Monday, 12/23/13

    1. Playing with Fire
    2. How to read the Old Testament
    3. Bill Hybels, meet Richard Florida
    4. Great symbolism! (Less filling)


I have added a sidebar category for Christian writers for whom I previously couldn’t figure out a collective label. Thanks to Austin Ruse for coining “The New Homophiles,” and for shining the footlights on these much-needed thinkers and writers. They seem to appreciate Ruse even as they critique some of his characterization of them and his expressions of alarm at some of their (typical if not universal) ideas about friendship.

In defense of innocent, even physically intimate (but non-erotic) friendship is Jordan Monge, who recalls an age not that long ago, memorialized at Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection, when men actually touched each other in photographs! Oh, the horror!

Monge refers to our reactions as an illustration of “our bizarre cultural blend of both open homosexuality and yet still deep-seated homophobia”:

It’s precisely the dearth of this physical intimacy within normal friendships that makes celibacy in the modern world so difficult. Man was made with a need for physical intimacy, but in our rather touch-phobic society, it’s difficult to meet that need outside of a romantic relationship.

 Melinda Selmys responds to another writer’s critique of Ruse, making a similar point:

There is one point that I wanted to address that I didn’t think he covered, which is the belief within a lot of conservative Catholic circles that any kind of intimate friendship between men and women is “playing with fire.”

The first time, outside of Victorian literature, that I even encountered the idea that men and women being friends is somehow spiritually dangerous was when an older woman in my church came up to me after Mass and reprimanded me for causing scandal. The scandal was that I was seen to come to daily Mass with two different men: sometimes with my husband and other times with our housemate Neil. Also, I had been seen out at coffee shops with Neil. The way that this woman talked about it, it was clear that she not only felt that I was setting a scandalous example but also suspected that I was actually committing adultery. Her tone was scathing and very uncharitable—especially since, as I said, I had no idea that anyone still believed that intimate opposite-sex friendships were abnormal.

(Italics added) Insofar as I tend to be like that Church Lady in my thinking, I would bite my tongue about it, and for whatever reason, for as long as I can remember, I’ve presumed that same-sex pairs in Church were either “just friends” or celibate. Which it was – or the possibility they were neither – was none of my business if there was no notoriety about it, and possibly was none of my business even then.

I’m the product of a culture that assumes that intimate friendship is sexual, as Monge assumes, so the “playing with fire” notion carries some weight with me. I’ve even heard of Orthodox Confessors counseling gay penitents to stay away from close same-sex friendships. (I don’t know if that advice is universal or it was tailored to something the confessor saw in the individual.) If Selmys is right, and I tend to think she is, that’s backwards for at least some people. Intimate friendship of the right sort (chaste) is probably exactly what’s needed for some penitents to thrive in one very important area of life.

But if one is a product of a culture that sexualizes touch and assumes that intimate friendship is sexual, then doesn’t that very cultural baggage mean that one truly is playing with fire to swim against that cultural current (apologies for the oddly mixed metaphor)? I’m not trying to be cute here. Nurture is important alongside nature. If our nurture says the eventuality of touch is four bare legs in a bed, won’t that tend to fulfill itself? How much can we assume that we are free of pervasive cultural baggage?

Shifting from particulars to die gestalt, Melinda Selmys’ article reminds me of my own, long-ago, misadventure. Some 40+ years ago, I wrote an “article,” The New Propriety, that defended open dormitories and visits with romantic interests alone in dorm rooms. It was just a different propriety, right? The article ended up as a sidebar in a prominent Evangelical magazine. I now think that article was delusional and self-justifying, and the editors should have known better than to publish it. I was carrying coals to Newcastle in writing it (insofar as I expected other young people to read it).

But if we need touch (and at least in early life, we do), and we’re in a culture that misunderstands it (which we are), and if touching therefore is “playing with fire,” might it be that some people with the proper charism can and should cautiously “play with fire” to try rectifying our cultural error?

Less threatening analogy: Must everyone with a tendency toward gluttony avoid the feasts of the Church? Aren’t they “playing with fire” if they feast? Shouldn’t they fast, 24 x 7 x 365?

That’s just my reaction to Melinda Selmys’ reaction to Joshua Gonnerman’s reaction to Austin Ruse. As with many things I write, I do so to advance the discussion, not to end it.


I believe I’ve alluded in these page to typology as the predominant Orthodox reading of the Old Testament. Fr. Stephen Freeman discusses New Testament “fulfillment,” which makes somewhat the same point, without my intellectualoid jargon of “typology,” since he knows the subject well enough to put it in plain English.


Another New Testament example, referring to the Holy Family settling in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23):

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Scholars are actually at a loss to account, with confidence, what Old Testament prophecy is here said to be fulfilled.
Another – Matthew 13:34-35, comes after a chapter’s worth of parables:

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

This is a reference to Psalm 78:1-3:

Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us, etc.

There is nothing in this passage from Psalm 78 that makes it seem remotely prophetic. It is written by the author to his readers, introducing the content of the Psalm itself.

Thus one conclusion – the only requirement by a gospel writer for the fulfillment of an Old Testament saying, is for the saying to have occurred in some manner in the Old Testament and to seem applicable to something in Christ’s life and ministry.

The examples of fulfilled Scripture do not permit a rationalized explanation (not one that could then be repeated as a technique). The opened understanding, however, is quite able not only to see what has already been given, but to perceive what is being given as well.
This is the only means of “rightly dividing the word of truth.” It is, of course, a nightmare for those who want a reading of Scripture independent of the Church. But such readings seem to belong to a school of thought not represented by the New Testament itself.

(The Christian Reading of the Old Testament)


What do Richard Florida of “Creative Class” economic development theory and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church have in common? Great-sounding ideas, touted proudly, imitated widely, and discredited pretty thoroughly.

Richard Florida came to our town to do his schtick. I think he was pretty influential. I was leery, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. It’s now turning out that his creative class precepts have produced about as many benefits for lower class people as Willow Creek Church’s precepts have produced disciples of Jesus Christ.

Not that Florida (the superstar, not the State) is without allure. I’m part owner of a major downtown building, and downtown’s a-hoppin’, which doesn’t hurt land values any. But relative to most of the community, I’m a guillotine-dodging plutocrat, so what do I know? Thank goodness we didn’t put all our economic development eggs in the basket of drawing creatives to downtown.


If my side had to lose a corporate religious freedom claim, I can’t imaging a better one to lose than one involving Priests for Life, ‘fer cryin’ out loud! What great symbolism. From 30,000 feet, anyway.

On the other hand, it appears that Priests for Life’s objection is that certifying its religious objections in order to obtain exemption, unobjectionable per se, is objectionable because it feeds the beast that is the contraceptive mandate by making it more palatable (or something):

during oral argument Plaintiffs conceded that they have no religious objection to the self-certification form, in and of itself. Rather, Plaintiffs’ act under the accommodations becomes burdensome only when it is characterized as “cooperating” with or providing “authorization” for “the government’s illicit goal of increasing access to and utilization of contraceptive services.” … But no matter how religiously offensive the statutory or regulatory objective may be, the law does not violate RFRA unless it coerces individuals into acting contrary to their religious beliefs…. In this case, it is only the subsequent actions of third parties – the government’s and the issuer’s provision of contraceptive services, in which Priests for Life plays no role – that animate its religious objections.

Well: I can certainly see why the government wouldn’t want to recognize a religious exemption for acts that remotely make one complicit with evil. That principle, if allowed, could shut down much of modern government.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.