Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Disturbing Dream

I very rarely have nightmares or unpleasant dreams, but last night's was kind of disturbing.  I dreamed I was meeting this professor and to get there I was directed to take a road which was along side an ocean.  As I took the road in my silver Honda Accord the road went from pavement to dirt and eventually it became hard to tell where the road even was as it was covered with shrubbery and water.  Because the ocean was level with the road, they became hard to differentiate.  I crossed what I thought was a puddle, but it was the ocean itself, and my car was swept away and began to sink.

Suddenly, my perspective changed.  I was on a bridge above the sinking car, but I knew I was still in the car.  I watched as the rear end of my silver Honda (with me inside) disappeared under the water.  The me on the bridge tried to call the me in the car, but I didn't answer.  I then knew that I must have drowned and died, and all I could think of was, "How will Jonah be able to survive without me?" and I just felt so concerned about him.

Anyway, it was a strange dream, but my death felt very real even though I seemed to witness it from an outside perspective.  Anyway, it seemed worth recording.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Great Big World

Well, I know it's been an enormously long time since I posted, but I have a lot of thoughts swirling around my head. I’m not sure if this will come out as coherently as I would like or if it will just come out as prattle.  I hope it will be the former.

So I heard this song recently by the group A Great Big World (they’re the ones that did the hit song “Say Something,” which I also really liked).   

Their newest song is called “Hold Each Other,” and I immediately liked it the first time I heard it (in fact, that song and “Say Something” have inspired me to listen to their lesser known stuff, which I’ve discovered I also really like).

“Hold Each Other” starts out as a traditional sounding song as Ian Axel sings the first verse:

“I miss the words we used to say

I miss the sounds of yesterday

I miss the games we used to play like ohhh

I was trapped inside a dream

I couldn't see her next to me

I didn't know she'd set me free like ohhh

Something happens when I hold her

She keeps my heart from getting older

When the days get short and the nights get a little bit colder

We hold each other

We hold each other

We hold each other, mmm,”

but then the song takes an interesting turn as Chad King (born Vaccarino) sings the second verse (and these are the words that really resonated with me):

            “Everything looks different now

All this time my head was down

He came along and showed me how to let go

I can't remember where I'm from

All I know is who I've become

That our love has just begun like ohhh

Something happens when I hold him

He keeps my heart from getting broken

When the days get short and the nights get a little bit frozen

We hold each other

We hold each other

We hold each other, mmm"

I remember when I first heard the song I was taken aback by a male singer singing about his love for another man, but it also touched me deeply.  I later learned that Chad King is gay, and that Ian Axel convinced him to change the lyrics (which were originally “she” and “her”) to reflect his own truth.  King was originally hesitant, but realized he had to do it, and so that’s what he did.

When I read the above lyrics they easily describe the feelings of my own heart when it comes to Jonah.  I think about my life growing up in the LDS Church and how I tried so hard to live that life and be that person, and Jonah is the person who “came along and showed me how to let go.”  And it is true, in a sense I have forgotten how it felt to be in that world and the pain, confusion, and heartache that was so much a part of my life trying to live in a box I just didn’t fit in.  All I know now is “who I’ve become” and how happy I am.  Jonah is my support and my rock, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That being said, let me say something that is true (for me, at least): being raised a Mormon is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I owe so much of my life and good qualities to the way my parents raised me with those particular beliefs and standards.  But it is also equally true that being excommunicated from that religion is one of the best things that has happened to me, and I owe so much of my happiness and emotional well-being to not being tied to those religious obligations and practices any more.  Many of the standards and values of the LDS Church are still very much a part of my life, but there are others that aren’t, and that’s okay.

It so happens that Jonah and I won the lottery for $25 front row tickets for the touring company of The Book of Mormon recently.  I really felt it would happen, so much so that I dressed up as if I would be attending.  My name was the second one called, and our seats were fabulous.  You could see the performers up close and so many details that would be missed if you were in the back somewhere.

At a party once I was able to view a bootleg copy of the Broadway version of The Book of Mormon.  I liked much of it at the time, but was offended by some of it and also bothered by the fact that I felt like audience members were laughing at my religion in an unkind and less than loving way.  I didn’t feel that way about the writers; if anything, I actually think they admire Mormons even if they think their beliefs might be a little kooky.

At the time I saw the bootleg copy I had been excommunicated for a little over two years, I believe, and I was still attending church.  Now it’s been more than six years, and I feel like I was able to watch the show from a more removed perspective.  I reread my thoughts from three previous posts (1, 2, 3) regarding the show which talked about how I felt upon listening to the score for the first time and seeing the bootleg copy.  Those thoughts actually haven’t changed much.  The things I found sweet I still find sweet.  The things I found clever I still find clever.  The things that made me cringe and uncomfortable still make me feel that way.  The things I found funny I still find funny.  I think the difference this time was because I knew what I was getting into I was no longer shocked or surprised by the things I don’t care for and was just able to sit back back and watch and appreciate it.  I laughed and smiled a lot, and there were also times when I shook my head in disapproval.  But I liked it, and I thought the cast did a really great job, particularly the actress who played Nabulungi.  She had a killer voice.  I was entertained and it was certainly worth what we paid.

I think this quote from this post is still quite accurate: “While not always a fan of the crass humor that Matt Stone and Trey Parker exhibit…I do think they have a gift for satire and are sometimes quite clever. Often they push the envelope too far for my personal taste, but I guess that's what satire is often about…I guess what I'm saying is that I actually appreciate some of the things Parker and Stone have to say; I just don't always appreciate the way they say it. And I'm sure that would be the case if I ever saw this show (which, I do not hesitate to add, I would do if given the opportunity - I don't think you can really judge the value of a show without experiencing it yourself).”

So now I’ve seen it, and I think the show uses satire well to raise some valid points both about Mormonism and organized religion in general.  One thing that hit me a little differently this time around that I wasn’t expecting was towards the end of the show was this exchange that occurs after the missionaries have been told they must go home for teaching false doctrine:

ELDER PRICE: Woa –woa Elders where are you going?

ELDER MCKINLEY: What do you mean “Where are we going?” We’ve been shut down.

ELDER NEELEY: Yeah, we have to go home.

ELDER PRICE: “Who says we have to?”


(PRICE gets in the middle of everyone.)

ELDER PRICE: Look, we all wanted to go on a mission so we could spend two years of our lives helping people out.  So let’s DO it!

ELDER NEELEY: But the mission president said we’re all as far from Latter-Day Saints as it gets!

ELDER PRICE: No… You know what guys? F*** HIM.

(Everyone looks a little shocked.)

ELDER PRICE: We are STILL Latter-Day Saints.  ALL of us.  Even if we change some things, or break the rules, or have complete doubt that God exists… We can still work together to make THIS our paradise planet.

And tears came to my eyes because I had always believed that when I was excommunicated somehow my life would implode or that the powers of hell would descend upon me, and you know what?  That just isn’t true.  And regardless of how my life has changed since I was excommunicated or the choices I have made I will always have Mormonism deep in my heart and being, and that’s a good thing.  Much of who I am, both good and bad, is because of the religion I was raised in, and I value and cherish that.  When I look back on my life, both the good, bad, pleasant, and unpleasant, I don’t think I would change a thing (well, maybe I would have stuck with piano lessons and maybe I would have tried to be a little less lazy as a kid) because all of my experiences have made me the man I am today, and I like the person I am.  My positive and negative experiences have shaped this life and each one of them is valuable.

Recently, I also came across a video in my Facebook news feed which featured a man I met and had lunch with several years ago.  Prior to this lunch, I did not know him in person. I don't even remember how we met (I know it was online and was based on our desire at the time to live according to the teachings of the LDS Church and not give in to our homosexual attractions). Our meeting with each other was simply born out of a desire to connect with someone who was going through the same issues. Our lunch was was not super long, and this was the only time we ever met and talked to one another in person. He was in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the time, and it was just nice to connect and discuss with someone the issues we were each having; to not feel so alone because someone else understood what the other was going through. As I came across this video I recognized John immediately. I am so glad we are both in a place of greater peace today and that we both have managed to balance our Mormonism and our sexuality. I always wondered what became of John, and now I'm glad I know that he is in a happier place (as am I) than we were when we first met. If you have the time, watch the video. I was really moved by it.
 If you watch 6:12 to end, that's what really resonated with me.  I actually relate to so much of what he says.

                When General Conference happened this week I was initially feeling critical.  Three Apostles have died since the last conference (L.Tom Perry, Richard G. Scott, and Boyd K. Packer), and I thought it might be a great opportunity for the LDS Church to demonstrate some diversity that more accurately reflects its worldwide presence.  Instead, all three were white men from Utah.  If the LDS Church is indeed run by and inspired by the Lord himself, it does trouble me why he seems so sexist, racist, homophobic, and exclusive based on the decisions the leaders of the Church make on his behalf (I’m not saying God is those things; I’m saying that the way the LDS Church is run, it gives off that pereception).  I was also initially critical because there have been rumors that Thomas S. Monson is not physically or mentally in a place where he can effectively run the Church anymore, and it hearkened back to days when Ezra Taft Benson or Spencer W. Kimball were so sick and frail and made you wonder if they were really able to effectively act as President of the Church.

                But my heart eventually softened.  Greg Trimble recently wrote on his blog, regarding Thomas S. Monson’s recent conference address where his strength began to fail him, “I can’t imagine what the last couple years, let alone months have been like for President Monson. His amazing wife Frances who has supported him and been with him through everything, passed away. The world’s values are exponentially declining and effecting members of the church. He feels a responsibility to be there for them and comfort them.

“It has now become commonplace for people to show up at conference to show their opposition to him in person. This sweet 88 year old man has done nothing but serve people for an entire lifetime and now has to deal with hearing the phase ‘the vote has been noted’ over and over again every 6 months. That has had to take a toll on him.

“He has had to watch three of his best friends pass away within the last few months. He’s had to speak and preside at their services, attend to their families, and is expected to be the one that is lifting others spirits. He’s had the monumental task of not only presiding over the church ‘short handed’, but calling three new apostles. He’s the one that mentally has to bear the scrutiny, the questioning, the speculating. All of this has had to take a toll on him.

“How does a person get to sleep at night with that kind of burden…and yet here he was Sunday morning, speaking first, ramping up the strength to stand up once again and bring messages of goodness to all of those that love, respect, and look up to this Christian soldier.”

                Now I’m not saying the LDS Church doesn’t have its flaws or challenges, but it brought back to me something disparaging a friend recently said about Pope Francis.  A lot of people were praising the Pope because he seems to “walk the walk” a lot of the time, whether it’s helping the poor, embracing the diseased, and trying to be more inclusive and loving.  My friend said, “Ok, so Pope Francis might be more awesome than most of his crappy Catholic predecessors but let's take it easy on the worship and keep in mind that he still works for an organization that won't let women hold positions of authority and is openly against birth control (aka the freedom for women to choose their futures and have real opportunity in this world). I get that he's better but let's be honest, that's not saying a whole lot. I figured out most of what he says a long time ago and no one sings my praises. Then again, I have a vagina, and according to this same awesome Pope, that means I'm more inclined to be good at cooking for my litter of children than using my brain, so what do I know.”

Okay, she’s right in that the Catholic Church holds an antiquated view toward women, for example (and the same can be said for the LDS Church), but there was a part of me that just thought, “Can we at least try to focus more on the good he’s doing than on what he or his church might lack?”  I see both the Catholic Church and the LDS Church becoming more progressive (okay, it’s been really slow), but there have been changes even in my lifetime in some of the attitudes I see in both leaders and individual members.  There has also been frustration, too – I get it.  I guess my point is that none of these people are perfect; they’re doing their best and I think they’re also really trying to do what they believe is right (now whether you or I believe it is right may be another story).  I’m not saying we should just cut them some slack and settle for the status quo.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t sound off our voices when we feel injustice is being perpetrated.  I’m saying that we should at least celebrate the good in addition to criticizing the bad.

I actually like this pope.  I think he has a genuine heart and is trying to practice what he believes Christ taught.   Even when I thought he might have met with and supported Kim Davis (she’s a piece of work, but at least admire that she’s fighting for what she believes in even if I vehemently disagree with her), I still liked him because one bad move doesn’t erase all the good a person can do. I think Thomas S. Monson and the leaders of the Mormon Church are good men, too.  I don’t always agree with them, but I don’t think they’re bad or ill-intentioned men.

                I don’t know what I’m trying to say.  I guess it goes back to “Hold Each Other” by A Great Big World: a few days ago I watched the music video for the first time, and I just loved it.  The whole thing starts in black and white and gradually moves into full blown color.  It seems to be about love and inclusiveness, and I just adored that message.

My former neighbor, who attended my excommunication, once said about me, “[Cody] was kind of a black-and-white movie. Then Jonah came into his life, and it was like that scene in the 'Wizard of Oz' that goes from black-and-white to color. I felt like light and happiness had come back into his life.”  This video reminded me of that quote.

With all the things that are happening lately (gun violence, political differences, anti-gay sentiment, terrorism, etc.) it just reminds me that the problems of the world are so often the result of fear and hate, and I love that this song represents the opposite of that.  I love the symbolic heart they make at the end of the video.  I think there is too much hate, derision, and tearing down in this world. I'm all for love, peace, and building one another up. Sometimes I fail, but I strive to do what I can to make this world a more uplifting and loving place. I think this song captures that spirit.

Just read the online comment section of a newspaper or the comments on a controversial Facebook post and it’s clear to see that we often are in the business of tearing people down or ridiculing each other.  I’m tired of it.  I just wish we lived in a kinder, more compassionate world.

There is too much hate and divisiveness in this world.  Look at the political landscape or the recent shootings in Roseburg (just fifteen minutes from my sister’s house) and Arizona or the racial divides or sexual divides in this country.  Look at all the war and terrorism.  Look at all the name-calling and immaturity.  It’s just exhausting, and I think, “Is this the kind of world we want to live in?”  There is too much selfishness, pettiness, greed, and hate in this world.  I just get tired of it.  All I can do is try to put as much positivity and kindness in my own corner of the world as I can.  We each can influence others for the good or for the bad; I try to be a force for good.  I hope I am.  I know I fall short sometimes, too.  I can be impatient or selfish or lose my temper.  But I try to be a force for peace and love and optimism.

Anyway, I’m not sure I got out what I even wanted to get out, but those are my thoughts for today.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Green-Eyed Monster Rears His Ugly Head Again

Some time ago I wrote these two posts (here and here) about a friend of mine.  If you've read my blog on a consistent basis you'll know that this friend (Jake, I call him) served time in prison and blew his chance when he was in a work-release program (which I talk about here and here).  Jake has been a constant source of frustration for both Jonah and me.  He can often be so self-centered and selfish and often uses people to his own advantage.  We both helped Jake when he got out of prison.  We helped arrange his bail.  I put up my own money to cover his bail when his parents' check was made out to the wrong court.  We housed him when he was paroled.  We attended his hearings.  Another of his friends gave him a job.  And we just feel that Jake kind of put his own interests above those that helped him once he got what he needed from them, including us.

Jake and I were in the same graduate program and his arrogance and ingratitude really turned me off.  Although I corresponded with him while he was in prison, I always felt guarded with him; always afraid his pride would get the best of him, which it sometimes did.  Jonah, who is such a giving person, wanted to help Jake, but like me, Jonah eventually discovered that Jake can be an unappreciative user.  We're both kind of over him.  We remain cordial, but distant.

I was reading Jake's Facebook post and saw that he had been cast at the Utah Shakespeare Festival this summer.  I'm not proud of it, but my first feelings were annoyance and jealousy.  I have auditioned for the Utah Shakespeare Festival probably ten times now.  I've always wanted to work there, but it is very competitive.  While a couple of my auditions were not as up to snuff as I would have liked, most have gone well.  The casting directors have always been very complimentary, and each year I am hopeful that it will finally be my year to work there.  So I admit when I read that my friend had been cast, I admit my feelings were not very congratulatory.  I always feel like Jake just sort of floats into good luck without ever really having to work for it, and I often find it frustrating, and it especially stings when I have so wanted something and tried for years to get it, and he gets it so easily so quickly, it seems.

So many of his Facebook friends were so congratulatory and complimentary, and I just wasn't in the mood.  I know it's petty of me, but it's what I was feeling at the time.  I had to remind myself that I have a job I like, and maybe that's where I'm supposed to be right now.  I'm also teaching, and there is something gratifying about that, and maybe I'm meant to be with these kids right now.  I also reminded myself that I am an Equity actor and Jake is not, and there are less Equity spots (which are also more competitive) than non-Equity spots.

Still, at the time I actually felt like crying.  I'm not one to normally cry, "woe is me" or feel sorry for myself, but for a bit yesterday that's exactly how I felt.  I admit it.  Now I'm moving on.  Maybe soon enough I'll feel happy for Jake, but I'm not quite there yet.  Fortunately, I usually get past stuff like this pretty quickly.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Clark Johnson

Clark Johnsen is an acquaintance of mine.  I've always liked him and many of his thoughts and philosophies echo my own experiences and way of thinking.  He's a good guy and I've often admired his views.

When I was dealing with my own coming out trials, he had some videos on YouTube called "A Gay Mormon Perspective" that were of great comfort to me and helped me feel less alone.

Clark recently did an interview with John Dehlin, and I liked much of what he had to say, particularly in the first episode.  Here are both episodes.  They are worth a listen, although there is some very strong language that some listeners may find offensive.  Watch and listen at your own risk.



Well, it's been awhile since I've written.  My apologies; I've been busy.  In addition to my normal job I've also taken a job as an adjunct professor of acting at a local community college.  I'm teaching three classes (two on Tuesdays and Thursdays and one on Saturday).  I'm enjoying it, but both jobs leave very little free time.

I did want to write about the LDS Church's recent announcement regarding gay rights and religious freedom.  For those who may not be aware, the LDS Church came out in favor of statewide anti-discrimination laws for gay people in Utah and encouraged the state legislature to pursue that.  Heading a press conference were Apostles Dallin H. Oaks, D. Todd Christofferson, and Jeffrey R. Holland as well as Neill Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women's Presidency.  You can read about it here and here.

There is a catch, however.  The LDS Church also wants laws put in place that will protect them and other faith-based organizations and individuals from religious discrimination if they desire not to marry a gay couple, for example.  The LDS Church admits that drawing the line won't be easy and could get "murky."  You can read about that here and also watch D. Todd Christofferson and Dallin H. Oaks respond to questions in this video:

Some media outlets, such as the New York Times and the Huffington Post (here, too), have accused the LDS Church of making this move simply to gain the legal right to discriminate, and there may very well be some truth in that.  Some of my friends applaud this move by the LDS Church; others view it with a more cynical eye.  I can see both sides.

Here's my point-of-view: when I think about where I was 25 years ago, a young, confused, very-in-the-closet, gay-but-not-wanting-to-be-gay Mormon and how little the issues I was dealing with were even addressed in the LDS Church (and on the rare occasions they were, it was always in negative terms), I never would have imagined that three apostles from my former church would be talking openly about these issues at all or that the LDS Church (regardless of the reason) would be supporting gay rights of any kind, let alone even talking about them.  To me, progress is progress.  With the LDS Church, progress regarding gay issues or gay rights has been slow and, often, filled with ignorance.  25 years ago anything dealing with homosexuality seemed so taboo in the LDS Church.  Nobody talked about it, and it was a very lonely time for this particular Mormon boy.

It seemed very far from my world then that I would ever be able (or even want) to marry another man and even a couple of years ago, I never would have thought I could do so (and eventually did) in my home state of Utah.  I never could have imagined an LDS sponsored website called (or even an internet, for that matter).  I never would have imagined a group called Mormons Building Bridges marching in Gay Pride parades.  I never would have imagined church leaders could be at all sympathetic to the plight of gay members.  I never could have imagined that the LDS Church would ever change its views on encouraging gay people to get married heterosexually to "fix" their "problem."  I never would have imagined that an openly gay individual might serve in a leadership position as someone like Mitch Mayne has done.  I never imagined that church leaders would soften their rhetoric on homosexuality (Boyd K. Packer notwithstanding). 

My point is, regardless of where the LDS Church currently stands on its treatment of LGBTQ individuals, progress has been made in the last 40, 30, 25, 10, 5 years.  Who knows where we'll be in another 10 or 20?  Gone are the days of electroshock therapy, using The Miracle of Forgiveness as gospel truth, and never hearing anything about homosexuality in church meetings.  Gay couples can get married in Utah and in many other states; gay characters abound on TV, so many gay celebrities are out, Mormons openly and secretly are supporting gay rights; church leaders have become more sympathetic and less ignorant (they still have a ways to go, but hey...); reparative therapy is less in style, etc.  The me 25 years ago never would have thought I'd be where I am now.  There is progress.

I totally agree that this push for religious protection can possibly open a can of worms that allow people to continue to discriminate against gays.  I mean, where do you draw the line?

But this is how I feel: I think the photographer that won't photograph a gay wedding or the baker that won't make a cake for a gay couple or the landlord that doesn't want a gay couple living in their basement are being prejudiced and sometimes unreasonable.  I mean, are you supporting gay marriage just because you take a photo of a gay wedding or make a cake for a gay couple?  What about the photos you're taking or the cakes your baking or the apartments you're renting to people who are doing all sorts of unseemly things you don't even know about?  You can still believe what you believe.  No one is taking your right to believe homosexuality is a sin.

But here's the thing.  Those people live in a free country where they can believe whatever they want to believe and if they want to deny a service that they feel compromises their religious beliefs, I suppose that is their right.

But here's the other side (for me, at least).  Why does the gay couple even want that person to take their photos or bake their cake or to live in a place where they are not meant to feel welcome?  I say, move on.  Give your money to someone who values and respects you.  When Jonah and I were looking for somewhere to have our commitment ceremony, we encountered a couple of places whose owners felt uncomfortable agreeing to let us have our ceremony there.  I suppose I could have been offended or tried to fight it or sue them; instead I just moved on.  If they want to discriminate against me because of their religious beliefs, it's their loss, not mine.  I'll spend my money elsewhere and have my ceremony somewhere where I know it will be valued and honored.  And that's what we did.

Just as I think it sucks that gay people are denied the right to live where they want to live or where they want to work or denied services of some kind because some bonehead can't look past a supposed "sin" and just be charitable enough to treat the gay people with love, I also think it sucks that someone who feels uncomfortable marrying a gay couple or taking photos of their wedding or supplying them with a cake should be made to do so.  I think it's equally sucky that a person loses their own livelihood simply because they speak out against gay rights or sign a petition or donate money to a gay rights cause.  Do I agree with them?  No.  But if they want to believe my "lifestyle" is sinful or wrong, I suppose that's their prerogative.  I don't think they should be fired or forced to resign because of it (and I know of instances where that has happened).

But again, where do you draw the line?  Will I be denied health services because some doctor doesn't approve of my sexuality or will some fireman refuse to put out the fire in my house because a gay couple lives there?  If the Church is in favor of anti-discrimination laws that protect gay people from housing or job discrimination but won't hire them to work at the Church Office Building or if individual members refuse to rent out an apartment to a gay couple, then doesn't the line become "murky?"  On the other hand, why does a gay person want to work or live where he doesn't feel loved or supported?  Why does the gay person want someone to marry him and his partner if that person doesn't respect or honor that marriage?

I don't know all the answers.  We have two sides that believe very strongly what they believe and who both believe they're in the right.  Somehow we have to find a compromise.  I just don't believe an "all-or-nothing" approach.

I know there will be those who disagree with me, but this is how I feel.  Anyway, that's my two cents on this situation.