What the Vows Really Mean

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Also on this website:

Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story


THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

  Articles and Excerpts:

Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington

Why people need homosexuality to be a sin

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

Is it Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"

"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

You're Not A Wave

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

Cutting edge realization

What Anatman means

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

The World Navel

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

The Two Loves

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

 "The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross &
the Dark Night of the Soul."

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

The Hero's Journey as archetype

Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3:
Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4:
A Course in Miracles

The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

About Alien Abduction

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby at the California Institute

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

Our friend Tom Nash

About Kimberley McKell

Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter

The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion
by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Sanctity & Male Desire by Donald Boisvert

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revolutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCREATIONS, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods
by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

    An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Poverty, Chastity and Obedience

Money is energy and power. Money is life and vitality.

Of course that’s not what most of us actually experience in modern America. Instead of as energy and potentiality and power, we more likely experience money as powerlessness, scarcity, and privation. Rather than as a source of freedom, money is the cause of our lack of freedom to do whatever we want. Instead of abundance--to use that occasionally annoying code word from the New Age quasi-religions--for most people money is limitation and threat.

The abundance thinking, prosperity-oriented religions so often just work to remind us of our lack of money and, by extension, freedom and opportunity.

Abundance, after all, is a quality of life experience, a feeling of being empowered and capable of making ideal choices, of having the wherewithal to follow your bliss. But the reality is that money itself is a quantity, not a quality. It’s something that there is a definite amount of, and if the amount is not being increased (usually by working or, at least, attentive investing) then it is automatically being decreased and devalued.

But money is about numbers. Life, freedom and opportunity are about experience, something that cannot be quantized.

Perhaps the trick is to learn to think of money as quality, rather than quantity.


y own experience of money and scarcity/abundance was indelibly colored by my early adulthood in Catholic religious life, specifically, by the vow of poverty. As a novice, we took what were called “novitiate promises” of poverty, chastity, and obedience for the one year and one day duration of the novitiate. Then as first-professed, we took “temporary vows” that were specifically limited to one year. But I was a devout and fervent young brother: while officially I was only committing myself for a short time, under my breath, and in my private prayer, I was enthusiastically reciting the “solemn vow” formula “for my entire life.”
Haight & Ashbury
Well, it wasn’t too many years after that that I read Joseph Campbell and Alan Watts and began to think of myself as more Buddhist than Catholic, and more gay hippie than anything else. And officially those vows slipped into my past as outmoded relics of a bygone age and a youthful adventure that had really been about escaping marital expectations. But being a hippie entailed a certain kind of poverty; living in San Francisco meant being reminded of the City’s namesake and his life of simplicity and “going with the flow.” Being part of the so-called counterculture included rejecting the “middle class values” of comfort, success, climbing the social and economic ladder, and being respectable. And so underlying all my radical politics and anti-Establishment activism, were those solemn vows that in some new--and not so Churchy-ways still meant something and still colored my life.

Obedience, I understood, had come to mean being open to life and adventure, “following my bliss” as a way of obeying the promptings of my soul. Chastity, I understood, had come to mean placing sexuality in the context of spirituality and seeing divine love in the love of my partners, boyfriends, even tricks. And, most importantly, poverty had come to mean choosing meaning over riches and societally-sanctioned success.

Chastity is the vow that gets all the attention: it makes monastic life seem so restricting. But it’s really just freedom from marriage and family. Obedience is demanded of everybody in modern society; everybody has to obey traffic rules, legal procedures, and especially job-related obligations. It’s no big deal and, in practice, in religious life, it is hardly ever invoked. Poverty is the vow that really characterizes monastic life. It’s the biggie. And that is because the vow of poverty is about making money a quality, not a quantity. Poverty is what makes Catholic religious life look appealing even now. And so I have been have been pleasantly amazed at how it created a self-fulfilling prophecy and relatively pleased that I made that vow “for life.”

Here’s what poverty really means: in exchange for giving up private ownership in favor of common ownership and agreeing to live simply and at the same level as those in your community, you get total security, the promise of the community’s help in times of need, financial wherewithal to do everything you need to to fulfill your chosen life, often a neat to place to live (the Church has ended up owning some very interesting and wonderful buildings), and, most importantly, the freedom to choose a job and vocation that is meaningful without having to think about the salary. Poverty means never having to worry about money. Poverty means you can follow your bliss (so long as it isn’t too costly) and choose a profession because you want to, not because you have to.

The financial details for how this has manifested itself in my life aren’t that important; suffice it to say thanks to family, I’ve ended up with a regular stipend that, if I live simply, is enough. And that’s allowed me to be a professional gay activist, a therapist, a bookseller, and a writer. These are not professions one gets rich in, but they are immensely fulfilling and they contribute to changing the world. Another way of saying that is that if you can live beneath the means, you can have everything you ever really need.
Ascent of Mount Carmel by John of the Cross
It’s an important question how self-fulfilling prophecies at the level of karma actually get to be established. I think it has to do with devotion to the ideas and “faith” in them. Part of it has to do with the paradoxical nature of the universe: to live fully, you must be willing to die; to escape suffering, you must be willing to suffer; to overcome, you must give up all resistance; to have everything, you must give up everything.

Illustration from The Ascent of Mount Carmel by Saint John of the Cross

The point of all this is that money seems to manifest rules and dynamics in the universe that, in spite of the seeming contradiction, turn out to be spiritual. This is a lesson gay men learn about sex. The society says sex and spirituality are inimical—and look at what a fucked up mess society has made of itself on account of sex. The whole gay spirituality movement is founded on gay people’s discovery of the error in the common wisdom. That same discovery seems to be true about money as well.

Money need not be about luxury and riches and excesses and squandering. These are the errors that modern, capitalist, “profit-making” society ends up making and screwing up the whole spirituality of money as source of vitality and empowerment.

The spiritual message is that living beneath your means and choosing simplicity for the sake of overcoming suffering--your own and that of the world’s poor--brings freedom and joy and surprising abundance. The message of consumer-driven culture, just the opposite, to live beyond your means more likely brings complication, dependence, and paradoxically the gnawing sense of scarcity and privation (and credit card debt spiraling out of control).

Read Next: Manifesting from the Sublte Realms

The Myth of the Wanderer


Also of interest: Toby Johnson's life in San Francisco in the 1970s

Rainbow Flag 1978 & Living at 541 Castro St

rainbow line

Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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