A Way Forward for my Vocation Has Emerged
And If You're Roman Catholic, The Plot Thickens
I suppose the main reason that I accepted a calling to ministry in 2018 is that I had grown weary of making a living primarily for myself and being too self-centered. I worked in business in a less-than-thrilling occupation. And I spent several hours a week poring over social media sites, posting my thoughts in blog-like bites, and commenting on posts by others.
After a while, the routine grew tired and I doubted that there was really much point to it. What could I do that could make a real difference? I even wondered if I was really succeeding at building the “Integral community” when it was so fragmented with weak ties on Facebook. Was it even a true community or just an odd assortment of individuals who liked water cooler banter and arguing with “talking heads”?
As I thought of it, my vocation would have been obvious had I remained in the Roman Catholic Church. In the Church, men with a lot of commitment to spiritual things and passion for nurturing community go into the priesthood or become monks in one of dozens of religious societies or serve the Church as theologians. However, in my 20s, I stepped away from the faith on a sabbatical, and then in my 30s, I announced my resignation from Catholicism (you can read the post “Breaking Up with God is Hard to Do” in Soulfully Gay).
Having eschewed the most logical choice for my vocation and acknowledging that I needed a new career, I felt that there might be an innovative alternative: I could become an Integral Minister. This posed a problem because there was no integral church or spiritual community that I was aware of, and the one or two people who had tried to become ordained integral ministers failed to get it off the ground. I hear that an aspiring integral minister even asked Ken Wilber for ordination, but he said that it wasn’t in his job description.
After a search for ways of accomplishing my objective, I found a spiritual organization with ordained ministers, and after reviewing my background and essay they let me know that a bishop in the Esoteric Interfaith Church was happy to ordain me as an Integral Minister. This accomplished the formal part of the ministry process, but it all happened by email and mail, and it felt probably too cheap. When I compared it to the years-long and rigorous vetting given to ministers in a wide range of religious organizations, I wondered how much this piece of paper was really worth. I was grateful that they satisfied my request for ordination, but I was only just beginning to discern what being a minister was all about.
Today, that process goes on. It would be so much easier if there was an established organization that could provide ministerial formation and support, but without one, I feel that I must do this virtually alone. And my thoughts and plans for this vocation have come and go. Yes, I can design a future in this occupation with the privilege of working full-time in an unrelated occupation, but this comes at the cost of making me feel divided. It’s like I don’t trust my quasi-religious vocation enough to “step into it with both feet”, and I’ve hedged my bets in ways that may prevent me from succeeding (I fear) in either occupation so long as I don’t choose between them.
And so I have found a way forward that allows me to resolve a lot of these outstanding problems. It allows me to bridge divides in my spirit that I didn’t even know I had. It is as risky as I can stand it, but the upside potential in terms of my own happiness can’t be priced. It seems like it will turn everything in my life upside-down. I want to tell you what it is but this post has gone on too long, and so I will tell you soon what I have in mind.
But in the meantime, let me just say that I will be going back to Divinity School where I will finish a degree that I didn’t finish a few decades ago. I am dreaming of Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston. By making up my mind, I haven’t resolved all my vocational questions, but I have picked a way to answer them with the help of a supportive community and many intellectual resources for my education and formation.
The theological topics that I want to pursue in graduate school begin with this one: I believe that the systematic philosophy that I sketched in Soulfully Gay could perhaps transform the field of theological ethics in relationship to homosexuality because it shows how same-sex love is not “disordered” but rather “differently ordered” in respect to nature and universal spiritual truths.
My perspective is an outlier among contemporary spiritual outlooks that affirm same-sex love because it doesn’t just affirm queer identities because they disrupt oppressive heterosexual norms or affirm them based on the pastoral need to support a person’s self-esteem; the theory I call “The Two Directions of Love” honors both the unique contribution of same-sex love to human/divine relations and the universality of that love.
What’s more, although my philosophy is basically Christian, I believe that it can also be adapted to other religious traditions. Over more than a decade, I lived with these ideas in my own life and refined them so that they speak not only to sexuality but to gender, and I believe they may also suggest a new role for transgender identities in human nature.
What do I mean by “basically Christian”? Well, as I contemplated that question I started to sense barriers in my psyche come down gently, as if I were snapping together pieces of a puzzle until the picture on the cover comes into focus. And my mind turned over thoughts of going to Mass for funerals, me pleading with a Catholic priest to help me deal with a spiritual crisis, and my growing discomfort with father modernity and his postmodern children.
It so happens that I went to Mass at the Cathedral on the fourth Sunday of Advent with many poignant unresolved questions in my heart and mind. I knew something about “The Two Directions of Love” that few others understood: there was no irreconcilable disagreement between my positive estimation of same-sex love with orthodox Catholic teaching. All through the smells of incense and the chanting of the choir, I felt a spiritual experience unlike any before. It was an experience of God as Church.
I had had a thousand reasons why I could never remain Roman Catholic starting with its teachings on sexuality and ending at “but the Spanish Inquisition”. And none of them mattered anymore. No, that’s not it. They all mattered in due time… but not now. I trusted that they could be resolved satisfactorily in graduate school. And then there was no more reason for me to withhold my membership from the Catholic Church, and every reason to acknowledge the thousand reasons that I loved the Church and many, many things about it.
What just happened to me on that Sunday in Advent? Had I re-converted to Roman Catholicism after thirty years as a prodigal son?
I think the answer wasn’t obvious at first, though I was immediately aware that my allergy to Mass attendance and receiving sacraments was gone. And I was filled with a joyous affection for the Church that I hadn’t seen since childhood. And in only a matter of days I started to grasp that my stance was to be faithful but critical, and to keep my integral framework in conversation with Catholic Christianity.
God has called me serve their Church. But I don’t think they meant joining the Roman religious orders. I think God has give me a more unique sort of ministry, one that must deeply explore the collision of Catholicism and metamodernity in our time. But can I find a way to reconcile being an Integral Minister in an interfaith sect with being a practicing Catholic?
Catholicism is much more integral in spirit than you might think, and integral (which seems to have forgotten its lower-right quadrant) could learn a thing or two from 1.4 billion servants of a Church with seamlessly marries particularity with catholic universality. I’m not sure yet how Integral and Catholic can come together out there, but if they can fructify in my life, that’s a good start.
Having recently reaffirmed my commitment to a ministry in the integral / metamodern community, I have begun to take the next logical step: forming an organization to support my work and meet our spiritual needs. You can expect an announcement in the next several weeks with more.
As a consequence of my decision to start a church, I am going to have to blog unpredictably (and probably less) on Substack. In fact, I will have to reassess the direction of the newsletter so that it works with the ministry plans. It’s flex and flow time.