Tuesday, June 27, 2006

David, Iraq, Pioneers, and Being in the Same Boat

My apologies. This is going to be a very long post.

Church was actually quite excellent on Sunday. Generally, I’m so tired on Sunday mornings that if what’s going on isn’t holding my interest, I tend to doze off, but today I was pretty wide awake for most of the meetings.

I went to Primary first. I used to be a Primary teacher in my home ward (where I currently attend), and I loved it. I loved teaching the kids, and I loved how the gospel was taught at its most simple, basic level without all the tangents and frivolous stuff that, albeit interesting sometimes, isn’t always essential. Even though I’m no longer a Primary teacher, I still attend Primary in my home ward; one, because I like Primary a lot, and two, it isn’t Priesthood meeting, which I’ve never been a big fan of, mostly because I don’t feel I fit in and because 90% of the time, Priesthood instructors have seemed less than prepared, and my attitude is if they didn’t take the time to adequately prepare a lesson, I don’t want to waste my time listening to it of there is no thought or objective behind it.

During Primary I noticed two young boys being playful and affectionate with each other, and I thought, “Why does that seem to become a stigma later on? Why can’t men just be affectionate with each other?” In France and Belgium, where I served my mission, it’s no big deal for men to be affectionate with each other, and yet Western culture seems to frown on men being affectionate with each other or crying, and I’ve never really understood why. I think it’s sad in a way. I actually don’t think homosexuality would be that big of an issue if it weren’t so taboo. Nobody seems to care when women are all touchy-feely with one another, but if men do it, it’s looked on as something odd. And yet, you look at sports figures, for example, who are looked on as such a symbol of masculinity, and you see them slapping each other on the butt or hugging when their team wins, and nobody seems to care. I just find it interesting. I like men who aren’t afraid to be affectionate. Interestingly enough, some of the most openly affectionate men I know are some of the most heterosexual men I know. I find that interesting.

One of the songs we are singing in Primary right now is the 11th Article of Faith, which is “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may,” and was thinking that as members of the Mormon Church, I don’t think we’re always so good at following this. I think we say we do, but we don’t always do it.

Sunday School was very interesting. A ward member who has been serving in Iraq just came home a week ago. It was really good to see him and know that he was safe. He and I don’t often agree politically, but he is a good man, and it was really good to see him. It had been a while since any of us had seen him, and he asked if anybody had any questions for him about the war. It was odd that we were talking about the Iraqi War in Sunday School, and yet it seemed strangely appropriate. I was just worried that it would get political or confrontational, which it didn’t. I have always been against the Iraqi War from the very beginning and feel more so each passing day. And yet as I listened to him talk, I felt my spirit open to his words. I’m still against the war, but what he said at least gave me a different spin on things, which was nice for a change.

He says he was really surprised by how much the media portrays the war as all “gloom and doom,” because, from his recent vantage point, things were different. He says most of the Iraqi people he’s dealt with on a personal basis are happy the US forces are there and are grateful for many of the things that have been done for them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t complaints, but overall, they are grateful for the American forces. He talked about providing solar energy for a school and building (and rebuilding, after it was bombed by insurgents) a water treatment plant for Iraqi civilians. I specifically asked him to tell me some positive things about the war since we get so much negative. He told me about the school and the water treatment plant, but also talked about simple things like the joy he saw in the faces of two different children, one who was given a lollipop, and had never tasted a piece of candy in his life, and another staring at a box of coloring crayons, which he had never seen before.

Somebody asked him what the morale of the troops was like, and he said it really depended where they were. He said where he was was “hell on earth,” but that the soldiers’ morale was pretty good, and that they were happy to be making a difference. He said in other areas where the fighting is especially bad, morale isn’t always so good.

He talked about the many poor, uneducated people there were in Iraq and how they felt they were helping them better their lives. He talked about how one of the problems is that the Sunnis and Shiites and other factions can’t agree on the democratic process. They even want it, but no one can agree on how to make it work so all sides are happy, and that until they choose to work together, the process isn’t going to work as well.

He talked about how the weather has been 145 degrees before, which I can’t even fathom. All in all, he was very positive about things, and even though I am still against the war, it was refreshing to hear another, more positive point-of-view for a change from somebody who’s actually been there. Of course, I’ve also heard negative things from two soldier friends of mine who are there, so I guess it depends on where you are, who you are, and your attitude. In any case, it was enlightening.

The teacher, a man I like and respect very much, was quite emotional today, both because this returned soldier is a very good friend of his and because the lesson seemed to touch him particularly (the teacher, not the soldier). The lesson was about David. For those of you who may not be familiar with the story of David, he slew Goliath and became a chosen king of God. However, he committed adultery and was responsible for the death of his mistresses' husband. The teacher asked which David we think of when we think about David. Do we think of the hero, the man who was loyal to God, or do we think about the fallen sinner? Do we think of the guy who spared Saul, his enemy’s life, or do we think of the guy who took Uriah, an innocent man’s life? “Do we emphasize the David who killed Goliath, or the David who killed Uriah? Should we view him as the servant who refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed, or as the Lord’s anointed who lifted his hand against a faithful and loyal servant?” (Old Testament Student Manuel, pg. 287)

When my brother wrote to me after learning Jonah and I were together, he inferred that I could be like Joseph, who fled from the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, or David, who chose to linger and lust after Bathsheba, whom he eventually committed adultery with.

When I read the scriptures, I find I’m pretty mercifully-minded. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. I feel sorry for people like David or Pilate or even Judas Iscariot, who made grave errors. And it isn’t that I believe the choices they made were right or that they won’t be punished for the evil things they may have done. It’s that I believe they were human and made human errors just as all of us are apt to do. I once gave a talk on the mercy of God. I think Mormons (and most other Christian religions) are really good at understanding the justice of God (thou shalt… or thou shalt not…), but the mercy of God sometimes escapes them. I am guilty of this as well. In my talk I gave four examples from each book of Mormon scripture (the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants) about people who made mistakes but still received a great deal of mercy from the Lord. Rahab, from the Old Testament, was a harlot (a prostitute) who harbored the spies that the prophet Joshua sent to Jericho. When Jericho was eventually destroyed, only Rahab and her family were spared, and there is scriptural evidence that Rahab was in Jesus’ bloodline. In the New Testament, Peter denied Christ three times, and suffered much for it, but he eventually became the leader of the Church. In the Book of Mormon, Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah led many people away from the Church and did much wickedness, but after they repented, the sons of Mosiah became great missionaries and Alma became one of the greatest prophets of the Church. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Martin Harris was responsible for the loss of 116 pages translated by Joseph Smith from the gold plates, and yet he was eventually permitted by the Lord to be one of the three witnesses to actually see the gold plates. He and Oliver Cowdery as well as David Whitmer were all excommunicated from the LDS Church, but eventually the former two were rebaptized, and although David Whitmer never was, he never denied his testimony of the Church. I think that’s got to count for something, and I believe the Lord will show mercy. A prostitute’s life is spared, and it is through her line that the Savior comes; a man denies knowing Jesus because of fear (the same man who’s lack of faith caused him to sink in the same water Jesus walked on, the same man Jesus said, “Get thee behind me, Satan” to, the same man who was rebuked for not wanting to wash the Savior’s feet) and becomes one of the greatest prophets of the Church; a very wicked man who leads others astray is able to repent and becomes the President of the Church; a man responsible for the loss of holy scripture because of his pride is allowed a great privilege. Even David, who we are taught will not receive exaltation, is promised that “the Lord [will] not leave his soul in hell.” Why? Because He is a merciful God. When the woman taken in adultery was brought before Jesus and told she should be stoned, Jesus said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone,” and of course no one did because all men sin. That didn’t mean Jesus condoned the woman’s actions. He told her, “Go and sin no more.” But he was tender with her and forgiving. Jesus told us to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven times. If we are to follow the example of our Savior in everything, and if he follows God’s example in everything, doesn’t it stand to reason that they would use the same criteria for themselves.? The point is I believe in a loving, forgiving, merciful God, and I think it‘s important to remember that. God knew we would make mistakes here. He knew we’d sin. Otherwise, why would we need a Savior at all?

But back to David. The fact is he has fallen short of exaltation. He has paid, and is paying the price, for the choices he made in his life. He paid the price in his mortal life and is paying the price in the afterlife. And yet, the question is, was David’s life a tragedy or a triumph? “If a triumph, why, then has ‘he fallen from his exaltation and lost ‘the greatest of all the gifts of God?’ If a tragedy, why is the Messiah prophesied to sit ‘upon the throne of David’ and be called ‘David their king’? Why are we told that Jesus shall receive ‘the throne of his father David’ and that he has ‘the key of David’?” (Old Testament Student Manuel, page 287)

One of the points the teacher made was that David made the mistake of not enduring. On the other hand, he also made the point that our experiences, good and bad, are what shape us, and that only God (and eventually David) truly know what David’s final reward or state will be.

I’ve said it before, but I just don’t believe that everything is so black and white. Perhaps I am wrong, but it is what I feel in my heart. I was thinking today that if I make the choice to live my life as a gay man, wherever I end up in the afterlife, there are going to be a lot of people there with me; a lot of really good people. And whether my actions are deemed good or bad, right or wrong, I feel in my heart that my intentions are based in love, not in selfishness, and I believe that has to count for something. And I also know that Heavenly Father must know how incredibly difficult things are for some of his children. He must understand even better than we do what each of us is individually going through, and that’s precisely why He is the only one qualified to judge any of us; because he knows the inner workings of our hearts. So it is with David.

The teacher brought up the point that Bruce R. McConkie brought up in Mormon Doctrine (pg. 520): “Murderers are forgiven eventually but only in the sense that all sins are forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost; they are not forgiven in the sense that celestial salvation is made available to them. After they have paid the full penalty for their crime, they shall go on to a telestial inheritance.” Now, granted, in the theology of my religion, a telestial glory is not what we should be shooting for, but the point I want to make is that it is still a degree of glory. Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk about the degrees of glory, which I quoted in an earlier post. The point is, it all goes back to forgiveness and mercy. God wants us to be happy. The fact that any of us are here in the mortal existence already bodes well for us. We followed the Lord and chose to come here. Maybe I’m rationalizing (I probably am), but I think things will be better for us in the afterlife than we sometimes imagine they will be. We all commit sins. We all make mistakes. We’re imperfect. God knows that. Sometimes you’ve just got to do the best you can do under the given circumstances and hope things will turn out all right.

After Sunday School we had Sacrament Meeting, and there were many signs posted up behind the podium that said things like, “Faith in every footstep,” “The best is yet to come,” “Be strong and do it,” “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” and “We shall walk and not faint.” I wondered if God was trying to tell me something.

The youth had gone on what is called “Pioneer Trek,” where they dress as the Mormon pioneers did and reenact just a small portion of what the Mormon pioneers went through as they walked across the plains from the east to the Utah valley. I’ve never been on a Pioneer Trek myself. I had opportunities to do so when I was younger, but was never interested. Hearing the youth and some of the leaders talk about their experiences was very uplifting and spiritual, and it’s been a while since a church meeting affected me so.

The first youth talked about how tired he was and also talked about the “Women’s Pull,” where the women had to pull handcarts full of stuff up a sandy, rocky hill, and the men could only watch without being able to help. It made me think of how sometimes our Heavenly Father has to watch us go through such tribulations without being able to help us. He could, but he doesn’t because he knows we have to go through that experience ourselves. It causes us to learn something about ourselves that we might not have otherwise learned had he intervened. Would Abraham have learned just how much he was willing to sacrifice for the Lord when God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac? I think the Lord knew Abraham was willing to go all the way, but it was Abraham who needed to learn that he was willing to go all the way. But I imagine it pains Heavenly Father and makes him cry as it did many of the helpless brothers who had to watch the women do this incredibly difficult thing without being allowed to aid them.

The second youth was a boy named Anthony who has just amazed me. His father is dead, I believe, and his mother is not active in the church, but Anthony has been coming to church on his own for many years now. My mom taught him in Primary when he started coming to church, and he has turned into a very dedicated young man. He talked about how he tried moving rocks out of the way during the “Women’s Pull” until he was eventually told not to because the objective was for the women to do it all on their own. But it told me a lot about Anthony’s character that he would do that (while some of the younger, more immature kids were doing the opposite) and made me think about what kind of people we are in life: obstacle makers or obstacle removers. Anthony also talked about how he became ill during the trek and how hard it was to move the handcarts as a result of his weakness

The third youth was a girl who kept a journal. These were some of the things she wrote during the trek: She talked about the many people who chose not to make the trek to Utah (or Zion) and the ones who did and made the statement about the pioneers “giving up so much to come to Zion” and the ones who remained behind “giving up so much more not to.” She made a comment about the physical endurance showing “our brain what our body can do.” She made the comment “We can’t do it alone.” She said during the “Women’s Pull” “I looked up the hill and doubt filled my heart.” She talked about the handcart slipping back and pushing the cart only to have it remain still. She talked about how she felt angels helping her and that “the load wasn’t easy but the burden was light,” and how “angels are always willing to help you if you give them a chance.” I thought about how her words could apply to our life here on earth. I think the Lord uses metaphors for life, one being treks through the wilderness (or across the sea), whether it be the modern day pioneers, Moses and his people, Nephi and his family, or the Jaredites. There are many parallels one can glean from the scriptures that can be applied to our life’s trials. But not everyone makes it in their trek (or even chooses to make the trek at all). The ones who stayed behind may not have made it to Utah, but does that necessarily mean they weren’t happy? Even Emma Smith, Joseph’s wife stayed behind. Does that mean she’ll be punished for that? Many died on the way. Does that mean they were somehow weaker or less worthy than the ones who survived?

The next speaker made the comment that these pioneers shouldn’t have lived. What they were required to do was nigh impossible. But they did it. I guess that says a lot about faith and the Lord supporting you. He showed a famous picture of the pioneers trekking through winter cold pushing their handcarts and how unseen angels were helping them accomplish it. A later speaker speculated that those angels helping the pioneers may very likely have been us. But it was hard thing they were asked to do, and some weren’t able to do it. In Matthew 7:14 it even says, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Italics added). It struck me again how it must pain God to watch us suffer, but how we must go through our own experiences to learn and to know that our final reward will be exactly what we are supposed to get. This trek was incredibly difficult for these youth. Some couldn’t even do what they were required to do, and that was just a taste of what the original pioneers were required to do.

As these youth speakers and leaders talked of their experiences and later sang the hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints (a hymn which is not my favorite, but which I saw in a completely different light on Sunday), you could really tell that they had been through something together that none of us in the congregation could fully understand unless we had been through it ourselves, and it occurred to me that you only can only truly understand the experiences you have because you have them yourself, and no one else can judge those experiences except for the Lord himself because he knows us perfectly, inside and out. It really clarified the concept of not judging others, if that makes sense. It reminded me of people who have been through a war together or a tragedy (such as the Andes airplane crash in 1972). Only they can really understand what they’ve been through. That’s why I feel like gay Mormons understand each other like no one else can. Other gay Christians can certainly relate, but it isn’t exactly the same, and, of course, each gay Mormon’s experience is different, so really, the bottom line is that only you and God can wholly know your true soul, intentions, desires, and progress.

Another girl talked about her handcart sinking in the sand, and how the cart wouldn’t move, and how she had to look at the ground to avoid looking at how much more of the hill she had to climb.

A boy talked about watching the “Women’s Pull” and crying and being afraid that the other guys would think he was a wuss and how surprised he was to see so many men crying, and again it struck me, “Why is it such a shameful thing for a man to cry?” I don’t believe it is consciously, but subconsciously I wonder if I do because I don’t often allow myself to cry in front of other people. It’s not something I do consciously. I just don’t cry in front of others very often.

Another boy talked about how know one can do it alone and how we all have to help each other, and how one needs to work beyond what they feel they’re capable of doing. It again resonated in me the parallels between the trek and our mortal “trek.”

A girl talked about finding strength inside her that she didn’t think she had and how the only thing that holds us back is us. She talked about how God loves us and believes in us, and how we need to trust in ourselves as he does. She talked about how sometimes we think we know more than God and are rebellious, and how he loves us just the same in spite of it. That’s a hard concept to grasp for me sometimes, that God loves everyone the same. For example, it’s hard to fathom that God loves Hitler as much as he loves Gordon B. Hinckley because they are both his children. Sometimes I catch myself believing that God loves me less when I commit grievous sins. I say I think He loves me just the same, but I sometimes feel I don’t believe it as I should. I just want to feel that regardless of the choices I make, God’s love will always be strong and present in my life. He has to love us the same, doesn’t he? I think the story of the Prodigal Son in the Bible is a good illustration of that. And I think that father loved his son just as much while he was sinning as he did when he repented and came home. He did because he was his son. I think as imperfect human beings (some who have one parent or another that doesn’t show them that love or who have people in their lives they can’t fathom loving that way), it’s a hard concept to grasp.

The final speaker talked about the reason the pioneers sacrificed so much was because they believed in Christ. He talked about how today’s challenges are different, but just as challenging, and how these people lost their lives physically, and how we face similar loss spiritually.

I thought about how my religion is like a marriage (and the scriptures even make that comparison) and how I’ve made certain covenants in this “marriage.” Being with Jonah would cause me to break those covenants. And, yet, at the same time, I don’t know that I am willing to sacrifice my love for Jonah for the Church. It’s so complicated. Ideally, I just would like to be Mormon and gay. But I can’t seem to have both. It’s a wonder Jonah isn’t sick of me yet. But he isn’t. He loves me that much. He also loves me enough that he’d be willing to let me go if he thought the Church is what would make me happy (although both of us would be terribly devastated by that). I’ve never experienced such a strong love in a relationship before, and I don’t know that I’m willing to let it go, consequences be damned. And maybe that says something about the choice I am faced with.

I read other blogs from people in similar positions, and it’s always back and forth, back and forth, and I yell at the screen: “Make up your mind already! Make a choice and do it!” And yet I’m fully aware that I am in the exact same boat. But I was reflecting the other day about how nice it is to be in the same boat with a lot of people. At least we’re all in the same boat and understand to some extent what each other is going through. And that is comforting.

It's funny, when the youth were singing "Come, Come, Ye Saints," they seemed so somber and serious and teary-eyed because of the experiences they shared together. I imagine the Pioneers sang it in a similar fashion. And yet the words go, "All is well. All is well." The song struck me in a profound way it never has before. I leave this entry with those words:

Come, come, ye Saints,no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
'Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell-
All is well! All is well!

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

We'll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the Saints will be blessed.
We'll make the air with music ring,
Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we'll tell-
All is well! All is well!

And should we die before our journey's through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again
To see the Saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we'll make this chorus swell-
All is well! All is well!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Family Values

A good friend of mine submitted an opinion piece for the Salt Lake Tribune. I thought she expressed her thoughts beautifully. I've put the article here, without permission.

Support and acceptance are the true family values
Utah Voices
Gayle Hayes Castleton
Salt Lake Tribune

Not certain why I feel compelled to write, but I do. I don't expect to change any minds. There is nothing the other side could say that would change my mind, so I doubt I will change their minds. Perhaps I just feel a need to add my voice to those courageous voices speaking out in support of the homosexual community.
I'm a middle-age, heterosexual, LDS, married twice, mother of four, born and raised in very white, very Mormon Bountiful, Utah. When that is all someone knows about me, they expect that I support an anti-gay marriage amendment, that I don't consider same-sex couples a family, and that I believe homosexual "behavior" immoral.
I am profoundly saddened by those assumptions. I don't want to be associated with the defamation and hatred that accompanies the anti-gay rhetoric.
I do have a personal stake in this issue. My beloved brother is gay. He and his long-time partner are two of the most moral people I know. I wish I were as good a person as they. Of course, we've had conversations, lots of conversations. One in particular, years ago, involved the potential discovery of physiological evidence for homosexuality. I commented on how great it would be to put that argument to rest.
Surprisingly, he said it wouldn't be great at all. He said, "If they find a physical cause for homosexuality, they'll also find a way to test for it in the womb. Then homosexuals will be aborted before they are even born." The thought was horrifying. Then my brother smiled and said, "Then who would decorate your house, style your hair and design your clothes?"
Setting aside the stereotypes and my brother's sense of humor, think about it. I am certain that there are those who think a world without gay people would be a better world. I emphatically don't. This world, any world, would be a far less beautiful, a far less interesting and a far less delightful place. Think of the art, the music, the literature that would not exist. How devastatingly sad that would be.
Does "gay" marriage pose a threat to marriage or families? Well, I'm certain that no law or amendment will ever prevent gays from creating long-term relationships and forming families. Nothing has stopped them so far. Not in any culture, not during any time in history.
As with the poor, they will always be with us; they have always been with us. Codifying discrimination against them does nothing except codify discrimination against them. It validates turning up our noses at them and denying them acceptance. It legalizes our walking away from their needs. It will help some feel better about their own miserable lives because at least they aren't gay!
Every time I have seen families embrace and accept their homosexual family members, nothing bad has happened! The association has always been positive and the loving, caring "family" experience has only grown and flourished. They are available to each other for that family support that is so valued in our culture. Families are strengthened, not weakened.
When families have rejected their homosexual family members, it has not turned out well, even when that rejection was done "lovingly." You know, love the sinner . . . hate the sin? I've known homosexuals rejected by their families who looked for acceptance in all the wrong places. Bright, promising lives lost to drugs, disease and death. I've seen families who reject those they should love, depriving themselves of that valuable relationship.
Most sad of all were those who found the only way to cope with the rejection was to commit suicide. I actually heard one mother (an active LDS mom) of a homosexual son state that she would rather he were dead than homosexual. It makes me shudder.
I love my church. I'm proud of my ancestors who sacrificed to come to this valley and live their religion. I love the sense of community. But I love my family more. There was no struggle for me between choosing to support my brother and his relationship and supporting an anti-gay marriage amendment. I value all families.
So, I wrote letters to my congressional representatives. I expressed my deeply held beliefs. I asked them to vote against any anti-gay marriage amendment. A wasted effort, most assuredly, but I felt compelled to write.
Gayle Hayes Castleton lives in Sandy and is a financial analyst for Rocky Mountain Care, Inc.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Utter Sorrow and Utter Joy

Jonah and I had a major misunderstanding. It started when I received an email from him on Sunday. One of the things he said in the email was that he hoped I was having a good Sunday.

Well, my Sunday was not very good. I went to church. In Sunday School they were talking about Jonathan and David. I've always wondered if Jonathan's feelings towards David ever went beyond just "brotherly love." I think David was probably straight, but I sometimes wonder about Jonathan. In any case, the lesson made me think about Saul and David, two people who had it all and lost much of it due to their transgressions.

My former bishop, who's also a very close and dear friend wanted to meet with me after church. We met, and I told him about my relationship with Jonah. This man is no longer my bishop. He's simply a good friend who's truly interested in my happiness and well-being. Well, of course, that news wasn't the best news to hear on his end, I'm sure. To his credit, he's extremely nonjudgmental and compassionate, but, of course, he's concerned about me. I told him I simply wasn't sure I could go on living my life according to the tenets of the church as far as this issue is concerned. I told him I loved the church dearly and, of course, would be very sad to leave it, but that I just didn't know what I was going to do.

Of course, he doesn't know how to help me and what he can do to make things better for me. I don't think there's much he can do. He's simply a human being doing his best to help in the best way he knows how. There was no judgment or chastising. He was simply seeing how I was doing. But as I looked at him, he looked so tired and worn down; not even by my problems, but just from being a bishop. This man, who I will call Frank, is beyond doubt probably the most Christ-like person I know. He truly cares about people, and I think he genuinely tries to love all those he comes in contact with. He goes beyond and above the call of duty and is always helping people. I actually think he's generous to a fault. But he's generous because he truly loves people. If there is an example I am in such great admiration of, it is Frank.

And Frank looked so tired and helpless as I talked to him, and it made me feel guilty. I want to stress that Frank didn't do anything to provoke my guilt. I just felt guilty. We hugged goodbye after I talked, and I just felt bad the rest of the day, and I wasn't even sure why.

In any case, when Jonah wished me a good Sunday, I explained that I was feeling guilty and that I had told my former bishop about us and that I still wasn't sure what I needed to do. Well, Jonah mistakenly took my response as my way of saying that I didn't think I could continue our relationship and that I wanted to break it off. So he sent me an email back saying that if staying true to the church was going to make me happier than being with him, then maybe that's what I should do. And I mistakenly thought his email meant that his patience was at an end (which I wouldn't blame him for) and that he wanted to break it off with me.

Well, when I read that I was so devastated and sad. I went to work and was in such a depressed and angry state, which many people noticed because it's unusual for me to get that way. It was tearing me apart to think that I wouldn't be with Jonah for the rest of my life, and it made me angry that God would put us together only to rip us apart, and it made me especially upset because I knew the faults in our relationship rested mainly with me and my inability to decide what I really want. So I was just miserable.

After work I got in my car and just sobbed, which is very unusual because I tend to be pretty stoic and unemotional about things. Well, when I got home, my mom noticed I was very depressed and asked me what was wrong, and I explained the situation and that I thought Jonah was breaking up with me and that I couldn't bear the thought of being without him and how I've spent my whole life trying to be a good person, and how according to the dictates of Mormonism, I feel in many ways that I am a failure; that I have tried so hard to "do what's right," and that the Church doesn't have the answers I seek, and how if Jonah was a woman, everyone would be overjoyed, but because he's a guy, I feel like most of the people in my religious network would be very saddened by my news.

Well, I sobbed in her arms for a bit, and she assured me that I was a very good person, and that she knew that the choices I faced were difficult, but that she only wanted me to be happy and could see I've spent much of my life trying to "do my best," and we had a very open conversation about homosexuality and my relationship with Jonah. I told her it confused me that the place I'm told to seek joy and happiness doesn't seem to be providing me with it, and the place I'm told not to go seems to be making me very happy. I told her, "It's not like I want to leave the church, but I just want to be happy, and Jonah makes me happy." She said she knew, and I even talked about wanting to marry Jonah. She says while she doesn't understand everything, she knows I'm going through a horrible ordeal and that if being with Jonah would ease my pain, then maybe that's what I needed to do. To hear that from my own mother made me feel so much better.

In any case, I wrote Jonah a long email back explaining that I was sorry if I was causing him such frustration and pain, but that I understood if he needed to break up with me for his own sanity. Well, I got an email this morning saying that he had misinterpreted my original email as my wanting to break up with him and that he was only trying to make it easier for me. Needless to say, neither one of us wants to break up with the other, and we are both very happy now. Jonah left me some wonderful words of encouragement and, in essence, says he's in this for the long haul.

In a way, though, I'm glad this miscommunication occurred because I feel I gained three valuable things from it:

1) It made me realize how deeply I really do care for and love Jonah. I am a brick wall emotionally, and the thought of us breaking up devastated me. It was good to know that I actually had feelings deeper than I could have imagined. It made me feel more alive, even if it wasn't particularly fun to experience.

2)It prompted a much needed conversation with my mom. We were really open about everything, and it made me realize how much my mom loves and cares for me. Even this morning when I told her it was all a misunderstanding, she said, "I'm so glad things are going well and that you're happy again. I love you so very much," and then she gave me a hug.

3)It helped clarify for me that maybe it's time I choose Jonah instead of the church.

Anyway, I've never felt so sad and happy in the span of 24 hours.

Friday, June 16, 2006

My Dad, My Mission, and Other Stuff

Foxx recently wrote a post about his dad, and I felt inspired to write some words about my own father. I know one of the theories about what causes homosexuality has to do with a boy's relationship (or lack thereof) with his dad. Whether this theory is valid or not, I'd like to share what my relationship with my dad was.

I loved my dad very much. He was kind and affectionate, a hard worker, a devoted family man, a man with a strong testimony of the church, a good example to others, and very loyal and honest. He was also very quiet and unassuming. And it wasn't really until he died that I realized I didn't really know very much about him. I mean to say, I didn't know who he was inside, what he thought or felt, or even much about his history. I can tell you a whole bunch of stories about my mom that she has told me about her childhood, adolescence, early married years, etc., but my dad didn't talk a whole lot, and so I only know about him more through what my mom has told me rather than what he told me himself.

One of my traits that I picked up from my dad was that he often kept everything bottled up inside. If he was angry or upset or unhappy, he never really made it known. He just kept it to himself. Like me, too, he wasn't a very emotional man. You rarely ever saw him cry or get upset, but boy, when he did, watch out! I can literally count on my right hand the number of times I saw my dad get really angry, and all three of those times his anger was justified. One of those times he slapped me, and looking back I deserved it. I was being mouthy and selfish, and he slapped me, and I was much more shocked than anything because I had never seen my dad so angry, and I quickly realized I had crossed a line. But for the most part, my dad was a very quiet meek and mannered guy. I literally cannot remember ever seeing my parents fight. I recall a couple of times when they disagreed on something, but they always did it in such a calm, reasonable way.

In the last years of his life my dad suffered a series of strokes that turned him into a much different person than the dad I grew up with. I really think the strokes were due to his always keeping everything bottled up inside. I think it was his body's way of dealing with it. Emotionally, my dad became a very different person as a result of the strokes. He could no longer control his emotions. If something made him cry, he would sob uncontrollably. If something made him laugh, he would laugh really hard and drool because he couldn't control his saliva. At first, it was very disconcerting to see my dad act in this manner because it wasn't the dad I was used to, and I admit (I was in my late teens) I didn't want to be around him. At the time, I was very bitter that God had struck my dad down with this disease and was scared of this "new dad."

I remember one time my mom and dad were driving me to college, and I was talking about how upset I was that my dad had to deal with these strokes, and my dad said, in actuality, the strokes were a blessing because it allowed to him to leave a job he didn't like (which I had never really known until then) and collect disability. He said it gave him more time to be with his family (because my dad was kind of a workaholic), too. It put things in a new perspective for me.

As I continued college, my dad's strokes got worse. His speech and balance were seriously impaired, and he couldn't walk very well. Although his mind was perfectly functional, his sense of time was impaired. For example, you would ask him what he was watching on TV, and he would give you the answer ten minutes later. He would be right, but there was a delay.

It was frustrating to see my dad's health deteriorate, but I realized it could have been worse. I began to appreciate the dad I had rather than lament the dad I had lost. And, frankly, there were many things I liked about the "new dad." I liked that he was more emotional, that he actually had feelings he wasn't trying to hide. I liked that he was around more.

I remember during my bitter phase I had a dream that I was in a car, and my dad was pounding on the windows trying to get in, and I was scared, so I took off, and my dad was running behind me, and I kept driving, and he clutched his heart and collapsed, and I just kept going. I woke up, very disturbed because I thought to myself, "I would never leave my dad to die like that," and then I realized that emotionally I was abandoning him just as surely as I was physically abandoning him in my dream.

My dad was an active member of the LDS Church as long as I knew him and was very devoted and loyal. At this time in my life (when my dad was having his health problems), I was inactive and actually quite bitter towards the church because I was dealing with my homosexual issues. I was somewhat estranged from my family.

In August of 1991, I had an experience which I've already alluded to here which changed the course of my life drastically. I became active in the Church and served a mission. By the time I had my farewell (that's a church meeting to send off a missionary for all of you who don't know Mormon-speak), my dad's speech was severely impaired, but I asked him to speak at the meeting. He (with the help of my mom) dictated and typed his talk. At the meeting, he was so emotional, he was unable to get through the talk, so I read it, and my dad, weeping, said, "Thank you." It was a spiritual experience that I can't really explain here.

One thing that has always made me proud was that my dad got to see me become active again and serve a mission before he died. And I did it on my terms. I didn't serve a mission because I was expected to (as many missionaries do), but because I really wanted to. The icing on the cake was that my dad got to see me do it.

When my family saw me off at the airport, I gave my dad a hug and felt the distinct impression that I would not see my dad in this life again, which at the time I shrugged off because he was actually doing better at that particular moment. But, sure enough, five months later my dad became very ill, and a month after that he died of pneumonia. In a way, I was glad I didn't have to be there to witness the suffering and decay. People always ask me if it was hard to stay on my mission when my dad was so ill, but I think I actually got off easier than the family members who remained at home.

Shortly before my dad died, I composed a song which I sent him and he heard. It's not a very well crafted song lyrically, but it was what I felt at the time, and I think it gets to the heart of who my dad was. It's called "Matchless Hero."

"Knights who fight dragons,
Soldiers who fight wars,
Explorers who tread jungles and such
Have nothing to boast of;
They've nothing on
The hero that I love so much.
Men who climb mountains
Or cross the stormy seas,
Men who lift tremendous weights
With the greatest of ease;
There is no comparison
Among any of these.
My hero matches them all.
The others fall.

My dear hero,
How I miss you.
You and I are worlds away.
Did you know that
You're my hero.
It's the "verité."
You never did anything especially noteworthy.
Your name was never in the news.
Flocks of people never hounded you for your autograph.
You never sang the blues.
You never won a Nobel Peace Prize,
A Grammy, or a medal of gold.
You never appeared on Johnny Carson.
You never fought blizzards of cold.
You were never on the front lines of Vietnam.
You were never Prince Charming at the ball.
You were never ruler of the universe,
But your my greatest hero of all.

I love you,
Not for your massive feats,
But for the simple things you did.
You climbed the highest mountains.
You waged the strongest wars.
You won the greatest battles.
For you, Dad, my heart soars.
Your courage, your endurance,
Your patience through the pain
Have shown me the example.
Of you I can't complain.
For you're my admiration.
Now all is said and done.
I love you, my father.
Your son."

I guess my point is this: my dad was a simple, average man. But he was a good man, and he taught me a lot of good principles and gave me a lot of love. Because I'm an actor, I always compare my dad to the "behind-the-scenes" guys. They don't get the kudos the actors get, but they're just as important to the success of the show. That's kind of who my dad was. He was back in the shadows, but his influence on my life has been remarkable. I owe much to him, and I am grateful for him.

It's weird, though, when I came back home from my mission 17 months after he died, I never really felt like I really mourned his death. It's like, he was there when I left, and when I came back, he wasn't. It seemed unreal. The only moment I really mourned was on my mission in church one Sunday after bearing my testimony and talking about my father, I cried and continued crying after I sat down. A friend put his hand on my shoulder, and I closed my eyes and would have swore that my dad's hand was on my shoulder as well. I like to believe it was.

Now and then, when I hear a country song, I get a little misty for my dad. But I know I'll see him again when this life is through.

Speaking of my mission, I served in France, and a friend who still lives there and I have remained close. After telling him about Jonah and me, he responded with a very nice letter a couple of months ago which I wanted to share. I've translated it from its original French, so if some of the structure seems odd, that's why.

He writes:

Dear Cody,

I was touched to learn that you had feelings for someone and that it was mutual. Even if I can't truly put myself in your place, I can feel the dilemma that you face. I can just understand you and appreciate you without giving you advice, for whatever your position or decision is, that can lead to frustration, guilt, or simply uneasiness. I'm not certain what God truly thinks about this subject. If this man sincerely loves you, if it's mutual, if you are attracted to one another, and if you bring each other happiness, I suppose that it's still love, right? God knows it, too. I have no desire to encourage you to transgress a rule of the Church, but I find it sad to let a love story pass one by. Certain people assume more or less this reality. Maybe I've already told you this, but I have a French friend who lives in the U.S. He is a member of the Church, he has been married and has four children. After his divorce, he met another man and they decided to live together. That isn't to say that things are necessarily easy, but he seems to be happy in his situation. Faithfulness and honesty seem to me to be the essential elements in a relationship, maybe even more than sexual orientation. And yet, you also know that I am totally heterosexual and that I'm really attached to the principles of the Church even if I no longer practice my religion. But life teaches me to be more tolerant. Besides, it was in a Priesthood meeting that I was taught that it was simply preferable to seek to understand rather than to judge. I now try to put this commonplace phrase into practice even if it is difficult, knowing at the same time that one cannot tolerate everything. Therefore I can only tell you what I've already told you: you are my friend, and my only wish is for you to be happy, whatever your situation, so long as you aren't doing evil to your fellow man. If you think that it's more important to follow the rules of the Church for your development, that's okay, too. Dear Cody, I hope that you are doing well in spite of your last letter. I wish you a lot of courage and wisdom and as always, much passion for what you love to do.


Your friend,


Wise words from a good friend.

Jonah and I are doing well. We are separated due to work conditions, but we talk to each other often. He sent me flowers for my opening night. People asked me who they were from, and I just said, "a friend." I later told Jonah I felt bad that I wasn't brave enough to shout our love from the rooftops (as I felt like doing). He said it was okay, that I'm going through a lot of new experiences now, and that he's been there himself and knows exactly how it is. "Besides," he said, "it's nobody's business anyway." He's an incredibly patient, understanding, and thoughtful guy.

I've been feeling really troubled by the incident at BYU recently which you can read about here. I mean, the Church is clear on its policies, and Mr. Nielsen surely had to know what was coming, but it still bothers me. We're taught so much about free agency, but you can't make choices if you don't have them, and I've always felt that BYU works really hard at only allowing one viewpoint to exist, and I find many of the people in Utah County to be some of the most narrow-minded hypocrites I've known in my life. I understand that their our consequences for our choices, and unfortunately for Mr. Nielsen, his choice led to his dismissal. I know BYU is, and always has been, different from other colleges, but I think the university setting should be a safe haven for the free exchange of ideas. I realize that isn't what BYU is. I guess if a person is going to criticize their boss in a public forum, they're going to have to risk losing their job, but it still troubles me.

I still maintain that I believe the Church is true, but I also will say the leaders of the Church do not know how to deal with the issue of homosexuality. They try their best, I think, and do so in a well-intentioned way, but they really don't know how to handle the problem that is before them. I don't know the answers, either, but it's frustrating for so many of us to be told to do certain things and to do them and still be right where we've always been. Only God knows our hearts and can truly understand what we're going through.

Whew! That's a lot of thoughts. Hope I didn't bore any of you to death.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Degrassi and Constitutional Amendments

When I was younger, one of my favorite shows was the Canadian series, Degrassi Junior High. They showed it on PBS after school, and I really enjoyed watching it. I remember what I liked most about it was that it really seemed to deal with realistic and controversial subjects in a very real way, and I had never seen anything on TV deal with the subject matter this show dealt with in the "matter-of-fact" way that it did. At the time, I didn't realize it was Canadian, and was surprised that what I presumed to be an American series would portray teen life so realistically. I actually have the whole series on my Netflix queue, and hope I will enjoy it as much now as I did then.

When the TV network NOGIN came out with Degrassi: The Next Generation, I was excited that a new generation would be introduced to the same kind of daring stories I was introduced to at their age. I remember when it first came out, I tried watching a couple of episodes, and was surprised at how much more tame it seemed to be. However, having seen repeats of some of the episodes from the last five years, I am pleased to see that many of the stories seem to be just as relevant and hard-hitting to today's teens as the original show's stories seemed to me.

Anyway, I'm not a regular watcher of the current series, but every once in a while when they show repeats late at night (which is when I happen to be up), and there's nothing else on, I'll watch. I don't know too many of the characters, but one of the characters whose stories I enjoy watching is Marco, who is the show's token gay kid. Since I often see the episodes out of order, it is interesting to watch his story from different angles: his realization that he's gay, boyfriend troubles, coming out, acceptance and adjustment, etc. I just caught an episode the other night where he finally comes out to his mom after having accepted his gayness himself for about a year. It really was a touching episode, and I actually got quite teary-eyed thinking about the hard road so many teens have to travel in dealing with this issue and thinking about earlier in my life the times I came out to various individuals and how scary it was at the time and how nowadays it just doesn't seem like it's that big of a deal like it was then. Of course, that's hypocritical to say, I suppose, since I'm still very much in the closet with many people. But I don't have the same fear and angst as I did back then.

What touched me about the episode was his mom's reaction; not fully understanding, but loving her son so much. His mom's biggest issue (and my mom's as well) isn't so much that her son is gay, but the fear of how other people will negatively treat him because of his homosexuality. I just thought it was good. It was also a nice reminder of how much my mom really loves me. I remember before I came out to anybody thinking my mom would just hate me or be so disgusted with me, and now realize that those fears were completely unfounded. Does she necessarily understand or condone it? Not necessarily. But I am assured that she loves me just the same as she always has.

Being back in Utah has been weird. Not bad. Just unusual. I feel like I can be more open about who I am when I'm at school in a different state, but here I feel like I'm hiding again, which is odd since most of my friends would probably be okay with it. My ward fellow ward members, on the other hand, probably wouldn't be so okay. Or that's my assumption. And I know it's not that they would like me any less, but their assumption would be that I would be following the wrong path, and I know they would be concerned about my spiritual well-being.

I shouldn't care what people think, but I do. I've always been a people pleaser, and it bothers me when I feel I'm disappointing people. I know it's because of my LDS background, but I've always been taught to be a good example, and while I understand that living life as a gay man is not necessarily being a bad example, obviously in the Mormon faith it isn't being a good example of a what a good Mormon should be, and that bothers me. I think I'm a very good Christian, but lately I haven't been a very good Mormon, and when you're taught your whole life to be a good Mormon, and you're not being a good Mormon, that can be disappointing. But I know I'm a good human being and a good child of God, so I guess that will have to do.

I've been wanting to talk about the recent statement the LDS Church made regarding making our voices known in regards to the proposition of a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. Obviously, I am not surprised by the church's coming out against gay marriage, but it still bothered me that they read that statement over the pulpit because they're always claiming political neutrality, and I'm sorry, but that simply isn't true. I also thought it was an unnecessary action because the amendment was largely political and had little chance of being passed, and we already know the church's stand on the issue. It just felt like salt being poured in a wound. I bristled when they read it (and my mom noticed). It just made me sad and angry. It just seemed unnecessary to me.

The whole debate really gets on my nerves. I just wish the people who are against homosexuality and gay marriage could step in our shoes for one minute just so they would really understand what it's like to be on the other side. They still might not agree, but at least they would understand how it really feels and have a bit more compassion, I would hope.

In church today, they talked about King Saul and David, two people who started out good and then fell due to their mistakes, and even though I'm trying to rationalize my condition, there was a part of me that thought, "That's who I am. I'm forfeiting my kingdom because I can't trust God enough to do what I know is right." Then another voice said, "You've done your best. What more can you do? How long are you going to keep punishing yourself when you've got such good things in front of you. You'll get what you deserve, and you will still be happy." Then the other voice said, "You need to have more faith and just endure to the end," and the other voice answered, "How much more faith am I expected to have? How much more can I endure?" One thing that really resonated with me was that these men who "fell" were still really good people and that God knew full well how difficult life would be.

Anyway, I'm tired of always flip-flopping on this issue, and I'm sure many of you out there are as sick and tired of it as I am. There's just so much residue, and I'm never sure which voices to believe anymore.

I wish I was more emotional. I don't know why this wall is up so high or why I've subconsciously convinced myself that crying is not a good thing. Jonah will write me emails about how much he misses me and that he cries about it. I miss Jonah very much, but I don't cry. My mom's on a vacation, and I miss her, but I don't cry. Life holds many challenges, but I don't cry over them. And consciously, I'd love to cry. I'd love to have a bawling fit over something. But I don't. It bothers me sometimes that I'm so unemotional and rational and practical all the time. It makes me feel like I'm not fully living or feeling. And it bothers me that I only seem to love Jonah with part of my heart rather than all of it when I so much want to allow myself to love him fully. It's not fair to either of us. Someone like Jonah is just what I need. I love him a lot. I just wish I could feel more deeply.

Jonah's been busy with his job and I with mine, and so we haven't talked as much as we usually do, which we both miss very much. I know he's expressed how odd it is not to have my constant companionship, and I feel the same way. But things are calming down for both of us, I believe, and so hopefully we'll get more time with one another.

My acting job is going well. We've been in rehearsal, and we open pretty soon. It's not my favorite show I've ever been in, but I feel very blessed to be acting for pay and with people I love and care about.

Jonah bought me a very nice, unexpected gift. He's such a generous soul. What a great guy (and not just because of the present).

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Now, Voyager

I recently watched the movie, Now, Voyager, which I had never seen before. I'm a big fan of classic movies, and this one was on my list of ones to watch. Although the story wasn't quite what I expected, I did enjoy it.

Part of the story is about a woman who's been trapped in a life she doesn't wasn't to live anymore, and eventually, because she's having a nervous breakdown, takes a psychiatrist's advice and takes steps which cause her to eventually become independent and happy. Although, she doesn't necessarily get everything she wants, her life is a richer because of the changes she makes.

In the film she reads a quote from a Walt Whitman poem, which is where the name of the movie comes from. It goes:

"The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find."

It really resonated with me as I watched the film. Anyway, I just thought I'd share it.