A Review of Two Words by Emily Timbol

Today, we’re delighted to review Emily Timbol’s book entitled, Two Words: Why Hearing “I’m Gay” Changed My Straight Christian Life. In the interest of full disclosure, Timbol sent us a copy of the book. On Twitter several weeks ago, Timbol was sharing about how Christian media outlets found her book inappropriate for Christians to discuss. Our natural response was to read the book and review it here.

As with all of the resources we’ve reviewed, our review of Two Words will focus on two primary questions: What does this book have to say to LGBT Christians who are living celibacy or exploring the possibility of celibate vocations? How does this book contribute to conversation about celibacy as a way of life that LGBT Christians might choose?

To begin, Two Words doesn’t have any apparent message to LGBT Christians who are living celibacy or exploring the possibility of celibate vocations. It’s a memoir of how one straight Christian learned to love her gay friends. Emily (as she refers to herself by first name throughout the book) became introduced to the LGBT community when her close friend Chris told her that he’s gay. Chris waited a while before coming out to Emily even though they had been friends. Emily was forced to reconsider everything she knew about gay people and directly confront her misconceptions. Her book is full of stories about the questions she began asking herself. Consider this excerpt detailing when Chris came out:

I leaned forward. “Can I ask you something?”

Chris nodded.

“Were you afraid if you told me, I wouldn’t be your friend anymore, because I was so religious?”

“Yeah,” he said without pause, “that’s probably the biggest reason I never told you.”

His confession ripped through me. How could he ever think I would cut our friendship off over his sexuality? (pg.18-19)

We appreciated how Emily shows love to the gay community by taking friendship as the first principle. We enjoyed learning about how Emily got to know the gay community by hanging out with her existing friends and making new friends along the way. The book is jam-packed with anecdotes of real people, transporting readers with Emily along her journey.

Celibate LGBT Christians might find this book challenging to read after catching a glimpse of Emily’s openness to questioning what she has always been taught. Immediately after Chris came out to her, Emily found herself reflecting on the day she learned her new friend at church, Craig, was gay. Craig recounted his story of trying to pray away the gay, coming out, getting kicked out of his parents’ house, and finding support from friends. Emily records the story in detail and includes this climax:

“After praying, I started to feel God’s presence again. I felt Him tell me He loved me for who I was, and He didn’t want me to be alone. That it wasn’t wrong for me to want to be in a relationship. I was still His child.”

He stopped talking. Leaned his head back against the seat and sighed. Silence filled the car.

My mind reeled, thinking of the implications of what Craig just said. Could it be true? If it was, it went against everything I was taught. But I felt a fluttering in my heart. The one I’d experienced at different times all my life. The feeling that let me know that the Holy Spirit was present. Like God was in the car with us, wanting me to speak.

“Thank you,” I said, “for sharing this with me. I think… God loves you very much, and there is nothing that can tear you away from Him if you want to be in His presence.”

The words came out before I could process the ramification of what I was saying. It was the first time I’d ever spoken a contradiction of scripture. Or rather, my previous interpretation of what the scripture meant. Instead of feeling the urge to take them back, I felt at peace. Almost as if the words hadn’t come from me, but the Holy Spirit. (pg. 23)

Regardless of your perspective on sexual ethics, you might be tempted to stop reading because you’ve heard it all before and you know exactly where Emily is going next. There are various culture war talking points scattered throughout, and most of the stories do have predictable endings. Nonetheless, for readers who can appreciate the stories rather than focus on these talking points, the book is a welcome invitation to move beyond the culture war mentality in order to see that all people have the option to choose to love the real LGBT people in front of them. Following Emily’s journey, readers might find themselves confronted with the reality that loving other people well is incredibly, tremendously, and unbelievably hard. There is a lesson in this for celibates as well as non-celibates.

As celibate LGBT Christians ourselves, we couldn’t help but see that Emily’s commitment to loving her LGBT friends likely extends just as much to us as to her friends Chris, Craig, and Tyler. However, we couldn’t help but notice that Emily did not have any personal story related to an LGBT Christian living out celibacy or discerning the possibility of a celibate vocation. Consider the following exchange with Emily and her pastor Lee with our emphasis added:

I interrupted [Lee]. “Look, I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to say that the church is hateful, or bigoted, or bad in anyway. It’s not. In fact, I would feel totally comfortable bringing any of my gay friends here on Sunday. The problem is, most of my gay friends are married, and active in the community and want to serve. So it’s hard to invite me to a church where they couldn’t do that.”

“We’ve never had that situation, ” Lee said.

“What?” I asked.

“Well, like I’ve told you before, we have several gay leaders in the church right now, who believe the best way to serve God is for them to be celibate, but we’ve never had a gay married couple, who were believers, ask to lead.”

“Are you saying you wouldn’t flat out reject them?”

He leaned back in his chair. “I… whew, that’d be hard. If they were married and spiritually healthy? I don’t know, I’d really have to pray and seek advice and wisdom from others. That’s not something I’ve ever thought about.” (pg. 171)

If the church had celibate gay Christians in leadership roles, we wonder why Emily didn’t include any of their stories. It’s possible that she doesn’t know any of these leaders personally. However, it’s also possible that such stories were excluded intentionally for one reason or another. We’re not here to make accusations, but would be interested in learning about whether any celibate LGBT Christians have played a role in shaping Emily’s journey as an ally.

Finally, this book raises two very clear issues relevant to LGBT Christians living celibacy or exploring the possibility of celibate vocations, and for straight allies who want to support them:

1. LGBT Christians might experience difficulty seeking ways to share their lives more holistically within the Church. Though this book contains no stories of interactions with celibates, unwelcoming circumstances in church are just as present for celibates as for non-celibates. We know that this is a challenge because we’ve been counseled many times ourselves that we should never mention being LGBT, especially in church settings. This book led us to wonder, what might happen if churches helped allies committed to loving the LGBT community connect with their celibate LGBT members?

2. Straight, Christian friends might be more supportive of you, your identity, and your vocation than you might otherwise think. One thing we most appreciated about Two Words is that it lets readers look in on three years of friendship. There are a lot of stories that show Emily’s commitment to loving her friends unconditionally. We think that celibate LGBT Christians who feel disconnected from their church communities might be encouraged by the possibility that one of their straight friends has a heart similar to Emily’s. If you get up the courage to come out as a celibate LGBT Christian, then you might find a friend who is willing to continue in friendship, pray with you and for you, and love you with no strings attached.

In closing, we do wish that more straight Christians would consider sharing the following message from Emily with LGBT people in every kind of life situation:

The point, is how messed up the church is, when it comes to people like Chris. The church is not a welcoming place for anyone who’s gay. And lots of them want nothing to do with the church. It doesn’t really matter what I think about whether it’s a sin or not, because I know what IS a sin. The way most Christians treat LGBT people. That’s what I want my ministry to be. Reaching out to the LGBT community and showing them that God loves them. (pg. 47)

And after reading Two Words, we’d certainly welcome a chance to get to know Emily and her husband Ryan much better.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Reflections on Transgender Day of Remembrance

A reflection by Lindsey

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a sobering day for me. I have experienced increased hostility in various (thankfully, former) workplaces after people started suspecting that I’m somewhere on the LGBT spectrum due to my self-expression. I’ve witnessed friends being harassed for their gender identities and expressions. I’ve listened to a significant number of them tell stories of being harassed, and I’ve watched more than one video documenting physical violence of transgender people. Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds me that many transgender people have not lived to tell the tale.

I chose to write a reflection for the Transgender Day of Remembrance because I wanted to reflect more deeply on issues of gender expression and gender identity. One way I’ve found helpful to think about gender identity is that it’s a profoundly mysterious part of a person that bubbles to the surface in forms of gender expression. From my experience, we as a society have different conventions for how we collapse various forms of gender expression into two binary options of male and female. Gender is treated as a basic part of polite discourse. I’ve been thinking a lot about how transgender and genderqueer people often face violence unless they clearly fit into either male or female categories, or pass. In LGBTQ circles, passing frequently refers to one’s ability to be perceived as a gender-normative straight person. Passing concerns how other people perceive you. One’s ability to pass can be critically important if one longs for strangers to use the proper personal gender pronoun immediately. For many transgender people, being able to pass acceptably in the vast majority of social situations can be seen as essential to survival.

In a reflection I wrote several months ago on affirming kids in a gendered world, I claimed:

Kids have natural ways of expressing themselves. Freedom to explore different hobbies and personal sense of style can go a long way in helping kids become comfortable in their own skin. Will the world come screeching to a halt if a 4-year-old wants a buzz cut, a 10-year-old wants to learn how to solder electronics, a 7-year-old wants long flowing locks, a 6-year-old wears a suit and tie, a 3-year-old brings a doll everywhere, a 12-year-old begs to take babysitting classes, or an 8-year-old wears a dress?

However, even as I wrote this reflection, I was painfully aware that society has ways of disciplining kids who push the envelope of gender too far through nothing more than their existence. I can’t think of any usual social situations where a 4-year-old girl with a buzz cut would be accepted as a “real” girl or an 8-year-old boy wearing a fabulous floral dress would be accepted as a “real” boy. I’ve seen far too many parents bitterly embarrassed by, for example, their little girl’s appearance after the child had “discovered” scissors or her older brother had put a big wad of gum in her hair. I’ve also seen far too many examples of young boys’ being shamed and ostracized because they were seen in dresses. To be sure, some children might have parents willing to model bold resiliency skills; however this kind of parent is incredibly rare. Many parents would rather their gender-variant child learn to “fit in.”

With that pressure to fit in, transgender and genderqueer children can face some awful trade-offs between simply being themselves and avoiding undue negative attention. Some transgender and genderqueer children learn to pass even though a small part of them dies a little bit when they make an active choice to turn away from the gender expression that comes to them naturally and turn towards more socially acceptable gender scripts. Concerns about being accepted socially can lead some people to feel like they have no other option but to edit, and perhaps to try and censor, how their gender identity bubbles to the surface. When some transgender and genderqueer children think about how they would like to share themselves with the world, the ever-important social need to pass can cause them to reject their first, second, third, and perhaps even tenth most natural forms of self-expression.

I think we all have an inherent sense of what works for us on an individual level when it comes to self-expression. If I say, “Button-down shirt and khakis” many people experience a reaction of things like: “That’s definitely me.” or “That’s the antithesis of who I am.” or “I really can’t be bothered to have an opinion.” That sense of me or not me matters. But when it comes to various gender scripts in society, that sense of me or not me gets amplified one thousand fold. When society consistently genders a person wrongly, that person can feel completely invisible and insignificant.

Consider a person who tells a male cheerleader that “he’s picked a great way to meet a lot of, *wink* ladies.” What is the cheerleader to do when presented with such an obviously gendered script? Does the cheerleader chuckle nervously and awkwardly while ignoring the comment? Does this person look the questioner in the eye in order to give a knowing nod and a smirk? Or perhaps redirect the conversation towards developing broad skills of athleticism and teamwork? Does the cheerleader strongly defend his participation on the squad because four of his female friends begged him to join the team in order to qualify for co-ed competitions? Or open up and share about a passion for encouraging others to be enthusiastic supports of a team even when that team performs poorly? Likely, the original comment has nothing to do with the cheerleader’s motivation for joining the squad and has much more to do with asking a male cheerleader to assert his masculinity.

Asking a male-appearing person to assert his masculinity relies on various social scripts to determine whether one is safely the “right” gender. These tests have a range of socially acceptable answers. Being able to pass these tests successfully requires matching the message from one’s physical body to the words that come from one’s mouth with a socially acceptable answer. For transgender and genderqueer individuals, trying to fit into acceptable social scripts can lead to deep dissonance. Every test opens up a chasm between the answers they would love to be able to give and the answer that they feel compelled to give in order to fit in with social expectations. It can feel impossible to give any answer with any degree of integrity.

On each Transgender Day of Remembrance, I can’t help but remember those who fell into the chasm. Many tests of a man’s masculinity or a woman’s femininity pull upon a vast collection of gender stereotypes. It’s all too common for interrogators to rely on sexism and misogyny, asking questions with distinct tones and postures to pressure a person into answering rightly… or else. Transgender Day of Remembrance is an attempt to highlight how demanding another person assert his or her gender clearly and properly can quickly escalate to violence. What is more, fear of transphobic violence often compels the urgency with which some transgender and genderqueer people seek ways to pass. Some people may even be crushed spiritually by trying to pass. Constantly conforming to other people’s gendered expectations can leave transgender and genderqueer people feeling adrift and out of touch with themselves. It’s far too easy to fall into despair if one feels like one has betrayed oneself.

And so, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I remember that we still have a long way to go if we want to create spaces for kids to be themselves in an incredibly gendered world.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

“I love you, but…” doesn’t cut it

Discussing our celibacy publicly has its advantages and its disadvantages. We love any chance to talk about what celibacy in our context as a celibate partnership. However, we’re disheartened when our discussions of celibacy get overshadowed by people demanding that we state whether we think certain sexual acts can be permitted in Christian traditions. As we see it, many churches have obsessed over sexual morality to the point where church is the last place people feel as though they will be loved if something goes wrong in their sex lives.

Let’s be honest: communicating love through sexual expression is challenging for most sexually active people at one time or another (or maybe all the time) for different reasons. If you’re a sexually active person who believes that continuous consent is important, it’s natural to wonder whether your sexual partner has been able to communicate consent throughout the entire experience. If a married couple is having more sex than usual in a deliberate effort to conceive a baby, they might be concerned that “baby-making” is more important than communicating love. If you’ve been a victim of sexual violence, experiencing sex as a communication of love might be difficult. There’s an endless stream of scenarios that complicate decisions regarding sexual expression. It’s unfortunate that so few people feel like they can discuss their ethical dilemmas related to sexual morality for fear that Christians will be quick to condemn.

Today we write with a simple intention: we want you to know that we will love you no matter what ethical dilemmas you face regarding your sex life. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing all of the “right” things. We’re all too aware of efforts to dress up sexual legalism in the guise of “Christian” consensus. We don’t devote any time to wondering if any of our friends are doing the “wrong” things, sexually or otherwise. We think oftentimes, “It’s complicated” can be the most accurate Facebook relationship status. We consider it a distinct honor and privilege when friends decide they trust us enough to share something with us about how they understand sex.

We often hear criticisms that celibate LGBT Christians are judgmental not only of non-celibate LGBT people but also of anyone who engages in behaviors outside of a traditional sexual ethic. It’s probably true that celibate LGBT Christians could do a lot more to express unconditional love. Unfortunately, the loudest voices calling for traditional Christian sexual ethics attempt to discourage celibate LGBT Christians from saying anything remotely positive about non-celibate LGBT people. Some voices exalt celibate LGBT Christians as the examples to follow and speak in strong opposition to the idea that non-celibates have anything valuable to say. This approach prioritizes demanding celibacy over showing love. At times, we wonder whether certain participants in this conversation care more about preventing gay sex than preaching the Gospel in the first place.

So here’s where we cut to the chase: our love for you is not dependent on what you do (or don’t do) with your genitals. It’s also not dependent on what kinds of relationships you engage in or with whom.

To us, this seems like basic Christian hospitality. We wonder why this is so hard for so many people. Why is it that Christians are so afraid to show love without including an obligatory morality lesson? Why is there such fear that showing love signals approval for something one considers morally objectionable? Why is it that saying “I love you no matter what” can get a person branded a moral relativist? In our opinion, I love you should never be followed by but… Christ’s love does not come with conditions. Christ’s love is absolutely unconditional. He loves the wicked as much as he loves the righteous. It’s not our place to start imposing qualifications on Christ’s unconditional love. We’re tired of being pulled into conversations where we’re asked to justify our treatment of non-celibate LGBT Christians because, “It can’t possibly be the same as how you treat other celibates.” We simply do not and will not ever consider whether a person is sexually active before welcoming him or her as our friend. We’re committed to loving people with no strings attached, and that means no strings. Whether you’re L, G, B, T, Q, straight, or otherwise, we want you to know that when you visit our home, we’re not going to interrogate you about what you do or don’t do with your genitals. We won’t waste a single moment even wondering about it. Those questions truly are none of our business. They are between you, God, and your spiritual director. If you’re a Christian, we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in your life and is encouraging you to continue moving towards Jesus.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Theologically Gendered: Some Thoughts on How the Bible Bears Witness to Gender Minorities

A reflection by Lindsey

This week is Transgender Awareness Week. We make an intentional point of using the acronym “LGBT” throughout the blog. This post could be incredibly brave or needlessly foolhardy. I hope to bring some substantive questions to light by discussing some dominant narratives.

Before I get into my discussion, I’d like to say that I’ve pretty much spent my whole life on the “non-conforming” side of gender. Growing up, it wasn’t that big of deal. I’ve discovered ways to be comfortable in my own skin, even if some of those ways defy convention. Amidst an explosion of gender identity labels in LGBT circles, I don’t exactly know which words add value to my efforts in communicating my experiences more widely. There are some words that seem to fit better than others, but I have yet to discover any word other than “Lindsey” for which I am prepared to take on absolutely every commonly-held assertion about its meaning.

I’ve heard a lot of people assert that there’s no need to think critically about the experience of gender minorities. The dominant narrative goes something like, “In the beginning God created people male and female to be fruitful and multiply.” In this view, gender is understood principally in terms of reproductive sex. Since God has knit all people together in their mothers’ wombs where we are fearfully and wonderfully made, it’s absurd to suggest that God has made an error in something so important as one’s reproductive organs. Because genitals form in the womb as a part of the reproductive system, it seems fitting to gender a person at birth. In the rare cases of ambiguous genitals, doctors should do everything possible to ensure that the child has a reasonable chance at reproducing.

However, this “Back to Genesis” approach to gender identity overlooks a substantial Biblical witness about gender minorities. Even when Jesus affirms the Genesis narrative, he creates space for gender minorities:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

From where I sit, it’s clear that the Bible bears witness to the reality of gender minorities, but the Scriptures bear limited witness to how gender minorities should navigate present social realities.

For the sake of discussion, I’m going to talk about hair length because I view it as a culturally benign issue. I personally believe that hair style should be a nonissue in the 21st century. It’s socially acceptable for men and women to wear their hair at any length. I regard my hairstyle in much of the same way I regard my glasses. It’s a general part of my presentation to the world that I much prefer to keep static rather than dynamic. Recognizing 7th grade as an exception, my hairstyle has been the same since I was five years old. There are a lot of reasons my hairstyle suits me, and I’ll likely be wearing the same hairstyle for at least 20 years more.

But Christians can do strange things when their dominant views of gender get challenged. Some Christians go the route of talking with me about certain Scriptures addressing hair length. However, uncomfortable Christians will more frequently talk to me about the hazards of identifying with LGBT language and try to coach me back toward gender conforming behaviors. I don’t express myself the way that I do in an effort to attract attention. For me, my self-expression hinges upon having a desirable from-bed-to-door time in the morning, modestly covering my body, and staying thermally regulated. Social pressures to violate my own priorities can create intense discomfort. I hate feeling like I have to choose between other people being uncomfortable looking at my self-expression and me being completely detached from my own skin.

Many people on the transgender spectrum spend considerable time, energy, and effort trying to connect with their own bodies. Complete medical, legal, and social transition is often treated as the gold standard method for establishing this connection. However, I think that there’s some correlation between what’s socially acceptable relative to gender norms and when people feel like they have no choice but to transition completely. People socialized as men often confront narrower views of gender than people socialized as women. Nonetheless, if people push too hard against gender expectations, they are increasingly likely to experience violence. Anyone making the choice between beginning hormone replacement therapy and trying to survive increasingly hostile forms of violence needs to be treated with compassion. As we rapidly approach the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we ought to remember that far too many people have had to pay for their physical presentation with their lives. That level of violence is completely unacceptable and should be appalling to anyone claiming to follow Christ. For my part, I’m so grateful that growing up I had family and friends who robustly affirmed me as Lindsey where I was able to feel insulated from many of the social expectations around gender.

If we’re going to discuss gender thoughtfully as Christians, we should be mindful that Christ himself affirmed the presence of gender minorities. We would also do well to investigate ways where we needlessly use gender as a strong dividing line in society.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Musings on the Meaning of Celibacy

Almost exactly four months ago, we published this post on questions to ask oneself if considering the possibility of entering a celibate partnership. Commenters on that post challenged us to think more deeply about our own questions, particularly #4: “Do I have an idea of what celibacy might mean for me?” We think this is one of the most important items on our list, and we hope that we’ll always be asking ourselves this question as we continue living our celibate vocations together. If you’ve been with us since the beginning of our blog 10 months ago, you’ve likely read our “Why celibacy?” and “Defining celibacy” posts. Newer readers may have seen our post from two months ago where we revisited these. If you’ve perused the “Celibacy and Vocation” section of our index page, you can probably tell that our understandings of celibacy and vocation are constantly evolving. When we launched A Queer Calling on January 16, 2014, our concept of celibate vocation lived in partnership was very basic. One of our original hopes for AQC was that God would use our blog to help us mature in our vocations. Ten months in, we’re already seeing that the question “What does celibacy mean for us?” doesn’t have a simple, consistent answer. As we look through old posts and comment responses, we notice that over time there have been shifts — mostly subtle, a few more dramatic — in how we discuss the same topics we began broaching in January.

We think the best example of this is how we conceive of the four core values of celibacy that we laid out during week 1: hospitality, vulnerability, commitment, and shared spiritual life. One of the criticisms we’ve received over and over again is that our definition of celibacy says nothing about sexual abstinence. That was intentional because at the time we began blogging, we took sexual abstinence as a given when discussing celibate vocations. It’s obvious that part of a celibate vocation is not having sex, so our questions ten months ago focused on, “But what else? Christian vocations aren’t reducible to ‘having sex,’ or ‘not having sex.’ Vocations are more than that. Where is the more in celibacy?” Spending almost a year pondering the four values intensely has brought us a lovely surprise: at this point, hospitality, vulnerability, commitment, and shared spiritual life are becoming as much a given for us as sexual abstinence was in the beginning. We find that we no longer need to set aside specific, intentional times to think and pray about these issues. This focus is happening automatically, every day, and is often woven seamlessly into other aspects of our lives. It’s present even during seasons when we’re blogging more about LGBT issues than celibacy.

Last night over dinner, we were talking about how our approach to hospitality has changed since we first began our life together. While we’ve always wanted to be available for friends and acquaintances who need us, we used to be a bit more selective about how we would offer hospitality. Our primary questions for extending hospitality were once, “Is meeting x need something we can do without much trouble? How will extending hospitality in this way force us to make adjustments to our everyday lives?” As we enjoyed our salads and sandwiches, we reflected on the fact that neither of those questions enters our minds much anymore. Instead, we’re thinking, “How can we be most welcoming to this person? What are the needs, and how can we help?” We’re observing more unity of mind in our relationship as we discern how to best use what we have to welcome other people. If someone we know needs a place to stay short-term or long-term, we don’t even have to discuss pros and cons: without saying anything, we are already in agreement that this person can live in our guest room and dine at our table for as long as he or she needs. If a friend living several hours away is in trouble and has no one local to reach out to, we’re on the road as soon as work is over that day: Lindsey is packing bags and Sarah is planning logistics, and neither of us has ever questioned whether we would go. “Hows” instead of “whethers” have come to dominate our discussions of hospitality.

We’ve noticed that as we’ve spent more time thinking (and blogging) about celibacy, vulnerability as become less painful and more freeing for both of us. Our conversations at home, with celibate and non-celibate friends, at church, and in our professional lives have deepened beyond imagination. Both of us have already shared far more vulnerably at AQC than we ever thought possible. When we began this blog, Sarah had absolutely no intention of writing anything too specific about Sarah’s history of sexual trauma, eating disorders, and addiction. Lindsey had never dreamed of being able to share anything about celibacy or LGBT issues with people from our own Christian tradition. Our attempt to live the value of vulnerability has opened dozens of doors for conversation. We’ve been contacted by family members who had no idea what we’ve experienced while coming into our own as gay adults in the Christian faith, former classmates who wanted to apologize for haranguing us in middle school and high school, people we met in graduate school who never quite new how to engage thoughtfully with LGBT Christians, and folks from across the globe who are trying their best to discern what non-monastic celibacy looks like. In contacting us, they have gifted us with their vulnerability. At this point in our lives, we see vulnerability becoming so much more natural in our relationship with each other, our friends, and even people we don’t know that well. We’re learning that living into the value of vulnerability allows us to give of ourselves more freely.

Also, our commitments to each other, our Christian tradition, our faith community, our family of choice, and other people in general have grown in complexity and breadth since January. At the beginning, we really didn’t know what we were doing. We had been a couple for a little over a year, we had discerned vocations to celibacy lived in the world, and sensed that God was calling us into celibacy in partnership together. We were unsure of how this would manifest. How would we honor the commitment we have to one another, and what would be the best terminology for describing that? Would the people who had been telling us that we’re nothing more than “marriage without the sex” turn out to be right? As our relationship developed, would it come to look more like marriage, monasticism, or neither? The uncertainty hung over our heads like heavy rainclouds even though we had spent years independently pondering celibacy, marriage, and vocation. It has become clear to us over the past few months that we don’t need the perfect label to describe our mutual commitment or the commitments we have to God and others. For some things, there are no words — only wonder and mystery. We’ve learned that word choice isn’t what solidifies our willingness to be there for each other through thick and thin for the rest of our lives. We’ve also learned that as other people interact with our community of two in whatever ways they will, we don’t necessarily require language to describe our commitments to them either. A friend moves into our guest room for an indefinite period of time: does that make him a “member” of our community? Is he now part of our family? Another friend lives several hours away but is as emotionally and spiritually close to us as a brother: who is he to us, and how does that fit in with our vocation? We don’t worry about these things anymore. They’re distractions. Living celibacy is teaching us what it means to have faith that God — not humanity — is who truly makes vocations and relationships what they are.

The spiritual life we share began as a shared prayer rule. At the beginning of our relationship, we made a commitment to say Matins and Compline together every day, even if that meant one of us was reading while the other was driving to work. We experienced difficulty in honoring and appreciating the two very different spiritualities we bring into our current shared Christian tradition. Sarah’s inner Catholic and Lindsey’s inner evangelical had more than a few clashes at the beginning. As we’ve grown in our vocation, we’ve seen that a shared spiritual life involves significantly more than a daily prayer rule and debates over which variety of Christian music should blast from the car radio. Over time, we’ve experienced greater ease in discussing spiritual matters. We never hesitate to share openly about our personal spiritual lives with one another. Talking about our different experiences of sin and the graces of confession no longer has to be a theological debate and in hypothetical terms. These days in our home, “I’ve been struggling with x lately,” is met more often with, “I know and I’ve been waiting for you to talk with me about that,” than, “Really? What’s going on?” We’ve come to greater unity of mind when it comes to dealing with problems at church as well. We used to spend significantly more time thinking through dozens of possible approaches to troubled relationships with other parishioners and even more for broaching complicated issues with our priest. As it is now, we come to a sense of oneness very quickly most of the time when such issues arise. And if we’re in the midst of a difficult conversation with someone at church, we don’t have to wait for privacy to ask each other how to do better next time. We’re becoming a proficient team when it comes to managing the toughest parts of interaction with other humans.

When we started writing this post, we didn’t realize it would get lengthy this quickly! But we also wanted to touch upon a couple of other issues. This morning before publishing the post, we asked each other, “What do you think God is using our shared celibate vocation to teach you right now?” Lindsey’s answer focused on caregiving — that acts of providing and caring intimately for another person are not and should not be confined to marriage. We can both see how living celibacy is teaching us about the larger need for Christians (especially in the West) to rethink the artificial boundaries our societies have created around acts of care. Sarah’s response focused on the countercultural nature of celibacy — that an abundant Christian life in the world does not require marrying and having children, and that often, marriage has a way of locking people into certain cultural expectations. Celibacy poses challenges to the expectations our societies have for “responsible” adults, and it puts Christian traditions face to face with the idol we’ve made of marriage. We would like to delve more deeply into both these topics in later posts.

We’re grateful for all the lessons God has been teaching us as we strive to live our celibate vocations, and we’re awaiting eagerly what is to come. Circling back to the question at the beginning of the post: each day we see increasing evidence that, “Do I have an idea of what celibacy might mean for me?” is not truly a “yes or no” question. It’s a question that requires continuous and thorough self-examination in order to respond honestly. And our answer has become more organic and dynamic than either of us ever could have dreamed.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.