“Love the sinner, hate the sin” (or, the new scarlet letter)

ImageI went to college with someone who is now a rather famous priest in the Catholic Church, famous in the sense that he has popular books for sale in Barnes & Noble and in the sense that he is frequently on TV.  Today, on his official Facebook page, he posted this:

  • I was just asked how to minister to gays: Same as to straights: friendship, love, honesty. Yes, friendship, love, honesty.

A lot of responses to his post were predictable.  I lost count of those who said, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  Eventually I couldn’t help but chime in and ask such people this: do they apply such a stark demarcation, such a stalwart principle to their own lives and to the lives of their non-gay, sinning friends?

Never have I seen this slogan used more than with regards to homosexuality. It’s as if any Christian HAS to qualify their love: “OK, I’ll love you, but let’s be CLEAR here. I’m only loving YOU, i’m NOT loving your SIN!” It’s as if homosexuality is the leprosy of the Christian/Catholic world.  When someone who uses this inane slogan embraces the alcoholic who has fallen, yet again, and needs support and encouragement to get up and try to get sober, do they say to him, “hey listen, I want to be honest here. I’m loving YOU, not your sin.” Do they insist on using this meaningless slogan to the pregnant teen, who is scared and alone and who is considering abortion? “Hey missy, just so there is NO misunderstanding, I’m only here to love YOU. I can’t be seen as accepting your sin AT ALL.”  If any Christian says these things, first of all, shame on them. Second, how effective do think that witness would be?

How about sins that are considered to be more damaging to the soul, sins like pride and spiritual sloth and judgement?  If a Christian sees one of their friends committing these sins, are they quick to say, “hey pal, whoa, I still love you, but man I hate your spiritual sloth.”  How ludicrous.

Yeah, somehow I doubt it. I could be wrong, but when I was Catholic, I didn’t see that happening. Ever.  Not once.  Now, I *DID* see good, honest people “calling each other on,”  which meant that if one Christian person thought another Christian person was doing something wrong, and they had a close relationship, the wrong doer would be admonished in a loving, kind way.  But how is this any different from any non-Christian friendship?  I would consider it very foreign, and indeed not a friendship at all, if I did something wrong and one of my friends did not say something to me about it.

Back to the topic at hand, homosexual “sin.” It’s as if these people somehow think that the stain of the homosexual’s sin is going to mark them, like a Scarlet H, and they’ll be judged by God and everyone else that they *gasp* accepted and *choke* loved a homosexual.  Do they think that the gay will rub off on them, for goodness sakes?  I really do not think that this is an exaggerated view.  I have heard so many Christians quote Leviticus, which calls a man lying with a man an abomination, when speaking about this issue, yet fail to mention the other abominations mentioned in Leviticus.  I have seen the disdain in the faces and have heard it in the voices of those who speak about “those who sin against nature.”  I know a mother and father personally, prominent Catholics, who have disowned their gay son because of his “choice of lifestyles.”

You know what’s interesting? I’ve learned more about love from some of my gay friends than from most Catholics I’ve known. And you know why that is? Because these people *know* what it means to suffer. To *really* suffer. If you can come through the sort of suffering that many of them have had to endure and STILL be a loving, compassionate soul, instead of one that hate’s the world and everything in it, that’s really something.

I love my gay brothers and sisters.  I want the world to know that.  They have taught me much about what it means to live.  And I stand with them.  Now and forever.

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Addiction

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I don’t quite know why the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman has made me so sad. Maybe it’s because I really, really loved his work as an actor or maybe it’s because we were just about the same age. Maybe it’s because I am, like he was, an addict. Maybe it’s an amalgamation of those things and more. Whatever the reason, I’ve been sad since his death.

I didn’t know him, and for all I know the man could have been a complete jerk. But wow, could he act! He played some of my favorite characters. I wonder what it is, this connection between the highly creative and the addicted. We see it so often. Of course, they don’t always go together, but they happen often enough that surely there’s something there.

As for me, I’ve been lucky. My addiction to prescription pain medication was caught early on. It started early in my teen years, when I was first diagnosed with classic migraines. Back then, there weren’t a lot of preventative treatments, so the neurologists that diagnosed me just gave me a shitload of percocet. Not good for a young man who had a family history of drug and alcohol addiction a mile long. I’m very lucky to have had a mother who stepped in a few years later when things were getting really rough to help me get clean.

Here I am though, almost 44 years old, and the “rapacious creditor” of addiction still plagues me. I still have to be extremely careful with alcohol. It doesn’t take much at all for me to drink everything in site and black out. A couple of years ago, I developed pneumonia. The doctor prescribed a cough syrup with hydrocodone in it. I thought, yeah, i can take week’s worth of syrup as prescribed. It was gone in less than 48 hours. And god forbid I get a hold of an unlimited amount of money. I still struggle with smoking, having started that nasty habit at the age of twelve.  I could go on all night, listing the addictive behavior I’ve been enslaved by, but I’ll spare you the gory details.

What is it that causes this craziness? As a former therapist, I know the theories, yet I’m still perplexed by this problem which plagues so many people today. And I’m even more perplexed why some people are able to get free of these demons and some aren’t. I had heard in a few placed that Phillip Seymour Hoffman was clean for over 20 years before his most recent relapse.  For me, it’s been a cause of despair at times.  When will the maddening temptations end?  “Some say that the only way to be free of the desire is to give in,” we hear from some recovery literature.  Yet that same recovery literature promises that a higher power can and will deliver you if he/she/it is earnestly sought.

I never found that to be true.  God never showed up.  At least not in a discernible way, a way that he/she/it seemed to for so many others (at least, the way they claimed).  And that, in part, is why I don’t really believe anymore.  It may sound sad to some, but it’s my story.  To me, it’s not sad at all.  It was very liberating to shake the dust from those sandals, to finally speak those words that, for so long, I was afraid to say:  “I don’t believe in you.”  So I found something else.  Meditation does it for me now.  I don’t have to rely on the whims and fancy of someone or something “out there” to save me from myself.  In fact, I’m learning that I don’t even need to BE saved!  I have an innate goodness, built right into me.  I am a Buddha.  I am recovered.  Yet at the same time I am still wounded and broken.  I am both, and.  It’s when I sit, breathe, and I’m really connect that I am no longer plagued by the crazy compulsions anymore.  It’s then that I’m really at peace.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation.  I don’t know about that.  Christians believe in Heaven.  I still like that thought, to be honest, but I’m really not sure what happens after we die.  My hope for Phillip Seymour Hoffman is that he continues on, but without the suffering that he had here in this life.  The gifts he shared with us will certainly be missed.

I’m not sure any of this made sense, but if you stuck with it through the rambling, I thank you.