Lots of thoughts have been running around in my head today, and I find it's been difficult to coherently focus them. I enjoyed church today quite a bit. In Sunday School the lesson was about the Jaredites. We were talking about many things, and while I had lots of thoughts to contribute to the discussion, I didn't. There was just too much going on in my head to state what I was thinking.
The first thing I was thinking about was this idea of America being a promised land. I completely believe that's true, but I also realize that many of us living here don't live up to that promise. But what I really was thinking about was how the idea of America being a "choice land" and a "land of promise" sometimes gives people the idea that it means we're superior to everyone else or entitled. I think the same idea goes for the LDS Church as well. Because we're taught that it is God's true church and has the fullness of the gospel, we as members sometimes come out of it acting like we're better than everyone else. I mean, the fact that we always refer to it as "the Church" can come off as a little superior to other people who aren't of our faith. US citizens have always seemed to have a great national pride, and, of course, Mormons, have a great faith and pride in their religion. But sometimes I think this attitude can come off simply as pride, which the Lord often warns us about.
As far as country goes, we tend to act like the United States is the greatest place on earth, that all other countries should follow our lead, that we're "right," and they're "wrong," etc. Don't get me wrong. This is a great country, and I'm proud to be an American, and I am certainly thankful for the liberties and freedoms I have because I live here. But I am also well aware that we have a lot of serious problems in this country, and we might do well to take a cue from other countries on certain issues. we don't have all the answers and rather than acting like the authority on everything, we might do well to listen to and learn from others.
Whatever your political beliefs, I always thought it was arrogant for us to invade another country and expect them to embrace our way of life, no questions asked, simply because we thought it was the best way to live. Believe you me, I would rather live in the culture and under the sort of government that we have than I would to live in the culture and and dictatorship that existed in Iraq before we came along. Nonetheless, I still think it's arrogant to ignore a people's culture (which has existed for thousands and thousands of years) and expect them to fully embrace ours (which has only really existed for a few hundred) simply because it's working for us. I think it's arrogant to lambaste other nations (such as, oh let's say, the French) simply because they disagreed with us. It's arrogant and hypocritical to boast about what a terrific nation we are when we've got problems of our own (some of which are being handled better by other nations than by us).
On the same line, I feel the same way about our religion. Sometimes there is an attitude (and I find this more in Utah Mormons than in any others) that if you're not of our faith, you're "wrong." I maintain that we can learn a lot from other faiths and philosophies if we would just take the time to listen and respect. You don't have to be Mormon to be a good person. You don't even need to believe in God to be a good person. There are many people out there whose beliefs are just important to them as ours are to us. There's one lady in our ward who's constantly criticizing gay people and atheists, in particular, as being "bad." Well, she doesn't know the atheists and gay people I know (some who are better "Christians" than some self-professed Christians I know) because they are good people. For all our talk about Christ and his gospel, we can sometimes be a very exclusive religion, disrespecting others' faiths, beliefs, and philosophies often without even being conscious of it. We sometimes use Mormon terminology unfamiliar to those of other faiths and beliefs because we just assume everyone around us understands it (and I am especially talking about Utah Mormons here).
Now granted, there are many Mormons who are inclusive and open-minded towards those of other faiths and philosophies. I am just talking about some behaviors I see that bother me. I've often thought if a homeless man or a gay couple or a person who reeked of smoke or alcohol or a prostitute walked into an LDS ward house, how would they be treated? It would be interesting to see the reactions. Maybe I would be pleasantly surprised.
I read a really interesting article in the Faith section of The Salt Lake Tribune yesterday. I include the link here. I think it speaks for itself, and I'll let you decide for yourselves what you think about it.
I guess one of the thoughts I've had today is that we're all in this together. Sometimes there is an attitude of "us" and "them." Whether you're Republican or Democrat, black, white, Asian, or Latino, rich or poor, Christian, Jew, Muslim, or atheist, gay or straight, man or woman, handicapped or able-bodied, or all the other things a human being can be, we're always putting each other in categories and focusing on each other's differences rather than looking at what we have in common. I still believe that most people are essentially good and that most people are just trying their best to live good lives or to just live the best life they can. Yes, there is a minority of people that are not good people, but I adhere to the belief that most people are good, and I even think most people essentially want the same things; they just have different beliefs about how to accomplish getting those things. I think we can learn so much from each other if we just take the time to listen and get to know one another. We don't even have to agree with each other, but I think we can respect and still love each other if we try. Maybe that's naive and idealistic, but I believe in it.
I bore my testimony today (yes, in spite of the choices I make, I do have one). I said I was reluctant to bear my testimony not because I don't have one, but because I feel like a hypocrite saying I know the Church is true when I also know full well I am not living according to what I have been taught is true. I said I wasn't perfect and never claimed to be and that I am trying, as I suspect most people are, to live the best life I can under the circumstances life has dealt me. We all fall short. Rather than pick each other apart and criticize and judge, we should be picking each other up and practicing unconditional love. Like I said, we don't have to agree with each other (and I realize some of the misguided things people sometimes do are often based in love), but can't we all help each other instead of tearing each other down?
Here is one thing I know: God loves us and wants us to be happy. He doesn't want us spending our lives feeling depressed or uptight or unworthy stressed or feeling that we'll never measure up to the high ideals we often set for ourselves. God doesn't expect us to be perfect in this life; he wants us to do our best, whatever that is. I do not believe in a Father that picks at us or scrutinizes us or judges our every bad move as some sort of failure. I do not believe in a God that looks at us every time we fail and says, "Oh, Cody screwed up again. There's another point off!" I think I used to believe that even though I didn't think I did. I believe in a God who is loving and merciful and feels great joy when he sees his children happy and full of joy themselves. I believe in someone who is constantly pulling for us even when we don't believe in ourselves. I believe in someone who is always giving us as many chances as He can provide; whose love never fails, falters, or dissipates. I believe in someone who judges with a perfect love and understanding of our intentions and desires that a mortal, imperfect being cannot understand in this life. I don't not believe in a God who is all black and white, and I believe in a God who sees every angle and every facet and every side of every issue, problem, and trial in our lives in ways that we are not able to see ourselves. I am absolutely sure that God is happy I am happy. I am not necessarily saying that he condones or approves of everything I do, but I am 100% that He loves me and is happy I am happy.
It was interesting. Right after testimony meeting finished, a friend who is aware that I am gay just came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, "Cody, I love you so much. I just want you to know that I will be there at the last day standing in your defense because you are a good man." She continued with, "I don't know why people are given the trials or life experiences that they are given, and yours is a doozy, but I believe things will work out for you well in the end." I replied, "I hope you're right."
The scriptures say you will be judged with the same judgement with which you judge others. I have tried (not always successfully) all my life to not judge others too harshly, to give people the benefit of the doubt, to try and see things from another's point-of-view, to forgive, to show mercy. I am not perfect at it, but if I am indeed judged the way I feel I judge, I think my friend is right that "things will work out well for [me] in the end." I hope so, anyway.
As I have said, I am very happy right now, and I know I've been greatly blessed these past few years, and I am thankful for that.
Last week in Sunday School a ward member made reference to a mutual friend's ex-husband (also a friend) who had left her because he had come out of the closet. The ex-wife was confused because her ex-husband claimed to be happier and more fulfilled and satisfied with his life since he had come out, and she didn't understand why if "wickedness never was happiness" this would be the case. The ward member's husband suggested that even though he might feel happier in this life, that didn't mean he would feel that way in the next. I silently thought to myself, "or maybe he's just happier, and that's all that counts." Maybe the husband is right. Maybe we'll regret our choices in the afterlife. I don't know or claim to know. But I know that a world of difference has occurred since I came out. I used to be so sad, so depressed, so uptight, so repressed, so guilt-ridden, so alone, felt so unworthy and imperfect, so full of angst and confusion, so miserable, so unfulfilled, so unable to be myself. It's all melted away. I feel so joyful, so happy, so loved, so in love, so free, so at peace. Life is unquestionably better. I don't claim to know why. I just know it is, and that's what counts to me.
I've been reading a fellow gay Mormon's blog, and he is struggling in his marriage and is tempted by something outside of it. I have not participated in the discussion because I don't want to influence him in a negative way. I, fortunately, never had to deal with marriage to a woman or deal with any unfulfillment or fallout that might have occurred as a result. It makes me sad to see him struggle, yet at the same time I admire his devotion to his covenants and his marriage. I feel sad that he feels sad, unsatisfied, and misunderstood. I know how that feels. I just want to say, "it doesn't have to be that way. It didn't have to be that way." But I think a broken marriage is a high price to pay. My choices aren't for everyone, nor would I want to be responsible for causing someone to make a choice that would potentially wreck lives. Whatever he ends up doing, I just hope he can be happy and satisfied. It's tough. My heart goes out to him and others like him. Each of us has to make our personal choices and live with them. I am satisfied and content with mine.
One of my friends who is also very active in the church and knows of my issues called me "one of the good guys." I don't know if that's true, but I appreciate the sentiment. It's good to know that even when people don't understand what you're going through or even condone or approve of your choices that they can still be in your corner. Like I said, we're all in this together.