Sunday, August 26, 2007

Testimony, Anyone?

Today in elders quorum the instructor announced that the lesson today was about testimony. After reading excerpts from a conference talk, he announced that the elders quorum presidency had decided that they wanted to provide more opportunities to bear testimony in the quorum meeting, and did anyone particularly want to bear their testimony, right now?

Yes, someone did. I felt something, I felt that warmth. My heart started racing. I could feel my neck and face getting all flushed. But I didn't even know how to start. So I just leaned forward and stared down at my shoes.

OK. Then Brother Young (not his real name) ups the ante by saying, "You know, I've found that much of my testimony has come from when I've questioned and doubted, and then eventually, through all of that I found my testimony. I'd be really interested in hearing from somebody who's maybe struggled with some of this stuff, or doubted and then found his testimony again."

I could actually start to feel tears welling up. But I couldn't. It was just too complicated. If I said one single word, I didn't know where it would stop. It was just too damn frightening. Did I even have a right to speak in elders quorum? I mean, I've participated in quorum class discussions before, but this was far too sacred, too holy, too frickin' scary to take a risk opening up this way if I'm not even sure I'm allowed to talk. So I just continued to get to be really good friends with the tops of my shoes.

And all this time, the Spirit is just welling up in me. What would I say, if I could say something?

I left the church over twenty years ago after almost killing myself. And in those twenty years, I've doubted everything, the whole ball of wax. The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, the Church, Jesus Christ, God, everything. Because, by the way, I'm gay. And I thought the Church hated me and so I hated the Church back. And then, damn it, the Holy Spirit clobbered me two years ago. I didn't ask for a testimony. I tried squirming out of it. I tried explaining it away. Things were so much easier and less complicated without it. But I could not deny it, and it would not let me go. And don't let's even start to talk about my intellectual doubts. But all of them, every last one in the last year and a half, have melted away in the warmth of the Spirit. And my whole life has changed because of it. Half the elders quorum still doesn't seem to know what my name is. Nobody seems to have noticed, but I've been attending here for the last year and a half because of it, because of this testimony. And I can't say any more because it's just too complicated. Because I know what they will say. If I have such a big, fat testimony, why didn't I just set my life in order and join the Church? How could I even begin to explain that to them?

I wanted to say something, but I couldn't. And these guys were raising their hands without batting an eye. No big deal for them. And mostly they were waxing intellectual about it all, even a bit jocular. And it just left me feeling isolated and lonely and completely alien.

And wonderful.

Here I was, paralyzed, feeling like some kind of freak or some kind of no good nobody. And yet, in spite of all that, the Spirit was right there, right then, right with me, reminding me that not only did I know it was all true, but I was loved and everything was OK. It didn't matter that they would never, ever understand. My whole soul, body and spirit, was just filling up with this warmth. And I was silently praying, Father, how can I feel this and not tell the truth of what I feel? Won't I lose my testimony if I don't bear it? And the Spirit was saying, "Don't worry about it. It's not the time right now."

I arrived home on the verge of tears. I didn't know whether to cry for pain and loneliness, or to cry for joy. Göran immediately saw it in my face. He said, "What's wrong?" And I couldn't tell him either. So instead, I slammed the door on my thumb. I guess that was a good way to get out of having to explain myself.

At least I can bear my testimony to you.

P.S. I asked Göran if he would come to Church with me today, and he actually thought about it for a moment. He's been really sweet lately about my involvement in the Church. No grief, no silent treatments when I go to Church lately. I guess on balance, today's been a good day.


Forester said...

Thank you for testifying to me in a number of your posts. The sincerity actually comes through your blogs. Your story is incredible, as are you. Keep testifying through your blog. I still need it.

MoHoHawaii said...

I admire your spirit and willingness to forge your own path, but I worry about the psychological risk involved in attending a nonaffirming church.

Where is this path going to lead you? Are you content with the way things are now, where you are not even sure if you're allowed to speak?

GeckoMan said...

Oh John, bless your heart, your sweet, decent heart! Thanks for sharing your testimony here, even if it's not the right time there.

Do you have much of an understanding with your EQ Pres? He is your 'Priesthood Leader' in the hierarchy of things at church. You may want to meet with him personally and share your testimony with him, one on one.

Knight of Nothing said...

Sometimes *not* speaking up is a lot more difficult than speaking up. It sounds like you did the right thing, even though it was an emotionally challenging moment to face. Thank you for sharing.

I've often wondered what it means, "testimony." You use it in such a specific way, it seems to have more meaning to you than to a non-Mormon. You'll have to explain it sometime.

J G-W said...

Forester - Thanks. I feel the same about you, and your on-line testimony.

Mohohawaii - Thanks for the concern. I was in a very bad place in my pre-coming out days in the Church, in a very dangerous place actually. And one of my fears in coming back to the Church was that I might slip back to the depression and suicidal feelings of those bad old days. But rest assured, I am in a very different place now. Even on a bad day, I feel much better now than I did in "post-Mormon" days. And, odd, now I think about it, those "post-Mormon" days were much better than my pre-coming out Mormon days. Each step -- leaving the Church, coming out of the closet, renewing my testimony and coming back to the Church -- has been a step forward and up for me, odd as it may seem.

Although I am sometimes sensitive about feeling excluded, it honestly doesn't feel devastating like it once did. the sense of the Spirit's presence is very real to me, more real than the rejection I occasionally feel. So oddly, even when I find myself in a painful situation like yesterday, it is always accompanied by very powerful reassurances. I realize that not everyone is so blessed, but I guess at some level I believe my Heavenly Father realizes that I am on a very difficult path and so I've been granted an extra portion.

Geckoman - Thanks!! I will talk to my EQ president. I also realize that hearing expressions of love and concern from you and others is a huge help.

KoN (Sam): Getting hugs from you, Lee and Doodle, and being able to hang out with you guys yesterday was very healing. I love you!

The word "testimony" does have a pretty specific usage in the LDS Church. We use it to refer to the personal revelation we receive from God, confirming his existence and love for us, and confirming or revealing specific principles, truths or insights that help us walk in the path of Christ. Sharing testimonies is a very important part of LDS communal life. The first Sunday of every month is designated as a special time when the pulpit is left open to allow individual members of the congregation to get up and share their testimonies.

Abelard Enigma said...

I have to admit, when I first read this post, I wanted to cry. Nobody should ever be denied the opportunity to bear their testimony.

I was checking out GCN, and somebody posted a link to a video they had recently posted to youtube titled Gay Christians - Letting it Shine. I thought of you as I watched it

MoHoHawaii said...

John, you are a person of rare spiritual depth.

When I read your blog I am reminded of the best parts of my church experience. It's ironic that you have a semi-outcast status, but in a way it makes sense if you read the New Testament and see how Jesus and his disciples interacted with the prevailing orthodoxy of the day. Why should it be any different today?

I am really am moved by your testimony and saintliness.

J G-W said...

I want to make it clear -- and not that anyone's suggested otherwise -- there was nothing anyone did yesterday that was hurtful. The guys in my elders quorum are great. They are always kind, warm, friendly, and those who know about my status are as supportive as they can be. It was the situation and my status as excommunicated, and my uncertainty about the appropriateness of sharing certain aspects of my story that were so painful to me.

Abelard - Thanks for sharing the youtube link. Awesome video. That did make me cry. It isn't about a "religion." It's about our relationship with Christ. That put it so perfectly. Thank you so much.

Beck said...

Here I find myself currently "questioning" my testimony and I probably would not have shared anything in that EQ setting, even though I was "entitled" to do so, happy to squirm while observing the stitching in my shoes, while you're squirming to hold back your testimony pulsating through every fiber of your being and not being "entitled" to say anything.

The irony of this situation doesn't escape me.

I agonize for you. I ache for you. You continue to be an source of inspiration.

Behind the Infamous Veil (the blogger formerly known as "Bored in Vernal") said...

Easy for me to say--but I hope you will let it out. The Church needs its gay members and they need to have a voice in the wards and stakes of Zion I think of you as a captain in a vast movement that is just beginning.

As always, I love your testimony.

J G-W said...

Monday night, I got a visit from my home teachers, one of whom was the instructor who gave this lesson. He also happened to be the one who gave the home teaching lesson they prepared for me. He shared his insights from Elder Faust's talk published in the recent Ensign on making "every single one" feel welcome at Church. I was deeply touched by what he had to say.

I was actually able to open up and talk about my experience in elders quorum, and share my testimony. They listened attentively and were very affirming and supportive. Then we prayed together. I felt so grateful, after they left I went up to my room and wept - this time definitely tears of joy. It was amazing to me how totally healing just that simple moment of listening was to me. None of the pain was left, I just felt totally happy and totally willing to accept that situation as one more opportunity for me to learn more about myself and my relationship with God.

I realize that a lot of people are struggling to make sense of the seeming disjunction between the experience of gay folks and the Church's position on homosexuality. I also realize that the Church is filled with very good, compassionate people whose relationship with God and the Spirit is showing them how to respond to situations like my own in remarkable ways. I guess I realize, all I need is for us to continue in this road together, in just the way we have come so far: listening to what the Spirit has to teach us and showing as much compassion for each other as we can muster.