Another Theology of the Body, Part XX--"I Refuse to Blow the Candles Out"

Since I recently said that dudes should stop talking about sex and let the ladies have their say, I'm going to end this series now.  But I think there is another level to this discussion that I wanted to end on, one that Rowan Williams touches on in his essay "The Body's Grace," and one which I haven't discussed yet.  Williams frames this question in terms of a series of novels that I haven't read, but I think the thrust of what he is getting at can be seen in a beautiful, short reflection from Richard Beck, entitled "Refuse to Blow the Candles Out." Here it is in full:

I think that life is hard. I think that life is sad and painful. I think that love is rare and fragile. I think that life is full of loneliness and loss and heartbreak and that we're all desperately grateful for even the smallest scraps of human warmth, kindness and intimacy. 

So if I see even the smallest flicker of love, grace or tenderness I want to protect it. I want to fan it so that it might grow. I don't want to move through life extinguishing the flames. I don't want to be the cold, chilling wind blowing the candles out. There are too few. And the night is very dark and cold.

Maybe on some far eternal horizon God will stand in judgment of all the ways we warmed ourselves with whatever affection we could find. Or of how we sheltered those who loved in ways that others found unacceptable.

Maybe. Maybe one day we will plead for a mercy that will not be granted. Maybe.

Shall we be asked to repent of love?

No one knows. So here with you, huddled in the cold blackness, I make my choice. 

I refuse to blow the candles out.  

Beck expresses where I end up with regard to a Theology of the Body.  A Theology of the Body attempts to define the right ways to love, the right ways to bring warmth to the other.  That's a important project.  We know that we can deeply wound one another with our bodies, intentionally or unintentionally, in ways obvious and not so obvious.  We need to think deeply about these questions.

But, as Beck reminds us, a Theology of the Body can also be a source of enormous danger.  Christianity has, in general, taken the position that preventing people from loving in the wrong way was worth almost any expenditure, up to and including being "the cold, chilling wind blowing the candles out" of flames that are seen as being out of control (or having a danger of getting out of control).  There is a cost to that approach, a cost that Christianity has, in general, resisted acknowledging or taking seriously.

Those small, flickering flames are always precious to the person holding the candle.
Maybe the candles and the corresponding flames are not perfect, as seen from an outside observer, or even in truth.  Maybe even they are deeply flawed--out of control, with the potential to burn those holding them.  But their flaws have to be weighed against the alternative of standing in the darkness, shivering the cold.  Sometimes people are better off with the light and heat they can get in a particular moment, no matter the consequences.

I have a close friend who is, as we speak, in the last phases of waiting to see if the Supreme Court of the United States is going to allow him to get married to his partner of many years.  In Mike, my friend Neil has found the person that balances him, that makes him whole, that loves him and who he loves back.  I cannot say what Neil would be like without Mike, as they have been together for as long as I have known Neil.  But there is no question that Neil's life would be far more lonely, and with far less joy, than the life he lives right now.

There are three of us in our little group--Neil, Anne, and myself.  On the day the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati held that Neil had no right to marry Mike, Anne was poised to call Neil and tell him that she as engaged to be married to her wonderful boyfriend-now-fiance.  She had to abandon that call, not wanting to emphasize the disparity between her joy and his pain.  Neil appreciated that, and he put up a good face when I saw him a few weeks later.  But I could tell that the flame, if not blown out, was flickering a bit in the immediate aftermath of the Court's decision.

I see no difference between Neil's future wedding to Mike and Anne's to Nate, and I can't wait to attend both of them in due course.  But even if I did think there was a difference, even if I did think that Neil's relationship with Mike was a pale shadow of what Anne and Nate have, far be it for me, for anyone, to blow out Neil's candle.  Far be it for me to condemn him to a life shivering in the cold and the darkness.

More than anything else, a true Theology of the Body needs to reckon, in a way that JPII's does not, with the casualties it leaves in its wake.  These doctrines do not deal with abstractions, but with the real lives of real people.  The current theology is far, far too cavalier about what it means to tell someone that the love and warmth they are receiving should be cut off at the root.  Beck recognizes the dangers of this cavalier attitude, and argues for erring on the side of preserving love wherever it is found.  I think he's right.

And there is another thing Beck expresses very well.  We are told by some that God holds those who express their sexuality outside of certain predetermined boundaries with utter disdain, so much so that they (and those that support them) will find themselves outside of God's favor.  Indeed, Ross Douthat seems to believe the entire Christian project turns on this principle.  Perhaps that's true, as I certainly do not claim to know the mind of God.  But if I have to go before God and give an account for my actions, I am far more comfortable defending the position that I loved too much or that I erred on the side of encouraging others to love too much (albeit, under this scenario, in the wrong way) than defending against the charge that I loved too little.

If God is going to turn His face from me because I refuse to tell LGBT people, or women, or whoever is looking for some small light to keep them going, to blow out their candles, then He is going to have to turn His face from me.  I will not be the one to blow them out.  True, I don't actually believe that God is going to do that--that's why Tutu's Wager is a wager--but I am fully willing to "live" with the consequences if I'm wrong.

I know what it is like to be shivering in the cold and in the dark, alone.  Never will I insist that someone else suffer that reality if they can help it.  And I will take whatever consequences come from that.
Here are the previous posts in the series:

Part I--Introduction
Part II--Vulnerability
Part III--Loving in the Abstract
Part IV--"Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God"
Part V--Equality
Part VI--Theology of the Clitoris
Part VII--Complementarity
Part VIII--Sexual Desire
Part IX--Purity and Mary
Part X--Fertility Cults
Part XI--Homosexuality
Part XII--Dependency and Ideology
Part XIII--Big Families
Part XIV--Being Terrible to Each Other
Part XV--Fifty Shades of Grey
Part XVI--Beyond Complementarity
Part XVII--Celibacy
Part XVIII--Contraception
Part XIX--Men Should Be Quiet


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