When Wife-Unit and I stumbled upon this article by Wesley Hill we got quite excited. It is, you’ll agree, rare to hear a Christian talk about homosexuality and still make sense. Hill had found a way to talk about Jesus as the greatest treasure a man can find without falling into unrealistic and troubling language about “curing” gayness or arguing that contrary to what Scripture and tradition says with clarity, sex outside of marriage is ok.

I ordered his book, Washed and Waiting, the moment I heard it was being published and finally got my hands on it this week. It is superb. I recommend it to pastors as a guide to how to care for the gay people in our congregations. I recommend it to people struggling to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of same-sex attraction. I recommend it to people who like honest testimony and solid argument, regardless of whether you are gay, Christian or even human.

Hill hopes that this book will:

encourage other homosexual Christians to take the risky step of opening up their lives to others in the body of Christ. In so doing, they may find, as I have, by grace, that being known is spiritually healthier than remaining behind closed doors, that the light is better than the darkness.

I think the book is a really solid work of theology. Hill’s desire to follow Jesus is depicted as a beautifully organic thing that is natural and authentic to his life. The result is that he manages to bypass much of the polemical heat that you might expect in a book like this. He is not arguing ideologically for anything. He is instead letting you in on the argument he is having with himself. It is humbling, disarming and insightful. An example of this angle to the book might be the way he describes his ultimate realisation that he is gay:

For me, admitting this to myself – I have memories of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark, mulling it over, forming the word homosexual silently on my lips – was like an awareness that steals up on you one day out of the blue. It was there all along, but you saw it just then. There was nothing, it felt, chosen or intentional about my being gay. It seemed more like noticing the blueness of my eyes than decided I would take up skiing.

I realise as I write that this review could turn out to be very long if I were to discuss everything in this small book that got my mind turning. Aside from a very weak treatment of the movie Garden State, there was nothing I could criticise. The three chapters about his spiritual struggle are interspersed with chapters on prominent gay and celibate Christians, Henrí Nouwen and Gerald Manley Hopkins. Where’s (newly minted) St. John Henry Newman though?

This is not a text of sexual theology, although as I have said, in drawing on resources like Rowan Williams’ The Body’s Grace, it is well founded. It is more like a theological biography, a spiritual memoir that reveals the specific shape of the struggles facing gay Christians that all of us share in varying forms. In that, it is hugely effective.

I don’t want to present myself as an ignorant and unempathic loser but I can honestly say that I never fully grasped what homosexuality is until I read Hill recount an experience on the dancefloor of a wedding. It’s worth a long quote:

Karis was a girl I had known a little, never well, when we were in school together; now it was time to try to dance with her, I guessed, a bit nervous. “Karis, this is Wes,” my friend introduced me. I felt even more awkward. I had forgotten how beautiful Karis was. Her light eyes were flashing as she smiled mischievously, and her black hair fell in loose curls just above her shoulders. She was wearing a dress with spaghetti straps that showed plenty of her lightly tanned neck and shoulders.

“I should warn you, I’m not great at this,” I said after Karis had led me onto the dancefloor. “No worries,” she said, “I’ll show you how it goes.” “Put your right hand here,” she instructed, reaching for my hand and placing it on the small of her back. Step by step, she tried to teach me as my mind wandered. We danced for a while, experimenting with different steps as the music changed.

Next to us, several feet away, was another couple. They were good – really good – dancers. Full of energy. They were laughing and moving in sync with the groove. I couldn’t take my eyes off the guy. I started to feel dazed and a little queasy as Karis and I kept dancing. Finally, perhaps sensing my frustration, Karis suggested we take a break. I stepped off the dance floor, relieved – and very confused.

A couple of day later I explained to my friend Chris over breakfast what happened. We danced, I said. I was with this beautiful girl. I was holding her hand and touching her back. Her dress was thin and showed every curve on her body, I said. I could feel her sweating through the dress, and, inches from her face, I could see every exquisite feature she had. “And, Christ,” I said, “I felt nothing. No attraction. No awakening or arousal of any kind. No sexual desire whatsoever.”

It sounds stupid to have to say this, but I never realised that in this sense, being gay is unimaginably difficult. I have been blinded by the fact that homosexuality is an attraction to the same sex (which I can understand) and so haven’t seen the extent to which (obviously) that means no attraction to the opposite sex. The lack of well-fitting desire is a hard hard thing. Thank God for well apportioned appetites! I not only understood homosexuality better, but I began to see why Hill felt his book might be of help to people with eating disorders or chemical dependences.

Ultimately, the book is a paean to the church and its restorative potential. He says that:

We’re better of for all that we let in – including all the pain we let into our lives when we open up our souls to the fellowship of the church. That pain is better than the pain of isolation.

It is a lovely, thought provoking, light casting book. The struggle Hill fights is intense and inspiring. Track it down if you can.

Your Correspondent, He thinks he is turning Japanese, he really thinks so