Michael B Kelly: “Seduced by Grace”

Last night’s Mass in Soho was eventful for three different reasons – over and above the Mass itself.  Before Mass, I was interviewed for the first time by a reader, a visiting journalism student from Phoenix, Arizona.  After Mass, we arranged a screening of the powerful documentary movie, “For the Bible Tells Me So”.  I have written of this before (and hope to do so again), but a second viewing was welcome.  This was an entirely new venture, undertaken with some uncertainty whether people would stay for a further 90 minutes after Mass and refreshments, but we need not have worried.  Close on 30 gay men stayed behind – and our token straight woman.  (Where were our lesbian sisters, I wonder?). The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we will undoubtedly repeat the exercise on other occasions.

But we were still not done.  After the screening, were introduced to another visitor, Michael B. Kelly from Australia, founder ofRainbow Sash Australia, a noted retreat director and a writer on spirituality from an explicitly gay male perspective. He is in London to present a paper at an academic conference on spiritualityin which he is to argue (if I understand him correctly) that gay men, by reflecting and sharing on their erotic experiences and using them in their own practice of spirituality, can make a valuable contribution to spirituality in the wider church.  This is a paper that I dearly long to read when I have the chance – and hope to persuade Michael to allow me to post it here.  After a brief meeting at the church, I was determined to continue the discussion, so accompanied Michael and others to supper in Soho, where we enjoyed further lengthy conversation on matters religious and sexual.  I will meet up with him again, and will certainly write more about his work and insights on other ocassions.




What I want to share with you now is some reviews I have come up against of his book, Seduced by Grace.

Seduced by Grace_ Michael Bernard Kelly

I have not as yet had the good fortune to read it for myself, but on the strength of my meeting with him, and the reviews I have read, I would heartily urge you to hunt down a copy and read it for yourself.

From a perspective which is gay, but not Catholic:

“While the dyspeptic (iconoclastic?) Christopher Hitchens is content to go on bashing his straw-man ‘God’ (see God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007), a more interesting set of insights into that tired, overworked tradition has come from what might seem to be an unlikely source — a self-professed Gay man and, moreover, one who knows from first-hand experience the shortcomings of his Church (specifically, its Roman Catholic incarnation). For Michael Bernard Kelly, as David Marr puts it, has ‘has come out but stayed in’—rather than quitting a homophobic Church in disgust, he is pushing for it to renovate itself from within. A potent collection of thoughtful writings by Kelly, the noted Australian Catholic dissident, Seduced by Grace gathers essays, articles, letters and talks he has produced over almost a decade, from late 1998 to May 2004, that are at once an acutely accurate critique of the shortcomings of the Church and a poignant testimonial to the heroic spirit that has, at times, invigorated it.

Kelly the activist is (in)famous in Australia. He was one of the founders of the Rainbow Sash movement that has been a thorn in Cardinal George Pell’s side, with its public challenge to the Catholic Church’s treatment of Gay and Lesbian people (the movement has been taken up in the United States, also) and in this role, he has become a prominent media spokesperson for Gay Catholics. But as is clear from the opening piece in this collection, “On the Peninsula, alone with God,” Kelly’s activism is grounded in contemplative practice. He has produced a stimulating video lecture series, “The Erotic Contemplative: the spiritual journey of the Gay Christian” (through Joseph Kramer’s Erospirit Institute) and leads Gay spirit retreats at Easton Mountain, in New York State, as well as in Australia and the U.K. His voice reaches loudly and clearly across the once impassable divide between eros and spiritus. Kelly is now working on a doctorate in the field of Christian mysticism and Gay experience at an Australian university.

Raised in an Irish Catholic family in Melbourne and educated in Church schools, Kelly was smitten early with the religious life and served as an altar boy, assisting priests in the celebration of Mass, as all good Catholic sons would do. As a teenager, he was inspired by the life and example of Francis of Assisi —“Who could resist a dancing saint?” he asks in his short piece on the inspiring 12th Century figure. He actually joined the Franciscans at 17, but eventually left the Order, and while remaining celibate, continued to work as a religious education specialist and campus minister in Catholic schools and universities for a further seventeen years, before taking the fateful decision to come out, and to come to terms with his sexuality — a decision which, of course, cost him his job. But he continued his studies in theology (including a master’s in spirituality in San Francisco) and today inspires many men with his revisioning of a spiritual life not predicated on a denial of the body. Kelly says his dick keeps him honest.

More power to him. This is the kind of “real world” starting point that earths his spirituality and renders his positions convincing to those of us who have found more breathing room outside the stifling environs of Christian idealism.”

Read the full review at the White Crane.

Or, for  a perspective which is Catholic, but not gay, go to Catholica Australia:

“By the time I’d finished reading I was convinced that every family with a gay* member should read this book — but I soon corrected that to everyone — full stop! Michael has something very important to say and we do ourselves and society a disservice if we don’t give him a hearing. As Catholics, we pay lip-service to any ideas of ‘compassion, sensitivity and respect’ if we don’t at the very least enter into a dialogue with gay people — which includes truly listening to them — and Michael B Kelly is certainly a worthy spokesperson.

“As a woman I don’t pretend to understand what it must be fully like to inhabit the body and psyche of a man, yet I love men, and particularly my husband and my own son. As a heterosexual I likewise find it extremely difficult to personally understand what it must be like to inhabit the psyche of someone who is sexually attracted to others of their own sex. It’s almost like me trying to imagine what it must be like to have been born black. In the music industry I have worked with many people who are gay, and some of them have become close friends.

Michael’s voice is a prophetic one. It enables us to better understand what it must be like to feel imprisoned as one of the sectors of society who are discriminated against and maligned because of the life circumstances they were borne into and have very little control over. Michael Bernard Kelly is a man who carries himself with great dignity and, in a very real sense, provides leadership not only to gays but to other sectors in society who are discriminated against and maligned unjustly.”

I was intrigued by the reference to Kelly as ‘out’ (as gay), but still ‘in’ (the Catholic Church).  Some of my readers may recall that that was virtually the title of my opening statement when I set up this blog – “Welcome: Come In, and Come Out“.  We clearly share a lot in common.

I repeat:  find this book, and read it.

More Worms (Sexual Abuse and Me: continued.)

Preamble:

Scroobious responded to my previous post by quoting Chandler from Friends: “Can – open. Worms – everywhere!”  Sorry to do this, Scrooby, but today there are more cans and more worms – and they’re breeding.

The content of this post does not belong on this blog.  It has (almost) nothing to do with the church, and nothing strictly to do with LGBT/queer.

It is also not easy to write (especially as my daughter is one of my most loyal readers), and may be disturbing to read. Those of a sensitive disposition – be warned. However, it is an important  sequel to my last post on the subject, and an essential prelimiary to my more important observations on abuse in general, and of the church in particular.  And so it must be done.




The Gang Show, Johannesburg, 1960′s.

In my early teens, I spent some very happy years as a boy scout in a troop affiliated to our Catholic parish (although the church connection is only minimally relevant here).  A highlight of these years was my annual participation in the local “Gang Show” – a variety concert produced annually as a regional fundraiser, by individual boys and adult scouters drawn from scout troops across the city.  From my own troop, there were three adults fully involved (sometimes more), and 6-8 boys.  Transport was provided for the whole group by the dedicated scoutmaster, who drove a typically 60′s VW ‘Kombi minibus, in which we all travelled twice a week to rehearsals, and later to performances.

During the third year of my participation, when I will have been about 13, I found myself being befriended by a man who was the District Commissioner for my own troop.  It did not occur to me to question why I should have been singled out for his attentions – although I did become aware that he had a reputation for having befriended other pretty young faces in previous years.  On a few occasions, he volunteered after rehearsals to drive me home in his smart red convertible.  These trips were without incident – exccept for the  icecreams he treated me with en route.

The climax of the rehearsal period always came with a weekend scout camp, for intensive rehearsals, wardrobe fittings, and technical preparations,  as well as more conventional scouting fun things – an evening campfire and the like.   Given the large numbers attending, there were not tents for all, so the boys and some of the adults spread our sleeping bags in a large shed of some kind:  30 or 40 boys, and perhaps 6 or 8 adults.  Surprise:  one of those adults was my district commissioner, who contrived to lay his sleeping bag next to mine.

After lights out, after quiet had begun to settle, he began to whisper endearments, then surprised me by slipping  his hand inside my sleeping bag, and caressing me – before giving me my first experience of fellatio.  I vividly remember two incidental features in particular:  his constant assurances that what he was doing was not wrong, as he was simply expressing his great affection for me; and the after action cigarette he lit up, the red coal glowing brightly like a beacon in the night.   (Complaints from the other adults about the smoking made it clear the other adults were not yet all asleep).

During the 40+ years since, I have never thought of the experience as particularly traumatic.  What I found remarkable, and want to stress now, is not that the event occurred, but the obvious (albeit passive) collusion of the other adults around us.

This man will have been well known to the adults of my own troop – he was our district commissioner. They must surely have known of his reputation – if I, in my innocence and naivety, overheard rumours of his attentions to other young boys, so would they.  Yet they went along with him in allowing him to butter me up on transport home.  Then, on the night of the camp, could the other adults n the shed really have been oblivious to what was going on amongst them?  Even if they did not realise the full extent, nor made out the actual words, surely they must have realised that the constant low murmuring was from an adult man addressing a young boy under cover of darkness?

Final reflection:

Whenever I have had cause to recall these events, I have felt and believed that I did not  feel particularly ‘traumatised’ or ‘victimised’.  That was certainly so at a conscious level. However, in starting to write this series of posts, and thinking about this one in particular, I have found myself emotionally affected at a level I have not done before.  I also now recall something previously forgotten – a deep feeling of confusion and panic as I realised he was doing down on me.

Now I have to ask:  if writing about psychological trauma is healing and therapeutic, but I have never before felt traumatised, why have I now felt the need for healing?

I hope this has not been too uncomfortable to read, but you were warned. Thanks for sticking with me.  Now there will be no more dirty lttle secrets – the next instalment will move on to the lessons and conclusions I draw from the experiences.

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