This weekend, I presented at the inaugural ReVoice Conference on living in community. Unfortunately, because of some technical difficulties, I wasn’t able to share the video I had prepared for my presentation, so I thought I’d share it here! Below are my introductory remarks, along with the video of interviews with three of my housemates on what it’s like to live in community, develop friendships, and support gay persons in our lives. Enjoy!
I’d like to begin with a disclaimer. I’m Catholic, and I think that much of my perspective is very distinctly Catholic. Certainly my theology and philosophical inclinations are. But I recognize that many of you are not Catholic. And I want to learn from you. I believe that when our traditions come into dialogue, we not only come to a better understanding of one another, but we can also strengthen our own traditions by drawing from the great good that we recognize in one another. So while I may use terminology or ideas that come out of my own tradition, I hope that you can consider them, and I invite you to set aside what may not be useful or helpful and to receive or consider what you think may be good and beautiful.
When I was asked to speak at ReVoice, the first topic that came to my mind was community. After college and coming out as gay, one of my first concerns was where I would find love and intimacy. We were all made to give selflessly of ourselves, to offer ourselves to others in self-sacrificial love. But we were also made to receive this love. And to say that we were made to give but not receive love would be to claim a status greater than God Himself, who is communion, a Trinity of mutual self-offering. At the center of God’s love is not just gift but mutuality. And so we are called to image this love not only in giving but also in receiving.
On a practical level, my longings for love as a gay man in his early twenties manifested in anxieties about who I would live with as I got older, who would make me soup when I’m sick, who would eat dinner with me, and who would drive me to the airport. Where would I go when I felt lonely?
In the course of the last four years, those anxieties have pretty much entirely gone away, particularly through the love of a community that I’ve been able to be a part of. And today I’d like to share some of that community with you through a video, but first I’d like to make a few points.
One of my favorite theologians, John Henry Newman, once said that in a higher world it may be otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. I think this phrase captures what it means to be a Christian here on earth. Being a Christian is not simply a static state. It’s not simply something to be achieved, and then sat with. It’s something to practice, to live, to grow into. It’s something that needs to be borne out of us, and through us, and in us constantly and over the course of a lifetime. And that’s how I think about community. It’s not something to be simply achieved and sat in. It’s an ongoing work.
When we think about the question of the gay Christian in the world today, we often look for a fix, as if ‘gay Christian’ is a problem, and we simply need to find the right solution. But in reality, ‘gay Christians’ don’t need a ‘fix.’ Like all people, what we need are lives to live. And no life is susceptible to or in need of a simple solution.
One of my concerns about romantic relationships, and also community, is that they’ll be seen as the cure-all, as the ‘fix,’ to the gay Christian ‘problem.’ It’s obvious why we would want an easy fix. If we can mass-produce something, then we don’t need to worry about it in our own daily lives with all their complexities. Gnosticism is always easier than sanctity. Sanctity doesn’t happen in a model or a program or a ministry. Sanctity happens in a life.
Community is not the cure-all or the fix. Community is not the easy finish. It’s not the thing we need to find and then prop up so that we can say we’ve done something for our gay Christian brothers and sisters. Community is not a building we can shove them into.
Community is the soil. It may be necessary, but simply having it there is not sufficient for achieving the Christian life, or finding happiness. It’s only the beginning. Even if you find it, there’s still a lot of work to be done if you’re going to grow and flourish.
I also don’t want to say that community is something that we need for gay Christians. I don’t do community because I’m gay. I do community because I’m Christian. Christians do community. It’s what we’ve always done when we’ve been at our best. And Christians have a responsibility to build, maintain, contribute to, and love our communities. I do think that because of today’s social structures, gay Christians have a special need for community. But community isn’t for gay Christians. Community is for Christians. It’s all of our responsibility. We all need it.
Community is something that flows out of the interior lives of each of its members. And it manifests itself at the intersections of those lives. So a robust prayer life, a commitment to shared values, and mutual love and affection will always undergird the most robust communities. You love most deeply from your interior life, and our interior fears, anxieties, and pride will eventually manifest themselves in how we dwell in community. One command that surfaces throughout the Gospels is: be not afraid. And so one of our first responsibilities to our communities is to overcome our own personal fears so that we can love and live in freedom.
Community is also personal. My community cannot also be your community. Even if we can learn from one another’s communities, each community must be unique and come out of the distinct life of the persons, places, and times they find themselves in. I think that good communities are like good architecture. They draw on the local resources and look to the local architecture to build something that is organic, sustainable, functional, and beautiful.
So a little about my community. When I was a junior in college, I took a leave of absence to participate in a study abroad program in Rome. The program was through the Catholic Studies department at the University of St. Thomas. I fell in love. I lived in an old convent with about thirty other students, along with a professor and his family. We prayed together in the chapel in our building, cooked together, took courses on philosophy and art and theology, had community meals, and I discovered a great acceptance in that group. Those friends were some of the first people I came out to. After college, I decided to move to Minnesota to pursue a Masters degree through the Catholic Studies program, as well as a degree in law, and my one of my first roommates in St. Paul was one of the guys I studied abroad with.
About a year later, a group of three women from our study abroad group, along with a fourth in my Masters program were living in the upper unit of a duplex, and the lower unit opened up just as my previous lease was ending. So I moved in with two other guys. At that time, the house consisted of seven of us who had lived together in Rome, plus the extra from my Masters program. And I lived in that house for four years. Three of the women stayed the same for those four years, though the guys are all different now.
It’s hard to explain what that community has meant to me. Those relationships have become much less like roommates and more like family. And I’ve learned so much about how to love through those relationships, and how to exercise hospitality. At the house, we’ve regularly hosted Sunday brunch, book clubs, writing workshops, evening discussions, dinners, and big parties. A broader community grew with and stayed connected to the house.
Now, unfortunately, the house is no more. A couple of months ago, after I had committed to this talk, our landlord decided not to renew our leases. So after four years, we’ve ended up having to move to new places, the guys to one house and the women to another. But those relationships and that community endure, and I’m so grateful for them. And what I’d like to do, rather than just me talking about the house, is to share some of my housemates with you. I’ve put together a video, of some conversations I’ve had with three of my housemates. So I’m going share that with you now…