In a recent review of Francis Spufford’s new book, Alan Jacobs made a point about apologetics, which is that it requires an understanding of one’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual limitations in addition to an understanding of one’s audience. It is often said that converts make the best apologists, because they know the particular audience they come from from the inside. But this also means that it is personal for them, and so at times requires a degree of nerve.
I’ve lately come to appreciate this. On a couple of occasions I’ve talked about same-sex attraction on this blog. Not enough to make it a running theme of this blog, but enough to address it as part of my everyday life. You see, I did have a degree of involvement with the gay community before my conversion, and was more or less “out”, to use the old lingo. All that is dreadfully hard to sweep under the rug. So I tend to think that there is an opportunity for witness here.
And yet I find that it is often even harder for me to not become very standoffish when I do. Because it is very personal for me in the vexing sense that it has been a source of suffering for me. It tries my patience to debate over it, because the bitterness is real, and the desire to lash out is there. We all have things in our lives which we think we have come to terms with, until something happens and it is as if a scab were ripped off of us.
The climate of our discussions over homosexuality don’t really help this. People may find other aspects of chastity to be quaint and stifling, but it is the Church’s teachings on homosexuality that will get you morally lumped in with the racists. That hurts. Which I suppose is the point. But mashing the “punish and shame” button is a surefire way to produce people who really do resent and hate you.
Living with same sex attraction has taught me to have a degree of sympathy for outsiders whom I may not like or even morally agree with. “And do you therefore love strangers, because you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:19) And, of course, living with it as a Christian has been one of the biggest ways in which I have learned the meaning of the Cross. I live such a cushy life in other respects…
Still, some times do feel like St. Theresa of Avilla’s conversation with God after she got thrown out of her carriage into the mud:
ST. THERESA: Why did this happen to me?
GOD: This is how I treat all of my friends.
ST. THERESA: No wonder you have such few friends!
It went something like that.
But anyway, I do think that chastity is good news, and that it makes sense. My current attitude here was hard won, which is why it is difficult for me to trace how I got from there to here, because dwelling on unhappy times is kind of a downer. It And also, there is a very stoic side of me that doesn’t like the idea of coming across as vulnerable. There is something proud and unchristian about that – and it is related to how the brutally honest autobiography doesn’t really appear on the literary scene until St. Augustine. And it is also very perplexing to me, since it doesn’t square with the way I was raised at all (don’t be shy to talk about things, etc.), yet I was like that even as a child.
I suppose this post has been somewhat inconclusive and unfocused, but at least I am developing my thoughts here.