I’m celibate, he’s celibate, wouldn’t you like to be a celibate too?

Let’s call the idea that celibacy is best defined in the negative, that all it takes to be celibate is a lack of sexual contact the naive view of celibacy.

In addition to the mere fact that it’s unwise to define things in the negative, the naive view of celibacy doesn’t take into account the heart condition of the celibant.  This view doesn’t leave any room for getting better at being celibate.  It suggest a rather simple view: person X is celibate, person Y is not.  You can no more be a little bit celibate than you could be a little bit dead.  You either are, or you are not.

A paralell occurs to me.  There are people who take a naive view of Christianity.  They believe that we make a decision to follow Christ.  They furnish a view of all the things that a Christian can no longer do.  They define Christianity in a negative way and believe that by refraining from these things, the Christian is fully a Christian.   I believe that I made a choice.  I believe that as a result of this choice there are things I should not do.  But this is not the important part of my identity as a Christian.  I’m learning more fully every day about how to be a Christian.  And so it is with being celibate.

Though I am married, it occurs to me that I am celibate most of the time and with most people: to keep the math simple, let’s suppose that there are 100 people in my life.  I think most of us agree that abstaining from sexual contact with all of these other people is not enough.   The condition of my heart toward them matters.  Having a fantasy life about these other 99% of the people in my life would not be good.

Furthermore, the one person whom it is acceptable for me to have sexual contact with is not somebody I should be having sex with most of the time.   We need to be alone, of course, interested, assured of not being interupted.  If I get any more specific I’m sure it’ll be TMI for both of us.  Again, to keep the math simple, let’s assume that 5% of the time, all the conditions are right.

This means that I am celibate for way over than 99% of the time.  Even the most promiscuous person imaginable, what percent of people in their lives are actual partners?  When they are with these people, what percentage of their life can feasibly spent engaged in sexual activity?  What portion of their day can be spent engaging in fantasy if they expect to get anything done?  All of us are celibate, in some sense, for a huge majority of the time.

I have been very interested to read that monks and nuns speak about learning how to be celibate.  If celibacy was merely a status achieved by not having intercourse, there would be nothing to learn.  It’d be achieved by merely not having sex.   They state that it is critical important to learn this discipline (skill?) because it is so important that we learn how to share our love in other ways… monks and nuns (and all of us!) are meant to exist in community.   If we do not relate with one another, what is the point of community at all?

It seems clear that lifelong celibacy is a valid choice for people who are not monks or nuns.  Furthermore, because we are celibate so much of the time, because community is so incredibly important, it seems like we’d be wise to listen to what is said by groups that having been doing this for centuries.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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