Looking back on 2010: it was a wild ride that started with the publishing of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. It was quite an experience in publishing a provocative, rather controversial book. In January, the process of publishing appeared almost over (it would be in February). The first month in 2010 was filled with intensity for various reasons. If I could choose, I would not like to experience another month like I did in January for a looooong time. What was going to make the book unique was my intention to embrace the virtue of friendships between men and women--including close passionate friendships. One can be "progressive" in their ecclesiology (you know, the postmodern "communal" emphasis trend) and hold to romantic-sexual fundamentalism (think Billy Graham being unwilling to ride alone in a car with another woman). The fear of any sexual scripts beyond the Ozzie and Harriet, the 1950's suburban, romantic idealized couple in many Christian communities is pretty strong. Sexual politics of fear, control, forced submission, blanket rules, oppression, either-or's,--these are well known dynamics in the Christian community when it comes to male-female sexuality. They are alive and well.
1. I did not want to be the first to publish a full-length book on the subject of male-female friendship from an evangelical perspective. In fact, if there would have been a good solid book on the subject, I might never have written SUSP. To be the first to publish on the "controversial" subject on friendships between men and women--in particular the virtue of passionate friendships for even married individuals was not something I wanted to be known for a few years ago. Yet, after several years of friendships and talking with others, I eventually came to see that God was calling me to this. In January, that call became more distinctly clear to me even on the "eve" of publishing it.
2. I am deeply thankful for friends who were supportive but by no means yes people. I had some friends who walked with me through this all along the way and I gained friends who came along for the journey when they discovered my book. These friends gave me such extraordinary support yet they also were helpful and constructive in their criticism and feedback. I learned a lot from these friends. You know who you are. Thank you. Even more important, the Lord knows who you are.
I want to make a special mention to Scot McKnight who gave me some timely, good advice and then graciously mentioned the book on his blog. I am sure if he were to write a book on the subject it would read a little different but Scot practiced a spirit of hospitality towards me and I am thankful for that.
Then, I am so thankful for those who discovered the book and became friends. Several of them have been generous in their support. It was a great joy to have discovered Mary DeTurris Poust's book, Walking Together in which she highlights the value of spiritual friendships including close, passionate cross-gender friendships beyond marriage.
I have been so amazed and blessed to find kindred spirits in 2010! Several times I have received emails from those hungering for something like Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. Several emails made me cry.
3. Friendship is a path of discipleship in spirituality and sexuality. Read John chapter 15. Well, read all of John. As Sharon Ringe observes in her book, Wisdom's Friends, "the explicit vocabulary of friendship is found throughout the Fourth Gospel." But a core passage for friendship as a path of discipleship is John 15:1-7. In Christian tradition, particularly in a stream of Catholic spirituality, I discovered communities who saw this in the Gospel of John, that is, friendship as a path of discipleship and sexuality. In the last few years, more Christian thinkers are beginning to see the link between friendship-love and following Jesus. In 2010, I became more convinced that friendship is a path of following Jesus in spirituality and sexuality.
There is a deep connection between sexuality and spirituality in the Christian story even though there are many Christians who keep the two separated. As soon as one starts though to explore a rich Christian theme which goes by several words: unity, union, oneness, communion, "one," etc. you will discover this rich connection between the two beyond marriage. The problem with most modern evangelicals is that they have sequestered this theme to either marriage or institutional doctrinal agreement. Exploring the theme in the context of friendship uncovers this robust, mysterious, wild, hard-to-pin-down, but very identifiable connection between sexuality and spirituality in a broader context beyond the married couple.
Using the late Michael Spencer's language, I believe we need to return to a Jesus-shaped spirituality rather than a church-based spirituality in the context of male-female friendships. As Spencer states in his book, a "Jesus-shaped spirituality takes the risk of letting people seek God without constant supervision." Following Jesus means nurturing a trust in the Spirit and his leading. Spencer observes, "I don't believe the Spirit has signed an exclusive contract with any denomination, seminary, or ministry to which the student must report."
But the spirituality of friendship then, opens up a wide journey towards the mystery and depth of spirituality. Saint Aelred (who also wrote a what was considered to be a highly controversial book on friendship in his time) wrote of friendship, "nothing more sacred is striven for, nothing more useful is ought after, nothing more difficult is discovered, nothing more sweet experienced, and nothing more profitable possessed." Andrew Sullivan interprets Aelred here on the union in friendship: "the spiritual union is, indeed, like an erotic union in its bliss, but not sexual in the corporeal sense. He expresses the old truth about spiritual ecstasy--that such ecstasy is not a sublimination of sex, but rather that sex is an imitation of such ecstasy."
I hope to explore this connection even further in a second book on marriage and friendship. 2011 could be another um, "interesting" year!