Longing to Love & Be Loved | Mutual Belonging
Welcome back to the blog! We’re looking at our Eden Invitation’s core values through a particular paradigm: our core values meet a base longing and generate a mission call. This piece is about our second value: mutual belonging. It meets us in our longing to love and be loved. It generates the missional call to “grow systems of mutual support”—networks of community around us and others.
THE LONGING & ITS ACHE
“To whom do you belong?” | Genesis 32:17, 1 Samuel 30:13, Tobit 5:10, Judith 10:12
What a beautiful, terrifying question. If you’re a Christian with an LGBTQ experience, the answer isn’t always obvious. Belonging can seem to come with an admission ticket. If we can blend with the status quo, with expectations of “masculinity” and “femininity,” then we can get in the door. In a culture—and, let’s be honest, sometimes Church—that exults romantic relationships, having a partner seems essential to accessing life’s goods.
Belonging, of course, is more than “community.” A Reddit forum is called a “community.” A city of 200,000 people is a “community.” A parish of 5,000 families is called “Blessed Redeemer Faith Community” But who knows you? Who really, truly, knows you? For many of us, belonging isn’t a warm, safe room with a crackling hearth. Belonging feels like a hallway haunted by questions. Who will I put down as my emergency contact? Who will come on a spontaneous adventure, just because they love me? Who will hold me when I cry? Will anyone put me first?
It’s not good to be alone, they say. There’s a universal desire to love and be loved. It’s no wonder that this was the premier marketing campaign around the effort for gay civil marriage. “Love is love.” It appeals to one of the most basic desires of the human heart.
We often say that the Church is a family, and community can be found where you are. Maybe you felt warm in the Church once. You have fond memories of your dynamic youth group or post-college missionary program. Your local young adult scene did everything together…until everyone married off. Everyone but you. Maybe the warmth faded as you changed—when you put on the bowtie and suspenders instead of the skirt, when being the third wheel wasn’t intimacy enough anymore, when only your journal understood your loneliness.
Let's be honest...who is ready to invite me on their family vacations? Who show up at the airport at 1am when I book a cheap flight? Who prioritizes me on a Friday night? Who is for me? To whom do I belong?
THE VALUE | MUTUAL BELONGING
“There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men [and women] are to establish among themselves in truth and love.” | CCC 1878
Mutual belonging makes sense in light of our creation. We’re made in the image and likeness of a Triune God. This One God is mysteriously in eternal loving relationship within Three Persons. "The revelation in Christ of the mystery of God as Trinitarian love is at the same time the revelation of the vocation of the human person to love” (Compendium of Social Doctrine 34). After all, "God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image . . .. God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion” (Familiaris Consortio 11).
Relationships—interpersonal communion, if we want to get technical—are necessary for human flourishing. The Church tells us that a person “cannot fully find himself [or herself] except through a sincere gift of [self]” (Gaudium et Spes 24). “For by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others he can neither live nor develop his potential” (GS 12). This interpersonal communion requires friendship. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . .…this I command you: love one another.” (John 14:15). It requires authentic, selfless love. “Respect for the human person considers the other ‘another self’” (CCC 1944). Indeed, every “person’s heart should be thus considered ‘holy ground,’ a bearer of seeds of divine life, before which we must ‘take off our shows’ in order to draw near and enter more deeply into the Mystery” (Christ’s Vivit 67). So what does this look like?
POSTURE 1 | I REVERENCE EACH PERSON AS HOLY GROUND
At the first planning meeting for what would become Eden Invitation, I enthusiastically played Gungor’s song I Am Mountain. There was something so moving to me about the ethereal tones and lines, “Momentary carbon stories, from the ashes, filled with Holy Ghost. Life is here now; breath it all in. Let it all go; you are earth and wind.” Deep respect and honor is always due to those created in the image of God, no matter their circumstances or choices, be they an unborn child, a prisoner on a drug charge, an unsavory political figure, a trans activist, or your grandmother. To speak poetically, we are formed from God’s good earth, with the wind of God—our immortal soul—breathed in. Any heart can be fertile soil for the seed of the Kingdom of God.
This runs the risk, unfortunately, becoming a platitude. When it’s a quote paired with laughing young adults photographed at golden hour, I like it. When the next post is my old co-worker holding a protest sign, I forget the concept entirely. This is easier said than done. Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky has one of his characters in The Brothers Karamazov speak this disconnect:
"The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together…as soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom.”
I reverence each person as holy ground. This involves stepping outside of my own head, my own preferences, my own worldview. It involves encounter the person as person, unique and unrepeatable and radically loved by God. It involves respect and humility. It seeks first to understand. It is empathetic in burden-bearing. It takes a step back from its own demands to respect the freedom of the other. Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this in his book Life Together:
“The freedom of the other person includes all that we mean by a person’s nature, individuality, endowment. It also includes his weakness and oddities, which are such a trial to our patience, everything that produces friction, conflicts, and collisions among us. To bear the burdens of the other person means involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it … He who is bearing others knows that he himself is being borne and only in this strength can he go on bearing.”
Mutual belonging takes into account a diverse community, one with different life experiences, personal priorities, sensitivities, and spiritualities. We don’t necessarily have the same politics or liturgical preferences. Something that might be triggering your pain today is someone else’s glory story right now. To reverence the other, I must know that my own journey is not necessarily a universal one, including within my LGBTQ experience.
POSTURE 2 | I COME OUT OF HIDING TO BE LOVED
If I value mutual belonging, it needs to be mutual. I need to show up too. It can be easy to tuck ourselves around corners and into boxes. Personas have existed as long as human beings had something to hide from one another. Today, the internet has turned it nearly into an art form. Plenty of us are hiding in plain sight.
Where do I come out of my hiding place? First, we come out of hiding to be loved by God (more on that in the last blog). Next, we show up in safe, supportive friendships (check out our blog on vulnerability here). It takes courage, of course, to reveal myself. There are fears bundled up in vulnerability for everyone. We could summarize it simply: will I be received or rejected? Will an LGBTQ experience effect whether or not I belong?
It’s important here to many a special note about attraction. Over 90% of the people who reach out to Eden Invitation some degree of experience same sex desires. If you’ve spent any time in the “Catholic closet,” you’re probably dealing with shame and self-suspicion. This makes it difficult to enter into mutually intimate friendships. Can my heart be trusted? Maybe someone made an offhand comment or a speaker said something that made you afraid you were incapable of “safely” loving another person. St. John Paul II (Theology of the Body 1.46.6) counters this lie resoundingly:
“Man cannot stop at casting the heart into a state of continual and irreversible suspicion…it is important that in his ‘heart’ he does not feel himself irrevocably accused…but in the same heart he feels himself called with energy. Called precisely to this supreme value, which is love.”
Feeling extra suspicious of yourself and your desires? This is starting to get a little into the final posture, but it’s a nice transition. Here are some wise words from C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves:
“Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him, throwing away all defensive armor … Inordinate does not mean ‘insufficiently cautious.’ Nor does it mean ‘too big.’ It is not a quantitative term. It is probably impossible to love any human being simply ‘too much.’ We may love him too much in proportion to our love for God; but it is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the man, that constitutes the inordinacy … the real question is, which (when the alternative comes) do you serve, or choose, or put first? To which claim does your will, in the last resort, yield?”
POSTURE 3 | WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ONE ANOTHER'S GOOD
Catholic Social Teaching makes a bold claim. “We are all really responsible for all” (Solicitude Rei Socialis 38). We could consider this on a global scale in regards to future generations, like with protection of civil rights or stewardship of the earth. We could think of this on a sociopolitical level, with laws for the protection of the unborn or restorative racial justice. In practice, we have limited time, energy, and resources. We can’t do everything for everyone. Even in a community pledging mutual belonging—like Eden Invitation—no one can be all things to all people. But I can do my best to show up to my interactions in good faith.
When I make mistakes, I can own up to them and apologize. I can assume the best about others and forgive those who trigger my sensitive areas or sin against me. I can respect the “sacred separateness” of others and honor their personal boundaries. I remember that love wills the good of the other. That means not stirring up arousal in another person, but choosing chastity if I’m attracted to someone. I need to be aware when someone is struggling. I don’t make someone’s choices for them, but I’m called to encourage towards health and holiness. The epistles are chock full of good advice for this sense of responsibility towards our brethren:
“Love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. . .exercise hospitality. . .rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” | Romans 12:10,13,15)
“Now the body is not a single part, but many…as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as He intended…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary…so that there may be no division in the Body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another..” | 1 Corinthians 12:14,8,22,25
"All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” | Ephesians 4:31-32
It also means showing up, and creatively looking out for one another. One of my favorite things about Eden Invitation happened in 2020. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, a number of people lost their jobs. Some of our community members set up a “help share,” where community members with means could contribute to a common pot of money. People with needs—rent, groceries, etc.—could submit a need, and receive funds. We’re all called to take responsibility, with prudence and charity, for our brothers and sisters.
THE MISSION MOVEMENT | GROW SYSTEMS OF MUTUAL SUPPORT
When I have a safe space to show up, when I’ve learned to love others well, I’m starting to expand my love. I’m expanding my community into vibrant systems capable of support a whole lot more than I could with just one person.
In Catholic and Christian circles, “complementarity” is typically a buzzword about male and female relationships. This is partially true. In his letter on the role of the lay faithful (Christifidelis Laici), St. John Paul II broadens this notion. He says that communion with in the Church is “characterized by a diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states of life, of ministries, of charisms and responsibilities” (CL 20). In other words, systems of mutual support or necessarily diverse.
Intergenerational | We need peers in deep, life-sharing friends. We need mentors and spiritual guides. We need little ones to love.
Intervocational | State of life companions are essential. Beyond that, married people need to integrate single people into their lives. Single people need to love on families. Priests and religious aren’t just a support to the laity, but lay people can be a source of life for them too.
Open to mission and charism | It’s important for us to be in communion with people who have different interests and gifts.
Span gender and sexual experience | Cis and het, straight and queer., we need each other, because we’re all people.
This is what Christ models! He picks his apostles from a totally unique group of professions. He has women following him, including his own mother. He welcomes little children. He’s all about going to the margins. Christ is building mutual support among totally different people. This diversity—the diversity of the Body of Christ—draws out different parts of our personalities, gives new opportunities for virtue, and brings us joy we didn’t anticipate.