Forthcoming Book: Listening to Sexual Minorities

Listening to Sexual Minorities Cover smThere are not many days that are as fulfilling to a writer as the day you send your book manuscript to your editor. Today I was able to send in the “completed” manuscript for Listening to Sexual Minorities: A Study of Faith and Sexual Identity on Christian College Campuses. I place quotation marks around “completed” because, inevitably, there are minor edits to be made after it is gone over with a fine-toothed comb by the editor, but it is off my desk for the time-being, and that is why I celebrate today.

What can the reader expect with this book? This is both an academic book and an accessible book. Let me unpack that apparent contradiction. This is a more academic book insofar as the primary focus is explaining a longitudinal study of the experiences of sexual minorities at Christian college campuses. We go over what we found in terms of the salience of their Christian faith, their experience of the campus climate, their response to campus policies, their psychological health and emotional well-being, recommendations they would make to administrators, advice they would give to incoming sexual minorities, and so much more. To do that, we had to show the data and explain it, so in that sense, it will read as more academic.

At the same time, we have many breakout boxes to explain the material and “take away” summary points at the end of each chapter. We draw on interviews we conducted with students, and we share their experiences in their own words. In that sense, it is accessible.

This is also a co-authored book. Janet Dean (Asbury University), Stephen Stratton (Asbury Seminary), and Michael Lastoria (Houghton College) collaborated with me on the longitudinal study these past three years and were instrumental in moving the material from a research study to a book-length manuscript.

The schedule for the release of the book is March/April of 2018. I’ll keep you posted!

Nouwen’s Letters on the Spiritual Life

NouwenbookcoverIn my most recent post, I cited a letter from Henri Nouwen to a person who wrote to him about his (Nouwen’s) celibacy. The letter is part of a book that was published in 2016 that is a complication of letters that Nouwen wrote to different people, many of whom where friends of his, but others were those who had been moved by his writings. The overall theme of this book is that these are letter on the theme of the spiritual life. It is a terrific book.

I’ve always been drawn to Henri Nouwen’s letters more so than his other books, as good as they are. I am embarrassed to admit that I saw myself in one of the letters he wrote to a person who criticized him for his more polished books often seeming repetitive and overly simplistic. I have sometimes had a similar reaction, but I suspect it’s because I tend to read academic books that are making an argument and that you scrutinize the book, etc. I probably haven’t approached his books in the right spirit.

My favorite book by Nouwen (until this current book of letters on the spiritual life) had been the Genesee Diary; I recall it read as more raw and just less polished over all. But I’ve enjoyed other books, especially his reflections on the prodigal son and his reflections on icons, which I have collected for a few years now, as well as The Wounded Healer, which we read in our graduate training in psychology. In fact, Nouwen was lovingly referred to by one of my professors as the “patron saint” of our graduate psychology program.

In any case, I don’t think it is a fair criticism of Nouwen’s other books, and Nouwen was gracious to the person who wrote and made that observation, and I think he would have been gracious to my own response.

Nouwen’s letters challenge me in so many ways. It felt strange to read them, like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation, which I suppose is how I should feel. How else should we feel when we read other people’s letters?

His letters have been a gift to me. I’m still digesting and making adjustments in response to reading his book. In fact, I’ve been ordering many of the books and resources that he recommended to other people. So this will be part of a larger journey, I’m sure.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • It matters that we are good friends and mentors to one another. Nouwen takes the time to maintain correspondence with friends and with those who see him as a spiritual mentor of sorts. I was challenged to invest the time and energy and to ask God for His support in this.
  • Stay practical. I was drawn to the concrete and specific aspects of discernment in a letter from Henri Nouwen to a friend: “Try to take little steps in the direction of your inner call (a regular hour of silent prayer, talks with people who can truly listen to you, reading books that help you sharpen your own inner vocation, visits to places and people where some of your dream is lived out). Be sure never to let your life go flat. Always know that God is calling you to ever greater things.”
  • Live out “convicted civility.” This is a phrase made popular by Richard Mouw, but I was reminded of it when I read Nouwen’s letters. He would be so gracious and kind to critics. That would be a great quality to further cultivate.
  • Attend to your interior life. This book came to my attention at a good time in my life. I was wrestling with spiritual questions and how to cultivate my interior life. Nouwen writes letter after letter to people like me, people who would benefit from leaning into God and the reality of the love and acceptance of Go, to spending time in prayer and reflection, to have time to develop a liturgy of spiritual life (or use the liturgy if that is part of your faith tradition), and so on.

In a collaborative project I’ve been working on with a colleague, we discuss the different approaches to the integration of psychology and Christianity. I won’t go into all of the various approaches here, but reading Nouwen reminds me of what we refer to as “personal integration,” which involves attending to your spiritual life as one aspect of what it means to bring your faith as a Christian into a meaningful dialogue with the field of psychology.

Personal integration rests on the foundation that your spiritual life and corresponding experience of vocation is a journey. Your walk with God orients you to everything else. Let me encourage you to take the next practical steps to attend to spirituality, to invite God into it, to ask God to help you set aside the time to cultivate your walk, to be increasingly aware of your journey.

How Nouwen Responded to Criticism of His Celibacy

henri-nouwen2I was recently sent a talk by a popular Christian speaker in which the speaker shared the following critique of gay Christianity, bringing a strong charge against Wesley Hill and others from Spiritual Friendship, who are attempting to live chaste lives as celibate gay Christians. Here is an excerpt:

I shudder to think about how much more rigorous, painful, dangerous, and difficult my conversion would have been had it taken place in 2016… Why? Well, if my conversion to Christ had taken place in 2016 and not 2009, likely I might have been told that I was a gay Christian….

I likely would have been told I was just a gay Christian and there are two tracks in life for a gay Christian like me. I can have “Side A” with Matthew vines, Justin Lee and the Gay Christian Network – embracing a revisionist biblical understanding  that Scripture is neither inerrant, inspired, nor trustworthy and affirms the goodness of gay sexual relationships. Or, hey, I could go “Side B” with Wesley Hill and the Spiritual Friendship gang, where I would learn that my sexual desires for women were sanctifiable and redeemable making me a better friend to one and all. But for the the sake of Christian tradition I should not act on them….

I think that sexual strugglers need gay Christianity and all of its attending, liberal sellouts, including the “Side B” version, like fish need bicycles…

While some people see a difference between acting on unholy desires and simply cherishing them in your heart, our Lord would say otherwise….

The difference that factions of gay Christianity, the differences between Matthew Vines and Wesley Hill take place on a razor’s edge…

When the speaker mentions “Side A” and “Side B” gay Christians, she is referencing language used by the Gay Christian Network (that originated with Bridges Across the Divide) in which a decision was made to move away from “pro-gay” and “anti-gay” terminology that would demonstrate a preference based on language (think about how “pro-choice” language shapes perceptions in the abortion debate). Rather, they landed on “Side A” (that some same-sex sexual relationships can be morally permissible) and “Side B” (same-sex relationships are morally impermissible).

In any case, when I first watched this segment, I wasn’t sure how to digest it. I occasionally blog at Spiritual Friendship and count it a blessing to call many of the people who do blog there my friends.

Also, I am currently working on a writing project on the experiences of celibate gay Christians titled, Costly Obedience. I know from research with this population (and from personal conversations with friends) that, for some celibate gay Christians, there has been a history of attempts to change, of many hours in prayer or involvement in ministries asking God to remove the “thorn in the flesh,” as it were.

I do not know the speaker personally, and this is not a full critique of her argument. There is much that could be written in response, and I would prefer to dialogue with her out of a relationship at some point down the road. I also know other people who have a similar testimony of what God has done in their lives that mirrors in some ways what I have read about her. Nothing here is meant to detract from her testimony.

However, I am concerned that she may be doing something I’ve seen others do when they have taken how God worked in their lives and developed a standard by which they measure what should be expected from others (and what pastors should allow or support in their pastoral care). Such an exhortation can come from a good place. It can be well meaning. Developing a standard based upon one’s own personal journey of healing, however, can overlook the efforts made by others and the different ways in which God works in a person’s life.

I should not have to say this, but I am obviously not defending revisionist theology associated with a “Side A” perspective on Scripture. I am simply saying that many gay Christians (those designated as “Side B” in her talk) who are pursuing a life of chastity are doing so with quite a history of attempted healing. Suggesting to them that more is needed is perhaps not the appropriate response. Chiding pastors who make room for Christians who are pursuing celibacy is perhaps not the best step forward.

A few days after I watched that clip, I was  reading the new book, Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life. In one letter, Henri Nouwen writes to a woman who was critical of Nouwen for not “taking the correct approach to healing himself” (p. 188).

…Your statement that my vision of God is askew, that the emotional imagery of my heart is also askew and I simply need to become available for healing, feels really quite distant and makes me feel somewhat condemned. It simply sounded like: “You know there must be other healing available for you; why don’t you get your act together and accept the healing that is there for you.” If you had any idea of what I have been struggling with over the past eight months and how I have been trying to really enter into the furnace of God’s love and give up everything else in order to really let God heal me, you probably never would have written these words. (p. 188-189)

Nouwen did not use the language of “gay Christian” or “celibate gay Christian,” but I was struck by how living a celibate life can come under attack by others who want more for a person. They want more of a testimony of healing, and they place the responsibility for the lack of healing on the gay individual. It was strangely comforting and disconcerting that Henri Nouwen faced a similar charge.

I was also struck by Nouwen’s charity toward the woman who made the charge. He tried to foster in her some cognitive complexity:

…I know that you don’t want to hurt me and that you do care for me. So I hope that you also can be patient and trust that God will do his work when His time comes. It quite easily might take another ten or twenty years until the deepest wounds in me are healed. It might even be that God wants to teach me how to live with them as a way to participate in the suffering of Jesus. I really don’t know, but, healing or no healing, I trust that God is greater than my heart and that He desires to show me His love. (p. 189)

Perhaps the church is at its best when it recognizes the different ways in which God responds to the cries of His people. Perhaps the church is at its best when it recognizes that God is sovereign and is working out His purposes in the lives of the those who, often out of a place of great anguish, are bringing their requests to Him.