Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

It is as it was; longing for the monastery, 2

An article linked on the Christianity Today blog last Tuesday suggested another need for "the monastery" as an institution attached to the church in our time. The article, entitled "Jesus Hates You," by David Schmader, in an apparent "underground" or rock-culture on-line publication in Seattle, described what Schmader calls "Christian rationalization of bigotry at 'Love Won Out.'" Love Won Out is an annual conference for homosexuals wanting to escape their sexual orientation or/and its consequences put on by Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family ministries, which was held in the Seattle area this summer. After lambasting the conference and without showing any evidence of hate or hateful motivations behind it, Schmader concludes: "And it's true: For homosexuals willing to spend the rest of their lives beating down their urges with the born-again vision of Jesus, conversion therapy is indeed a way out. But isn't it easier to just grow up?

He never defines "growing up," but apparently he isn't thinking of growing up into Christ or sanctification, which is the goal of the Christian life that "Love Won Out" is all about and which is required of heterosexual Christians as much as so-called gays. The writer alludes to a period in which he may have been trying the same struggle but succumbed to the pull of the homosexual lifestyle over that of the Christian lifestyle or, as the gospels call it, "the way of the cross."

I've mentioned several times recently that I believe one reason the monastery movement began in the fourth century was to provide a vehicle through which men and women who had no desire to marry could put their whole energy into their spiritual development. I've never read any historical corroboration of this, and don't know that there is any, but it makes common sense. Today, I think anyone who went to a secular counselor with the complaint, "my parents are pushing me to marry but I have no interest in that" would be counseled to consider a homosexual lifestyle, as that is probably what is "indicated." Homosexual as a word began with Sigmund Freud, who coined it, but of course there were people in ancient times who preferred sexual contact with same-sex partners rather than their opposites, as described in the New Testament. But I think that for the great majority up to Freud's time—really up to those "magical" 1960s—the most they could say about what they considered their "lack of sexuality" was that they had no desire to marry. Now all who think that way are counseled, if not by psychologists directly, by the entertainment and news media, liberal politicians, and their peers to "go gay."

Orthodox monasticism and the ancient version of monastic life in Roman Catholicism are much different from how we modern westerners are used to thinking of it. We think it's mainly for camaraderie with other men or women, and scholarly pursuit in a "sanctified space." Camaraderie doesn't seem to come into the Orthodox version, and the ancient Roman version (which I've "experienced" by visiting monasteries dating almost to the time of St. Patrick in Ireland and Scotland), like today's Orthodox ones, had no "orders," with their unique ministries and distinctive ways of doing things, but were rather more independent voluntary associations, coming together of members of the same sex who wanted to share the work and the benefit of a community. But most of the "spiritual work"—prayer, keeping vigil (praying all night), fasting, hearing confessions (or counseling, in today's parlance)—was solitary. Worship was corporate (and daily, more often more than once daily) and meals were taken together, but even those were organized with formal reading being done by a designated member of the community rather than everyone "fellowshiping over dinner" (and not infrequently, dinner was—and is still—the only meal of the day). Every monk or nun met daily and confessed to the head of the community or a spiritual elder if there were too many for one abbot to handle, but little general fellowship was taking place. In Orthodoxy, "confirmed bachelors" who wanted spiritual lives were and in some parts of the world still are encouraged to go to monasteries; those who want to marry can bcome priests and, in general, a man who wants to be a parish priest must marry before being ordained.

The point of monasticism was the attainment of holiness, sanctification, and that was considered the main work, though more physical work was also always involved, including farming, building, fishing, and maintaining the community and its buildings. (Orthodoxy uses the word "monastery" for both men's and women's monastic communities; the women are called nuns but there are no "convents.") And there was much scholarly work, too, though it wasn't a variation on university but a lifetime of reading, writing, copying, producing, and maintaining libraries.

Where are the David Schmader's of today—who feel, "For [any sinners] willing to spend the rest of their lives beating down their urges with the born-again vision of Jesus, conversion therapy is indeed a way out"—to go? "Get thee to a nunnery" isn't as easy as it was when Shakespeare made that advice famous. And even if we make it easier again, the answer to Schmader's last question, "isn't it easier to just grow up?" is still going to be, "no; the cross is never easy." But without knowing it, Schmader speaks the truth: "For [any sinners] willing to spend the rest of their lives beating down their urges with the born-again vision of Jesus, conversion therapy is indeed a way out" applies to all who would follow Jesus.

It is as it was.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.

— Abraham Lincoln

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