Table of Contents
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
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging
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
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
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 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
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
Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson
Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey
by Fenton Johnson
Houghton Mifflin, paperback, 336 pages, $19.95
Available from Amazon.com -- new and used -- paper and hard cover. Also available for Kindle.
Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey
This review appeared in White Crane Journal #60, Spring 2004
I loved this book. Beautifully written, academic but deeply personal, wide-ranging but simultaneously focused and disciplined (like a good meditation), Keeping Faith directly addresses the issues of modern spirituality—and gay spirituality in particular: how to understand and honor the spiritual quest that leads some people to eschew the normal life of marrying and raising a family in order to live as a monk (or at least a full-time, committed meditator) and to be sensible, modern, “scientific,” and psychologically-sophisticated at the same time. That is to say, what does “faith” mean today?
Fenton Johnson grew up in the little Kentucky town near the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, the monastery made popular, at least among Catholics, by Thomas Merton, probably the best known monk of modern times. Johnson’s family owned and operated the hotel-tavern in the town. He grew up, therefore, with an unusually insider’s view of monasticism. Tourists and visitors staying at the Inn would have come likely with the most traditional, mythologized, and medieval-like views of monks as near-disembodied spirits living a life of total absorption in God. The young Fenton, named for one of the monks at Gethsemani, grew up with these men as friends of his parents and frequent visitors in his mother’s kitchen where the monks occasionally escaped the cloister to come drink beer and carouse. What a perfect image of modern religious consciousness: we all know the myths of what religion and Church are (and most of us feel them with a certain reverent nostalgia even if we’ve left the institution), yet we also now know the “truth” that priests and monks are just regular human beings like the rest of us, some even with personal foibles that are frankly against “the laws of both God and man,” and the Church as a politically driven, power-hungry institution often at odds with its own teachings. That is, we all inchoately know it’s a put-on. Yet beneath the pretense is potentially something crucially important and potentially life and soul-saving.
Keeping Faith opens with Johnson’s being invited coincidentally (??), while in town for his mother’s 80th birthday, to attend a convocation of Catholic and Buddhist monks, including the Dalai Lama, at Gethesmani Abbey in 1996. By that time, he was an openly gay man living in San Francisco, a veteran--and aggrieved widow--of the AIDS crisis, an observer of the Church’s ineptitude in dealing with gay issues, a sensible modern man who identified himself only as a former Catholic. He was also a writer (and later, we learn, a teacher of writing and an accomplished novelist), and the meeting of monks would make good material for an article, and, having been raised almost with the expectation he’d one day join the monastery, he says, he saw this as a chance for a quick look at the road not taken.
But the article became a book and the research a spiritual journey.
After the convocation, Johnson set out to learn a little more about Buddhist monasticism and meditation practice. The research took him to the S.F. Zen Center, the Center’s hot springs resort at Tassajara, and the Marin County Green Gulch Farm. Most importantly, it took him to his own zafu and into the stillness between breaths.
The book is alternatingly academic, reportorial, and intimately personal—all thoroughly interesting throughout. There are accounts of Eastern and Western history (ancient and modern), analyses of such figures as Buddha and Baker-Roshi, St. Antony of the Desert, Plato, and Augustine. There are interviews with monks and nuns, both Catholic and Zen. There are accounts of the author’s upbringing and adult life as a gay man. There’s even a poignant and sensitive discursus in the middle of the book on priestly pedophilia and secret sexuality. But, most of all, there is an ongoing investigation into the proper nature of faith in contemporary consciousness.
Faith, Johnson concludes, is always a leap into the unknown, into change with no preconceptions of the outcome. Not insistence on dogma or orthodoxy, true faith is the willingness to embrace experience—the great mystery and miracle of life--out of love for knowledge, beauty, and truth. True faith isn’t being right, it’s having a reason for hope.
I’ll repeat my first sentence: I loved this book. It’s beautifully written and a joy to read if only for the style. In a way Fenton Johnson’s homosexuality is tangential to his search for the meaning of faith and in a way it’s central. It is his ability to hold both polarities--East and West, ancient and modern, faithful and skeptical--all at the same time that makes his discoveries meaningful and satisfying. Such wideness of spirit, of course, is incumbent on all people of faith and good will. But the reality is that many of them (too many!) fail—and their handling of gay issues in modern society is a major indicator of their success or failure. Gay people are called upon by something deep inside us to accomplish that wideness of spirit. That, I think, is probably the essence of “gay spirituality.” Fenton Johnson’s contribution is notable.
Fenton Johnson’s Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey won a Lambda Literary Award in the category of Spirituality (beating out this reviewer's also nominated book Gay Perspective).
Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness, The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell and other novels and books
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
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
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
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