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Newsletter #31: the bullshit rule
In today's newsletter: priests on Grindr, a coming podcast, an old TOB lecture, and the bullshit rule
Happy Tuesday! Here’s what’s in the newsletter today:
Priests on Grindr
A 12-year-old lecture on the Theology of the Body
The rainy season and the bullshit rule
Priests on Grindr
Over three weeks in May and June, I released a recorded conversation with Danny Peterson, a former Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Newark and now an openly gay man. We covered a wide range of topics, from his experience in conversion therapy to secrets kept by his diocesan seminary to ending up on Grindr as a priest to seeking freedom, healing, and wholeness. This is a really important conversation for the Church, one which the structures of the Church inhibit from coming to the light. So I hope you’ll take a listen and share:
Dear Alana: the queer Catholic life and tragic death of Alana Chen
Tenderfoot TV has just announced the release of the podcast Dear Alana, “a dual-narrative series created by Simon Kent Fung about the life and tragic death of devout youth Alana Chen, whose aspiration to become a nun led her to conversion therapy.” I cannot tell you how excited I am to finally be able to talk about the podcast. I’ve had the privilege to be working for the Dear Alana Project for the last year, serving as a consultant for a team consisting largely of Catholic conversion therapy survivors. They want to shed light on where it shows up in Catholic spaces and help bring accountability, change, and healing. And they want to honor the life of a young woman that was taken from us by horrible messages she received in her Church, in our Church.
More to come as we gear up for release in August! You can help by doing a few things:
Pull up the Dear Alana podcast in your mobile app and “follow” so that it will come up for you as episodes are released (link here).
Listen to the pre-release message from Simon.
As you listen, leave reviews to help raise the podcast’s profile.
Share all this with your friends, on your social media pages, with your parish, and anywhere else that comes to mind!
Organize discussion groups to follow the podcast release, to dig into how to drive accountability, healing, and change in the Church.
If you have a sizable following or work for a media organization and would be interested in helping to promote the podcast, please reach out!
Learn more about conversion therapy and ex-gay narratives in the Church. If you want to dig into some of my writings on these subjects, you can start here.
A 12-year-old lecture on the theology of the body
Every couple of years, I re-watch a 2011 lecture by Catholic philosopher David O’Connor on “how a real man looks at women.” As I did my most recent re-watch, it struck me that I’ve never really felt a need to deconstruct the “Theology of the Body.” I attribute much of that to O’Connor. His classes and lectures gave me approaches to Catholicism and sexuality that were resistant to a lot of the silliness floating around in the Catholic world. In the 2011 lecture he argued that a lot of TOB rhetoric is actually a shallow sentimentalism wrapped in pious language. Lectures like that helped me to approach TOB discourse in ways critical of a lot of popular TOB rhetoric.
Popular TOB rhetoric often strips sex of its inescapable humanity and makes sexuality all about ensuring you’re always theologizing it in the right way. As O’Connor argues, “This psychologizes the sexual act in the wrong direction.” And it misrepresents Wojtyla’s work. His writings, like sex, are messy and often incomprehensible. We should be wary when they’re simplified and sentimentalized.
Some more thoughts:
O’Connor’s 2015 book, Plato’s Bedroom: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love
The rainy season and the bullshit rule: some late night journaling
Some rambling thoughts…
9:34pm. My living room.
Currently playing: The Monk by the Sea, Caspar David Friedrich
I don’t know what to say. I think it’s kind of weird that I believe. I don’t have a good prayer routine. I’ve missed Mass regularly in recent months.
What is the honest thing to say? I guess I’m not sure. Part of this is me writing on the eve of the Fourth of July, where I think people are supposed to have plans and parties and people. And I have my living room and my dog and my martini that I haven’t made yet.
I bought The Shining. I’m supposed to read it for this book club. But this is another thing to add to the list. I don’t want to read it alone. It’s not that I want someone to read it with me. It’s that the book is a horror novel, and I don’t want to be alone at my house while I’m reading it.
That’s not one of the things they tell you about the single life: how it limits the things you can read when you don’t want to be alone at night with the imagination of Stephen King.
Maybe Stephen King will become my boyfriend. He and I will sit on my couch together, he freaking me out, and me getting some kind of perverse pleasure out of the ways he’s fucking with my mind. Just like a real relationship.
I’m not sure who to blame for this. Looking back, I feel like I never stood a chance. Like I was always going to end up either alone at home getting mind-fucked by Stephen King or dead. I used to believe in this dream, being surrounded by these people and shining the light of faith and doing this hard beautiful thing.
I do have a beautiful house. With all these books. Thank God I was disqualified for Church work. Imagine going through deconstruction with no money. What a fucking nightmare. Hard pass. I’d rather read a Stephen King novel than live one.
I worry that I have nothing to say. Or, I guess, I worry that I have nothing to say that’s of lasting value. I read all of these books with all of these ideas that probably made a lot of sense when they came out, and that definitely impacted a lot of people, and that I interpret through all of the ways I’ve seen it contribute to a bunch of bullshit in so many lives. Leanne Payne. Fucking Leanne Payne. I actually think she writes a lot of beautiful stuff. The last bits of that horrible book made me feel that God loves me, that this faith is real, that her faith is real. But then there’s all of the fucking shit in the rest of the book.
Is that what will be made of me? “He had some great moments, but, my God, people took his advice and it really fucked them up.”
I call it “the bullshit rule.” At any one time, every person is operating off of at least 15% bullshit. Unfortunately, we can’t really see that bullshit. Until some life event forces us to finally let go of that bullshit we’ve been holding onto. It’s like I’m building railroad tracks and I refuse to look at where they’re going because I’m so convinced this is the thing to do, and I put a bunch of people I love on the train, and it’s too late by the time I realize what I’ve done. I’ve laid the tracks, and set the train too fast, and I’ve thrown them over a cliff. I realize too late what I’ve done. I hope they’ll forgive me. And I can’t blame them if they don’t.
And then I have to decide. Is the problem that I was laying railroad tracks in the wrong direction? Or is it that I shouldn’t be laying railroad tracks at all? Should I just steer clear of all things train-related? Or should I continue to engage in this work, now that I’ve learned so much about how it can go wrong? Or am I thinking about this in an entirely wrong way?
I go through a grueling process of exploration. I dig out the 15% bullshit behind all this. I work through it. I change it.
But here’s the thing about the bullshit rule. We work through that 15%. We get rid of it. But we don’t realize that we actually have another 15% of bullshit that we’re holding onto somewhere else that we don’t see.
So it’s this constant game of getting rid of bullshit, while still being full of (at least some) bullshit.
Over time you learn that the lesson is: you need to get rid of your bullshit, but you also gotta be humble because you’ll never get rid of all your bullshit.
I don’t usually write like this, at least publicly. (I do text like this). There’s something about touching on my faith that brings out a bunch of expletives. It’s not necessarily that I’m angry. I just think that that’s the voice, that’s the tone, that’s if I’m being honest. I have a pious side. But that side, I think, is also kind of sarcastic and has a bit of a dirty mouth.
What is my justification for my faith? I’m not sure I have one. It’s just there. Like the rain. Just shows up and you’re covered in it. I guess it’s the rainy season.
What I’m reading…
You can follow along with my current reads at Goodreads.
Now accepting submissions!
If you like what I’m doing here and want to join in this developing project, I’d love for you to submit an essay, poems, or a short story for consideration. You can learn more here.