Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why Don't I Like Angels In America?

This past month, I've had the opportunity to see the play Angels in America, which is considered by many to be one of the most important contemporary American plays in theatre history and certainly a pivotal play in the history of gay drama. It has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award. Its television adaptation won several Emmys. It is required reading in many theatre programs across the country and probably the world. In many ways, it is a play of epic proportions with very good writing and interesting characters. It's rarely performed in my neck of the woods (Utah) and so to get a chance to actually see a production of it is something that should be done. I've had a month to see it. Tonight was closing night (sold out, by the way), and yet I had put off seeing it. Why? Because I do not like the play. In fact, the only reason I saw it was because three very good friends of mine were in it and I wanted to support them (that, and a discounted ticket).

As a gay man; as someone who grew up Mormon; as someone who grew up in the 80s; as an actor; as someone who considers himself a theatre connoisseur; as someone who appreciates good acting and good writing, I have every reason to be attracted to and like this play. But I don't, and I can't even really explain why. And every fiber of my being tells me I'm supposed to like this play and that if I don't, there's something wrong with me. I feel the same way about Citizen Kane as far as films go.

Don't get me wrong. From a technical standpoint; from a creative standpoint; from an acting and writing standpoint; and as far as its importance in theatre and its impact on the time it was written, I can appreciate it (just as I understand why Citizen Kane is an important movie in film history). I appreciate Angels in America's value and craftsmanship and understand why it's so important in theatre history, in drama, and, specifically, in gay drama. I can appreciate why it is so critically acclaimed; I just have never really felt connected or drawn to it. It doesn't speak to me for some reason.

I actually auditioned for this production at the director's request for the part of Roy Cohn, although I knew I was too young to play the role. Still, it's a part that an actor would love to sink his teeth into and give those teeth for a chance to play it. And yet, although I needed the job, part of me was hoping not to get cast because I'm not passionate about the play (although I wonder if I had been cast if maybe I would have developed more of an appreciation for the piece). As it turns out, I wasn't cast (I was told I gave an amazing audition but was deemed too young for the role) and ended up getting a part in another play, which I am currently doing. In any case, I was somewhat relieved.

Angels in America has some brilliant writing and great characters. It's a daunting and challenging piece and certainly has poignancy. The production I saw this evening was well acted and well directed. I was proud of my friends' work (really, the whole cast was quite good). And yet, I just didn't feel particularly engaged. This is no one's fault but mine and my own prejudices towards the play.

I've read the play several times over the course of my life and while getting both my Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Theatre. I've analyzed it, written about it, seen scenes from it, and even did a project on it in my undergraduate school. But it's always felt like a chore.

I remember the first time I read it. It was for a class on contemporary drama. We read, discussed, and did projects on many plays that quarter, Angels in America being one of them. At that time, it was all the rage. It may have still been on Broadway or just recently finished its Broadway run. It was considered very topical, very important, and very required reading. I had recently returned from my mission and, frankly, knew very little about it. In the class we were divided in groups of two or three and each group had to do a specific play as a project. Somehow, my group was saddled with Angels in America. I began reading this play I knew nothing about and, quite frankly, hated it. Now I will freely admit that at the time I was still very closeted and just fresh off of my mission, so maybe that had something to do with my bias against it. I couldn't stand the swearing, the characters, and what at the time I felt was disjointed writing (I no longer feel that way today).

The characters of Joe and Harper Pitt (a Mormon couple, one of whom is a closeted gay) were not like any Mormons I personally knew, and I did not relate to either of them, although I certainly should have been able to relate to Joe at least on some level. As for the the other main characters, a gay man dying of AIDS; his Jewish partner who leaves him because he can't deal with his illness; a gay nurse; the lawyer, Roy Cohn; etc., I just didn't relate to any of them or know anybody like them at that time. The very New York vibe of the play was also foreign to me. The political and thematic elements were kind of lost of this naive Utah boy, and quite frankly, I think the play was too smart for me at the time.

In any case, I resented having to do my project on this particular play. It was drudgery. I also freely admit that, at the time, a gay-themed play was something frightening to someone who was trying to suppress anything gay that was inside of him.

However, as years went by and I matured and became smarter, on subsequent readings of the play, I was able to assess and appreciate its value. Tonight was the first time I'd ever seen an entire, fully-mounted production of the play (well, part 1 at least; they're doing part 2 as a reading), and certainly I could appreciate the acting, scene work, writing, and thematic elements. It's a very well-crafted and dramatic piece. But I still don't like it. Even though I feel I ought to relate to these characters, I don't (even Joe, who is the most relatable character to me, specifically, I think). I certainly can't say I was bored, although I did find myself looking at my watch wondering how much longer it would be before the show ended.

The truth of the matter is I'm not even sure why I dislike the play. I have every reason to like it, but I don't. On some level I even feel it's overrated, but I don't know why. I feel like I ought to like it or that I'm supposed to like it, but I don't. It isn't the writing. It's very good writing. It wasn't the acting. It was well-acted. Even though I don't fully relate to any of the characters, they are are well-written, fully-developed, interesting characters. The themes of the piece are certainly relevant. The subject matter is not distasteful to me. Logically, I understand why it is an important piece of theatre. I don't regret seeing it. I think it was worth my time The play still resonates, I think. It just doesn't seem to resonate with me personally.

Perhaps I'm still carrying old prejudices. No matter how many times I've read the play (and now, having seen a decent production of it), I still feel disconnected from it. It doesn't draw me in or affect me emotionally. I appreciate it from a technical standpoint, but not a visceral one. It's like I'm standing outside it thinking, "I should like this. I should find this compelling. I should be moved by this. I should relate to this." But I don't. I never have. And I'm not really sure why.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts From My Sister

My older sister reads my blog. Yesterday I received this email from her (which she said I could post):

I don't see your gayism as a sin - it's not something you chose. You developed a love for [Jonah] and you became happy. Happier than you've ever been in your life. And God wants you to be happy. Otherwise he wouldn't have put you in that situation. But I guess you already know that.

The Spirit can be felt by one who is not a member of the Church - so why cannot a non member also deliver? Your voice has always been a strong attribute, and you do invite the Spirit when you sing. And people are going to know that. And that is a good thing.

Why did Ruby Bridges have to be escorted to an empty classroom and spend lunch by herself. It was part of the movement. Not a path she chose - but one that was necessary for the black race. Maybe you are the Ruby Bridges of the same sex attraction - those that don't choose - the attraction is there - and it's genuine. I think you are a great example to sooo many people. People LOVE you. People you don't even know. Some people you would assume not know. Some people you wish didn't know you - but they admire you. And there will be conflict: "Why would the bishop have permit [Cody] to sing if he knew his background?" but that will be their problem, not yours. While some become stiffnecked about it (or more stiffnecked) others will admire you even more.

You are happy. Admitance and acceptance have helped you. It's a shame not everyone has that. It's a shame that so many are shamed because of feelings that they can't control - that you can't control.

We are all dealt packages - no two are the same. ...And I think you have done a beautiful job of working things out.

This was my response:

Unfortunately, there are many in the world (and in the Church) who do see acting on one's gay feelings as a sin. Leaders of the Church still teach that. But as you've said, it is not a choice (at least, it sure has never felt like one), and that is what troubles me. At my heart, I still believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christ's church on earth, and yet this particular facet of my life (which is a very vital one) does not match up with what the LDS Church teaches. I do not know why this is, and I guess it doesn't really matter since I feel very at peace with my standing and relationship with God, but I do not understand the seeming contradiction, and I know so many gay people who fought for so long to not be gay who simply couldn't do it. Unlike me, some of those people have grown bitter and angry towards either God or their religion because they felt betrayed for being told if they had enough faith or just worked hard enough, they could "beat" their homosexual feelings. Others have lost their belief in God completely and consider themselves atheists. Others tried getting married because that's what their religion required of them and ended up leaving shattered wives (and in some cases, children) when it didn't work out. Others have remained true to their faith and some are even in marriages, but seem unfulfilled or incomplete or lonely. Still others feel unworthy or guilty or depressed because of their inability to balance what they feel as far as their sexuality is concerned with what their religion teaches them. It's all very sad to me, and I don't understand why it must be that way.

Nor do I understand why, if I'm practicing something in my life that goes against what a religion I believe in teaches, am I so much happier now than I was when I was trying hard to do what I was taught. But I know that anybody who knows me well would agree that I am, indeed, happier.

I guess maybe it's just one of those mysteries we won't understand until some later time. I remember spending years wondering why God "cursed" me with homosexual feelings and wondering why, since I was trying so hard to do exactly what he said I should do, none of it was working. Now I no longer care why I'm gay. I just know I am, and like I said, the whys and wherefores don't matter anyway because I feel in my heart that God is happy that I am happy, and as far as I am concerned, God's opinion outweighs that of any man.

I agree with what you said about the Spirit. I once thought that if I was excommunicated, I might lose the Spirit, but I don't believe that at all. I've felt it many, many times since I was, and I know I've shared it as well. I think you're definitely right that the Spirit will be present when I sing (as it has often been).

I hope I am a good example. I try to be. A big fear of mine is I don't ever want to do anything that would lead anybody astray or away from God. I hope I never do.

Thanks for your words. They mean a lot. ...I agree with you: I think I have done a pretty fine job of working things out. Coming out, taking the chance on a relationship with [Jonah], getting excommunicated; these were all scary things to do when I did them, but the blessings and rewards of doing so have been so unimaginably awesome. [One of my good friends] said, "Coming out was the single most difficult decision I have ever made and the most honest thing I have ever done." I understand completely what he means.

I love you very much. Thank you for your love and support in my life. It is invaluable.



My sister also sent me this email in response to my puzzle post:

I was laughing at your frustration - understanding it - expecting an anology. I foresee one. You have finally put the puzzle pieces together in your own life - perhaps not all of them - but the picture is there; you are strong enough to hold it together. It is too bad that there are so many who allow people to interfer when others come along and mess up the remaining pieces that were so neatly compiled - even during your struggles you were always able to identify your next move - it may have taken longer when your pieces were moved or misplaced. But even when you have felt out of control, I think you have had more control than you have allowed yourself to believe . . .

We all struggle in one way or another. Joseph Smith had to physically wrestle in darkness until Heavenly Father appeared to him. And we all wonder why Heavenly Father doesn't pull us out sooner - why centuries of people waited so long for the Messiah to come and had literrally left the earth centuries before he arrived. There is a Christian song I listen to often. Unfortunately I don't have record of the author - but the name of the artist is Casting Crowns. And these are the lyrics:

I was sure by now God you would have reached down

And wiped our tears away stepped in and saved the day

But once again I say Amen and it’s still raining

As the thunder rolls I barely hear you whisper through the rain

I’m with you and as your mercy falls I raise my hands and

praise the God who gives and takes away

And I praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands that

you are who you are

No matter where I am and every tear I cry you

hold in your hand

You never left my side

And though my heart is torn,

I will praise you in the storm

I remember when I stumbled in the wind

You heard my cry

You raised me up again strength is almost gone

How can I carry on if I can’t find you

As the thunder rolls I barely hear you whisper through the rain

I’m with you and as your mercy falls I raise my hands and

praise the God who gives and takes away

And I praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands that

you are who you are

No matter where I am and

every tear I cry you hold in your hand

You never left my side

And though my heart is torn,

I will praise you in the storm

I lift my eyes into the hill

Where does my help come from

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth

You can quote me on anything that you'd like for your blog. And when/if you make it public you can use my name. I'm not ashamed. I can handle it. Paul received riducule. Jesus Christ. Different crosses to bear - but we can bear them together. I love you.

Thanks, sis. I love you, too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Of Interest

Brad Carmack, a 2011 JD/MPA Candidate at BYU (and a straight man) has written an interesting book on homosexuality and the LDS Church. While I haven't read it all, much of it I have looked over, and I'm impressed by the amount of research and time that must have gone into it, and I think it's worth a look. Brad asked me to guest post the following:

Title: Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective

1) President Packer’s general conference talk
2) The recent rash of suicides by gay teens across the country, accompanying “It Gets Better Project,” and current suffering of my homosexually oriented brothers and sisters
3) My coauthor, from whom I have received much help and inspiration, wants it out sooner than later

These are the reasons why I am releasing my book now. I preferred to wait until Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective was groomed and edited further; however, it is not my book alone. Heavenly Father helped me write it, and I believe He would have me release it rather than keep it on my hard drive while I spend months making minor improvements. This book is destined to relieve some of the suffering of my homosexual brothers and sisters, though I don’t yet know by how much. Stuart Matis, shortly before committing suicide on the steps of an LDS chapel on February 25, 2000 in Los Altos, California, wrote to his family: “Perhaps my death ... might become the catalyst for much good. I'm sure that you will now be strengthened in your resolve to teach the members and the leaders regarding the true nature of homosexuality. My life was actually killed many years ago. Your actions might help to save many young people's lives."

So here it is- my 165-page magnum opus to date, in raw .docx and .pdf form (google doc:
Non gmail users, in .pdf only: I invite your feedback as I’m still in the later editing stage. Summary of the book below.

My promise to the open-minded reader is that you will be touched, you will learn things you had never considered, and your views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality in the LDS church will likely change voluntarily.

-Bradley Carmack
Summary: The book has two parts: 1) homosexuality (chapters 1-3) and 2) same-sex marriage (chapters 4-7).

In chapter 1, I argue that church members should have great compassion for homosexually oriented members of the church because of the personal difficulties they experience as a result of their orientation and how the Mormon community typically responds to that orientation. I quote a number of studies and give voice to the experiences of many LDS homosexually oriented people.

In chapter 2, I explore causation, detailing both the religious voice and the scientific consensus. Elder Oaks noted how appropriate this type of an inquiry is: "The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on." I detail 60 statements by church leaders on what causes homosexuality. On the scientific side, I discuss 32 separate subjects to juxtapose two opposing hypotheses for the causation of homosexual orientation: 1) biological factors such as genes and pre-natal hormones, and 2) factors such as infection, molestation, and choice. Some examples of the evidence addressed: homosexual men have, on average, measurably and significantly different ratios of the second to fourth digit of their hands than their heterosexual counterparts. The anterior commissure of their brains is gender shifted away from the heterosexual male norm and toward the heterosexual female norm. Their limb:trunk ratio is similarly gender-shifted, as is their performance on visio-spatial tasks, third interstitial nucleus (a region of the brain thought to be directive of male-type sexual behavior) size and density, left:right brain hemisphere ratio, brain response to sex pheromones, cochlear sound production, thalamic response to female faces, verbal abilities, physical aggressiveness, expressiveness, and childhood gender conformity to name just a few.

In chapter 3 I examine how changeable sexual orientation is by considering relevant church doctrines and looking at the empirical evidence on both sides.

In chapter 4 I show why homosexuals can reproduce, contrary to popular belief, and note that they are no different from inherently infertile heterosexual couples as to their reproductive capacity.

In chapter 5 I argue why, assuming for a moment that homosexual behavior is not sinful, it makes a lot of moral sense to support LDS same-sex marriage. For instance, I show how important family is to mortal experience and point out that celibacy does not provide a family experience, while same-sex marriage does.

Chapter 6 contains rebuttals to common anti- same-sex marriage arguments, many of which are deeply flawed.

Chapter 7 applies Elder Oaks's recent speech on the Constitution. Many church members have said that Judge Walker should not have heard the Perry v. Schwarzenegger (Prop 8) case, but instead should have let the voice of the people of California decide the matter. I show why this view is antithetical to our constitutional system of governance.

In closing, I explain my motivations for writing and make invitations to the reader.


Brad Carmack is in his last year of the JD/MPA program at BYU. He majored in Biology, performed clerk assignments for Justice Joel Horton of the Idaho Supreme Court, and is currently a teacher’s assistant for Human Resources Law and Bioethics. Brad also regularly participates in USGA [Understanding Same Gender Attraction], an unsponsored BYU student talk group

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Atonement

Church was quite enjoyable today. I really enjoyed Sunday School a lot. I almost didn't go to church today at all (I just opened a show (we had two performances yesterday)) and attended a Halloween party, and didn't get to bed until 3:00 AM, so I was quite tired. But I'd also been given the "all-clear" to sing in Sacrament Meeting and wanted to let the ward chorister know (in my bishop's words, "President ________ and I agreed that we see no reason why you can't sing, and I look very forward to hearing you sing soon"). Anyway, I'm singing next week (not sure what yet).

In any case, I did go to church and was glad I did. The main focus of the lesson was the atonement, and I felt the Spirit whisper several things to me today.

One of the main points I want to get across was that I really felt the worth of a human soul, no matter what condition that soul thinks he or she is in. So many people feel unworthy or unloved or alone. People feel depressed because they feel they are feeling short of their potential. And yet the Savior purchased each and every one of us individually because he knew we were worth it. Think about it. Think about the heavy price the Savior paid for that purchase. It would be easy to say, "Whoa, Lord, you're not going to get a very good return on your investment," and yet the most perfect, most knowledgeable man who ever walked the earth thought it was worth it. It might be easy to think, "Well, he just did that for the souls that had the most potential," but I am convinced that if had just been for your individual soul or just for mine, the Savior would have done exactly the same thing. That is how precious we are to him and our Heavenly Father.

Satan is really good at making us feel like crap. He's good at making us feel worthless and unloved and alone and afraid and guilty. I spent a good portion of my life feeling that way. It's easy to lose sight of the fact (or even not believe) that God and Jesus really do love and value each and every one of us as much as they claim they do. My gosh, if you think about what both of them went through just to pay the ransom that was on each and every one of our souls, it's incredible. Jesus Christ made the choice to suffer and to die for us not only because he knew it was the right thing to do, but because we were worth it.

Which brings me to another point that hit me today: We're taught that if we do our best, Christ's atonement will take care of the rest; it will fill the gap that we are unable to fill ourselves. Well, what is a person's best, really? How do we measure that? For years I thought, "I'll never be good enough; I'll never be able to do enough to merit the perfection and eternal life our Father in Heaven has promised us if we just do our best." Well, guess what? None of us can. That's the whole point of the atonement. You and I could work our little heinies off until we were bruised and battered, and it would still never be enough. The least spot of sin or weakness automatically shuts us out and no matter how hard we try, without the atonement, we would all be shut out. That's the justice part.

The mercy part (which is the part I love) is that Christ and Heavenly Father love and value each of us so much that the price was paid. All we have to do is the best we are able under the conditions life has given us. So what if one person's very best is only 60%? Well, Christ's atonement fills in the 40% gap, making the payment 100% (which is exactly what is required - no more, no less). Suppose somebody's very best is only 10%? Christ fills in the other 90%, and we're still at the needed 100%. What if a person's best is only 5%? Christ gives 95%, and the required 100% is still attained. Suppose a person is given circumstances in life where after all they can do, they can only muster a measly 1%? Others might look at that and say, "Hey, I gave 75%!" or "I gave 98%! Surely my 98% is worth more than that person's paltry 1%! Surely, Lord, you wouldn't let that person in without making them try harder!" It seems to me that if 1% is all that person can give, that is all that required. The miracle of the atonement (and it is indeed a miracle) will fill the 99% gap that that particular individual lacks, and 100% is all a person needs.

When the widow gave her measly mite, she gave all she had. As Mark 12:43-44 says, "...this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
"For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."

It's also akin to the parable of the vineyard workers found in Matthew 20:1-16:

"For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
"And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
"And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
"And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
"Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
"And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
"They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
"So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
"And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
"But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
"And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
"Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
"But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
"Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
"Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
"So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."

Although there are other applications to this scripture, I want to concentrate on the point that the Savior gives us exactly what he promises us. We all must work to receive the promised reward. Some work a lot and some work a little, but if each does exactly what they were required to do, they will all get what they were promised to be paid. Of some is required a lot and of some is required less. Some people's 1% is just as fairly earned as other souls' 99%, and those who were able to achieve 99% on their own might be tempted to look at the person who only got to 1% on his or her own and cry foul and say, "That's not fair! We worked so much harder! Why do they get in?"

But who's to say that they didn't work just as hard and sweat just as much and toil the best they could to get that 1% as someone else who managed to get to 99%? Well, the only ones who can judge that fairly and perfectly are God, the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. And that's what's wonderful. We don't have to judge ourselves or each other as far as who is going to "make it" and who is not. That isn't to say we still don't have personal responsibility to do the best we feel we are able; but leave the final decision and judgment up to the Godhead.

Jesus is often referred to as the Mediator or our Advocate. I think too often people look at God or the Son as beings who are judging us and picking apart our every flaw, weakness, and sin, just waiting for us to fail so they can shut us out of the kingdom, and too many people take on that position themselves when the only one who has the right to is God Himself. I think the Father and Son are loving, merciful beings who are proud of the littlest successes we have in life, who cradle us in their arms when we have a setback and quietly encourage us to get up and try again. They are infinitely patient. No matter how many times we fail, they are there to encourage us and pick us back up. And if our 1% or 5% or 10% or 25% or 45% or whatever is all we can muster, they are happy and satisfied with all we are able to do to draw closer to them. I imagine Jesus as someone who pleads our case to the Father with great mercy, not as someone who is trying to block us or condemn us. In those cases where someone is denied promised blessings because they squelched their mortal probation, I imagine the Father and Son feel a great deal of love and compassion for that individual because that's simply the place they operate from.

I used to believe Heavenly Father was disappointed in me or frustrated with me or sorry for me that I was such a failure. I've come to a place in my life where I feel such an unimaginable amount of love and compassion and mercy and patience and happiness coming from my Father. I am worth the price Jesus paid for me and always have been, even when I didn't believe it. I do not know where I will end up in the afterlife, but I feel great peace and joy in my life and am grateful that the Lord knows my heart so beautifully and infinitely and that I will be judged accordingly and with an absolute perfect knowledge, something none of us can do here in mortality.

I love the Lord so much. I am indeed grateful for him, and I am grateful for the things he teaches me. I pray I am doing Him proud and representing Him. Whether I am or not, I know He values and cherishes my soul on a level I can't even begin to comprehend. And that's how He feels about your soul, too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

To Sing Or Not To Sing?

So I'm at church last Sunday, and the ward chorister, who's also in charge of picking songs and arranging what musical numbers will be done during Sacrament Meeting, comes up to me and says, "[Cody], we sure haven't heard you sing in a while. I'd love it if you could sing something in Sacrament Meeting in the next couple of weeks." I stammer and say, "Uh, well let me get back to you." This is normally a no-brainer, as I've been asked to sing in church many times during the course of my life; however, this is the first time I've been asked to do so since I was excommunicated. I'm not sure what the protocol is here. Is this something I'm allowed to do still? I can't see the harm. After all, I'd just be singing and unless it's something like "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles or Duran Duran's "Wild Boys," I can't imagine there would be any issue. I know of several instances where people who were inactive or not members at all have sung in church, so why shouldn't I be able to?

Nonetheless, I decide to get my bishop (former bishop, I guess)'s approval or input. I ask him. He says he doesn't think it will be an issue and would actually love to hear me sing, but will ask the stake president. Knowing the stake president, I don't anticipate it will be an issue for him, either, but who knows? I've never been excommunicated before; not sure how all this works.

I call Jonah to tell him about it, mostly because I find the whole thing mildly amusing. Jonah is not as amused as I am; it makes him mad. He thinks it's stupid that I even need to ask or that there would be an issue at all. But then again, Jonah thinks the whole concept of excommunication is kind of stupid and weird.

The bishop calls my house, but I am not home. He doesn't leave a message with my mom, but tells me to please call back. I'm not sure if this is good or bad.

I finally get a hold of him. He says neither he nor the stake president have any problem with it and that he looks very forward to hearing me sing in church again. It's now up to me to call the chorister and let her know that I am available to sing. It will be nice to do so again. I'm looking very forward to it.

Still, it's all a bit weird jumping through hoops to do what used to be a no-brainer. I guess life is full of little adjustments.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Puzzle Envy

I am a jigsaw puzzle master! I very much enjoy jigsaw puzzles, and I am quite good at putting them together. I seem to have the innate ability to quickly identify where pieces go and put them there. I would probably go so far as to say that I am a bit of a jigsaw puzzle snob. I've put puzzles together with people who just don't know what they're doing. They'll be looking at a piece and trying to place it in an area where it obviously (to me, that is) doesn't go, and although I enjoy their company, I sort of roll my eyes and think, "If it were up to you, we'd never get this puzzle together." Now I say most of this in a half-joking way to preface an experience a friend of mine and I had at work today.

I'm currently rehearsing a show at a local theater. Some of the cast of the show preceding ours had started a jigsaw puzzle of Mickey Mouse in the green room (for those of you not from the theatre world, a green room is an area where the actors can relax when they're not rehearsing or when they are off stage). This Mickey Mouse puzzle is one of those mosaic pictures where a giant image (in this case: Mickey Mouse) is made up of smaller pictures (stills from different Disney cartoons). As far as puzzles go, it is mildly challenging, but certainly not the most difficult I have encountered.

A friend of mine (who is in the cast of the show we are currently rehearsing) and I decided we would finish this puzzle. Both of us are very organized in how we set up the pieces (something I cannot say for whoever started the puzzle) and both of us seem to be very good at putting it together. We had categorized and laid out pieces by where we felt they would go in the puzzle and had put a number of them right-side-up (that is to say the image on the piece was correctly oriented so that if we were facing it, it would face the correct direction as it would appear in the final picture (does that make sense at all? I know what I mean, anyway.)). We had made much progress during breaks in our rehearsal, but because our breaks aren't long, and that's the only time we have to work on the puzzle, we were going slower than we would if we had ample time to devote to it.

Anyway, at lunch today we were kind of excited to get back to it, and we walked into the green room and saw two people on the technical crew (who were on their lunch break) working on the puzzle. I suppose that's fine. After all, neither my friend nor I started the puzzle, and it is in a public area. However, we looked into each other's eyes a bit disappointedly and in a bit of frustration; partly because we knew we couldn't work on the puzzle with them and that, therefore, our time with the puzzle would be limited; but mostly because these two individuals had completely messed all the pieces up and were staring at the pieces and the unfinished puzzle dumbfoundedly and clearly had no idea what they were doing. In fact, one of the technicians muttered, "I hate this puzzle!" which made my friend think (he later told me) "Then why are you doing it?"

My friend decided to go home for lunch. My house was too far away for a trip home, so I ate my lunch in the green room and worked on other things on my computer while I silently watched these two people flounder for 45 minutes as they unsuccessfully tried to work on the puzzle. I silently thought to myself, "Amateurs!"

Finally they left, needing to get back to work. I proceeded to correct the damage that they had done and put more pieces in place in the next 20 minutes than they had done in the 45 I had observed them.

Soon it was time to get back to rehearsal. My friend entered, and I looked at him, and he said, "Don't even talk to me about it." We laughed.

Truly, everything I've written is in mock seriousness. It's hard to convey in written word, but I am not really upset about any of this. It's more tongue-in-cheek. I just thought it was funny and was joking with other cast mates later that puzzles should be left to the experts. Some people just don't have the knack. Another friend said she didn't have patience for puzzles. She could never figure out where the pieces go and was always putting them in the wrong places. I said, "at least you know that. These two people didn't seem to. I just wanted to jokingly say, 'All right, let the professionals in. Nothing to see here, folks. We'll take care of this.'"

As I later recounted this story to my mom, she was laughing; probably because she knows that she's one of those people who isn't very good at jigsaw puzzles and will continually try to put a piece where I can clearly see it doesn't belong. I just smile and let her do so.

Anyway, it's probably not as humorously expressed here as I had hoped, but it made me laugh.

Oh, and by the way, my friend and I fixed all the pieces again. Wonder how long that will last. :-)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food For Thought

My neighbor came to my mom's house today while I was there. This is the husband of my neighbor referred to in my last post (the one who sent me the Facebook message). My neighbors (let's call them Raymond and Ruth) have been close friends of my parents since my parents and my neighbors moved into this neighborhood nearly 50 years ago.

I asked Raymond to give me his first account description of what occurred in Priesthood meeting yesterday. He said that they had been watching clips of different speakers from General Conference, and towards the end of the meeting our other neighbor (who we'll call Clyde) made a rather sharp comment about "the gays" and how they needed to be stopped because it was just plain wrong.

Raymond said my former bishop said something akin to "Now, hold on, Clyde. There are people in our neighborhood, even our ward, who deal with this, and they are good people, and when you say things like that, it is very hurtful, and it is inappropriate for you to say things like that." Raymond said that the message my former bishop was giving (in kinder words) was "You need to mind your own business, stop judging others, and sit down and shut up." Raymond said he was so proud of our former bishop and of the Christlike way in which he handled the situation (because, of course, he didn't actually say "sit down and shut up), but he did chastise Brother Clyde (and, justly, I feel).

I told Raymond that through the course of my life I had heard many ignorant and hurtful comments said about gay people in church meetings, and that they often caused great pain. Raymond said he was sure that was true. It was nice to hear of somebody saying "That isn't right!" It made me love my former bishop even more than I already do.

Raymond and I talked about how we're glad that God is the one in charge of judging and that we were glad he knows each person's heart intimately. Raymond (who's very active and has been a temple worker for many years and has held many callings in his life) told me he had a theory. He said he felt we were put on this earth for three things: to gain knowledge, to do, and to become.

He said that, first, we gain knowledge, but that no matter how much knowledge we gain while we're here that if we don't do things based on the knowledge we've gained, all the knowledge in the world is pointless.

So the second thing is that we must do things based on the knowledge we've acquired, but that we should do things for the right reasons. For example, a person can go to church and pay tithing and go to the temple, but only be doing it out of duty or to show others what a "good person" he is, whereas somebody who isn't a member of the church at all might be doing acts of service or good things because he genuinely cares for others, and so the supposedly "lesser" of the two is actually doing things for the right reasons and that will count in his favor. It's like the difference between the Pharisees that gave loads of money in tithing to show how obedient they were and the widow who gave her "mite" (all that she had) because she knew it was right. In actuality, she gave the most.

Which brings us to the third thing: becoming. Based on what we do, we become. We may become like God, which is (according to LDS doctrine) the whole point of being here or we may become like Satan. And then Raymond said something that really resonated with me. He said a person who isn't necessarily following the "rules" can become more like God by his genuine actions than someone who is following all the rules for the wrong reasons, and it is those people who will gain celestial glory in the last days.

In his theory (and again, he stressed that it was merely a theory), he wondered if those who gained telestial glory were simply the "gainers of knowledge" while those who gained terrestrial glory were simply the "doers" and those who gained celestial glory were the ones who were actually "becoming like God" regardless of their religion or lack of one. It really rang true in my heart, and I really felt a strong spirit as he relayed his theory.

In the religious tenets of Mormonism, I always thought that I was just consigned to terrestrial glory based on the choices I've made (which I felt I could live with), but a voice whispered to me that maybe it was indeed possible for someone like me who has been excommunicated from the LDS Church to gain celestial glory simply based on pure intentions (and deeds perpetuated by those intentions) of a heart that is trying to become like God and do those things that God would do.

I'm not saying that I'm bound for celestial glory. Only God knows that, and frankly, I have no idea how good one has to be to achieve that or whether I am that good. But it was something I just saw from a different point-of-view this evening, and I was grateful for it.

I have many weaknesses and faults. I am, by no means, perfect. I can be selfish and lazy and critical. But I am trying to be the best me I can be. I figure that's all I can do, and that Jesus Christ's atonement will make up for that which I lack. I'm just glad God is in charge of final judgment and that he bases that judgment on a perfect communication with his individual children's hearts. That gives me great comfort.

I try not to concern myself too much anymore about where I will end up in the afterlife. I spent many years fretting and worrying about it. Now I just try to live the best life I can and hope that my actions and words help lift people up or bring people closer to Christ rather than tear them down or draw them away from Christ. I don't know whether I am doing that or not, but I just try to be as good of a person as I know how to be; improve on the things I lack or am weak in; and let God take care of the rest. Isn't that all any of us can do? As far as I'm concerned, it is.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Defending the Gays

A friend (who serves in the Relief Society and was also present at my church disciplinary council) passed this note along to me via Facebook. My comments are in italics:

"You will probably be interested in [my husband's] account of something that happened in Priesthood meeting today. One of our "favorite" neighbors [this man in our ward who sometimes says inappropriate things and has been known to make homophobic statements] was praising and giving a very harsh spin on [Boyd K. Packer's] talk. [Our old bishop - a good friend I've written about many times in my blog] took him on in no uncertain terms, told him [the] talk had already been modified and that when comments were made like those just made, many people (even right there) were being hurt. And in so many words our "neighbor" was told to "shut up." All from one of the most Christlike guys we know. (I think this may shut down the comments from a few other notorious commenters--hope so.)"

My history with this particular neighbor hasn't always been a good one. I will say he has many good qualities such as the fact that he is very service-oriented and takes good care of his ailing wife, but he also is incredibly old fashioned in his attitudes towards women, gay people, and people of race. We are definitely not on the same wavelength politically. Sometimes I find him a bit of a busybody who is much more a "letter-of-the-law" kind of individual than I am. I find him somewhat narrow-minded.

My old bishop, on the other hand, is (as my friend says) "one of the most Christlike guys [I know]." He is very devoted to his religion and also truly loves everyone and is very nonjudgmental. I love him dearly. So often in church meetings people will sometimes say ignorant things or harsh things about gay people, and I'm glad my old bishop took a stand and basically told this other brother that what he was saying was harmful and inappropriate. I'm glad somebody followed the spirit and put this guy in his place.

Another friend (and former missionary companion) wrote me and said:

"I think Elder Packer's comments were poorly worded. Several things he said came across as ignorant opinions--although I sense he actually meant something different. Usually conference talks are a lot more carefully thought out, and I was annoyed that he made several statements in his talk that sounded like ignorance rather then spiritual advice. I sincerely hope that's not how he meant it, and I pray it wasn't discouraging to you."

I responded by saying,

"Thanks so much for your comments... Unlike some of my friends, I do think Elder Packer's words were well-intended even if they ended up having the opposite effect for many people. Some people accuse him of coming from a place of hate, but I do not feel that at all. I feel some of his remarks do comes from a place of ignorance. Regardless of his position in the church or his spiritual insight, the fact of the matter is that Elder Packer doesn't likely have any idea what it's like to be gay or how his words might come across to a gay person. Even if he's an inspired man, some of his remarks show that he doesn't truly understand things from a gay person's point-of-view. Again, I actually think his intentions are good. He's preaching what he truly believes out of a concern for the spiritual well-being of God's sons and daughters, but to one who is gay or has a gay loved one in their life, his remarks came across as ignorant, patronizing, and hard. I, myself, wasn't too surprised by his remarks, and I've already made my own peace with this issue. It's those young people out there that are struggling with homosexual feelings that I felt discouraged for. I think the talk gives people a false sense of hope that may cause a lot of grief for individuals in the church who are dealing with homosexual feelings. I also thought the talk was ill-timed, especially when there have been a rash of gay youth committing suicide. Anyway, I truly appreciate your thoughts and letting me know what you felt."

I truly believe that Boyd K. Packer is not a bad man, but regardless of the fact that he may be an Apostle and may be inspired, I think he comes from a place of ignorance as far as this subject is concerned. No matter how inspired he may or may not be, he is human and comes at life from his own experiences. If I were to give a talk claiming I understood what it's like to be black or to be a woman and claim that I fully understood the struggles or trials they have faced in their lifetimes, it would be disingenuous no matter how well-intentioned I was about it. I simply don't understand what it's like. I can't fully put myself in a black person's shoes or a woman's shoes because I've never experienced their lives. Likewise, no matter how much he is trying to "help" people who have homosexual feelings, his talk can come across negatively to those who are gay because he's coming from a place of ignorance as far as how we experience life.

That being said, accusations that Boyd K. Packer is coming from a place of hate just don't ring true to me. I sincerely believe, in his view, he is trying to help those struggling with same-sex attractions. Unfortunately, I think his talk (and talks like his) cause more damage than good to those who are dealing with homosexual feelings (or who have a loved one who is dealing with homosexual feelings), and that is what I take issue with.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Facebook Fuming

One of my Facebook acquaintances started the following discussion today:

A: "I can see why the homosexual community is shocked over Elder Packers talk, I mean its only been the LDS stance for a couple hundred years."

B: I'm wondering if they really think that the Church will change on this issue. Policy WON"T change, no matter how many people protest!!!

C: I heard one guy on the news say, "we expected for the church to back off after prop 8". I mean cuz being gay is like being born black and not having a choice to be white. its totally the same thing. right?

C: I love how people say that "you can't legislate morality!" huh??? what???

A: I just think that it's funny that anyone thinks this a shocking issue or talk for an apostle to give. It's like homosexual ex-mormons held this little hope that something might change. I can't seem top remember the last time the church decided to omit certain sins from its list of sins.

D: Why can't it change? I mean, the Church used to be against its priests molesting little kids too, but that changed. Oh wait...that's the Catholics.

A: ‎"Dear Brothers and Sisters, after further examination of our doctrine and after much social pressure, we have decided we must have misunderstood God about the whole gay thing, sorry our bad."

E: The world we live in is very wicked, it's so disturbing how people try to rationalize there sins. The ways of the world are not now, never were, and never will be God's ways. I don't believe in standing in judgment of others, it's not our place, but when an Apostle of God speaks we better listen.

F: Further, they are taking his remarks out of context. The meaning they took was not the meaning intended. His statement of "Why would Heavenly Father do that to anyone?" was in reference to our ability to overcome our weaknesses (regardles...s of genetic predisposition or other tendencies) and not a reference to homosexuality being inborn. Re-reading the talk makes that very clear. The church does not take a stance regarding genetic predisposition to homosexuality. We don't disagree with science that there may be something genetic. Just like violent tendencies, and alcoholic tendencies, homosexual tendencies can be overcome. The problem lies with the homosexual community not-so-subtly insinuating that it's not sinful, and that there isn't power to overcome it.

Yet, men overcome anger, alcoholism, pornography, and promiscuity every single day. What is the difference? The difference is that Satan has made the line very gray regarding homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, and other sins that don't "hurt" anybody. Violence and alcoholism are obvious, but sex is not. He is attempting to bind even the faithful members of the church by turning their sympathy and empathy into regret that the church takes a stance against homosexuality. And thus they are led safely down to hell. I'm tired of the gay community claiming our stance makes us unkind, vicious, judgmental, etc.

Sorry for the novel. I get fired up about this topic.

G: I totally agree [F]. Satan has done wonders and been wildly successful with the whole homosexuality thing, especially as it relates to church membership.

E: Very well stated [F].

H: [F], have they asked you to speak in conference yet? Very well said.

I debated about whether to add my voice to the discussion (still am), but haven't contributed yet. First off, [A] and I are not really friends. We worked on a film together, and I've never even met him face-to-face. Secondly, it is very clear to me (not just from this discussion, either) that [A] and I are on very opposite ends of the political spectrum and on very different sides of this particular issue, and I doubt anything I say would change his thinking or position or that of his friends, nor do I feel they would change mine, so what's the point? But I do want to vent about it, and what better place to do it than my own blog?

First off, speaking only for myself, I am neither surprised nor shocked by Elder Packer's talk nor do I expect the LDS Church to do an "about face" regarding the subject of homosexuality. That is not my issue. My issue is that the same rhetoric that was used in this talk and which has been used for years in the Church doesn't seem very useful or uplifting to those who must deal with this issue. Again, I'm only speaking from my own experience. I know the LDS Church is against homosexual relationships and against gay marriage and doesn't plan on changing its position. Okay, fine. But I feel that Elder Packer is making the same promises that always felt so empty to me when I was struggling with my homosexual feelings. He's essentially asking the very question I asked myself thousands of times: "Why would God do this to me if it's wrong?" but coming up with the opposite answer that I and so many like me have come up with.

All right, let's assume the LDS Church is true and that Boyd K. Packer is correct that gay people can change. I know that I, and many like myself, feel that is impossible, and instead of feeling hopeful and valiant in our fight, it just makes us feel like we must be faithless and unworthy. Something must be wrong with us because we seem to be unable to achieve what we have been promised, and that leaves us feeling depressed, miserable, and often suicidal. If Boyd K. Packer is right, and people like me are wrong (which I won't dismiss), then why does it seem like such an impossible and hopeless battle? Why, if it is so wicked and wrong, do I, and many others like me, seem so much happier and joyful now that we've come out? Are we being deceived by Satan? Are we fooling ourselves? I know others feel that we are, but I don't feel that way in my heart. I do not feel that this is the message that God has given me personally, and I know many gay people who grew up in the LDS Church that feel the same way.

An apostle's revelation supposedly overrides my personal revelation and the positive spirit I feel in my heart, but what does that mean for people like me? Do we continue to live hollow, empty lives facing a future that seems hopeless and unfulfilling, or do we make a different choice? After years and years and years of knocking myself against the door, trying to get it open, but just finding myself a bloody, bruised, practically unrecognizable mess, I decided I couldn't do it anymore. Instead I fearfully opened a different door and found that I liked very much what I found there. It has brought my true joy. Yes, joy, I say! The joy I was always promised by my church leaders if I just obeyed the commandments but which always seemed to be beyond my grasp.

I do not dispute that the LDS Church is God's true church on earth. I dispute the fact that I was asked by that church (and by association, the Lord) to do something that felt impossible, and to me that seems very unfair. Yet when I chose to come out and pursue the relationship with my partner; when I chose to accept my feelings; when I made the choice to have a commitment ceremony and engage in a sexual relationship with the man I love (choices which caused me to be excommunicated from a church I loved (and still love) and gave my heart and every loyalty to for so many years), instead of feeling sorrowful and guilty, I discovered a light and joy in my life that was lacking for so many of the years before I made those decisions. Instead of constantly wishing that I were dead and instead of facing a life that seemed like it would always be hopeless and lonely, I discovered the greatest and most fulfilling relationship I've ever had with a man who I'm devoted to and who is devoted to me. Instead of constantly living the facade of a life that I never really felt was who I was, I discovered the ability to actually be myself without shame or guilt. If the fruits of the Spirit are things like love, joy, and peace, why do I feel those things more now than I did before I made these choices? Satan cannot mimic these things, and I know I feel them! I know it!

Yes, I've chosen to act on my homosexual feelings (feelings that have been with me long before I knew my church taught that they were wrong), but I did not choose the feelings themselves. Unlike taking a drink of alcohol or smoking a cigarette or taking drugs, these feelings have been a part of my very nature for as long as I can remember, and when I fought so valiantly against them; against what feels like my true nature, it only brought me misery, confusion, depression, and sorrow.

The promise of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 that says, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" is something I relied on for much of my life and which ultimately seemed untrue to me if, indeed, homosexuality is a sin because it was a trial that I felt unable to overcome, and I decided that this either meant one of four things: 1) God gave me an impossible trial to overcome, which seems like a pretty jerky thing for a loving Father to do to his child if he wants him to succeed; 2) God gave me a trial that was possible to overcome, but I was just too weak and faithless to actually do so, which makes me wonder why a loving Father would not help me cultivate the strength and faith necessary to do when I prayed and worked so hard for so long to do just that; 3) I was too weak and faithless to actually overcome my trial in this life, but Heavenly Father knows I gave my all, and Christ's atonement will somehow make up the difference that I lacked; 4) It's okay that I'm this way, and it's not a sin at all. No matter what the answer is (and I know which one I believe), I could not overcome my homosexuality, and I have hundreds of friends who feel the same way. Those who disagree with homosexuality and consider it sinful can believe that all they want, but our reality and life experience tells us something different, and until you've actually walked in our shoes, you just don't know what it is like. Fortunately, I know that God knows my heart (and the hearts of my friends) perfectly, and I trust he will judge us accordingly, and that's all that really matters to me.

I have no personal disdain for Boyd K. Packer nor do I feel his talk is motivated out of hate. In fact, if anything, I think it is motivated by a love of God's children and a concern for their spiritual well-being. I'm just saying that as someone who grew up gay and Mormon, I'm truly concerned that his words and style will cause more harm to those dealing with homosexual issues, either in their own lives or in the lives of their loved ones. I don't think Elder Packer intends to cause harm, but I think his words will, and this is what I find troubling about his talk.

Especially during this period when relations between gays and the LDS Church seemed to be getting a little better after the Prop. 8 divisions, and especially at a time when there has been a rash of suicides from young gay people (both Mormons and not), it just seemed like Brother Packer's hard-line stance was a bit ill-timed and ill-conceived. At least, that's how it felt to me.

As for the somewhat snarky Facebook conversation above, while I don't expect the LDS Church to change their policy towards gays or necessarily think they will, I'm sure there was a time when members didn't think they would change their policies regarding polygamy or towards black people. Even in my lifetime, the LDS Church I grew up with and the one I see now are not exactly the same, and it certainly has changed in some respects from when Joseph Smith was prophet. I don't know what will happen in the future. It will be interesting to see.

Being gay does not feel like a choice to me. I feel I'm as gay as I am white or male. Just saying.

As for the constancy of sin, it's interesting to note that some of the things that were considered sinful in the Old Testament, for example, are not considered sins now. I guess that's because it was the Mosaic law, but it begs the question, does what is considered sinful change with the times or with the instituted law? In the early days of the restored church, polygamy was a commandment. Now if you were to practice it, it would be grounds for excommunication, would it not?

If I am sinning, maybe I am rationalizing it, but it does not feel that way on my end. We're told to listen to the Prophet and the Apostles, but we're also told to take what they give us and pray for ourselves to know if something's true. All I can say is Boyd K. Packer has never walked in my shoes. I admit I've never walked in his, either.

I'm doing the best I can, people, with what I was given. If that's not enough, I don't know how I can do more. I can do without the sarcastic Facebook comments from people who don't understand what it is to be me. But then maybe I can do better at seeing things from their points-of-view.

In closing, I thought this pledge from a friend of a friend of mine (also found on Facebook) was very good and describes many of my feelings well:

I’m Mike. I’m a Mormon. I’m straight, and I LOVE my Gay friends.

I want to help bridge the divide between my church and the gay community.

I promise to stand up for those bullied because of their sexual orientation, their religious convictions, or for any other reason bullying may occur.

I promise not to proclaim homosexuality a “choice,” and request I not be branded “brain-washed” by those who disagree with my faith.

I feel for those who have felt betrayed, insulted, shocked, or outraged by the LDS position on homosexuality, and although that position may never change, I promise to be a source of compassion and friendship to those who seek it.

I recognize that I can never understand the heart-ache and struggle that a person or family must go through when dealing with homosexuality particularly within a religious paradigm. I promise not to make that struggle more difficult for anyone.

I cannot classify Boyd K Packers talk as “Hate Speech,” but I promise to strike down hate speech against Gays and against Mormons wherever I may find it.

I promise to continue to seek the good and virtuous from the gay community, and plea that they will seek the good and virtuous from the Mormons.

There is common ground. I know we can find it. There are passionate opinions and emotions from all parties, but there is no need to be enemies.

I can only speak for myself. I know I cannot fix this alone or even at all, but I want to try. I seek those from all sides of this issue who desire a peaceful coexistence from this cultural nightmare.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Boyd K. Packer's Talk

I was troubled by Elder Packer's talk yesterday. Not surprised, just troubled. I fully defend his and the LDS Church's right to take a stand on whatever issues they find immoral or of import, but the rhetoric in his talk was the very same stuff that always made me feel so hopeless, depressed, guilty, and unworthy as a youth. I never seemed to be able to gain the promises no matter how hard I tried or fought to overcome my sexuality (or at least deal with it in a way that wasn't making me absolutely miserable), and it made me wonder "what is wrong with me?"

As much as I would like to get on board, I just don't believe what Elder Packer said, and I don't like the way he said it. If that makes me an unbelieving, faithless heathen, then I guess I am. (Considering I'm no longer an official member of the LDS Church, I guess it doesn't really matter whether I support Elder Packer or not anymore). My heart and my personal life experience just doesn't buy it, apostle or not. I guess that makes me an apostate. Well, it's not like they can excommunicate me again.

Like I said, he has every right to defend whatever position he believes in, but I truly worry about the effect his talk will have on those who deal with homosexuality. All I can say is, walk a mile in my shoes, Elder Packer, and see if you give the same talk. On the flip side, I admit I have not walked a mile in Elder Packer's shoes, so I can only judge him based on my own life experiences.

I had planned on writing more about this, but I found an essay through a friend on Facebook that actually said many of the things I was planning on saying myself, so I'll just let Isaac Higham do the work for me.

You can either read it here or I have reprinted it in italics below (with Isaac's permission) for you to read.

Standing Up to the Bullies: A Response to Boyd K. Packer's Talk
by Isaac Higham on Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 5:11pm

Sometimes there are nights where I wake drenched in sweat, heart pounding, horrified by the dreams that had seconds before been playing out in my mind. These are the nights where I relive my days in high school. These are the nights where I relive the shame, and the embarrassment, I felt over not speaking out—over not standing up for another when they most desperately needed it.

Too many times to count I witnessed those who were brave enough to have come out in high school, or those who simply didn’t seem to fit the mold of their heteronormative gender expectations, be mocked, bullied, and outcast. Oh how badly I wanted to speak up! And oh the shame I felt for staying silent out of cowardice and fear of my big gay secret being found out. I stayed silent. I didn’t stand up to the bullies.

I am silent no longer.

And it is this determination to speak out and stand up to the bullies that drives me to address the talk given by LDS apostle Boyd K. Packer given at general conference this weekend. In his talk Packer made statements that “unnatural” same sex attractions can, and should, be overcome. He spoke of those who support marriage equality through their votes at the ballot box being akin to those who would vote against the existence of gravity.

I have no interest in arguing the absurdity of such things with the leaders of the LDS church. These are smart, accomplished, and for the most part well educated men who know better. No, I do not speak out and respond to argue their beliefs because surely they have the right to believe whatever they please, however disturbing and absurd they may be.

No, I speak out because I know that somewhere in some LDS family room or chapel pew, there sits a little boy or little girl who was just like me. A little one who desires nothing more than to be “worthy” and to have the approval of their church and of their family. I know that somewhere there is a child who, just like a younger me, quivers in fear of eternal damnation and fear of disappointing the family and the church culture they have been raised in because they are gay.

It is for these little ones that I refuse to stay silent.

The message delivered from the LDS pulpit continues to be a message of false hope, of misery, and of death for our LGBT children. LGBT youth are FOUR TIMES more likely to attempt suicide than their peers and they make up somewhere between twenty and forty percent of the homeless youth population—despite making up less than ten percent of the population of youth as a whole.

For twenty years I listened to the message of self loathing preached from LDS authorities. For twenty years I believed in their false hope that I could pray and fast and serve away my sexual orientation and God would then reward me with “righteous” heterosexual desires.

When the change never came, the blame became even more internalized, and I lost hope. But after a thankfully failed attempt to end the misery of this life, I finally found the true peace of my divine identity. I finally realized that all of those years I didn’t change because I didn’t need to. I was the way God intended me to be.

I began speaking out against the message of death that is killing our brothers, sisters, and friends. I began to work fight youth homelessness, youth suicide, and LGBT discrimination in housing and employment. I found new role models beyond the old men in the LDS hierarchy: like Reed Cowan who spends his time and efforts helping others in memory of his son, Dustin Lance Black who brought to life Harvey Milk’s message of hope and shared it with millions of LGBT persons who desperately need it, and hundreds and thousands of other activists fighting for change that is so desperately needed.

If this message should reach one of those precious souls who is somehow struggling and fighting that internal fight know this: there is hope. You are exactly the beautiful creature you were created and intended to be. There is love in this world beyond the message of death—find it.

And if this message becomes nothing more than a prayer in my heart, may the universe take it and share my love, and my hope, to those who in some way or another find themselves “in the thick of things”.

I stand confident of two things:

First, that the blood of the innocents drips from the hands of those who strangle the life and the hope out of them through their bully pulpit.

Second, that in the end I can stand upright and guilt free along side those who worked to make this world a better and safer place for everyone while others will hang their head in shame and weep for the hurt they inflicted on others in the name of self righteous piety.

“I know that you can't live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.”

Amen, brother Harvey. Amen.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I Like the Grass Over Here, Thank-You-Very-Much.

Today as I watched General Conference there was a talk given by Mervyn B. Arnold of the Seventy that I quite enjoyed. He was very emotional during much of it, and I liked that he was really speaking from his heart.

In the talk he told a story of how as a girl, his wife was responsible for making sure the cows stayed out of the wheat field. A fence was built to protect them from getting out, but one stubborn cow continually stuck its neck through the fence and tried to get to the wheat. One day she broke through and ate so much of the wheat that she bloated up and died. As Elder Arnold told the story, one could tell that the story had affected him deeply. As Sister Arnold saw the cow dying, she thought to herself, "You stupid cow! That fence was there to protect you, yet you broke through it and you've eaten so much wheat that your life is in danger." Elder Arnold's voice broke as he continued with his wife's story: "I was saddened by the loss of that cow. We had provided her a beautiful mountain pasture to graze in and a fence to keep her away from the dangerous wheat, yet she foolishly broke through the fence and caused her own death. As I thought about the role of the fence, I realized that it was a protection just as the commandments and my parents' rules were a protection. The commandments and rules were for our own good. I realized that obedience to the commandments could save me from physical and spiritual death. That enlightenment was a pivotal point in my life."

I was really touched by Elder Arnold's sincerity and the emotion he felt not just for this simple cow, but for all of Heavenly Father's children. He went on to say, "Sister Arnold learned that our kind, wise, and loving Heavenly Father has given us commandments not to restrict us, as the adversary would have us believe, but to bless our lives and to protect our good name and our legacy for future generations just as they had for Lehi and Nephi. Just like the cow that had received the consequences of her choice, each one of us must learn that the grass is never greener on the other side of the fence nor will it ever be for 'wickedness never was happiness.' Each one of us will receive the consequences of our choices when this life is over. The commandments are clear. they are protective. They are not restrictive. And the wonderful blessings of obedience are numberless."

I've said many times in this blog that in spite of the fact that I no longer feel able to live according to the LDS Church's precepts as far as my sexuality is concerned that I still believe it is God's church on earth. I can only say that I still feel this way because of a very powerful spiritual experience (the most powerful I've experienced before or since) I had. I do not know how everything will be sorted out in the end, but I also feel that as far as my sexual orientation goes, and as far as doing what the LDS Church required of me, I did my best and had to make the choices I've made for my own emotional and spiritual well-being.

Watching Elder Arnold's talk, I admired his sincerity and the deep love I felt emanating from him, but as he said the words, "the grass is never greener on the other side nor will it ever be, for 'wickedness never was happiness,'" the thought came to my mind that if that is, indeed, true then the choices I've made in my life to be with Jonah and to risk the excommunication that eventually came to be are not wicked because I tell you, baby, the grass is so much greener over here; greener than even I thought it could be.

You know, when I first met Jonah and started to fall in love with him and knew that pursuing that course was contrary to what I'd always been taught and what I'd always strived to be, I had great fear that I would feel great guilt or that my "perfect" little Mormon world would implode or that the powers of hell would descend upon me or that I would fall into the grasp of the adversary. And when I faced excommunication, I imagined I would lose the Spirit or that my life might become hollow and without meaning by not being an official part of the Church.

Instead, I am so much happier and fulfilled than I even imagined could be. I am so happy to be Jonah and do not regret a day I've been with him. If anything, I regret the days I am not with him due to my job keeping us apart. I have felt a deeper and and more powerful love and understanding from my Heavenly Father than I've ever really known. I've gained an appreciation for the Church that I didn't quite have when I was a member, yet I feel perfectly fine with my current status. Sure, I miss certain things, but as a member sometimes I felt so much pressure and obligation that I'm actually happy to be free of. I still enjoy going and I still hold much of it very close to my heart, but I very much love where I am in my life. These last few years instead of hiding behind the facade of who I was expected to be, I can just be who I feel I am and simply try to be the best version of me that I can be. I have very, very few regrets in life.

I was writing a letter to my friend in prison the other day. I've written about him before. He accidentally killed a man while driving drunk and now he is in prison. Before my friend went to prison, he was self-centered, self-entitled, very slow to take responsibility for his actions, lacking in humility, irresponsible, and addicted to many things, including drugs and alcohol. My heart ached for him because I saw so much wasted potential in him that was being squandered because of his inability to get out of his own way. While saddened, none of us were surprised when he was involved in this accident that took an innocent man's life. My friend needed a wake-up call, and unfortunately (and fortunately) this was the wake-up call he needed. He is on his third year of a minimum of five years' sentence, and I have seen such tremendous growth in him during that time. He has become responsible, accountable, aware, sober, humble, giving, charitable, hard-working, spiritual, and positive, among other things.

He takes full responsibility for his actions and feels deep remorse for them, but also is trying to do all he can to better his own life and the lives of those around him. He has become the person I always thought he was. Anyway, he made a certain point about not being perfect, but working to progress. I responded by saying:

"You made a really good comment that 'this is about progress, not perfection.' I think that is absolutely true, not just about your individual situation, but life in general. I’ve learned as I get older that life is more about the journey and what we learn on that journey than it is about the destination. I watched the TV show 'Lost' faithfully until its end, and I loved it. Some people were critical because not all their questions got answered or because the 'destination' of it was ultimately disappointing, but what I liked most about 'Lost' was watching the characters’ journeys and the story-telling during the six years it was on. When the show started, all the characters were 'lost' in some way, and it was really fascinating to me to see how characters grew and received redemption for some of their wrongs, and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed where the series took me as well and was very satisfied with the ending, but I told friends that no matter how it ended, I would still really enjoy the satisfaction I got from the six years of good television I enjoyed. I think life is like that. Sometimes we’re so preoccupied with the end result, we forget to enjoy what we experience on the way.

"As a Mormon, I used to beat myself up about not being 'perfect' and would continually get frustrated about my supposed lack of progress. I remember when I was on my mission for my church one of my church leaders gave me some good advice. He said something along the lines that perfection wasn’t a destination, but a journey and that as long as we were on the right path, that was enough. It took me a long time to learn that. I find now I enjoy life a lot more and don’t worry about trying to be 'perfect,' but just try to be the best person I know how to be. It’s really improved the quality of my life.

"And I like the idea that we shouldn’t worry too much about the regrets of yesterday or the unknowns of tomorrow; we just need to live in the now. Sure, we can learn from the past and hope for the future, but what really matters most is what we are doing right now to make life better for ourselves and for those around us."

I love where I am in my journey. Although I was told it wouldn't be, the grass is pretty green and lovely from where I stand. I'm not saying that Elder Arnold was wrong. I, quite frankly, loved his talk and believe in its precepts. I'm just saying it's all about perspective. From my perspective, things are pretty good. Again, who knows how I'll feel about things in the next life? But right now I feel I'm making the right choices to bring me great joy and happiness. My path isn't for everyone, but I have very few regrets.

I was reading a blog a few months ago. I wish I could remember which one it was, but a gay man was explaining that he had gone to church and was feeling that maybe he was unworthy to be there and he felt an impression that said (I'm paraphrasing): "This is not a church of men. This is MY church and you belong here." That really resonated with me. Since I've been excommunicated, I've had many impressions (including one from my Stake President) that make me feel that Heavenly Father is much bigger than the church itself. This is Christ's church, and though he may have a prophet as his representative, He, and He alone, actually leads the Church. I do not know if all the decisions I have made in my life are right or wrong or where I'll ultimately end up when his life is over, but I do know two things: I am happier today than I was five or six years ago, and I know that God is happy that I'm happy, and I feel He is okay with where I am in my life. I have felt that assurance many, many times during my journey. Ultimately, my fate (and the fate of each and every one of us) is between each of us individually and Him, and I am completely at peace on that front. So I do like the grass over here very much, thank you.

Perhaps soon I'll write about Boyd K. Packer's talk (which I had some difficulty with), although I will include this tidbit: "Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural. Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our Father. Paul promised, 'God will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape that ye may be able to bear it." You can, if you will, break the habits and conquer the addiction and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church."

Why, indeed, President Packer, would Heavenly Father do that? That is a question so many gay Mormons ask themselves, and then they feel miserable, guilty, and unworthy because they believe exactly what you're saying, yet no matter how hard they try are unable to achieve the promise you have given. The grass over here tastes better, in my opinion.