Today Lake Chalice begins considering pride.

On the one hand, pride can be a necessary antidote to a history of shaming. Hence, if you hear about "Pride Month" or a "Pride Parade," you'd probably guess that the event celebrates things LGBTQI. There has indeed been a long history of shaming LGBTQI folk, and it's good for us to understand that every one of us has much ground for being proud of who we are as anyone else.

On the other hand, pride is one of the traditional seven deadly sins. Pride can be a problem for ourselves and for others.

In a delightful book called The Clown in the Belfry, Frederick Buechner (b. 1926), American essayist, novelist, and theologian wrote:
“Pride is self-love....Another way of saying Love your neighbor as yourself is to say Love yourself as your neighbor. That doesn't mean your pulse is supposed to quicken every time you look in the mirror any more than it's supposed to quicken every time your neighbor passes the window. It means simply that the ability to work for your own good despite all the less than admirable things you know about yourself is closely related to the ability to work for your neighbor's good despite all the less than admirable things you know about him. It also means that just as in this sense love of self and love of neighbor go hand in hand, so do dislike of self and dislike of neighbor. For example (a) the more I dislike my neighbor, the more I'm apt to dislike myself for disliking him and him for making me dislike myself and so on, and (b) I am continually tempted to take out on my neighbor the dislike I feel for myself, just the way if I crack my head on a low door I'm very apt to kick the first cat, child, or chair unlucky enough to catch my bloodshot eye. Self-love or pride is a sin when, instead of leading you to share with others the self you love, it leads you to keep your self in perpetual safe-deposit. You not only don't accrue any interest that way but become less and less interesting every day.”

In short, it takes a certain amount of self-love to take the risk of connecting and to stay out of "safe-deposit." It required a little pride for the LGBTQI movement in 1969 to begin resisting the forces of shame. Children today won't know about the events of that June, 44 years ago.

Early on a Saturday morning in 1969 June, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning persons rioted following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. The Stonewall riots were a watershed in the LGBT rights movement, and the impetus for LGBT pride marches that now occur around the world, celebrating June as Pride month, in commemoration of Stonewall.

The first Gay pride marches occurred in 1970 June, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. There was a parade that year in New York, and on the same weekend marches in Los Angeles and Chicago, and a “Gay-in” in San Francisco.

The next year, 1971, the second anniversary of Stonewall, saw Gay Pride marches in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, Berlin, and Stockholm.

By 1972 the participating cities included Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami, and Philadelphia.

In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton declared June "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.”

President Obama, in 2009, '10, '11, and '12, has declared June Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride month. In Gainesville, Florida, the annual pride parade is in October. Maybe it’s just too hot to march in June – or there aren’t enough students around. For most of the rest of the world, Pride Month is June.

Our little ones will not know this history. When today's toddlers are adults, they may not remember that there was a day when your gender and the gender of the person you wanted to marry had to be opposite before you could get married. We will have to tell them about that. With any luck, they’ll have a hard time getting it. They won’t see what the big deal is about Stonewall, because they will be able to take equality for granted.

With any luck.

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This is part 26 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 1 of 5 on Pride)
Next: Part 27: "Pride, the Wrong, and Pride, the Redress"
Previous: Part 25: "The Engine and the Steering Wheel"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


The Engine and the Steering Wheel

Seven principles for loving and lusting in a healthy and fair way have been developed by a Sisters of Mercy Nun, Margaret Farley. (Portions below in quotes are from Margaret Farley, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, 2008.)

1. Do No Unjust Harm

Harm can take many forms: “physical, psychological, spiritual, relational. It can also take the form of failure to support, to assist, to care for, to honor.” Lust tugs us toward situations in which either we or our partner are likely to be uniquely tender and vulnerable. Our values tell us to pay acute attention to the risks of harm.

2. Free Consent

Justice requires autonomy, and without free consent, there is no autonomy. Seduction or manipulation of persons who have limited capacity for choice because of immaturity, special dependency, or loss of ordinary power violates free consent. Promise-keeping and truth-telling are also aspects of honoring free consent, since betrayal and deception limit the free choice of the other person.

3. Mutuality

The old ideas of “the male as active and the female as passive, the woman as receptacle and the man as fulfiller” are violations of the mutuality principle. True relationship entails a context recognizing each partner’s activity and each partner’s receptivity -- each partner’s giving and each partner's receiving. “Two liberties meet, two bodies meet, two hearts come together” – and if they aren’t both bringing roughly equivalent levels of heart and self to the encounter, it isn’t mutual.

4. Equality

The partners bring roughly equal levels of power and autonomy to the relationship. Inequalities of power may come from differences in social and economic status, or differences in age and maturity. Teachers and their students have an inherent power inequality, as do counselors and their clients, ministers and their parishioners. The principle of equality also “rules out treating a partner as property, a commodity, or an element in market exchange.”

5. Commitment

A one-night stand “cannot mediate the kind of union -- of knowing and being known, loving and being loved -- for which human relationality offers the potential.” Nevertheless, a brief encounter may be morally justifiable as long as it includes two commitments: to each of the preceeding principles, and to openness to the possibility that the encounter may lead to long-term relationship.

6. Fruitfulness

The relationship should bear fruit in some way. Traditionally, the fruit of love is procreation. Making babies is one way to be fruitful and keep the relationship from closing in on itself. There are other ways. The point is that love brings new life to those who love, and that new life should bless the world, not just the lovers. Thus is love fruitful and for the good of all.

7. Social Justice

Here the invitation is to understand your own intimate relationship within the context of social justice, which requires that all people’s romantic and intimate relationships be honored and respected. “Whether persons are single or married, gay or straight, bisexual or ambiguously gendered, old or young, abled or challenged in the ordinary forms of sexual expression, they have claims to respect from...[faith] communit[ies] as well as the wider society. These are claims to freedom from unjust harm, equal protection under the law, an equitable share in the goods and services available to others, and freedom of choice in their sexual lives -- within the limits of” these principles.

When lust arises, pay attention to it -- neither indulging nor repressing. In the process, also pay attention to these seven principles of justice in sexuality.


So, you see, Plato, it’s not that there’s a good horse and a bad horse – as if our job were to suppress and quell the bad horse as much as we can so that the good horse can take us down the noble road. Rather, there’s an engine and a steering wheel. The steering wheel doesn't make the engine go, and doesn't turn it on or off. We ain’t going anywhere without the engine. Gotta love the engine, take care of it, maintain it. When it makes strange noises, figure out what’s wrong and get it fixed. We need that engine.

We also have a steering wheel. We don’t have a lot of control, and the glory of life is this amazing ride, most of which we don’t choose. But we do have some control. We can steer, kinda. Lust is a blessing. With thoughtfulness we can make good choices about what to do with that blessing.

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This is part 25 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 4 of 4 on Lust)
Next: Part 26: "Pride?"
Previous: Part 24: "More Than Two Possibilities"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


More Than Two Possibilities

We are emerging out from under the long shadows cast by Plato and Augustine. More and more of us now understand that our bodies are not corrupted prisons for our pure and ethereal souls, but, rather, our bodies are themselves vehicles of potential liberation and fulfillment. Our bodies are integral parts of our identity. We aren’t who we are without embodiment. The first awakening of romantic love is sparked by the lust that is our evolutionary heritage, and that we do not choose. It comes upon us unbidden. We “fall into” love.

Yet love and lust can certainly be directed by choice. Even in the beginning, we can influence the course our lust and thus our love takes. If we find that an attraction, an urge, has arisen within us, we have choices about what to do with that. We can indulge it. We can repress it, suppress it, deny it.

Those are not the only two possibilities.

We can, as it were, walk with it. Begin by just being with it. Bring presence and awareness to the urge. Without denying it or pushing it away, investigate it. What is it, exactly? What are the options for honoring it and addressing it? So often we think there is only one thing the urge is asking for, and we either go for it, or we’re horrified by that and try to suppress the urge. With patient presence, alternatives emerge.

You might choose not to identify with the urge. This isn’t the same thing as repression. It’s like: “I see you there lust, and I know you are not me. You are a simply a visitor who has come to see me today. I will treat you honorably, listen to what you have to say, but, no, I’m not turning over the keys to the house to you. Not today.”

You might choose to defer the urge, seeing a greater possibility of fulfillment at a later time and place. We can bring the urge into dialog with our values: that is, not allowing the urge to overwhelm our values, but also not attempting to use our values to deny the legitimacy of the urge. Just: bringing urge and values into dialog.

To have that dialog, it helps to be clear on what the values are. Margaret Farley, a Sisters of Mercy Nun whom Lake Chalice has referenced before (see here), articulated seven relevant value principles, of which there are, it just so happens, seven:

1. Do No Unjust Harm
2. Free Consent
3. Mutuality
4. Equality
5. Commitment
6. Fruitfulness
7. Social Justice

The urge of lust comes from a healthy and good place. When lust knocks at your door, be a welcoming and attentive host. But you don't have to do everything it proposes. Bring it into dialog with these seven values. In our next post, Lake Chalice will unpack a bit these seven lively values.

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This is part 24 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 3 of 4 on Lust)
Next: Part 25: "The Engine and the Steering Wheel"
Previous: Part 23: "Lust: Virtue and Vice"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


Lust: Virtue and Vice

Each one of the seven deadly sins – greed, anger, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, and lust – contains a virtue as well as a possible vice. In lust, the virtue is that it impels us to risk setting aside our usual defenses and entering into connection – entering into the most radical mutuality.

Radical mutuality comes from this: lust is not one desire, but two. It consists of the desire to please and to be pleased. Those two desires become one, yet conceptually we can begin by imagining them separate. Lovers A and B, in their consummation, find that A takes pleasure in B’s pleasure, and B takes pleasure in A taking pleasure in B’s pleasure, and A takes further pleasure in B taking pleasure in A taking pleasure in B’s pleasure. And so on. In this feedback loop, the two desires – to please and to be pleased – merge into one desire for pleasures belonging to neither lover separately.

While there is much about this that is voluntary, and mutual consent is crucial to the enterprise, there is also a significant role for the involuntary – for the delight we take in evoking from each other involuntary bodily responses. In the merger -- the envelopment and penetration -- there is a depth of surrender, a surrendering of rational will and separate identity, and thus a liberation from the tyranny of our separateness with its calculated self-protection.

The experience reveals, manifests, a spiritual possibility, to which we might be so present that it penetrates and envelopes us. We might learn to encounter each moment of our living with something like that ecstasy of merger – a continuous unfolding lovemaking with reality. The poet Kabir calls it making love with the divine.
“If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,
do you think ghosts will do it after?
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
And if you make love with the divine now,
in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire.
Then plunge into the Truth.”
There is this spiritual possibility, growing from lust, for radical mutuality. Certainly there is a blessing there. Yet there are also problems and risks. We can make love with the divine or screw with the devil.

Evolution made us get hungry when we haven’t eaten for a while. Evolution did not, as it were, “have in mind” the development of fettuccine alfredo, sweet potato and walnut burritos, or Americanized panAsian cuisine. We humans did that. Evolution gave us two basic facts: we like to eat, and, while our tastes are variable and trainable, in general we are especially attracted to foods that have the nutrients in which our ancient ancestors were otherwise likely to be deficient. We take those two facts, and we’re making the best of them. Only, sometimes we’re also making the worst of them: fast food, junk food, excessive intake of the sugars, fats, and salt that once were precious and hard to come by.

Evolution also made us with a desire to mate. Evolution did not, as it were “have in mind” the development of the positions and techniques depicted in the Kama Sutra or The Joy of Sex. We humans did that. Evolution gave us two basic facts: we like sex and, while our tastes are variable and trainable, in general we are especially attracted to young and healthy partners who are more likely to produce healthy children and protect and provide for said children. We take those two facts, and we’re making the best of them. Only, sometimes we’re also making the worst of them. Evolution gave us lust, which we can use as the energy that brings love into its most magnificent flower. But we can also misuse.

* * *
This is part 23 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 2 of 4 on Lust)
Next: Part 24: "More Than Two Possibilities"
Previous: Part 22: "An Open Letter to Plato about Sex"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


An Open Letter to Plato about Sex

Dear Plato,

What are we going to do with you, young man? I'm disappointed with the way you've been intellectually behaving. Don’t you know that your younger brother, Augustine, is just going to want to do what he sees his big brother doing, only he doesn’t even have your tempered judgment? It’s going to be trouble for all of us because of what you started. What were you thinking?

Well, OK, you told us what you were thinking, but let’s think again, for god’s sake.

Lust is not a bad thing. We would none of us be here without it. So what’s this nonsense about the charioteer with two horses? I refer, of course, to that passage in the "Phaedrus" in which you wrote about the good horse and the bad horse. You said:
“The one in the better position has an upright appearance, and is clean-limbed, high-necked, hook-nosed, white in color, and dark-eyed; his determination to succeed is tempered by self-control and respect for others, which is to say that he is an ally of true glory; and he needs no whip, but is guided only by spoken commands. The other is crooked, over-large, a haphazard jumble of limbs; he has a thick, short neck, and a flat face; he is black in color, with grey, bloodshot eyes, and ally of excess and affectation, hairy around the ears, hard of hearing, and scarcely to be controlled with a combination of whip and goad.”
What are you saying, Plato? Everything’s about control, control, control with you. Be a good charioteer, rein in those impulses of that bad horse.

I grant you that controlling ourselves is not an awful idea. In fact, most of the time it’s a pretty good idea. But, Plato, that’s not all there is to the good life. And I don’t think you were thinking about what affect that would have on Augustine. I’m not saying you’re responsible for all the misuses of your ideas by other people, but you tell me this: was Augustine misusing your ideas, or just logically extending them?

It was you, after all, who described all the pleasures of the body as “snares and the source of all ills.”

It's true that you are not the only bad influence on our little Augie. There was that Matthew. Just as you put words in Socrates’ mouth, Matthew put words in Jesus’ mouth. Matthew has Jesus say:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
That’s certainly taking the idea of control to a whole ‘nother level. Somehow it’s not enough to control what we do with our desires; we have to prevent desires from arising in the first place. God only knows how. The Jesus Seminar folks figure Jesus probably never said that, but Matthew said Jesus said it, and Augustine believed Jesus said it.

For Augustine, let me tell you just in case you haven't been paying attention, sexual relations are a bad, bad thing. However, we need kids, so sex must be endured. Ideally, there should be no pleasure involved. It should be like shaking hands. Through sufficient exercise of the rational will, we can control our feelings and impulses so that sexual activity occurs without any enjoyment, but solely for fulfilling the duty of procreating. Though even this is second best. Actually, fourth best.

The ideal would be a life of virginity of heart, mind, and body: without a hint of desire ever arising. Second best would be a life of unmarried virginity of body. Third, matrimony without sex. That’s fine if you can do it, but it’s risky to have a spouse around. Fourth would be matrimony with pleasureless procreative activity. Fifth, procreative activity accompanied by pleasure. This is pretty regrettable -- clearly a degraded state of affairs. But even that would be better than the sixth level, acting for the sake of pure sexual pleasure without intending to produce kids.

Now, Plato, don’t give me that, “It’s not my fault he’s seriously repressed” line. He took your ideas about rational will suppressing the impulses of desire and used that to lay out doctrines that repressed all of Christendom for the next 1600 years. And counting.

When Augustine took up the question of whether Christ was ever sad, he said, yes, Christ was sad at least once, “but sad by taking up sadness of his own free will, in the same way as he, of his own free will, took up human flesh.” But, you see, Plato, and I think you understand this much, sadness is not to be switched on and off by a free will decision. If anyone tells me they switch sadness on and off at will, I’m going to figure they’re not actually feeling the real thing. Same thing with sexual desire. Anyone who says they turn it on or off by rational choice isn’t really feeling the real thing.

Not all of life is about what we choose. Some of it is about what chooses us. Sometimes, in fact, we require loss of control. The good life is about being open to the surprises that come to us, including the surprising emotions, and involuntary sensations. The good life includes the possibility of intimate partners, and when and if we do enter into such a partnership, too much control kills it. We want to feel swept away, and we want them to feel swept away. We want to turn our bodies over to the nourishment of a grander thing – a thing grander than our individual rational choice, a thing we don’t choose or control, but simply serve, a thing called love.

Lust is the unchosen desire best satisfied through losing ourselves in the service of love.

Just think about it, OK?

Your concerned friend,

* * *
This is part 22 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 1 of 4 on Lust)
Next: Part 23: "Lust: Virtue and Vice"
Previous: Part 21: "Faith Envy"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


Faith Envy

In Joseph Epstein’s book, Envy, he observes that his greatest envy is for people who have managed to free themselves of envy. Early in the book Epstein mentions what he calls “faith envy”:
“This is the envy one feels for those who have the true and deep and intelligent religious faith that sees them through the darkest of crises, death among them.”
Then, toward the end of the book, he recounts:
“I envied people who can travel abroad with a single piece of luggage. I envied people who have exceedingly good posture. I still envy such people. And, above all, I envied – and continue to envy – those few people, favorites of the gods, who genuinely understand that life is a fragile bargain, rescindable at any time . . . and live their lives day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute accordingly.”
A strong faith does see us through dark crises, including death. If that faith is a liberal religious faith, then it is not the serene and obstinate insistence on certain incredible beliefs. Rather, liberal religion sees faith as an openness to whatever unknown the next moment may bring. Faith, in this light, is the very same thing as that genuine understanding of how fragile a bargain, rescindable at any instant, is life.

If we can envy envylessness, then we can direct our envy toward its own cure. Envy can be the "sin" that motivates us to a practice of learning to let go of envy. In the oldest branch of Buddhism -- Theravada Buddhism -- that practice is called mudita.

Mudita is one of the four Brahma Vihara -- i.e., four noble virtues or four sublime attitudes. The other three are upekkha, metta, and karuna. These words are Pali, the language of the oldest Buddhist scriptures. They translate roughly as follows:

Upekkha is equanimity. Metta is lovingkindness. Karuna is compassion toward those suffering misfortune. And mudita is sympathetic joy – joy at another’s good fortune.

Mudita is the direct antidote of envy. When I truly understand that we are not separate, then I know that another’s good fortune is my good fortune, for we are one. And, conversely, when we practice this noble virtue, mudita, taking joy in the success and good fortune of others, we begin to better understand that we are not separate.

Easier said than done. Through practice, though, it is possible to strengthen our mudita. When I suffer a pang of envy – and envy is suffering – I remind myself that from the universe’s point of view, the other person’s success is just as good as my own. Indeed, the other person’s success IS my own.

When the Miss America winner is announced, and Miss Indiana, or whoever it is, steps forward to be crowned, you see the other contestants smiling and applauding the winner, the one who beat them out. You may be thinking, "They are faking those smiles. Inside, all those runners-up and also-rans are consumed with envy." I don’t know. Maybe some of them are wretched with envy. Maybe others actually are sharing in the joy.

And if a given contestant is faking, that’s not so bad. "Fake it til you make it," as the 12-steppers wisely say. Pretend to have an attitude for long enough and eventually you really will have it. In mudita practice, it doesn’t matter whether you are pretending to feel sympathetic joy, or are actually feeling it. Either way, you are cultivating that feeling, strengthening the neurons that will allow you to go toward joy at the very moment when envy pulls toward misery.

When we're in the midst of a situation that triggers envy, it's difficult to remember mudita. So it's good to practice when you aren't in the midst of such a situation. Sharon Salzberg offers this beautiful meditation for cultivating and nurturing mudita.
"We begin with someone whom we care about; someone it is easy to rejoice for. It may be somewhat difficult even then, but we tend to more easily feel joy for someone on the basis of our love and friendship. Choose a friend and focus on a particular gain or source of joy in this person's life. Do not look for absolute, perfect happiness in their life, because you may not find it. Whatever good fortune or happiness of theirs comes to your mind, take delight in it with the phrase, 'May your happiness and good fortune not leave you' or 'May your happiness not diminish' or 'May your good fortune continue.' This will help diminish the conditioned tendencies of conceit, demeaning others, and judgment. Following this, we move through the sequence of beings: benefactor, neutral person, enemy [difficult person], all beings . . . all beings in the ten directions." (Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, p. 134)
Even if you don't think of yourself as an envious person, we could all use mudita strengthening. If you'll take 5 minutes, three times a week, to sit quiet and still and take your mind through this exercise, it will change your life. I guarantee it.

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This is part 21 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 4 of 4 on Envy)
Next: Part 22: "An Open Letter to Plato about Sex"
Previous: Part 20: "Upsides of Envy"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


Upsides of Envy

Envy -- arguably the least fun of the seven deadly sins -- has a positive side. The pinch of envy might spur us to a wholesome pursuit of justice, or it might drive us work harder to achieve the qualities we admire in others.

Envy springs from the same place from which comes concern for justice and equality. The impulse that makes us care about fairness and equality is a little voice that has been hardwired into us to say, “I don’t want anyone to have it better than me.” As William Hazlitt remarked:
“Envy, among other ingredients, has a love of justice in it.”
The envious tend -- for good and for ill -- to be injustice collectors. Envy is what we get mired in when the childish demand that everything be perfectly equal isn’t qualified and moderated by understanding.

Envy also has roots in another, secondary source: admiration.
“Aristotle writes of emulation as good envy, or envy ending in admiration, and thus in the attempt to imitate the qualities one began by envying” (Joseph Epstein)
Noticing a certain inequality – someone has a talent or a virtue in greater degree than you – you might want that for yourself, and so strive to emulate it. Admiration informs and motivates your own character development. Or, noticing an inequality that comes from some unfairness, we might engage for the sake of greater fairness. Both of those are positive, healthy, good.

Envy is the turning bad of these positive forces in human life. Kierkegaard wrote that
“admiration is happy self surrender; envy is unhappy self-satisfaction.”
Some people “feel envy only glancingly if at all,” others “use envy toward emulation and hence self-improvement,” and still others “let it build a great bubbling caldron of poisoning bile in them.”

We are built with different sensitivities. After all, some chimps pulled that rope to collapse the table and others didn’t. Still most of us compare ourselves with others -- and we want the comparison to favor us.
“Studies such as Robert H. Frank’s Luxury Fever have shown that people would agree to make less total money so long as they make more than their neighbors: that is, they would rather earn, say $85,000 a year where no one else is making more than $75,000 instead of $100,000 where everyone else is making $125,000.”
Indeed, H. L. Mencken said that contentment in America is making $10 a month more than your brother-in-law.

Academics and artists seem to be uncommonly afflicted with envy. The writer Gore Vidal admitted,
“Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”
The advertising industry is built on the aim of inducing as much envy as possible. Envy seems to cut across all economic systems. As the saying goes:
Under capitalism, man envies man. Under socialism, vice-versa.
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This is part 20 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 3 on Envy)
Next: Part 21: "Faith Envy"
Previous: Part 19: "Envy and the Desire for Equality"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"