Saturday, February 28, 2009

"I Love To See The Temple"

Yesterday I went with my sister, brother-in-law, and niece to the open-house for the Draper, Utah temple. I've only been to one other open-house in my life, and that was the Jordan River Utah Temple back in 1978 or '79 (which would have made me 7 or 8 years old). Even though I was young at the time, I do remember some things about it. I remember having to put these booties (along with everybody else) over my shoes so we wouldn't leave marks on the carpets. I also remember seeing the baptismal font and the mirrors in the sealing rooms. I also remember how clean and pristine everything seemed to be and that it was pretty. Mostly, I remember being there with my family and enjoying it. Those things really stick out. Strangely enough, I don't particularly remember seeing the Celestial Room or even the Endowment rooms, though I know I must have.

As a temple-goer I certainly saw the inside of the Jordan River Temple many times and also have been inside the Salt Lake, Logan, Provo, and I believe (once) the Manti Temple.

I actually had been wanting to visit the Draper Temple open-house because I knew, based on my current actions and standing in the church, it would be a rare occurrence for me to see the inside of a temple again.

The temple itself is located in a pretty wealthy area from what I can tell. My brother-in-law, who is a realtor, said one of the houses right across the street was originally priced at $2,000,000, but now, because of economic challenges and a bad housing market, is selling for $770,000 (talk about a bargain! (if you actually have that kind of money)) Before we took a bus up there we parked our car at a local ward house and watched a kind of orientation video, which gave a bit of information about the temple and temple work. One comment made by Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the Apostles, was something akin to "I can't imagine heaven without my wife. It's more than just being about someone you love. Heaven just wouldn't be heaven without her." He said it so earnestly and sincerely, and it made me sad. I thought to myself, "Why is my love for my partner so much less valued simply because we're of the same sex?" I do not understand it.

The bus ride up to the temple was nice. I was actually surprised at how small the temple was. It didn't seem very big compared to the Jordan River Temple, for example. Maybe the expensive real estate factored into that, or maybe demographically they don't expect as many in the area to attend. The temple, itself, was very beautiful, as was expected, and the people who acted as hosts and ushers were very nice. I thought the chandeliers, in particulr, were quite lovely (Jonah would have liked them, too, I think)

One of the first things we looked at was the baptismal font. I remembered how much I enjoyed doing baptisms for the dead (partly because I enjoyed getting wet). But as I went through the endowment rooms and the sealing room we were allowed to sit in, I also remembered how much I never really enjoyed going to the temple. This is not to say that I didn't think (or still don't think) that temple work is valuable nor does it mean there weren't times or moments when I enjoyed going to the temple, but overall, my temple-going experiences were never joyful ones. I mostly went to the temple out of duty rather than because of a want or a desire.

I know people who absolutely love going to the temple, who find it a truly joyful, spiritual experience, and who are very dedicated to it and happy to be so. I envy that. I really do. Because I, myself, never really felt that way. Going to the temple often made me feel lonely and out of place. I always kind of felt like I didn't belong there. And I always felt like I should have been having some big spiritual experience or at least feel closer to my Heavenly Father in going. I had hoped that some of my big questions or struggles would have found enlightenment in the temple. I also really tried hard to go with a good attitude (although, admittedly, I often didn't, and maybe that was part of the problem). I also sometimes wondered if I really even worthy to be there. It wasn't like I was acting on my same-sex attractions at the time, but just having them made me feel like I wasn't supposed to be there even if my church leaders tried to convince me otherwise.

I remember one time going to the temple (and I don't think I'm divulging anything inappropriate here) and entering the Celestial Room and feeling so, so alone. And I remember thinking to myself, "If this is supposed to represent the Celestial Kingdom to me, I have very little to look forward to." That is the way I felt. I didn't want to feel that way, but that was my experience at the time.

There was in sign in the Draper Temple that said something along the lines of, "Only those who are morally righteous and worthy may enter the temple." I am totally paraphrasing, but I know the word "moral" was in there. I thought that was interesting. Nobody's perfect, and so I know that the temple is filled with imperfect people. I remember going to the temple one time when I had long hair and getting a few disdainful looks from some of the older temple-goers, and I remember thinking, "If I can't even come here without being judged, where can I go?" On the other hand, there have also been people who have treated me very well at the temple, so I know that that kind of hypocrisy is dependent on individuals, but I still find it hypocritical nonetheless.

The last room we went to was a sealing room (where couples are married for time and all eternity). A very nice couple said they had been married for 17 years and talked about their own eteranl family and the importance of eternal families in God's plan, and I was again reminded about how hard it is for a gay man to fit into God's plan as it is taught to us.

The irony for me was that the whole temple open-house experience was probably designed to invite the Spirit and make me feel good, and yet what it did was remind me how miserable and closed-off and alone I felt when I was an active temple-goer. It reminded me that I wasn't as happy as I am now. I was telling Jonah that in a way it reaffirmed to me that the choices I am making now in my life are better for me than going back to that. Ironic, huh?

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not knocking the temple. As I stated before< I wish I could have felt the way about the temple as so many people do. I see the glow of married couples when they attend the temple together. That never seemed (nor does it currently seem) a reality to me. I've never fit into the Mormon mold, try as I might. I think temple work is very valuable and important, and I am sure that the things one does and learns there are far beyond my mortal comprehension. I'm just relating my own personal experiences on how the temple made me feel.

I was really impressed at my niece's ability in staying quiet and reverent (she's quite hyperactive in day-to-day life). After we visited the temple, we took a look at that $770,000 house just for kicks. I don't know why a person needs that much room. The thing had three floors, seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, a four car garage, two kitchens, and plenty of storage space. I actually found it a bit obscene. Even if I had $770,000, I wouldn't have wanted to live there (and I certainly didn't feel it was worth $2,000,000). I was also disappointed that it barely had a backyard at all. If I were ever to buy a luxury house, it would not have been that one (plu I don't think I would want to live right across the street from the temple).

I told my mom about my feelings about the temple. Strangely enough, she seemed to understand where I was coming from.

In other news, I've basically been disfellowshipped (which means I can attend church and am still a member, but cannot do things like give talks, public prayers, bear my testimony, take the sacrament, or make comments during Priesthood or Sunday School; I have been permitted to stay in the ward choir (for now) and, of course, I can privately pray and testify all I want). It is a bit odd not being able to actively participate. Of course, I haven't attended Priesthood or taken the Sacrament for some time now, but I do enjoy reading scriptures and commenting on certain topics in Sunday School, and I've always enjoyed bearing my testimony. It's weird knowing I'm not able to now. Of course, not being able to bear my testimony in Sacrament Meeting doesn't mean I don't still have a testimony nor does it mean I can't bear it anywhere else; and even if I can't share comments in Sunday School doesn't mean I don't still have them nor does it mean I can't actively learn things or even share things outside of church. I guess the hard part is knowing I'm not allowed to do something I've done most of my life. But such are the consequences.

I did get the dreaded call this morning. I am meeting my Stake President on Tuesday evening where I am sure we will talk about where to proceed from here. I imagine that my excommunication is likely inevitable at this point (although, who knows, a miracle could happen). It will be sad, and in some ways I'm sure it will be a difficult transition, but at the same time, I just don't know how to do better than I'm doing. I feel a strange peace and calm about the situation that I hope remains with me.

Having never been excommunicated before, I'm not sure how things will proceed once I've met with my Stake President. He may deem it necessary to convene a church court, and then I gues we'll see where things go from there. I will certainly keep you all apprised. However, I do know at this point that the choices I'm currently making are the right ones for me right now.


Captain Midnight said...

That's how I feel about the temple too. I didn't really enjoy being at the temple. I only ever went because I had to, never because I wanted to. I don't really miss being able to go to the temple, but my boyfriend does. I respect those who love the temple and temple work, but I never really felt a close attachment to it.

TDawgYo said...

I remember, when the Edmonton temple opened, and I attended the dedication, I didn't feel the Spirit like others said they did. They all went on about how wonderful it was, etc. In seminary I commented on how disappointed I was that I went but didn't get this tremendous spiritual experience, that it was more or less the same to me. There was an uncomfortable silence and the teacher looked at me and said "You're supposed to bring it with you."
That still doesn't make sense to me. Okay, so what if I had prepared myself to be there, and it still happened, what then? How can one be sure that it would have happened? And who gave you the right to make me feel unworthy to be there and not have felt the Spirit?
I always liked the temple. I didn't mind going, but I don't know... I always felt out of place in the church. Even at my most active. I'm not gay. And I've always believed in God, and I still do, but I always felt like an outsider.
Describing the disfellowship process, it seems like the Church is pushing you out. They say that you keep your testimony by bearing it all the time, and participating in talks, and discussions, etc. But you can't even do that. So then, couldn't you lose it?

The Faithful Dissident said...

I totally relate to your feelings about the temple.

I have no problem believing that many Mormons go to the temple and feel tremendous strength and get powerful spiritual experiences there. But I don't really have any good memories about the temple and, like you, I felt very out of place.

I got my endowments in D.C. together with my brother and sister-in-law who were getting married the next day. My parents went through with us. I was expecting it to be a little "weird," knowing that it was going to be very symbolic and different. I guess I felt OK until going through the veil, which gave me a really freaky feeling. All day I had been battling thoughts that I wasn't supposed to be there, that I wasn't worthy, etc. Once I entered the Celestial room, the tears started flowing and I think everyone thought that I was just having some spiritual experience. But I just remember feeling an intense sadness. My family was there with me, but I felt alone and I didn't really feel any privacy or peace in the Celestial room. The nexy day was slightly better as I attended the sealing of my brother. I was so happy for them and yet so sad. I was fighting back feelings of failure during the whole ceremony as I thought about my non-member husband and how I had "failed" in the marriage category. I sort of felt ashamed that my younger brother was doing "the right thing" while I, the oldest, had "settled" for a "cheaper alternative," as Elder Nelson's talk in the last General Conference described it. Although none of my family members have ever said or done anything to make me have such thoughts, just growing up in the Church is enough to have them swirling through your mind all the time. Now I'm sad that I could have ever had such thoughts about myself or my husband. I'm at peace with my marriage, as I know you are.

A while later I attended several sessions at the temple in Stockholm. I was without my family this time, travelling with a couple of members from my branch. I didn't feel as sad, but I definitely didn't feel what everyone else always describes. It was long, tiring, and I really didn't have any desire to go back. And now it's over 3 years later and I have even less desire than before to go back.

I wonder, though, whether we can do other things. I've had literally thousands of names of genealogy that have been handed to me from my husband's side of the family and I've done a lot of genealogy, with lots more still to be done. I like doing this, especially when I think about some of those whom I got to meet personally before they passed away. Although perhaps a part of me likes the idea of doing the temple work personally for those whom I knew personally, at the moment I feel content with submitting their names to my family and letting them do it.

I wonder if enjoying the temple and getting inspiration there is a spiritual gift, like the gift of faith, tongues, healing, etc. Just a thought.

There have been many times that I've actually really regretted that I went to the temple in the first place. I thought I was ready, but when I think back to what I "knew" back then and what I "know" now, I sometimes think that I made promises that I really didn't understand (and still don't) and would have been better off if I had not made promises that I may not really be able to keep. I find myself frequently fighting off feelings of being misled. I still wear my garments and am a full tithe payer, keep the word of wisdom, law of chastity, etc, etc. So I do my best to live as though I could go to the temple if I wanted to, but it's easier to live my life a certain way than it is to change my thoughts. And so no one is going to convince me to go back to the temple until I'm good and ready -- if ever.

Still, though, some of my family members have had experiences in the temple and spiritual impressions that I find too difficult to dismiss or deny. And that's why I still believe.

I had no idea that disfellowshipped members couldn't bear testimony or make any comments during class. I can understand not taking the sacrament, since it's like a ritual. But I always thought that the pulpit was open to all who wish to bear testimony, member of non-member, whatever their standing.

Scott said...

My wife and I had thoughts very similar to yours when we heard Elder Holland's remarks in the pre-tour video: Why should a gay person have to give up the love of his life (or never look for him in the first place) if heaven isn't heaven without that special person?

I'm happy that you're at peace with the decisions you've made, even if you're not thrilled with the direction your local church leaders are taking things. I pray that you can continue to have the Comforter with you to help you through the next little bit.

I'll add my voice to those who haven't felt inspired or touched by their temple experiences. If I'm being completely honest, I have to admit that the thing I've enjoyed most about any of my temple visits is admiring the architecture and decor. Whatever else I might feel about the temples, they certainly are beautiful--and the Draper is my favorite of all I've seen as far as interior decor goes.

I've also enjoyed the quiet, and the opportunity that it gives for meditation and thought, but quiet in the temple vs. quiet in a church or cathedral vs. quiet in my home when everyone else has gone to bed--there's no difference as far as I'm concerned.

I like TFD's idea of "temple spirituality" being a gift of the Spirit. That would explain a lot to me. :)

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, all, for your comments thus far.

Captain Midnight, like you, I respect those who love the temple and temple work, but I, too, don't particularly miss going. Perhaps that's sad to say, but it's the truth.

TDawgYo, thanks for sharing your experience. I understand what you mean by feeling out of place at church. I often felt/feel that way, but I do enjoy going nonetheless, and ironically, I feel less out of place since I came out. I don't know, I guess I feel like I'm being true to myself and am still able to take what I find useful to me at church as well.
As far as the disfellowship process goes, I simply look at it as the church protecting itself and its members. I don't think I am a threat to anybody, but there often are people who might use the platform of bearing testimony or giving talks or commenting in class to sway others to a point of view that is not in harmony with the church's teachings or give the impression that that point of view is church-condoned. Even though I don't feel I would ever do that, I understand the need for the church to protect itself and make all offenders play by the same rules. Whether I am at peace with my choices or not, I have violated the "rules," and therefore must abide by the consequences of doing so.
I do agree with you on some level, though, that by limiting a person's participation in the church, it can make them feel more of an outsider and, therefore, less likely to continue going to church.
I believe that whatever the outcome, I will probably continue attending LDS Church meetings. I enjoy attending church, and while they may be able to limit my participation or revoke my membership, they cannot stop me from learning or feeling the Spirit or worshiping God or having fellowship with people I love and care about. They can't stop me from having a testimony or praying inwardly. I think be able to continue going to church, whether I am a member or not, will still help me keep my spirit and testimony strong.
The irony is I actually enjoy going to church more now than I did when I was in the closet. Back then, it felt like a duty. Now it feels like it's my choice and desire to be there. Strange.

FD, like you, I think there are so many people that get a lot out of going to the temple, and you may very well be right that feeling that way is another gift of the Spirit.
Do you ever wonder how many people there are out there who don't have particularly positive (or at least indifferent) feelings about the temple? It's certainly not something that's bound to come up in Sunday School or Relief Society. I'd be curious to know how many others might feel the same.
My mom's first temple-going experience (when she got married) was terrible, and it was probably four or five years before she ever went back. I think she enjoys going to the temple now, although I don't think she's ever felt like she's had any great life-changing experiences there, either.
My first experience was fine, although a bit overwhelming. Unlike you, I actually enjoyed going through the veil, but there were other things I didn't enjoy which I don't think are appropriate to discuss in this setting. I know my sister has felt the same way.
I do find it ironic that the temple is supposed to be a place of peace and spirituality and learning, and for some it is not. In fact, for some people it isn't a positive experience at all.
Many times I just felt terribly unworthy to be there simply because I never felt like my thoughts were in line with what I was taught they should be. It's like I was trying so hard to be righteous by the church's standards, but my heart never seemed to have the right desires. Now that I've kind of gone on my own path, I just feel so much better.
My neighbor loves, loves, loves going to the temple and seems to get so much out of it. I know a couple who just enjoy going to the temple together so much. As I said, I envy that. I wish I had felt that way. It always seemed like a chore to me, and it's something I rarely expressed because it seemed sacriligious somehow. When I found out my sister had similar feelings (at the time), it was so nice to have someone to talk to about it.
I don't know what more I could have done at the time. I tried to prepare spiritually and have a good attitude and such, but it never gave me much satisfaction overall.
That's great that you enjoy geneology and such. I always enjoy the history part of geneology. The actual collecting of names never was much fun.
Jonah asked me once if I would have him baptized if he died. I told him not unless he wanted me to. I also said it wouldn't matter if I did if he wasn't willing to accept it on the other side anyway. He says he doesn't want it done. I said I would respect that.
I totally know what you mean about regretting going to the temple in the first place. Like you, I didn't know what I was getting into making promises I didn't fully understand, and each time I'd go back after I got my own endowment, I'd think, "Gee, was I really ready to make these promises?" Religion can sure do a good job of making you feel guilty both for the things you've agreed to do and haven't lived up to as well as the things you're doing wrong or things you're failing to do. The temple often reminded me of that.
As of today, I still keep the word of wisdom and wear my garments (although the garment-wearing days may be over soon, which will feel very strange). I haven't paid my tithing since Proposition 8, both because I felt weird about giving money to a church that had put so much into fighting against rights I find important and because I thought excommunication proceedings were drawing closer, so it didn't make sense to keep paying tithing if I wouldn't be allowed to do it soon enough anyway. Prior to that, though, I was a faithful tithe payer. Of course, the gay relationship in of itself puts a huge damper on my being able to attend the temple anyway, but I had stopped going to the temple quite a while ago.
I do believe many people have had great and wonderful spiritual experiences in the temple. I just didn't happen to be one of them (which is another thing that made me feel unworthy).
Yeah, as far as I know, you can't bear testimony at the pulpit or comment in class if you've been disfellowshipped.

Scott, thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and words of support. That means a lot.
Like you, I too very much enjoyed the quiet and meditation the temple provided, but also like you I have been able to find that in other places.

MoHoHawaii said...

What would happen if you brought Jonah to church and sat with him in Sacrament Meeting? Would you be asked to leave? Or would that be okay?

Gay LDS Actor said...

MoHoHawaii, since Jonah has never expressed any interest in going to church with me, it's kind of a non-issue. I would have no problem sitting in a meeting with him. I have invited him before. As to how others would respond, I cannot say. I'm sure some would be uncomfortable, and I'm sure there would be others for whom it wouldn't be an issue. I can't imagine we'd be asked to leave unless we were making out (and if that were the case, I'd ask us to leave, too; I wouldn't want to see that in Sacrament Meeting from anyone, gay or straight). If our being there together made anyone uncomfortable, I guess that would be more their problem than mine.

Pam said...

Thanks for sharing your feelings and experiences. I feel it is important to understand all sorts of perspectives. I am an active, straight, temple-attending member of the LDS church and I really appreciate your honesty in your blog. I can't relate to your situation, but I do have empathy for you. It must be a hard spot to be in. Best of luck to you because you seem like a genuinely good person.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Pam, thanks so much for your comments. I sincerely appreciate them.

Lisa said...

Thank you for this post and your honesty. I am a life long member of the church, married to a non-member, raised in Sandy, Utah (now live in BC, Canada and have two gay siblings who have both turned theirs backs on the LDS church. I am the only member of my family that openly supports their lifestyle and life partners. I know my gay siblings struggle with acceptance living in Utah and I feel for them on a daily basis.

I have never been through the temple, but attend church regularly and hold a calling in Relief Society. Through and because of yours and others feelings I have had a very hard time supporting aspects of the church knowing that they aren't supportive of those who I hold so dearly in my heart.

When my brother and his partner eloped to Palm Springs last summer I was amazed how nonchalant my family members were when they heard the news. They just got married for heaven sakes! Let's be excited for them. I am looking forward to planning a ceremony that my family can be involved with, but I guess I am still angry that others don't see this union for what it is - A life time commitment to the person they love and have chosen to spend the rest of their life with.

I too "Love to see the Temple" but have a hard time with so many aspects of what surrounds it and the closed minded members of the church who don't see anything good outside or it. Boy are they missing out!!

I wish you the best of luck with everything. And remember that no one can ever take away your personal relationship with Christ and what you decide to believe. Keep you head up!!

Gay LDS Actor said...

Lisa, thank you so much for your comments. I greatly appreciate them. I was raised in Midvale, Utah, not too far from Sandy.

I am sorry to hear that your siblings have turned their backs on the church, but also understand why they would be apt to do so. I am also sorry that your family has not been as supportive of them and their relationships. Sometimes I do think members of the church, in an effort to stay true to the teachings against homosexual behavior, can be a little standoffish in regard to their gay loved ones and their relationships. I think you can still support your loved ones even if you don't agree with their choices or want to condone their lifestyle. For example, my sister-in-law and brother have been very supportive of me and my partner, and I do not feel their love for me has changed at all. But I also know they think homosexuality is not God's will for me. However, they know that I am happy and respect the free agency God has given me. They know it is my life and that their job is not to judge me, but to love me.

I have another good friend who is very conservative. I know she doesn't think homosexuality is right, but she treats me and her other gay friends with much love and respect, and I feel no judgment or scorn from her.

I think sometimes we forget some commandments at the expense of others. For example, someone who ostracizes their children (which I know is not the case in your family) or stops loving them because of what they view as unrighteous choices is forgetting the commandments "do unto others...," "love one another," and to not show unrighteous judgment at the expense of not condoning homosexual behavior. I think that is wrong. I'm sure God disagrees with many of the things his imperfect children do, but He never stops loving us or does anything to make us feel unwelcome. I think parents or friends can disagree with a loved one's choices, but still respect their free agency. That's what God does with us all the time.

It is a hard balance sometimes to support aspects of the church that one finds hard to deal with. I guess we just have to have faith and know that God sees the whole picture. I don't have the answers, but I know God does. I know that even though I still have a testimony, and even though I am in violation of the commandments as I have been taught them, I am at peace with my situation, and know that God is happy I am happy. That is enough for now, and however it is resolved in the afterlife is between the Lord and me.

It is hard knowing that some people are not as excited about a homosexual union as they might be for a heterosexual marriage. I guess that's just the culture we come from. I think as people get to know how normal gay people really are, things will get easier in time.

I, too, am troubled by members of the church who can never seem to look "outside the box" to see the wonderful things and people that exist outside the church culture. As you say, they are, indeed, "missing out!"

Thanks so much for your kindness and encouragement.

Sara said...

Again, I find your take interesting. I'm kind of jealous of temples and a bunch of the Catholic ceremonies - for ritual and something different and symbolic and meaningful. I guess the closest we have is Passover. But I like that you could go anytime to a special place and get away from this world for a while.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Yeah, Sara, that is one thing I enjoyed about the temple when I went: it was nice to just close the world off for a while.

LCannon said...

If a revelation were to take place allowing gay members to attend the temple the thing I would envy most is that you and your spouse (or significant other) would be sitting side by side.
I know that there are several individuals who don't like attending the temple without their partner. I personally think it is easier not having my partner there. Woman on one side, men on the other . . .