Monday 23 August 2010

James Alison on Growing Up Gay

James Alison is another important theologian for gay men, although he described himself not as a "gay theologian", but as a theologian who writes from a gay (male) perspective. He was formerly a Dominican priest, who like Fr John McNeill,, was forced out of the priesthood for daring to speak honestly, in his case about gay priests. He has since created a new career as an independent theologian, writing, speaking and leading workshops. His work is characterised by a continuous ability to celebrate the joy of being gay and Catholic,and for a particular attention to the difficulties of young people on first coming out.
This is the focus of this piece, published at his website:

Navigating uncharted waters: the gift of faith and growing up LGBT

The first point which I’d like to make, in a sense, is a big sigh of relief. And the sigh of relief is as follows: if faith were an ideology, and gay were a pathology, how easy this conference would be! Because if faith were an ideology, it would merely say “nyet” to us, and if being gay were a pathology, then we would merely go “oh poor little me”; and the matter would be over. Unfortunately for people who try to present things in the way that makes faith into an ideology, and being LGBT into a pathology, this world has collapsed. The world in which faith is an ideology, and ‘LGBT’ is a pathology, has collapsed. Our ability to have survived into what might pass as adulthood in some of our cases, seems to have borne witness to this. We’re no longer run by the world in which faith is an ideology, and being LGBT is a pathology. But getting out of some of the tracks of thinking, to which many of us have got used, which did rather regard it as though we were perpetually stuck between those two, has taken time.
So what I want us to do today is to start in the morning by looking forward, and looking back, a little bit. This is, remember, with a view to being able to think more creatively this afternoon. So I’m not asking you to look back for reasons of nostalgia – though that can be important – but it’s because a healthy looking back is what empowers a looking forward. This is one of the things which is very important for us. We are all autobiographical animals – we tell stories. And our stories are not based on fixed memories from the past, read towards us; all our stories are told from where we are now, looking backwards. And what I think inspires us to be able to think about these stories, is the gift of hope. And I want to make – this is my second point: the difference between hope and optimism. Often the two are confused. Optimism is, if you like, a strategic matter: I try and examine what the forces in play are, in the society in which I live, or in the church, or whatever, and I ask myself, ‘am I optimistic or am I pessimistic?’. But this proposes that, or this imagines that, one is in a battle with something, on one’s own level, and one is optimistic or pessimistic depending on who gets elected pope, what the bishop is like, etc etc – things like this. Hope is something entirely different. Hope is a gift, given us by Someone Else, who s pulling us out of where we are, into something bigger. Hope is actually compatible with a great deal of non-optimism, with quite a sanguine assessment of the reality of our situation. But hope is a theological virtue, a gift – we’re going to be looking at how faith is a gift in just a second – it presupposes Someone Else, to wit, God, pulling us out of a situation, and opening us up into something bigger. It’s that that I want to focus on, because it’s in the degree to which we are able to imagine someone else doing that for us, that we are able to retell our stories, in more open, more critical, more relaxed ways, in such a way that they will open our trajectories out to open and more creative futures. Does that make sense? [pause] Good.
Books by James Alison
Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay
On Being Liked
Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in
Broken Hearts New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal
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