archives: January 2012

Eww: immediate family, read on at your own risk. I mean, I don’t mind, but consider yourself warned is all.

It’s been — let me check my little Chaste-o-Meter app — a little over 100 days since the last Porn Incident, and a little over 40 since the last Other Thing. Again, not to toot my own horn;1 just to say, hey, look what is possible! And to give some reasons why.

I’ve mentioned Clean of Heart a lot and I’m going to mention it again. I don’t follow every suggestion of the book to the letter, but here’s the basic program.

Morning: Three Hail Marys, each one followed by this aspiration: “O Mary, by your holy and immaculate conception, purify my body and sanctify my soul.”2

Next, this prayer — really, as far as I can tell (and as I’ll explain below), the key to the whole thing:

My queen, my mother, I give myself entirely to you, and to show my devotion to you, I consecrate to you this day my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my hands, my whole body without reserve. Wherefore, good mother, as I am your own, keep me and guard me as your property and possession.3

Then the same Hail Marys and same prayer in the evening. Some time during the day, you read/pray the daily meditation, a page or two of good spiritual food.

I think of that as the groundwork, and it’s a good solid foundation. But inbetween, what happens when some dude pops up in your browser without no shirt on, or when your fingers magically all by themselves start typing “dudes without no pants on” in the search bar, or when suddenly for no reason a mid-day (or mid-morning, or mid-afternoon) w★nk just sounds like the best idea evar?

Here’s St. Francis de Sales (quoted in one of the meditations) on the subject:

Whenever you feel the approach of temptation, imitate a little child who sees a wolf or bear in the plain. He instantly flies into his father’s or mother’s arms, or at all events calls on them for help. Do you in like manner fly to God, seeking His mercy and help.

Note the “instantly.” The kid doesn’t say:

  • “I’ll just stick around till he shows his teeth,” or
  • “I’ll see if he can be reasoned with,” or even
  • “I’ll run when he starts chomping on my leg” or ESPECIALLY
  • “I’ll just sit here considering whether being chomped on by a wolf is a good idea right now.”

What does he do? He runs to his mother, who knows about wolves.

More specifically, I say something like this — remembering the morning & evening prayer mentioned above:

Mama. Remember this morning when I asked you to make me your property? Okay, so please take care of this, because you don’t want your property to get stained or broken.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this has never, ever failed me. What usually happens is that the temptation hangs around for a minute or two, and then evaporates like steam. Nothing left behind. And it happens every. Single. Time.

Almost as if Mary actually exists, actually takes your words seriously, and actually is the terror of demons, just like they say.

Notice that she is gracious enough to take your words seriously even if you feel a little squicky saying them. Like if you’re a little hesitant to actually say I give myself entirely to you or maybe even that property and possession bit or maybe if you’re not so sure about Marian devotion in the first place. All of the above apply to me. She doesn’t seem to mind.

Okay, I’m done. Now please pray for me that I don’t start to think that I’m super awesome and wonderful and can handle this on my own after all, because boy oh boy will that turn into a binge faster than you can say Google.

1 At least that’s all of my own that I’ve been tooting. In the last 40-odd days. Sorry, sorry.
2 And here’s the part where all you people who, like me, are a little ooky about Marian devotion need to suck it up and keep reading anyway.
3 Italics mine, because this is kind of the money part.

…in posting, that is. Got one all primed and ready to go, but it’s in longhand and is probably not as good as I remember. Soon! In the meantime, I have got some serious moving out to do, and then some serious moving in after that. Oremus pro invicem, till next time.

Welp, I managed to host another party. This one was to say goodbye to my apartment, since I’ll be moving out this Feb. I had TWENTY people over.1 I was planning to do the good host thing when each person came: take the coat, get them a drink, get them talking to somebody, then wait for the next one.

Instead, since everybody was fashionably late by almost exactly the same amount of time, they all descended on my apt. within about fifteen minutes of each other. So I started going “Have you met Dave? Can I get you a beer? Let me take your coat! DO YOU WANT SOME CHILI??”, which is not so much welcoming as overwhelming, and pretty soon I was so confused that I just started introducing people to their beers, shoving their coats into the chili pot, and pushing them bodily into the hall closet.

No, but seriously, after I settled down a little, I noticed that everyone was talking to everyone else WITHOUT MY HELP. Phew. So I narrowly avoided the trap of overhosting, and just had a good time. I was also pleased when the neighbors not only stopped by but stayed a few hours, and proved not to be too cool for my geeky friends, nor too heathenish for my Christian friends.2 And everybody had the good sense to leave by about 2:00, which is a lot better than last time.

Throw in a Baptism for my new niece, a nice chat with my father, and an (admittedly sort of lucky)3 win for the Pats and that makes a pretty good weekend.

So, hey, not to brag too much, but if you’re the sort of person who would prefer (1) swimming with sharks, (2) hara kiri, or (3) both, simultaneously, to actually (4) being in a room with a bunch of other people who want to make SMALL TALK — it does get better with practice, like almost anything else.

1 Not that I counted them up by name just now because I secretly believe there is a direct correlation between the number of guests who will come to my party and my coolness. Nope, nothing like that.
2 if A = {My geeky friends} and B = {My Christian friends}, then
A ∪ B = {Pretty much all my friends},
A ∩ B = {Most of my best friends}, and
{The neighbors} ⊂ (A ∪ B)’.

3 Not that they didn’t fight hard, it’s just that, dude, I could’ve made that field goal. (Nope.) I just hope nobody lynches poor Billy Cundiff.

It would be funny if it weren’t so embarrassing, the thought of a grown man like me hoping that the teacher is going to come tell me I’m doing a good job.

By “teacher”, of course I mean “Sifu.” Lord, how I love Kung Fu. I love it a surprising amount. I know I’m a little bit of a dilettante — I love to pick things up, but I don’t always follow through. Hence the odd musical instruments that litter my apartment (and my closet).

I think and hope that this time is different. I think about Kung Fu all the time, I dream about it, I practice kicks in the hallway at work.1 I want to earn the black sash some day, I want to move like they do; I want that physical joy that comes from a well-executed kick to be a permanent part of me.

Of course, some of the attraction is having a large, strong man around to tell me what to do. I don’t mean that in a sexual way. He’s good-looking enough and he has a contagious enthusiasm, but — it ain’t like that. It’s just that he’s the Sifu.

People think that men don’t like authority and don’t like being told what to do, but it’s not true, not even when we’re young. It’s only that we don’t like being told what to do by just anyone. When we’re younger, “just anyone” is usually our fathers, later on it’s the boss — but give us someone who’s got the right light in his face, the right nobility in his movements and his words, and we’ll be all his.

There’s something in a man that wants to submit. The key is finding someone who’s worth submitting to: someone better than us, who values our love and service. We want a master, a king.

Trouble is that most men aren’t kings. It’s easy to put a man on that pedestal, just like it’s easy for some men to set a woman up as a goddess. Disappointment follows, and so do hurt feelings. Not every Sifu is Ip Man2 — heck, even Donnie Yen probably isn’t like that in real life.3

So I have to remember, when Sifu Gary doesn’t notice how hard I’ve been practicing my form, or that I managed to stay in horse stance for a very costly extra five seconds this time — Lord, how it burns — that he’s not my father and he’s not my king; he’s just a good man who can teach me a lot.

Meanwhile, I have to keep on searching for, and following, and searching for all over again, the real King. Morning Mass tomorrow. Hope I’m not too sore to kneel.

1 Heh, and today somebody came out of another office just when my foot was pointing at the ceiling. Hard to play that one off. Yeah, I was just scratching my nose. With my toe.
2 You’ve got to see Ip Man 2! (And the first one, too.) It’s like the Chinese Rocky, except Donnie Yen is priestly instead of thuggish. Not that thuggish doesn’t work admirably for Stallone. Also the Westerners are evil, but that’s par for the course in Kung Fu flicks. At least in this one it’s evil Brits instead of evil Americans, and everyone knows that Brits really are evil.
3 Although I’m sure he still kicks a significant amount of ass.

The good people at Real Presence Radio showed me how you can stream, or even download, my first interview over there: you go here.

Today’s interview was something of an adventure. I got the time right this time, hooray, and I even planned ahead by asking a coworker if I could borrow his office so I could have a line with decent reception; and I even gave them the right extension.

So what happens? They call the receptionist asking for “Steve” at extension 250. Receptionist says to herself, “Steve? But he’s at extension 238,” and helpfully forwards the call to the guy who’s actually named Steve. The Real Steve is confused about why a Catholic radio station would be calling him, and hangs up.

Meanwhile the show’s producer is trying to track down the fake Steve (that’s me), who has given up on the landline and has gone out to his car to smoke a fretful cigarette. Finally his cell phone rings and, the signal being of acceptable quality, we proceed with the interview. Phew!

I may possibly have engaged in a little Catholic Lying when my coworkers traced the whole debacle back to me. So now they think I’m a minor Catholic celebrity (whoa, is that true??), and, I’m sorry to say, they probably think the producer is a little incompetent for having confused the name “________”1 with the name “Steve” for no discernible reason.

Oh, did I mention the producer is also named Steve? Too many Steves.

1 That’s right! My real name is ________! I always have to spell it for people.

[Note: Since yesterday, when I wrote this post, a lot of good discussion, including some by the original commenter, has been going on in the comboxes for Part I.]

This post is a continuation of Response, Part I, in which I have a few words to say to a commenter who found me because of a tag involving whom else but that magnificent agent of providence, badassery, and freon-grade coolness, Keanu Reeves.1 Excerpts from the original comment continue below.

This isn’t like struggling with regular sin, where doing so actively improves your life and makes you a better person. You’re actively denying yourself a form of love — not even talking about gay sex here, just the kind of deep love one shares with a romantic partner — which is something that no other sin involves, and it seems to be hurting you, which would seem a natural effect of shutting off one of the best, most meaningful things about being human.

My first instinct was to talk about asceticism and self-renunciation, practices which are more or less defined by “actively denying yourself…one of the best, most meaningful things about being human.” Asceticism has always been understood in Christianity as a means of drawing closer to God, even though the secular world invariably calls such things “unhealthy.”

I’m also reminded of Matthew 5:30: “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” Your right hand is, arguably, one of the fairly nice (not to mention meaningful) parts about being human — but there are more important things.

So. All of that is perfectly true, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter here. The commenter believe I’ve cut myself off from romantic love. In a sense that is true, but in another sense, romantic love isn’t something that I deny myself; it’s something that I’ve never experienced.

I don’t mean I’ve never experienced what’s called “being in love”: delighting in another person, wanting to give yourself to him in some way, feeling more alive when he’s around. But is that “romantic love”? One of the particular confusions that goes along with SSA is a confusion between philia and eros, between (approximately) friendship and romantic love.

The experience of “being in love” as described above is partly eros and partly philios, even though the culture at large ascribes it solely to eros. This is still something I’m struggling to understand, but this quotation by (O strange serendipity!) Andrew Sullivan sheds a lot of light:

The great modern enemy of friendship has turned out to be love. By love, I don’t mean the principle of giving and mutual regard that lies at the heart of friendship. And I don’t mean what Saint Paul meant by love, the Christian notion of indiscriminate and universal agape or caritas, which is based on the universal love of the Christian God. I mean love in the banal, ubiquitous, compelling, and resilient modern meaning of love: the romantic love that obliterates all other goods, the love to which every life must apparently lead, the love that is consummated in sex and celebrated in every particle of our popular culture…We live in a world, in fact, in which respect and support for eros has acquired all the hallmarks of a cult. It has become our civil religion.2

I’ll leave you to chew on that — it’s very chewy! — and move on to the next reason to say that I haven’t, properly speaking, ever experienced romantic love.

It’s this: romantic love is not an isolated experience. It’s part of a larger whole, and when it’s removed from that whole, it becomes no longer itself — the way that (speaking of cutting off hands) if you remove a hand from a human body, it isn’t a hand anymore at all. It’s just a lump of flesh.

The “larger whole” has to do with marriage, family, and at least the possibility of procreation. It has to do with the deep complementarity that exists by nature, physically and symbolically, between a man and a woman, and does not exist in the same way between two men. If you remove romantic love from this context, it isn’t romantic love anymore, but something else.3

But I’ve come to the part in this post where (1) I’m talking about things I haven’t fully understood yet, and (2) Whoa, it got long again! Maybe we need a Part III. On the other hand, maybe Part III happens in the comboxes.

1 I used to pretend that my admiration for Keanu Reeves was ironic. Turns out that, nope, I just think he’s awesome. Hey, do you know about Cheer Up Keanu Day? (With a HT to current lector, of combox renown.)
2 The excerpt is from Sullivan’s Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival. I haven’t read it, so I can’t recommend it, but it’s on my list, and I think this quotation is really wonderful. I first heard about it from Wesley Hill, whose Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is also on my to-read-very-soon list.
3 Here, although it’s not perfectly apropos, I have to reference that bit in C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy where he talks about what happens when you remove Joy from its proper context.

Roxane Salonen of Real Presence Radio has invited Fr. Jim Livingston and me to appear on her show a second time. The show will air at 9:00 am CST (that’s 10:00 am EST), this Tuesday, January 17th. The first segment will feature a couple from the Marriage Encounter movement; then from 9:30 – 10:30 it’ll be Father Jim and I; and then Patrick Coffin (whoa! Reunion! But I don’t think we’ll get the chance to chat) from 10:30 – 11:00.

You can find more information, and can listen online, by going here.

I just received a beautiful comment from someone who goes by the handle anakinmcfly — see, already I like this person1 — who wrote to tell me that it’s possible to be gay and Christian. I’ve had comments like this before, but this one stood out because it showed respect where others had shown condescension, and true concern where others had shown self-righteousness.

So it deserves a response in kind, or as close as I can muster.

But one thing stood out to me – your depression, and how it’s one of the topics you talk most about. It would seem to be a warning sign that perhaps this is not how God means you to live your life. Jesus came that we may have freedom and have life abundantly (John 10:10). It suggests that if you were truly doing His will, you wouldn’t be living with the depression you currently are, and that perhaps this is a sign to reappraise things.

A.M. raises some very good points here. I agree only in a qualified way, as I will explain below.

I came to a similar conclusion several months ago. I had been reading Growth Into Manhood and generally feeling sorry for myself. After a real de profundis kind of night, I was sitting before my icon2 and praying: No, Lord, this can’t be right. This can’t be how you want me to feel.

It was already 1am, but I decided to sit there listening until he told me some way out: “I’m not going to bed,” I told him, “until I hear from you.”

I held out for 45 minutes — apparently I’m no great mystic — and then fell asleep. But the next day at Adoration I was able to identify two real problems, both linked to the depression I had been experiencing: a problem with sexual impurity, and a problem with isolation. In response to these, I made three resolutions: to join a support group, to make use of the Clean of Heart program, and to join a martial arts class.

I’m proud to say that, although it took a couple of weeks to get past the usual inertia, I followed through on all three. So that particular depression was, as A.M. suggests, a sign that I needed to reappraise things. It pointed to a real problem, and the Lord helped me take steps towards a real solution. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

Some depressions are like that — pointing to a real problem in your life — and some are not. I’ve also had depressions that come from allowing poisonous thoughts to gain a foothold.

Thoughts of envy are sure to do the trick:

  • Why aren’t you as athletic/gregarious/kind/etc. as that guy?
  • Why don’t you have the relationship/wife-and-kids/set-of-talents that that guy has?

Thoughts of self-pity will do it, too:

  • Why do I have to fight so hard for things that come naturally to other people?
  • Why is my noticer stuck in the on position?
  • Why can’t I just be normal?

When I give in to thoughts like these, I get depressed. And then I write about it, because the experience almost always teaches me something that I bet somebody can use, even if that someone is me a couple of months later. But this latter depression has nothing to do with my actual life, and everything to do with my state of mind.

I have a lot more to say, but this post is long enough, so in a concession to the age of internet-induced ADD, I’ll split it up a bit. Stay tuned.

1 But imagine if Michael J. Fox had played Darth Vader? Might have lacked some gravitas somehow. And on the flipside, I can’t see James Earl Jones on a hoverboard.
2 It’s this one — one of the best presents I’ve ever received. I love the peace in his eyes, the solidity of his figure, and the way he seems to always have a different expression on his face, depending on when I look at it.