Standing In Between Earth and Sky

1.  No one will mistake Ohio for Colorado or the Alps, but neither is it the same as the seemingly endless table-like flatness of the center of North America.  No, the most accurate description of Ohio is that it rolls, almost like a wave in the ocean that has been stopped in time.  And nowhere can this be seen better than taking Interstate 71, the highway that bisects the state on a diagonal from the northeast to the Southwest, connecting the three biggest cities of Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.  If you drive on I-71, especially the part between Cleveland and Columbus, it almost feels like you are riding on a rollercoaster than has been stretched out, as you roll along the modest but noticeable undulations.

I took that trip this weekend, back and forth to Cleveland under a picture-postcard worthy summer sky.  With the rolling terrain and low-lying whispy clouds, I had a sense of being firmly rooted in place, comfortably situated between earth and sky.  It was comfy, but not confining.  It was an utterly peaceful drive in both directions, to the point of being a almost a meditation.  It was an unexpected bonus to what was a fantastic weekend.

2.  On my drive up to Cleveland, I drove in silence, with the radio off.  I would like to say I intentionally did this to soak in that feeling of being between earth and sky, but in truth that was a happy by-product as opposed to intentional choice.  No, I drove in silence because I turned the radio off early in my trip in disgust.  You see, as I was winding my way out of Columbus in rush-hour traffic, I happened to turn the radio to EWTN, and caught a bit of a program by a man named Al Kresta.  Perhaps providentially, Mr. Kresta was talking about how terrible it was that most everyone in U.S. culture has embraced gay marriage.  His core point was that all of this talk of gay marriage and people of the same sex having stable, loving relationships that are basically just like those of straight people was an illusion.  Soon we will see, Kresta predicted, that all of these relationships are basically frauds, harming the people that enter into them.  In other words, in Kresta's mind, all of this gay marriage stuff is not real.

A shot from the venue
Like all of his fellow-travelers, Mr. Kresta presents his diagnosis of gay marriage in factual, objective terms.  He is asserting something true about the world, something that should be apparent to anyone who approaches the situation without bias or pre-conceived notions.

I say listening to Kresta was providential, because as it turns out I was on my way to Cleveland to attend my first same-sex wedding.  On Saturday, I was one of 120 or so folks privileged to be present for Neil and Mike's wedding.  In the face of Mr. Kresta's words, there was what I saw and what I felt and what I experienced.  And it was exactly what I expected to see and feel and experience, which is two people who love each other in exactly the same way as the best of straight couples.

The bottom line is that Mr. Kresta and his fellow-travelers are wrong; the love I saw on Saturday is real.  It is as real as that of anyone else's love I have been privileged to see and feel.  It was as real as the earth and sky on my drive up to Cleveland.  If I can't trust what I saw on Saturday, I can't trust anything at all.  And I cannot fathom how anyone could be there and not come to the same conclusion.  If you were there, and you were willing to see, then you would know.  It doesn't matter where you come from or what pre-existing ideas you bring to the table; if you are willing to look, then you will see, and you will know.

3.  If I had to point to a single way in which I have changed as an adult, especially in my thirties, it would be the degree to which I have shifted my focus from the things in my head to the concrete things I can touch and feel.  I am a lawyer, and I write a blog mostly about theology (two of the most abstract of human endeavors). so the head component is not in danger of leaving us any time soon.  But as a younger person I was entirely tilted to that side of things--I was totally "in my own head" and had little connection to the real world around me.  I think in the last dozen years or so I have gotten better balance between the two.  I'm not sure the me of ten years ago would have noticed, let alone revel in, the subtle waves of central Ohio topology.

This better balance has been a healthy development for me in many ways, but it has really helped my spiritual life.  When I was younger, faith was an idea, and intellectual construct competing among other intellectual constructs.  As I have grown more comfortable moving out of the my head and more trusting of what I see and experience around me, faith has become more of an experience.  It no longer has to be a system that I have to wrestle to the ground and understand, but instead something that I can take as it comes, like the gentle rollercoaster of I-71.

In finding this balance, albeit haltingly and incompletely, the problem with a religion and spirituality that is entirely intellectual has come into focus for me.  If religion is all about ideas, then your religion is necessarily a religion of words, and only words, since we need words to express ideas.  And if your religion is a religion of words, then you have no choice but to filter your reality through the words.  In a religion of words, everything has to fit into the pre-determined box that the words have previously established.  But our words are limited and imprecise, and so we are forced to bend, fold, and mutilate reality to fit our words.  There is a tyranny of words that can be created.

For all of the justified critiques offered by the Protestant Reformers, they created an insoluble problem for themselves by unreservedly embracing this tyranny of words, especially in the notion of sola Scriptura.  The best of the Catholic tradition names this tyranny of words--Thomas Aquinas never finished his opus the Summa Theologica, declaring "I can write no more. All that I have written seems like straw."  But far too often, especially it seems in the last 200 years, the Church has embraced an alternative but equally shackling tyranny of words, distinct in content but not in form from the Protestant version.  An endless progression of letters and encyclicals and council statements and systematic theologies have formed the basis of what it means to be Catholic, and to define the terms of the debates within the faith.

As Catholics, we are drowning in words, no matter how well-intentioned those words may be.  I feel like we have come to a place where words are an impediment to us, a barrier to seeing something real that is right in front of us.  It may be in front of us, but it doesn't always fit perfectly into the tidy boxes that our words have created.  And so at times we are stuck, forced to choose between the words and what we see.  And too often, people choose the words over what they see, thinking that the words will save them.  But it won't save them, it can't save them, because it is a betrayal of that which makes us Catholic.

It is time to step away from the words, and become more of a people who just stand in between earth and sky.  It has certainly has produced good fruits in me.

4.  There is a line of thought among Catholics, especially a segment of those that view themselves as being progressive or liberal, which believes that the problem between LGBT folks and the Church is a problem of words.  "Sure," they will say, "there are Catholics out there who have said nasty things about gay folks, and saying mean things is bad, so what we all need to focus on is to stop saying those mean things."  The problem, they would say, about what Mr. Kresta said on the radio is that he shouldn't have said it, because it is not nice, or because it makes Catholics look bad, or whatever.  It's about presentation, under this view.

My comrade-in-blogging Bill Lindsey has been consistent in his criticism of these folks, and after this weekend I think I see why.  As wrong as Kresta is, as detached from concrete reality as this world-view is, it has the virtue of being honest.  He seems to really believe that folks are harming themselves and others, and probably in a genuine (albeit demented) way wants to help gay folks.  The Tone Warriors have no such virtue.  Either they secretly agree with the Krestas of the world but don't want to face the social heat in the broader culture such a view generates, or they know that the truth and love represented by gay marriage and are unwilling to stand on that truth.  Either way, just like Kresta, they are fleeing the concrete reality of the world for the comforting embrace of the familiar words.

Between Earth and Sky
This flight to words has consequences.  Lindsey has spent the last few days pointing out the extreme lengths people, even supposedly progressive Catholics, have taken to avoid naming the Orlando shooting as a example of hatred toward LGBT folks.  He calls it an act of erasure, and he is right; if they can make it so that these folks don't exist (at least in their own minds), then no one will never threaten the comfort of the world created by their words.  The existence of these unapologetic LGBT people, and secondarily those who stand with them, is a threat to their stability, and so they must be erased.

There really are only two choices.  There are people who are real, whose love is real, who are standing between earth and sky.  You can stand next to them and love them.  Or you can convince yourself that they are not real, and live within the bubble your words have created.  Standing on the sidelines at what you believe to be a respectful distance is not love, no matter how you spin it.  And it certainly won't make them go away.

5.  God has been very good to me.  God has put people in my life that have allowed me to see what I need to see, and usually at more or less the time I need to seem them.  It's not that what I saw last weekend changed my mind in some radical way--I was pretty much there intellectually.  But this weekend the things that I had thought became things that I saw and felt.  I got a chance to stand between earth and sky, alongside two wonderful, kind men who have pledged themselves to each other.  It was a privilege for me to be there, and it reinforced my commitment to standing publicly and unreservedly alongside anyone else who would proclaim such a love.

Congratulations, Neil and Mike.  You two are an inspiration for me.


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