Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You Think You Know Someone

About a year ago I was in a show, and I met this guy, a fellow actor. Let's call him Paul. Paul and I really hit it off. We shared a similar sense of humor, and we had some common interests. Paul was also extremely likeable and charming, and I enjoyed getting to know him better. He had a great voice and was fun to be around. I genuinely liked him, and we got along really well. He was also one of my puzzle buddies (although not the one described in this post).

Paul was from an LDS background, although I got the impression he wasn't active. He had also been married, but was now divorced (for how long I can't remember, but it seems it had only been a year or two since he and his wife had divorced. He also had kids and you could tell they were a source of pride for him. Paul seemed pretty open about his life and experiences, and I enjoyed getting to know him better. In any case, we were pretty chummy.

Anyway, Paul and I did that show and then went our separate ways. Four months later I was excited to be reunited with him in another show. I had enjoyed working with him so much the first time around, it was fun to see that we'd be working together again. We still got along well, but for some reason his personality got more on my nerves this time around. We were still friendly, but not as friendly as we had been during our first show together. We was dating a new girl at the time, and that's all he seemed to talk about, and while I was happy for him, it got a little tiring at times. I also felt this sort of "trying-to-hard" vibe from him. It's hard to explain.

Regardless, we were still friendly, and I still liked him quite a bit.

Flash forward to last week. While in rehearsals for my current show, somehow Paul's name came up, and an actress (we'll call her Debbie) who had been in the last show Paul and I did together asked if we had heard the latest about him. Another actor and I (who had both been in the two shows with Paul that I've already mentioned) replied that we hadn't.

She then started telling us a story that seemed to have nothing to do with Paul. She said that in January of 2010 she had started rehearsals of a show that turned out to be a bad experience for her. The director, whose name was Peter Holmstead, made a lot of sexual innuendo during the rehearsal process, and Debbie found working with him very uncomfortable.

In May of that same year, Debbie said that it had been discovered that Peter, who was also a drama teacher at a local high school, had been having an ongoing sexual relationship with one of his seventeen year-old students. This all came out after the girl's parents came home from a vacation to find Peter in their home sitting on a couch with their daughter. When this happened, Peter quickly grabbed his stuff and left the house, simply saying, "I'm sorry."

Peter was eventually charged with rape because he was in a position of authority over the girl, and by law, and because of the girl's age, she was in no position to give consent.

So Debbie is telling us this seemingly unrelated story and says that when she was cast in the last production that we all did together, she was distressed when she saw that Peter, this director who had made her feel uncomfortable and who had been charged with this crime, was in the cast as well. Only he had now changed his name to Paul.

The other actor and I who were listening to her tale in utter amazement were shocked. My first thought was, I can't believe that this guy I like and have trusted did such a thing.

When I went home that night, I looked for all the news stories on Paul Holmstead (not his real name, by the way) I could find, and sure enough, there is a mug shot of the guy I consider my friend, charged with the rape of one of the students he was entrusted with.

Debbie had told us that he sentencing was supposed to be on November 10th of this year (although as part of a plea bargain, he now has pled guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated sexual abuse), but I have not been able to find out whether he has actually been sentenced or what his sentence was. However, news stories say he faces two separate prison terms of 1 to 15 years.

I am flabbergasted, quite frankly. I also want to shake my friend and say, "What were you thinking?!" I don't blame him for changing his name or concealing what he did from me. Who wants to drudge that up, especially with someone you don't know that well?

From what I gather, the relationship was consensual. That doesn't make it right. I don't think the 17 year-old girl has the maturity to enter into a relationship of that nature, and I certainly think a 31 year-old teacher should know better than to take advantage of one of his students and should be responsible enough to say no to such a temptation.

Paul has taken responsibility for his actions and is bound to serve some serious jail time (as well he should). I'm just so mad at him for making the choices he made that brought him here. He should have known better. And I'm annoyed that he has made me see him in a light that taints who I thought he was.

Here's a guy I like and trusted, and now I think if I had a daughter, there's no way I would trust him to be alone with her, and it makes me me sad.

As I've received this new information about my friend, I have had to decide how I feel about him, and it's been a lot of strange emotions. Part of me wants to reach out to him and say, "I still love you and care about you even though you're a bonehead" and part of me is, in fact, disgusted by what he did and thinks, "How can I ever trust you again?"

I don't have all the facts. I don't know what sort of emotional states either he or the girl were in when they embarked on this path, nor do I know or not whether that even matters. It still seems inexcusable. I don't know Paul's true heart, and perhaps that is what is most troubling to me about this whole thing: I'm not sure I even know who Paul is or what I can trust as truth or not.

And yet, I also know we are taught to forgive. Everyone.

I have a very good friend in prison right now. For manslaughter. And while the family of the man he killed may never forgive him, I know this friend's heart. I know what he has tried to do to make amends for something he can never fully make amends. In spite of a series of bad life choices leading up to one very bad mistake that caused his victim to lose his life at my friend's hands, I know that my friend is a good person; I know that he is truly sorry for what he did; I know that regrets every day his actions, and I know that he has worked ever since to be a better person, and I can see that he is a better person than that broken man who killed another human being.

Can't I also forgive Paul? Cannot Paul also have a truly contrite heart? Cannot Paul also try to make the best possible amends he can for a possibly amend-less situation?

Is Paul truly sorry? Does he truly recognize that his actions were wrong? I don't know. But I do know that I'm supposed to forgive and love him, and I am trying to do that.

I remember seeing a movie starring Kevin Bacon called The Woodsman about a convicted child molester (perhaps one of the hardest crimes to forgive (for me, at least)) who has served his sentence and attempts to start life anew. The character is flawed and still has challenges associated with his crimes, but is portrayed sympathetically and ultimately, seems like he will rise above his past mistakes. I remember watching the film and feeling that I was seeing the true heart of a man I might otherwise see as a monster, and I appreciated that.

I'm not saying the character's crimes weren't reprehensible or that he didn't need to somehow pay for the lost innocence of the children he robbed. I'm saying that it helped me see a human soul in a way I might never have seen.

There are some crimes that seem unforgivable. Some things seem so dastardly that you can't imagine forgiving someone for them. But I know I have been commanded to love and forgive; that I am supposed to see a human soul's inner heart the way God sees them. It's so much harder in mortality to not be judgmental and condemning, but I truly believe in the eternal realm, God loves us for who we are and unconditionally.

That doesn't mean we won't have to atone for the sins for which we are unrepentant, but for the ones we truly repent of, Christ has promised that his atonement will cover anything for which we lack, and I believe that.

I don't know what is in my friend Paul's heart or how he views his current situation. Nor do I know if I really know the friend I thought I knew. But I am trying to approach this from a loving, non-judgmental, forgiving, open-minded point-of-view. It remains to be seen what will happen next, but I am trying to have a loving and understanding heart toward my friend. I guess that's all I can do for now.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Thanksgiving was nice this year, although I wish Jonah and I had been together for it. I am grateful to be employed, though, and grateful I was able to have the day off from work.

As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I love my family very much. As anyone who regularly reads this blog also knows, I am not the most social person in the world. One of my favorite sounds in the world, no joke, is the sound of stillness and silence that happens after a house full of people has left. After the last lingerers departed; after my mom and niece and nephew-in-law went to bed, I stood doing the remainder of the dishes in quiet, and it was such a lovely feeling. I love solitude; crave it sometimes. That doesn't mean I don't like people nor does it mean I don't also enjoy my relationships with friends, family, and Jonah. But I love quiet. And I love alone time.

I once stumbled on the definition of an introvert here, which I may have already posted on this blog before. Some of the highlights include:

"Contrary to what most people think, an introvert is not simply a person who is shy. ...Basically, an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.

"Introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. This is true even if they have good social skills. After being with people for any length of time, such as at a party, they need time alone to 'recharge.'

"When introverts want to be alone, it is not, by itself, a sign of depression. It means that they either need to regain their energy from being around people or that they simply want the time to be with their own thoughts. Being with people, even people they like and are comfortable with, can prevent them from their desire to be quietly introspective.

"Being introspective, though, does not mean that an introvert never has conversations. However, those conversations are generally about ideas and concepts, not about what they consider the trivial matters of social small talk..."

This describes me to an absolute T. I am the textbook definition of an introvert, if the above is the true definition.

I tried to make Thanksgiving easier for Mom this year. She's always doing the majority of the cooking and always seems to be in a state of stress and frenzy during the holiday because she's always up and down and making sure everything gets done and served, etc. No one demands this of her; it just seems to be her nature, and as a result, while I know she enjoys getting together with the family, she always comes out of Thanksgiving feeling tired and frazzled.

Initially, a family friend invited Mom and me over to her house for Thanksgiving, and I said we probably would accept, thinking that would give Mom a break and just allow her to relax for a change. However, Mom ended up telling me to decline the invitation because she wanted to spend the holiday with the extended family. Fine.

So then my sister-in-law, niece, and I made a plan to alleviate some of Mom's burden. Mom wanted to make the turkey, potatoes, and stuffing, but we told Mom that everything else would be taken care of. My sister-in-law would make the pies and a jello salad she traditionally makes. My sister and brother-in-law would bring the sweet potatoes. I would take care of the rolls. My niece and nephew would make the remaining vegetables and help Mom cook everything while I put up the Christmas lights. They would set the table and chairs, etc. Everyone in the family had a duty designed to help Mom's holiday be a bit more relaxing.


Due to Mom's dementia, she forgot about our plans and ended up buying rolls and pies, for example, so we had quite an over-abundance of those items. In the case of pies, that's no so bad. In the case of rolls, I think we had way too many. Also due to Mom's memory problems, she didn't put the turkey in soon enough, and unfortunately we didn't realize it until it was too late. Also, somebody had inadvertently shut the oven off while the turkey was cooking. Long story short, by the time the meal had been finished, everything was ready except the main course, which needed another one to two hours. Nobody minded...except Mom, of course, who seemed a bit agitated about it (and it didn't help cook the turkey any faster that she kept checking on it. My niece was like, "Grandma, it's just going to take longer if you keep letting the hot air out of the oven.")

The meal was great. I just wish we'd done a better job at making the event more relaxing for Mom. After everyone left, Mom said how tired she was and that she was kind of happy the day was over. I wish Mom didn't feel she had to put out all of her energy to do Thanksgiving. We really tried to help ease the load, and we were successful in some cases. Oh, well. Maybe next year we can do better.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and taking a cue from Mitch Mayne's post about The Thanksgiving Alphabet Game, I decided to play the game myself. As Mitch says, "The rules are simple: For each letter of the alphabet, name something you’re grateful for. To go a step further (and to make it a little more interesting), it helps to provide a brief statement of why you’re grateful—like I’ve done below. It’s silly, childlike, spiritual and amusing—all things that bring me back to my center."

In that spirit, here goes my list:

A. Acting - I don't know what I'd do without my career. From a very early age, I always knew I wanted to be an actor, and God bless my parents, they were very supportive in encouraging me in my career pursuits. And to actually make a living in my chosen career, which I love, is such a blessing, especially in a career field in which it is very challenging to make a comfortable living. I love playing other people, and especially when I am able to play characters very different from myself, I am allowed the opportunity to see life from a completely different point-of-view. I love acting so much.

B. Books - I love to read. Always have. And learning new things and reading about the experiences and interests of my fellow human beings is very often enriching. I love reading biographies and learning about other people's lives. I love a good, well-crafted piece of fiction. I love books that teach you how to do things, like how to be a better actor; how to compose music; how to speak a foreign language. I just love learning, and books open up a whole new world to me.

C. Christmas - Obviously I think more about it this time of year. I think it's my favorite holiday. I love the lights and music and decorations. I love the spirit of Christmas and hope I am successful at carrying it all the year through. I love the family togetherness. I enjoy the snow (not being in it, just looking at it). And obviously (I hope), I love it's true meaning: remembering and celebrating the birth of the Savior and celebrating the miracles that have been wrought in our lives because of that wondrous event; remembering our fellow man (for when we are in the service of our fellow man, we are in the service of our God. When we serve the least of our brethren (and sisteren), we are serving our Savior).

D. Democracy - Even though the political process can sometimes be annoying, I am very grateful to live in a country where it is the citizens that can, and often do, make positive contributions to how our government and laws function. One can be cynical about it, but what a privilege it is that we can open discuss and debate the problems of the country and that we can vote to change things for the better. Yes, there can be corruption and discord, but what a gift it is to live in a country where we are free to exercise freedom of speech and where our contributions to the democratic process can make a real difference. I wish we could all remember that and not take it for granted like we too often do.

E. Entertainment - I probably spend too much of my time on frivolous entertainment, but I am grateful for games, comedians, TV shows, movies, plays, musicals, music, etc., and I am grateful they are easily accessible. Sometimes I just need to relax or "leave my brain at the door" for a bit, and I'm glad I have so many different kinds of entertainment to help me decompress and, hopefully, teach me something valuable while I'm being entertained.

F. Family - I couldn't ask for a better family. I am grateful for their love and support and am equally grateful for the love and support they give my husband. I love them, and I am glad they are mine.

G. Gifts - Who doesn't like getting a gift, especially when it's unexpected? I appreciate the thoughtfulness involved in procuring a gift for somebody. I also am grateful for the gifts and talents my Heavenly Father has blessed me with, and I hop I am using them to help others draw closer to Him.

H. Heavenly Father - I love my Father in Heaven. I am grateful for his love, mercy, understanding. I am glad I know He is real and glad I know He loves me individually and loves me for who I am and who I can be. I am grateful for His abundant blessings in my life. I am glad I continue to come to a knowledge of just who He is and what He stands for. I am grateful for His ever-encompassing influence in my life.

I. Ice cream - I love it! If there were a Betty Ford clinic for ice cream addiction, I would probably have to check myself in. I'm glad there are so many varieties to choose from, and I'm glad so many of those varieties are chocolate-based.

J. Jonah - Where would I be without the love of my life? I shudder to think it. Jonah is so giving and loving and so full of integrity. He is supportive of me and my dreams; he has helped me be a better person; and I'm glad he and and I are together. I thank the Lord every day for Jonah. I am indeed lucky and blessed that he is mine.

K. Kitchen appliances - I love the convenience of microwaves, dishwashers, stoves, ovens, refrigerators, freezers, toasters, blenders, mixers, crock pots, grills, cookers, food processors, etc. When I think of what my ancestors had to do to store and cook food and wash dishes, I think how incredibly blessed we are to have what we have.

L. Love - Perhaps it's simplistic, but I am grateful to love and be loved. I am grateful for the love of my Heavenly Father, for the love of my Savior, for the love of my spouse, for the love of my family and friends, and even for the love I've experienced at the hands of strangers. Love has a power that is unfathomable in its reach. To experience love and to give is the greatest thing in the world. So many of our world's problems come because individuals have not experienced enough love in their lives or because individuals are not practicing love. Love really can change the world. I truly believe that.

M. Mom - My mom is one of my greatest friends and supporters and, of course, she's my mom. I am truly a mama's boy. I love my mom so much, and because of her and my dad, I am the person I am today, and I am grateful for that.

N. Night - I like nighttime. I like the dark, the quiet, the stars, the moon. It's often a very peaceful time. I am a night person, too. It is my time of day.

O. Optimism - I think I'm a pretty optimistic person (at least I try to be). I've learned in life that I can't control outside circumstance, but I can control my attitude towards them. I truly believe most people are good. I believe that even when things seem dire and full of despair, there is still good to be found. I believe we can learn positive things from even the worst situations. I have a friend who I lovingly call "little black rain cloud." He is very pessimistic and kind of curmudgeon. He's also one of my best friends, and I dearly love him. I try to infuse his life with optimism. He needs it. So many people do. I think it's better to be optimistic than pessimistic. It makes life a lot more enjoyable. I'm grateful I tend to be more optimistic about things.

P. Pizza - Love it! Enough said.

Q. Quiet - I already mentioned this at the beginning of the post. I love quiet. I love silence. I am very comfortable when things are peaceful and still.

R. Rain - Rain often reminds me of my mission in Belgium and France (where it rains a lot). I like the clean smell that often accompanies rain. I like misty rain a lot. I love a sudden shower on a warm summer day. I associate good things with rain.

S. Star Wars - I enjoy the Star Wars series a lot (particularly the original trilogy). I like the idea of good defeating bad, of redemption, of the small and humble things of the universe overcoming the seemingly more powerful and daunting ones. I like that a simple farm boy becomes the hope of the universe and not only succeeds in saving the universe from tyranny, but helps his wayward father find redemption. I also like collecting memorabilia from the movies.

T. Trooper, Blondie, and Chaplin - My three babies. My cats will probably be the closest I ever get to being a father. I miss them a lot. Yes, they aggravate me at times, but they bring me such joy, too. I can't wait to see them and Jonah again.

U. Fashion underwear - I love wearing it. I love the different colors and styles. I love how sexy it makes me feel. I love how it allows me another form of self-expression. I love Jonah in his, too.

W. Andy Williams - I love his smooth and soothing voice. He's been one of my favorite singers for a long time. I also love that I got the chance to actually see him in concert two years ago. What a thrill! I hear he has bladder cancer now. My prayers are with him and his family.

X. X-Rays - I don't necessarily enjoy getting them, but I'm glad they enable a doctor to see what's going on inside of me.

Y. Youth - I like the energy and innocence of youth and wish I had more of it myself. But I am grateful that I still feel very young at heart.

Z. Zoos - I love animals, and I love being able to see so many different kinds of animals. Sometimes I feel bad they can't be out and about in their natural habitats, but I love watching animals that I might never otherwise get a chance to see up close and in person.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Church Attendance

So the ward I attend has always had the same schedule for years: Priesthood and Relief Society at 9:00 AM, Sunday School at 10:00 AM, and Sacrament Meeting at about 10:50 AM. This schedule works quite well for me. I am not a morning person nor do I opt to attend Priesthood meeting, so I get to church at 10:00 AM just in time for Sunday School, which I enjoy, and then I stay for Sacrament Meeting.

I found out that the higher ups have asked that Sacrament Meeting be first, so starting in January Sacrament Meeting will start at 9:00 AM, followed by Sunday School, and Priesthood. I'm not too excited about this and worry that it will affect my activity negatively when I am in Utah. I'd be more prone to just attend Sunday School in that case. I know that sounds bad, but it's the truth, and since I'm not even an official member anymore, I wouldn't feel as duty-bound to get up that early to go to Sacrament Meeting. I would miss going, though.

The fortunate thing is that I will be back home with Jonah in January after my gig ends, and my ward there doesn't start until 11:00 AM, so I don't really have to worry about this dilemma until I get another Utah job.

Beginning next fall, there will be a big shake-up at one of the theaters where I am consistently employed. This may affect whether I continue working there on a continual basis or not, so who knows? Maybe I'll be home with Jonah on a more regular basis anyway. And that might very well be for the best.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Something Lost And Other Thoughts About Sundays And Church

Warning: This post meanders a lot, and I'm not even sure what points I'm really trying to make. You have been advised.

I typically try not to shop on Sundays. Old habits die hard, and growing up in the LDS Church taught me that Sundays were not for shopping. Since I have been excommunicated, I don't necessarily have an obligation to "keep the sabbath day holy," but I still try to. Otherwise, Sunday just becomes like any other day, and I like Sunday to be special.

I do not always succeed in making Sunday very special. For one thing, it is my day off of work, which already makes it special, I suppose, but it also means that a lot of the stuff I'm unable to do because of work gets deferred to that day (i.e. shopping, laundry, errands, etc.). My last theatre gig involved my doing two shows on Sunday, so I would go to church, then do two shows, and then, essentially, my day was over. It didn't feel very special as far as worship goes.

Sunday also happens to be Jonah's day off, so when I am home, we do a lot of our shopping on Sundays or we have date nights. Jonah also doesn't have the same upbringing I had, so Sunday shopping and excursions are not a big deal to him, nor do I expect them to be a big deal to him.

So I admit I have gotten out of practice when it comes to using Sunday as a day of rest and worship. But I do try. I attend my meetings (well, except Priesthood), and I do try to use the day as a day of rest, meditation, and thoughtfulness.

On the other hand, I also try to live my life like that in general, anyway. I believe how you are supposedly supposed to act on Sunday is how you should be acting every day of the week. I think about and pray to God all the time. I often use the time I'm taking public transportation to work on the weekdays as a time to meditate or think about spiritual things. No need to confine that just to Sunday. Just yesterday I was reading the Conference edition of the Ensign. I'm not even four talks in yet (I missed Conference when it was on - that happened to be the weekend Jonah and I were at Disneyland)), but I've enjoyed what I've read. I actually read one of the talks in the back of the Ensign first because I had heard part of it when Elder Uchtdorf spoke at Women's Conference, and I had enjoyed what I heard. (I like Elder Uchtdorf!)

In any case, today was one of those days where I made a conscious, concerted exception to my "try not to shop on Sunday" efforts. A new H&M store barely opened near my mom's house (where I stay when I'm in Utah) at Fashion Place Mall, and I was eager to check it out because I like their clothing and prices, and I was also curious to see if they had any good opening day sale-type stuff going on.

Jonah, who likes to shop much more than I do (and certainly likes clothes-shopping more than I do), first introduced me to H&M. There is one near our home, but I had never been there until he took me. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed shopping there. I liked the clothing styles, I liked the prices, and for once, clothes-shopping actually felt like fun rather than the chore I usually feel it is. I even bought some stuff (this coming from the guy who doesn't buy clothes until they've either shrunk or have tears, rips, or frays, or are so threadbare that wearing them is impossible (and even then, sometimes I don't!)).

Anyway, I drove to the mall, which I don't frequent very much anymore. When I was a boy growing up in my mom and dad's house, Fashion Place Mall was the place to go if I wanted to shop for miscellaneous items. Also, it was (and still is) close enough to walk or ride my bike to, and I remember feeling very grown-up and independent when I was allowed to ride my bike to the mall by myself.

The mall has changed a ton since I was a kid.

Here is a map of the mall in 1973 (two years after I was born, but looking pretty much how I remember it as a kid growing up), and here is how it looks today. These maps don't really give a great visual, but trust me, today's mall is very different from the one I went to as a kid.

Only a handful of stores remain from the ones I knew as a kid. There's still a Sears, which was the main department store I went to for clothes, Spencer Gifts, Schubach Jewelers, See's Candies, Hot Dog On a Stick, and Chuck-a-Rama are the ones I'm aware are still there, although there may be others I've missed.

Some of the stores long since gone include Kinney Shoes, which is wear Mom took me to get shoes; Swiss Colony, where you could often get free samples of various cheeses (which I liked) and deli meats (which I didn't care for as much, usually because it was something gross like salami or pastrami), and if I recall correctly, my brother worked there very briefly (perhaps it was a holiday season job); Waldenbooks, which is one of the stores I frequented most because I loved (and still do love) to read, and if I had spare money, it often went toward the purchase of a book; or a record from Musicland, which I also frequented, saving up my money for all of the Monkees albums or Weird Al Yankovic or Broadway albums; Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor, where the family might go for a special occasion such as a birthday; Smith's Food King, where we sometimes got groceries (although Mom preferred Harmon's) and was nothing like the mega-grocery store it has turned into today (and is, ironically, where my mom now does the majority of her grocery shopping); Skaggs Drugs, where we would get prescriptions filled, hardware, necessities, and if we were lucky, I remember sometimes my dad would stop there on his way home from work and bring each of us kids a candy bar; UA Cinemas, where I would often go see movies (for only $2.00), Hammonds Toys (later K-B Toys took over that spot), where I would hunt for Star Wars action figures; Winchell's Donuts; and Tilt, the local arcade, whose video games would seem archaic by today's standards of technology, but was an enjoyable place to lose a few quarters, although I didn't frequent it too much because I wasn't very good at video games and would rather not waste my money on them when there were records, books, and movies to be purchased.

Typically, we only got See's chocolates around Christmas time. They're still as good as they were when I was a kid. I remember Chuck-a-Rama (a popular buffet in Utah) actually being inside the mall whereas now it's housed in a separate building on the mall grounds. Orange Julius was where we might go to get a hot dog or hamburger after a long day of shopping, and it was housed in its own shop whereas now it's just part of a much larger food court and shares its space with Dairy Queen. I also remember its mascot was a little devil and the backs of the swivel chairs had devil pitchforks on them. Doesn't seem very PC now, but I liked it. Spencer Gifts always had a lot of adult novelty stuff (pretty tame by today's standards), but I sometimes felt dirty or guilty browsing in there, especially since that was where I could often get a peek at scantily-clad men on calendars and posters and such, and this was during the time when my guilt over my homosexuality was at its worst. I always thought the uniforms at Hot Dog on a Stick (which really hasn't changed much) were tacky. Still do.

Back then the parking lot was pretty easy to maneuver and the mall wasn't too crowded (except at Christmas time). There were a lot of shops, but it wasn't overwhelming. Nowadays, the mall seems clogged with cars and shops and restaurants and establishments, all in a space that wasn't originally designed for such growth. The acreage of the original property remains the same, as far as I can tell; it's just that there are more stores and restaurants in that space than there were when I was a kid. There are also vendors lining the centers of all the walkways of the mall, which I don't remember being the case when I was a lad.

According to this Salt Lake Tribune article, Fashion Place Mall is "one of the most successful regional malls in the West — if not in the country." Now there are a Cheesecake Factory, a Crate and Barrel, an H&M (all of which are the only ones in Utah), an Olive Garden, Applebee's, an Apple store, Banana Republic, Macy's, Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works (where I happened to work once and happen to know that at the time I worked there, it was one of the best selling branches in the western region), among others.

It's very close to the freeway and easily accessible. It's centrally located in the Salt Lake Valley and is accessible by State Street, a main thoroughfare. Needless to say, it's much more crowded than it was when I was a kid, and it was a pretty popular mall then.

That was a rather long diversion to get to a point, but here we are: since I hadn't really been to the mall in a while, and certainly not on a Sunday in quite some time, I was kind of taken aback by just how crowded the mall was on Sunday. I mean, it was packed, both the parking lot and the mall itself. I guess it was particularly surprising to me because I remember as a kid, the mall was not a busy place on Sunday. In fact, if memory serves correctly (and it may not), there was a time when the mall wasn't even open on Sunday (at least that is my recollection). In fact, it was hard to find too many businesses open on Sunday when I was a youth (at least around my mom's neighborhood).

When I was growing up, there were a lot of active Mormons in my area, and I suppose this is why a lot of businesses were closed on Sundays. People didn't shop on Sunday (at least the Mormons I knew didn't). It just didn't happen frequently.

As I got older, in my early and late teens, more and more businesses seemed to be open on Sundays, and, in fact, there was a time when my family went to Pizza Hut (when you could actually dine in) on Sundays pretty regularly until we decided it probably wasn't a good sabbath activity (although I still maintain it was - they were great family-bonding times for us).

Nowadays, it isn't rare for a good majority of businesses to be open on Sundays, and I feel like we've lost something. I'm not judging Sunday shoppers. I'm really not (heck, I just outed myself as a Sunday shopper), but I do feel the day has become less special, less set apart, as a result of our treating like any other day (and I think there are a lot of Mormon Sunday-shoppers out there). Maybe I'm just nostalgic for the times I had as a kid when Sunday seemed like a special day where we did activities we didn't do any other day of the week and where activities we did on other days simply weren't appropriate for Sundays.

In any case, I was surprised by the crowds I never would have seen at the mall when I was a kid. H&M was quite crowded due to the fact that it just opened. In fact, we had to stand in line, and a security guard let us in a few at a time so as not to clog the store with too many people. I felt like I was standing in line for a ride at Disneyland.

The store was quite crowded, but there was some nice clothing options, and I bought three tops and some nice fashion underwear. I couldn't try the shirts on at the store because the lines for the fitting rooms were too long, and I had a dinner appointment to get to. I asked what their return policy was (30 day return) and said I was going to try the tops on at home. The salesgirl said she didn't blame me. One of the shirts is a keeper (as is the underwear), one is going back, and one I'm still undecided about (I like it, but am not sure I really have the physique to pull it off; plus, it looks better on its own rather than with a tee shirt or undershirt under it, and I sweat a lot in the armpit area, so I would prefer to wear another shirt under it. I'm still mulling it over.) I do hope to go back to H&M when it is less crowded after the opening day excitement has died down somewhat.

Anyway, it was fun to get some new clothes.

I went to church before I went to H&M (kind of ironic, huh?). I still wonder if I'm getting as much out of attending my Mormon ward as I would like, but there are still aspects of it I enjoy. I like Sunday School. I like the instructor. He's always very prepared and gives good lessons. Some of the people in the class annoy me at times, but I like the class itself. The instructor made a comment recently that I really liked: he said, "I can't be running and look over at a swimmer and say, 'Oh, they've got it so much easier than I do' or 'they should be doing what I'm doing.' I can't judge them nor can I say if their efforts are less valid than mine or if their journeys are easier or harder than mine. We're in two completely different places, and I don't know what it's like for them." I just liked the analogy.

Sunday in class we were reading a scripture in James 1:27: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." The instructor asked why this would be considered the definition of pure religion, and a brother said something pretty simple, yet struck me in a profound way. He said, "Well, isn't that just a reiteration of the two great commandments, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind' and 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself'? If we are keeping ourselves 'unspotted from the world,' aren't we showing our love for our Heavenly Father by keeping his commandments, and aren't we loving our neighbors as ourselves by doing such things as visiting and helping the fatherless, the widows, and afflicted?" It just seemed so simple and obvious, but I'd never thought about the particular scripture in those terms before.

It then got me to thinking about how gay people are sometimes unsupported or aided in their afflictions (and I'm not talking about their attractions being an affliction, but how they are sometimes treated, knowingly and unknowingly, by their brothers and sisters, both in the church and out. It made me think of a quote I read on Neal's Pensieve yesterday, which I hope he doesn't mind my sharing:

What struck me this time around is the way the Lord defined those who were righteous and those who were wicked - the sheep and the goats. Righteousness was not defined by Church attendance, keeping the Word of Wisdom, putting on a great Road Show, wearing a white shirt to Church, or serving in a particular calling. The only criteria for righteousness seemed to be how we served our fellow man. How we loved and cared for those around us. That was it. Likewise, wickedness was defined as a selfish absence of service, caring, or love. The other commandments truly pale in importance compared to this crowning principle of love and service. This was one of those profound moments of realization for me.

And then my thoughts turned to the way many of us MoHos are treated. So many of us hunger and thirst for acceptance..., love, dignity, caring, and equality. So many of us are sick of being persecuted and being imprisoned in closets of anonymity. So many of us are naked and exposed to hate, ridicule, insults and the injustice of our society. How sad it will be - how truly sad - when the parent who casts out his own child simply because he is gay finds out he is actually a goat, and not a sheep after all. How sad, indeed, to discover that you have altogether missed the very essence of Christianity.

I think love is the very essence of Christianity. I think when all is said and done, we will be judged most by how we loved and showed love to our fellow man.

There was a good talk in Sacrament Meeting, too. They were mostly stories, but they were entertaining and interesting.

I've been thinking a lot about something Carol Lynn Pearson said in the Circling the Wagons conference. She said one thing we can do proactively is simply to share our experiences with the Brethren without necessarily being condemning or trying to get them to change doctrine. I've really thought about doing this. I just want to write a nice, but frank letter about things members and leaders in the LDS Church could do to improve relations with their gay brothers and sisters. No doctrinal changes; I get that the Brethren are in a tough position as well with this issue; just suggestions on ways things could be improved. I have to really ponder what I want to say, but I feel it is something I may act on.

One last thought. My old bishop, who's now in charge of facilitating Sunday School proceedings, always asks me after the Sunday School lesson has finished to roll the dry erase board into the room in which it is kept. It is a very small thing. I do not know if he asks me to move it simply because he needs assistance moving it or because he knows I desire to feel more needed in the ward, but I appreciate it. I suspect it is the latter. He has such a heart full of love, and I'm sure he must know that it is hard for me to not participate fully. It's gotten to the point where I now move it without being asked, like it's my job. I like that. It may seem insignificant, but it makes me feel like I have a duty of some kind, and it makes me feel like I have a place in the ward. I'm grateful for it as I am grateful for my fellow ward members who go out of their way to make me feel welcome and loved. And that love and thoughtfulness is precisely why I still go.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Circling The Wagons: Part 2

Continuing on from my last post:

The 2nd Session's main speaker was a former United Methodist minister named Jimmy Creech, who flew in all the way from North Carolina to participate in the conference.

Mister Creech is not Mormon and wrote a book called Adam's Gift, which I intend to read eventually.

Mister Creech started off by telling us that as gay Mormons, we are a part of history. He went on to talk about how he was defrocked as a minister and shared his experiences about Adam, a young man who had come into his office in tears telling him he wanted to leave the church because of how it treated gay people. Creech had not really had any experience or particular interest in LGBT issues at the time. What he did know was that he loved Adam and felt him to be a good person, and it was this meeting that caused his heart to change on this matter.

He said he told Adam that "there is no reason you should believe that God does not love you." He also said, "I do not want you to leave the church," but that no one should remain in an abusive relationship, and that if he felt the church was causing him harm, he would support him. He also said, "Even if you are no longer a member, I'll be your pastor as long as you want me to be.

Adam's humanity is what caused Brother Creech to change his mind and heart. He said it was our job as human beings to help people overcome spiritual damage; to help them know that God loves them; and to teach them to love themselves and love others.

He said sexuality is good. It is a gift He also said he still loved his church, and that in spite of possible resentments we may hold, we need to look at the good things our religions have done. But he also said that a church has no integrity when it talks of God's love, but then commits acts that cause great harm to others. He also said we have to go where truth takes us. He quoted the famous hymn, "Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so."

He said God is not in empty churches with locked doors. God is not in angry voices. God is in those who affirm love with dignity. We said we need to learn to distinguish between institutions and God. God is not limited to an institution. Justice, freedom, equality, dignity, and peace: that is God.

After Mister Creech's remarks, tow guys sang "For Good" from the musical Wicked. This song has personal meaning to me as it was one of the last things my grad school classmates and I performed together before we went our separate ways. It was clear that the two men who sang it cared for each other.

Here are the words:

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good

And just to clear the air
I ask forgiveness
For the things I've done you blame me for
But then, I guess we know
There's blame to share
And none of it seems to matter anymore

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a bird in the wood
Who can say if I've been
Changed for the better?
I do believe I have been
Changed for the better

And because I knew you...
Because I knew you...
Because I knew you...
I have been changed for good.

As they sang the song, it made me think of some of the people who have changed my life for the better, and it made me hope that I have done the same for them and perhaps for others I am unaware of. I had tears in my eyes by the end of the song, and I felt such a strong love in the room.

In fact, that was something I noticed all throughout the day during the different sessions: the love and the spirit that were present. I know God was with us at that conference.

After the song, there was a panel consisting of Bill Bradshaw, Carol Lynn Pearson, and Julia Hunter moderated by John Dehlin. John would ask questions, and then the panel would give their opinions, and members of the congregation could also get up and ask questions or make comments. I didn't always write John's questions down, but here were some of the comments made.

There was the idea that we need to focus on how far we've come.

Bill Bradshaw made the comment that homosexual love is not counterfeit; that gay people have the same kinds of relationships that straight people do and that there love is just as valid. He said we need to get our fellow LDS friends, family, and ward members to use their imaginations to try and put themselves in our shoes.

Carol Lynn Pearson said that just as we wouldn't dream of going back to repeal women's right to vote or go back to the days of segregation, likewise, she thinks in the future this issue will be a non-issue as well. She stressed that we've come a long way. People are more aware, informed, and sympathetic than they once were. But she also stressed that there still must be greater understanding, acceptance, and nurturing on the Church's part, or it will eventually become irrelevant. But she said she also believes the LDS Church and its leaders and members are up to challenge. She said that history doesn't happen on its own; it happens because of the things we do, both big and small. Just being at this conference was such a thing.

Julia Hunter said that gay relationships are just as mundanely lived as straight ones. She said she was also appreciative to live in a country where she had the freedom to be out at all.

When asked what things can be improved,

Carol Lynn Pearson said the Church needs to give parents permission to love their children unequivocally. She said there is this idea that parents either have to choose the church or their children, and that doesn't have to be the case. She said the Church is losing too many good people and families because the Church taught that families come first, and so those people are choosing their children. She said we shouldn't even have to tell people to never withhold their love from their children; they should just know that based on the teachings of Christ.

Bill said people need to stop inadvertently or intentionally saying things about gay people that aren't true. He insinuated that we shouldn't be so locked into the "truth" that we miss the truth. He said the Church should not invite leaders to make statements that are incorrect. People need to stand up in high priest meetings, for example, and stand up against people who are saying ignorant, hurtful, false, or wrong things about gay people.

Julia said she would like to see the Church apologize for past wrongs. There needs to be better education. Bishops need to be taught or trained in such a way that they are better equipped to deal with the issue. Parents need to know that they shouldn't blame themselves. The Church needs to retract harsh rhetoric.

A congregant said the Church could be better at honoring and respecting the relationships that gay people have with one another.

John asked what the panelists would do if they were in the shoes of the Brethren, realizing that they are in a tricky position where it is difficult to do anything that might significantly decrease the numbers of its more conservative members or that wouldn't cause them to be too progressive too quickly.

Carol Lynn said more stakes and wards could follow the examples of her stake in Oakland, for example, or the ward in st in San Francisco that Mitch Mayne belongs to - you can still have outreach programs without contradicting the doctrine of the church. She said it sounds cliche, but the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, and you can't know what step 10 is until you've taken steps 1-9.

Julia said she didn't feel safe or acknowledged at church; that she felt invisible, and that this needs to be fixed. People shouldn't make hetero-normative assumptions. If she could feel like she wasn't invisible and be able to be open about who she is or about her relationship, she might return to church. She says she's doing things the church asked her to do by seeking for love and joy, and she has found that in her relationship.

Bill said members of the Church just need to be more Christian. It doesn't mean giving in; they just need to be more compassionate and less judgmental and not accept the loss of so many of the best and brightest.

A congregant said they were holding a fireside in their stake for the very purpose of helping gay and lesbians feel more welcome.

Another congregant said there needs to be more open dialogue from the top down. He also suggested the Church might allow civil unions in chapels in states where gay marriage is legal (I don't see that one happening any time soon).

Another congregant said "Truth is truth, but if tradition isn't working, let it go."

John asked what we personally can do; some practical things we can do ourselves.

Julia said don't stay in the closet. Show them who a gay person is. Be open, loving, and honest. Straight people have the power, so we need to create more straight allies.

Carol said we can write letters to those in authority and express our feelings. Acknowledge that it is a difficult issue for them as well as us. Take the risk to have the hard conversations with local leaders. Share your experiences.

Bill said he didn't have any thing else to say other than that he had great gratitude; that his life has been enriched by the goodness, morality, decency, and love of his gay and lesbian friends. He said his wife said, "Every mother deserves to have at least one gay son."

A congregant said that it begins with us and our allies. There are people in the Church that the Church doesn't know what to do with, and we need to help them figure it out.

At the end of the session, we took another break and then went back for what turned out to be one of my favorite meetings of the day.

The Concluding Session was conducted by an active LDS Bishop named Kevin Kloosterman. He is bishop in a ward in Illinois and flew out here especially for the conference.

He thanked John Dehlin for "seeking out the one." He asked, Isn't it our job as Christians to nurture and love and care for one another?

He said when we do our homework, we will receive inspiration. He talked about his own paradigm shift. He said we can't be Levites and priests (referring to the story of the Good Samaritan) and just shake our heads and walk by. Love unfeigned means no caveats, no strings, no qualifiers. Allies need to walk with their straight loved ones.

He also gave a good talk at Sunday's session, which I was not able to attend, but I have read the transcript, which is here.

After Bishop Kloosterman's talk, a guy sang a song called "Blessing." I didn't care for the song itself, but I did like the sentiment, which seemed to be the yearnings of this person for those around him to give his love for another man their blessing.

After the song, we had a kind of testimony meeting. I really enjoyed that part of the conference. It was definitely a testimony meeting, but an unorthodox one compared to regular sacrament meeting testimony meeting. I liked it a lot. There was such a wide range of people: active straight Mormons, active gay Mormons, non-practicing gay Mormons, non-Mormons, atheists, people with hard feelings towards the LDS Church, people who had reconciled their feelings with the Church, etc. All sorts of people, and it was just great to hear everyone's experiences and where they stood in their faith or spirituality or sexuality. Throughout, it was so interesting for me to see where various people were on their particular journeys.

Here are just a few thoughts from various people who "bore their testimonies":

- God is love. Am I living a good life today? Isn't that what it's about?

- It's a privilege to bear a testimony of sorts when you no longer can as an excommunicated member (boy, can I relate to that!) Feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment, while often justifiable, are also soul-destroying and ultimately unhealthy.

- A guy said he came to the realization that something he struggled with for so long never needed to be a struggle. God loves us and is aware of us and cares where we're going.

- It's okay that we're gay.

- One straight lady just said, "All of you are so beautiful," and I really felt the truth and power of her words. We are. It's true. She said, in regards to how homosexuals are often thought of and treated in the Church, "I won't accept it. God is love. When two people love each other, God is there. Truth is there."

- One boy said, "I just want to be home," meaning he wanted to be what God's true church is supposed to be. He gave an analogy of how there was no space for Mary and Joseph when they went to Bethlehem, so they created their own space in the stable, and that space has come to be one of the most beautiful and sacred spaces in all of Christendom. He said he could create that same kind of space for us.

-One girl stood up, and I sensed a lot of unhappiness and conflict within her. She seemed overwhelmed and unable to talk at first. The silence as all ears were tuned to her was very loud. It made me feel the love and care we as a group had for her and her welfare. (Attention was paid to her.) She lamented that in her prayers she would tell the Lord, "I don't know what to do. (a refrain I remember well from my own prayers when I was at the stage she is in of her journey). She felt the Lord say to her, "Do what makes you happy. You are my child." She talked of how her family isn't very supportive and in quite conservative and how much she wanted to come to this conference and how she couldn't afford it, but that her cousins paid for her to be there and even drove her there.

- We create our life and experiences. We are creators of how we want to live.

- One guy said he was an atheist who believes in God, so he knows what it's like to be in even more of a minority. Not sure how that works, but I don't doubt he was sincere.

- One self-described straight "pissed-off Primary lady" advised us (and herself) to be a part of the Mormon community on your own terms. Be the kind of Mormon you want to be. She said the love in the room was palpable and is what we are missing at church. If you don't feel loved at church, it's their loss. "We need what you have."

- If you strive to do the best you can, you are fulfilling the Creator's design. He called himself a "gay God in embryo." (That got quite a laugh.)

- An active woman whose daughter recently came out said she was thankful for all the wonderful drama in her life. She said God is bigger than the Church. There's a place for everyone. She loves the gospel of Jesus Christ and is grateful for every good thing she was taught in church.

- I believe it was a lesbian who helps run a gay support system at BYU who said, "There's no road map" for what she and her peers are doing. We're in uncharted territory, figuring it out as we go.

- John Dehlin closed by saying that as far as his own struggles, there are two things he can't deny: 1. There's meaning in life. Whether or not there is a God, he doesn't believe life is random, and so he has chosen to go on faith. 2. Whenever he worked towards a righteous goal, a higher power of some sort would come to his aid. He said he is just trying to do some good (and I believe he has done much good for many people). He talked about the toll Mormon Stories has sometimes taken on his family and thanked them for their support. He said that doing good does require sacrifice and comes at a cost. This conference all came from the idea of "what if we had a gay general conference," and John was so pleased at how well it came together because it was hard worked and required many people to pull it off, and that all that hard work would have meant little if we all hadn't shown up. He said, sure, we could plan a conference, but it only had validity if people showed up, and he thanked us for that. He said you don't have to abandon spirituality. Take a leap of faith. He quoted Jim Dabakis from the night before (a session I did not attend): "Find something you believe in, that fills you wish passion, that lights you up, and if you do, miraculous things will happen." If everyone did that, the world would change.

There was a closing prayer, and then we mingled and had pizza. I met a few people and had some really great experiences which are too personal to share here, unfortunately, but I left the conference feeling really good.

Two things particularly struck me: I felt such a love and spirit in those meeting that is sometimes lacking in regular LDS Church meetings, and I found that kind of sad. If it is indeed the "one true church," as it proclaims, why is that spirit sometimes missing? We need to work on that. (I guess they need to work on that; I'm no longer a member.) The other was that many who spoke and some of the organizers were all straight, and I found it touching that there are so many straight allies willing to reach out in an effort to help their gay and lesbian brothers feel more welcome, accepted, and understood. If they do a conference like this again, I would love to attend if I am able. I was fortunate to be able to do so this time around.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Circling The Wagons

I always said I would continue attending the LDS Church as long as it kept working for me. Thus far it has, but there are days when I wonder if I need more. I've mentioned in past posts that it is sometimes hard as an excommunicated member to not be able to participate fully in church meetings. I miss giving talks, bearing testimony in Sacrament Meeting, making comments in classes, etc. I've continued going to church with limited participation, and most of the time I am fine with it, but there are some days when I tire of it.

One of the ironies for me, too, is that I actually attend a very great ward. Many people know that I am gay. People are compassionate, kind, supportive, and welcoming. I have very loving leaders. Even today, after a two month absent after being out-of-state, I had so many people come up to me and make me feel welcome, telling me how much they had missed me and how nice it was to see me again. I love these people and care about them, and I know many of them care very much about me. I enjoy listening to lessons and testimonies. I enjoy what I still get out of going. And yet...

...There is still that part of me that desires more participation, more activity, more of a voice. I'm tired of sitting in obedient silence.

Today in testimony meeting, I so wanted to share the feelings of my heart and couldn't do so. Now I realize that is a consequence of my own actions and choices. Fine. But could I not find a place where I can share more of myself and who I am without being judged or reprimanded for it? I could.

I go to my Mormon ward by choice. I go there because there are still things I very much like about it. I go there because I enjoy the associations of others who go there. I go there because it feels like home in many ways. I go there because it feels comfortable in many ways. I go there to be an example of what a gay Mormon can be and to maybe change people's perceptions. But is it enough? Some days it is; other days it is not.

Yesterday I attended the main session of the Circling the Wagons conference for LGBTQ Mormons, and I found it very moving and edifying. I was also very pleasantly surprised at the turnout as well. A swath of people from all across the spectrum of what it is to be gay and Mormon as well as their straight families, friends, and allies.

It was a bit of a trip getting there as it was snowing pretty heavily, but I was determined to go, and most of my trip felt safe.

It was kind of like being at a gay General Conference, which was kind of the idea. It felt like a church meeting, but one where you felt full fellowship and acceptance, and I quite appreciated that, especially because it is something that is sometimes lacking in an LDS ward. It made me see the possibilities of what could one day, hopefully, be.

I found it ironic that such a meeting of fellowship and love focused on gay Mormons (and gay ex-Mormons) should be held in a Baptist church (and thanks to those very generous Baptists for furnishing the building). Oh, that our own religion could be so supportive of its members and once-members who have felt ostracized, disenfranchised, and unwelcome! Why is that? Why is it that the place we should be able to turn to most for love, support, acceptance, and fellowship is sometimes the place we least feel we are getting it? Why is it that way? Why does it have to be that way?

The LDS Church is losing so many good people because of this issue and because of an inability to help its gay members feel welcome and loved. There are wards, stakes, and individuals out there who are doing well at effectively reaching out to their gay brothers and sisters, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule? Why?

And why does positive change seem to come from the bottom rather than the top? Why does the LDS Church seem to be behind the curve on this issue.

Look, I'm not even saying the Church must change its doctrine on the issue. That would be nice, but I don't think it's going to happen. But it's always seemed their solutions and answers aren't working for most gay members. It seems these gay souls spend lifetimes doing exactly what the Church requires of them only to fail. Some leave the Church, feeling betrayed by it. Others lose faith in God completely. Others are ostracized by their families or friends. Others live lives of unfulfillment, still trying to live life as the Church has directed, but feeling empty and without the kind of love they long for. Some get married, only to have it not work out, leaving a wake of divorce, broken families, and hurt ex-spouses. Many find joy outside of the Church, which is a shame (for the Church, I mean), because that means the Church is losing a lot of great people.

Why is it this way? Others might argue, "Well sin is sin. The Lord teaches what the Lord teaches, and prophets and apostles can't change what the Lord commands." I guess what's confusing to me, then, is why, if homosexual relations are sinful (which I don't believe they are, but go with me on this), why are do so many gay people (myself included) find such joy, peace, and happiness in their relationships? I can assure you, it isn't fabricated or imagined, and I know many gay people who will back me up. Why, if we are sinning, do so many of us feel much happier, fulfilled, and at peace with ourselves than we did when we were trying so hard to live according to the teachings of the LDS Church? It doesn't seem to me that the adversary is capable of creating genuine feelings of happiness, joy, and peace, and yet, I can assure you, that is what I feel. Furthermore, I feel closer to God in my life than I did six years ago (before I was out), and Jonah and I both feel he blesses our union and our lives. Why is that, if it's supposedly wrong?

Our relationship is based on love. It really is. And, to me, it seems that where love is, there God is also.

As for yesterday's conference, the first session was conducted by our very own Invictus Pilgrim (and by the way, thanks to him, John Dehlin, Anne Peffer, and the others who helped organize the conference). It was nice to put a face to the blog. As he read the mission statement of the conference, I could sense some of the past pain he has felt in his journey. I'm glad he is in a better place now.

Lee Beckstead gave the first talk. Some of the points he made included:
- Adam and Eve made a choice that seemingly distanced them from God, but nevertheless, God was always with them.
- He talked about how some therapists try to fix people's sexuality and that "the solution of trying to fix homosexuality ultimately becomes the problem.
- He talked about how you can't cut off a part of yourself without causing harm.
- What matters most in life is love; not suppressing, submission, denial, or shame. Acceptance, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness are key.
- We have to give ourselves permission to be who we are without shame.
- We have to each find our own individual path to what makes us happy, whatever that is. If we seek truth, we will learn more about what is right for us, and happiness will follow.

Carol Lynn Pearson recited her poem "Pioneers" and then a chorus sang an original composition based on that poem.

Carol Lynn Pearson then spoke. I really enjoyed her remarks. Her initial comments appealed to me as an actor since she was using stage metaphors. She said, "Today the curtain is up. You are the star and the playwright. What do you want your story to be?" She said, well, obviously, you would want to be the hero and then used Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces [full book here] as the basis of her talk, comparing our journey as gay Mormons with the hero's journey in Campbell's book.

This is a book with which I am somewhat familiar as it highly influenced George Lucas when he created the Star Wars stories. Campbell's theories are evident in such works as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, pretty much every superhero story, and The Lion King, just to name a few examples. Because I was familiar with Campbell's ideas, it made Carol Lynn Pearson's talk even more relevant to me.

She talked about twelve ideas in Campbell's book:

1. The ordinary world (meaning the Mormon community in which we grew up and were nurtured)

2. The call to adventure (this is the term Campbell uses, but Carol Lynn asked us if we had ever thought of it as a "call to adventure"? These are the moments when we realize we are different or unusual. We don't realize it, but we are called to be seekers. Perhaps our calling is to help others see homosexuality in a different light.

She gave a quote by Alan Alda: "Our world suffers from testosterone poisoning."

3. Refusal of the call - most, if not all gay people have done this, where we try our very best not to be gay.

4. Meeting with the mentor - in Campbell's theory, this is usually an older, wiser individual (an Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Gandalf, a Dumbledore, or a Mufasa, for example), but for Carol Lynn Pearson's purposes, this can be anybody who influences us to walk the path; someone who helps you realize your sexuality is a gift, not a curse; a pioneer (or pioneers) who shows us the way.

5. Crossing the threshold - this is an emotional experience that changes your life; a leap of faith which causes you to truly acknowledge this part of your identity. It can be something like falling in love, for example (and certainly was, in my case, the very thing that caused me to "cross the threshold.").

6. Encounters, tests, allies, etc. - This new world is different than the one we have been accustomed to. This is where we "figure out how to be a gay person." This is a place where some souls get lost, falling prey to addictions, predators, promiscuity, and engaging in other activities that can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually damaging. Pearson advised people in that stage of the journey not to get lost. She also said it's partly the "tribe"'s fault (meaning the Church or family members) because sometimes their actions push us away or make us feel unloved or unworthy and so we seek love and affection in other, sometimes unhealthy, places.

Pearson also advised people not to give up spirituality. Some think God is no longer their ally because they have been so often told what God thinks of them by others, but this is not true.

7. Approach the in-most cave

8 Supreme ordeal - She said this could be equivalent to a time when gay people consider suicide. She warned against that. She said no matter what we think or are told, we are a part of the plan.

9. Reward - seizing the story - She said we must always be mindful of those who didn't make it.

10. The road back - She said this didn't necessarily mean coming back to the Church, but finding peace with our community. She said people back home are starving, and we need to bring the food back. They need what we have. Our tribe is starving.

11. Resurrection - One final sacrifice - the warrior self must die, so the innocent can be reborn. This means we must refuse to live a life of bitterness. We must have forgiveness in our hearts and continue to hold on to the precious things we have been taught. Peace of mind. Learn to be an activist in a positive way.

12. Return with the elixir - Share the treasure with the tribe. We can relate anew to the community. Love is the elixir, and it cures all ills. There are different forms of the elixir for different people. Some may find it in a committed gay relationship, others may find it in a mixed-orientation marriage, others may find it in a life of celibacy. Whatever our path is, we must write our stories well.

After Sister Pearson's remarks, the chorus sang "Be Still, My Soul," which I thought was an appropriate number.

We had a break after the first session and mingled and had refreshments. I bought a copy of an issue of Sunstone Magazine that contains a play I have been interested in reading called Borderlands, which I haven't read yet.

We then had breakout sessions. There were six possible sessions we could choose from, but could only go to one in the time allotted. They were:

1. a panel on the differences between Affirmation, Family Fellowship, North Star, and Evergreen with a representative (or someone with first-hand experience) from each group.
2. The Power of Authenticity as Mormon Lesbian
3. A Father's Journey Towards Understanding Homosexuality
4. What Helps (and Hurts) in Resolving Sexual, Religious, and Social Conflicts
5. A National Perspective on Church and LGBTQ Issues
6. LGBTQ History in Utah over the Past 30 Years.

# 4 and #6 sounded the most interesting to me. I really debated about which one to go to, but I decided a history lesson was what I was more in the mood for, so I chose to go to #6. Although hosted by Jim Dabakis, the majority of the time was taken by Ben Williams, a historian, and who probably knows more about gay history in Utah than anyone. I read his column, Lambda Lore in QSalt Lake Magazine and quite enjoy it. I like history, I'm gay, and grew up Mormon, so I thought it might be fun and interesting to hear some of the history of gay Utah, and it was.

Williams said the majorities like to wipe away the history of the minorities. He said he was striving to make sure that never happened. He talked about (and I agree) how neat it is to see how things have changed and gotten better for the gay community in Utah over the years. He said we are not invisible and that gay people are some of the most heroic people who have existed and currently exist. We are a people with a rich history, culture, and identity. But he also said that Utah has a lot of "walking wounded" in the gay community. We are still an oppressed minority who still undergo a constant stream of negativity from various sources. There are still many who are mired in addictions or unsafe sexual practices.

Jim Dabakis said he feels the battle for gay rights is already being won, "the chairs just need to be shuffled" and the details need to be worked out. I agree with him. I think gay rights are a rolling stone that can't be stopped. He also said the younger generation is more open to the plight of gay people, and that as the older generation continues to die off, progress will continue to be made.

Williams also told some interesting anecdotes from gay history in Utah. I didn't write any of them down, preferring to just listen to them, but there was some interesting stuff, and Williams certainly knows his history.

After the breakout sessions, we had some time to go to lunch. I went a Zupa's, an eatery I quite enjoy. If you like sandwiches, soups, and salads (or all three), I highly recommend it. Some groups from the conference went to lunch together, but I preferred my alone time and wanted to process some of the stuff I'd felt and experienced in the conference thus far. It was nice.

Well, it's time for me to go to bed. I have work tomorrow, and I'm tired. I will write about the other two sessions I went to when I have a chance to do so.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Tempest

The Tempest cover art by Val Bochkov

Last night I saw a really wonderful production of The Tempest at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. I thought it was fantastic. A truly magical and enlightening theatre experience, which is what one often hopes for, but doesn't always get, when one goes to a play.

I say this, too, as someone who has never particularly liked The Tempest. I enjoy Shakespeare very much, but The Tempest has never really resonated with me (maybe because I'd never seen a production of that moved me like last night's did). It always seemed that Prospero was just being a jerk and meddling in the lives of those around him or who wronged him. I never empathized with him, and he's pretty much the focus of the show.

I was in a production of The Tempest about 16 years ago. It was my first time doing a full-length Shakespearean play. I had a very small part and, frankly, didn't know what I was doing. But I was very excited (and yes, scared) to be doing Shakespeare for the first time (aside from class work) in front of an audience.

I fully confess I didn't "get" the play at the time, and maybe that, too, is why I've never quite attached to it. But last night was a revelation. Some of the themes which seem so obvious now somehow eluded me when I'd read or seen the show in the past.

I realized that much of the play is really about Prospero learning to let go; letting go of his anger and need for vengeance against those who wronged him even though they did, indeed, wrong him; letting go of those whose lives he's tried to control; letting go of his need to control everything; letting his daughter grow up; letting go of bitterness, letting go of his magic, letting go of the things that hold him back, etc. Somehow I missed all that even though it's so plain and obvious.

I found the director's notes quite enlightening. The production was directed by Chuck Morey, with whom I have worked before, and who I think is quite a brilliant director.

Chuck wrote, "The Tempest is about sin and redemption, revenge and mercy, black magic and white magic - but ultimately about grace. I use the term not totally but certainly in resonance to its theological meaning: 'being at one with God.' In secular terms you might alter that to read: 'being at one with oneself and one's place in the universe.' It is, in effect, a long meditation on that profound tow-word line from Hamlet, 'LET BE.' The progress of the play is very distinct: Prospero's movement from a state of anger and need for revenge to forgiveness, acceptance, peace - a state of grace. Prospero's journey also has something of a Faustian arc to it as well: the man who has achieved much but seeks more and studies the occult not for the sake of knowledge itself, but in an attempt to control not only the human world, but the natural and even the supernatural and in so doing endangers his very soul."

Seeing this particular production made me see The Tempest in a completely fresh and different way. I also thought the costumes and special effects were used very well. The first three or so minutes of the show were completely with dialogue and set the mood beautifully. Just those first three minutes were worth my time.

There were also many unspoken moments that are not directly in the text, but are certainly supported by it that made so much of the play more clear and relevant to me.

I thought about how the play relates to me personally: the things I hang on to or carry that ultimately are not useful to me. I thought about how gay people can find peace with themselves and with God or "at one with oneself and one's place in the universe" when society, religion, and other forces don't always make that very easy. How can people be comfortable in their own skins, wherever they are in life? What are the things we carry that are harmful to us? If we've been wronged (by a person, an organization, or our life experiences, for example), do we hang on to the anger and bitterness and need for vengeance or retribution, for example? Is it helping or hindering our souls to do so? Do we hang on to old habits or customs as a crutch or do we really need them? How do we let go of things?

These are themes that have really resonated with me the past year or so, and I think I saw this production at a perfect time when these questions were already running in my brain.

I've always loved the theme of redemption and forgiveness in movies, television, and literature. I have a hard time believing that anybody is incapable of receiving forgiveness and redemption if they are truly penitent. I also think that those who are unable or unwilling to forgive do more damage to their own souls than to the souls of those who have wronged them. Their inability or unwillingness to forgive may be justifiable or understandable, but I still maintain that holding onto negative feelings isn't good for a person's soul.

I truly feel at peace in my life, and I am grateful for that because it is something that eluded me for many years of my life. I do feel comfortable in my own skin. I don't tend to hang on to grudges or negative feelings. That doesn't mean there still isn't stuff in my life that I ought to get rid of, but I feel I'm doing well. I am happy. More and more I believe that God doesn't care one whit whether I am gay or not. I think He's more interested in my ability to improve my own life and the lives of those around me; to love and be loved; to be happy; to be joyful; to build people up; to help; to serve. Those are the things I think He is most looking at. I truly believe that God is happy that I am happy. My life is better than it was 6 years ago. No doubt about it. And I think that's the best testimony of all.

I'm going to the Circling the Wagons conference tomorrow. Not sure what to expect, but I am interested to see what it wants to be and what it ultimately is and am interested to hear the experiences of others to whom the subjects of homosexuality and Mormonism are important, wherever they may be in their own journies.

The Tempest closes tomorrow (Saturday). Go see it if you can. I highly recommend it.