Sunday, September 30, 2007

Are We Not All Beggars?

It's Saturday morning. I'm walking down the street toward the Global Market, where I will meet my friend Jim for our weekly writer's confab. As I walk, I am praying this prayer: Please, Father, make my life my prayer to you. Make me an instrument of your peace and love.

I raise my eyes up from the sidewalk ahead of me, and I see two black men walking toward me, about a block away. They seem to be absorbed in a conversation with each other.

Eventually, we meet. One of them says, "Hey, can you help us out with a little something, so we can get something to eat?"

I sigh. I reach into my back pocket, and I say what I am thinking: "My religion teaches me that whenever someone asks me for help, I must do what I can to help." I pull two dollars out of my wallet and hand them to him.

His companion says, "Can you help me too?" I smiled, as I handed him two dollars too.

"What is your religion?" says the first.

"I'm a Mormon. A Latter-day Saint."

"Oh, yeah, the Mormons!" says the second, "I know where that Church is. Down on 40th and Nicollet."

"That's right," I say.

"What is that? I don't know what that is," says the first. "What's a Mormon? What do Mormons believe?"

"Tell him," said the second, "Go ahead, explain it."

I take a deep breath. How do I summarize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a few simple sentences? "We believe in Christ," I started. "We follow the teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, who had a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ, and who restored the Church of Jesus Christ as it was in ancient times."

"Beautiful!" says the second, "Simple! That's what I believe too!"

The first one is looking at me with a very sad expression on his face. He says he wants to pray. So the three of us hold hands, and he starts to pray. He's praying for people who are handicapped, people who are homeless, people who struggle with mental illness, and so on. Eventually, his companion starts to get a bit edgy, and says, "OK, enough praying. People are gonna think we're crazy, three men out here holdin' hands." We end our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.

Before I leave, they both say, "God bless you!"

"God bless you," I reply, "May his Spirit be with you today."

"God bless you! Thank you!"

As I walk away, I'm slightly nervous. We live in a dicey neighborhood, where crime is a big problem. Our neighbors are hyper vigilant, and I realize that if any of them have seen me handing cash to transients, they will be mad at me. Maybe my neighbors are right. Maybe my actions will encourage other, less harmless transients to come to our neighborhood.

And I wonder about the men I've just "helped." I didn't smell any alcohol on them, they seemed sober, they had their wits about them. I believe they were telling the truth when they said they needed a bite to eat. I still wondered if my donation was going to go right into the pockets of the liquor store owners two blocks away. Maybe I should have given them the address to the nearest foodshelf.

I remember when I was on my mission, I was on a split once with my zone leader, and he told me a story -- perhaps someone can tell me if it's apocryphal! As the story went, someone was walking down the street with Ezra Taft Benson, when they were approached by a street person. The street person asked for money, and without hesitating Elder Benson took some money out of his wallet and gave it to the man. The person accompanying the apostle commented that the man was probably lying, and probably intended to buy a drink with the money. And Elder Benson's response was that he had no control over what the man did with the money, but at least he had done his duty by showing charity. But the clincher, for me, was his comment: "I would rather give to ninety-nine who are undeserving, than turn one away who truly needs that money."

Even if the story is completely false (I would be grateful if someone could verify it one way or the other), it has stayed with me all these years because I think it communicates the same fundamental truth as King Benjamin's sermon on beggars. The kind of charity we show when we give to anyone who asks, no matter how deserving we deem them to be, is not unlike the charity God shows toward us by blessing us even when we are unworthy. That's me. That's exactly what I am. Unworthy, and still blessed.

That's why I believe my religion teaches me:

Ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? (Mosiah 4:16-19)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action

In the West we have a tradition of "free thought" and "free speech." We consider the belief that a man or a woman may think whatever they wish and say whatever they wish to be one of the highest virtues of the civilization we live in. And in many ways, it is true that this value of freedom in thought and word has made our civilization great. Because when you do not know the truth, freedom of thought and word is essential in the search for it.

When I posted yesterday and said that I needed to reconsider certain words and reconsider my ways of thinking, I know that it troubled some folks. BIV was afraid that when we disagree with something someone in a position of spiritual authority has said, that if we don't speak our mind it can be harmful to our souls. To a certain extent, I agree with this. There has to be a free forum for us to explore the truth. If we feel we recognize untruth, we should speak to that. This is a vital process we all need to be involved in.

But there is another approach to thought and speech, which is highly valued in the East. I found these words of the great Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, which captured so well a concern which has become increasingly important to me:

Right Thinking. When we produce a thought, we have to ensure that the thought is a good thought, a right thought, because if it is, it will bring us physical and mental health, and it will help the world to heal itself. Our practice is to try to live in such a way that every day we produce only good thoughts, thoughts in the direction of right thinking. We have to train ourselves to do that. A bad thought can destroy the physical and moral health of ourselves and of the world. So we have to be careful to produce only good thoughts....

Right Speech. First, we have to understand that thinking is action. When we say something, that speech will have an effect on our body, on our mind, and on the world. Good speech will give us joy and health — physical and moral health — and it will change the world in the direction of goodness. We should produce right speech, which inspires understanding, joy, hope, brotherhood, and sisterhood. Your speech is the seed, it is the cause. And what it produces in you and in the world is the karmaphala, the karma-fruit. Action as cause and action as fruit.

This is not fundamentally different from the teaching of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon, who reminds us:

But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not. (Mosiah 4:30)

There is a time when right thought and right speech will mean speaking out against injustice, or speaking out in favor of love. We should always strive for these thoughts and words! But there will also be times when right thought and right speech means stilling oneself, holding back, listening. Ultimately, how do we know the difference? Through conscience, through the Light of Christ in us, rightly guided by the Spirit. If we don't follow this, as King Benjamin says, we will perish.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Kicking Against the Pricks

Yesterday was one of the suckiest days of my life, and I couldn't figure out why.

First thing this morning, the moment my alarm clock went off and I woke up, I knew exactly why. Amazing how a good night's sleep can do that for you. Understanding why doesn't really help, though. Once you have understanding of something, then you have to get up and do something about it. And I was lying there, listening to the alarm clock go, "BEEP, BEEP, BEEP," and thinking, "You know what you have to do, John."

And the other half of me was thinking, "I don't want to do it."

"Just do it, John." So I got up, shut off the damn alarm clock, came downstairs, got down on my knees and asked forgiveness. And now I'm going to do the part I knew I needed to do.

Yesterday on the Northern Lights Blog and here on my own blog I published some criticisms of Jeffrey Holland's recent article in the October 2007 issue of the Ensign. I'd like to officially retract those criticisms.

OK, here's the thing. Reading this article really upset me. And my first instinct, and the instinct I should have stuck with, was to just get on my knees and take whatever pain and frustration I was feeling to the Lord, and let him deal with it. People keep saying how they cry when they read my blog. Now I'm crying, because I'm thinking, I really wish I had not done that.

The pain is still there, when I think about some of the things he wrote. And I had a long conversation on the phone about it with my parents yesterday, and I cried, because I really realized how I wish I were closer geographically to them, because they are such incredibly wise, wonderful people. And my mom gave me some words of comfort, without uttering a single breath of criticism. She said just what I needed to hear. And I realize now, this is how I should deal with this kind of stuff in the future. When I feel this kind of pain, I just need to go to the Lord, and go to people like my parents.

But here's the thing I really need to say right now, the part of this you all need to read. Everyone who read the other crap I've written. I was wrong to criticize the clear moral guidelines Jeffrey Holland published on dealing with same-sex attraction. What he's written, he's written to help people. It's not my place to second guess that. It is my place to listen to what he's had to say, and then figure out how to apply it in my life, and let the Lord take care of the rest. It's his church.

I love Jeffrey Holland. He's actually one of my favorite apostles, maybe because I have positive memories of him from the days when I was a student at BYU, and he was the President of BYU. I admire his intellect, and I admire that fact that he brings that layer of intellect and thoughtfulness to everything he says and writes. But more importantly, I love him because of his office, because he is an apostle, because he's willing to bear that burden and try to guide this Church, which as far as I can tell is an absolutely impossible task.

I know some of you are going to think I'm copping out. I don't know what the rest of you are going to think about me. Go ahead. Post a comment. I can only hope everyone who read what I've written elsewhere will read this. The fact that not everyone will read my apology and my retraction is why apologies feel sorely inadequate. The problem with the Internet is it's too damn easy. You can type whatever you want and click "send" and then its published for the whole world to read. And what you really need on your computer is a warning button that comes up whenever you click "send" that says "Are you SURE you want to publish this for the whole world to read?" And then after you click "yes," another warning that says, "Are you REALLY, REALLY SURE you don't want to sit down for thirty minutes and think about it?" Next time I just need to click the speed-dial button on my cell for my parents' phone number.

I made a pact with God a little over a year ago. I promised not to criticize Church leaders. In turn, God promised to guide me through the Holy Spirit, help me find all truth, forgive me my sins, and bring me safely home to his presence. I broke that promise. Fortunately, there is the Atonement, and fortunately, unlike us, God does not take offense over a word. God's love is infinite. So long as I get out of bed, turn off the damn alarm clock, get up, try to make it right, and keep going.

Thanks for reading this.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eternal Family

Something Chedner wrote got me to thinking...

In my journey of faith and same-sex attraction, and the struggles around this, my parents have been on a journey of their own. When I resigned from the Church, my parents were beside themselves with grief. In the letter I wrote them announcing my intention to leave Mormonism and be baptized into the Lutheran Church, I also mentioned that I believed I was "homosexual." When my parents called me long-distance, Boston to Helsinki, my dad was furious. I backed down and denied what I had written about my homosexuality. "I was just confused," I told him. It was what he wanted to hear, and he accepted it.

For three years, my parents and I barely ever talked. When I came home for holiday visits, it was often tense and uncomfortable. Gradually, though, we began to warm up to each other again. Then I decided it was time to come out to them. For good this time.

I decided the holidays were a terrible time to break the news to them. And I did not want to do it by letter this time, or over the phone. Such news must be delivered in person. So I decided to come home for Easter. This was 1989, after I had spent some time in a monastery in France exploring celibacy, and had decided that now I was ready to explore the possibility of a relationship. I knew that eventually a boyfriend would be part of the picture and I knew I needed to tell my parents. After making the travel arrangements, my parents somehow got the darn fool idea that I was coming home to announce my intention to come back to the Church. My brother called. He was concerned. He wanted to know what was up. I came out to my brother over the phone. He was upset. He was afraid that my announcement would devastate my parents. When I told him I had to do this, he insisted that if it was necessary to talk to them about it, I should at least let him break the news to them. Reluctantly I agreed.

I later concluded this was a good thing. My dad later told me that when Mark broke the news to them, he was so angry he said "a number of things" that he said he would have regretted for the rest of his life if he had said them directly to me. He's never told me what those things were that he said. By the time I arrived in Topsfield, my parents had recovered their calm. After I had told them my story, he told me how sorry they were that I had struggled with this since the age of fourteen, and never felt I could confide in them. They were horrified that I had almost committed suicide over this. They wanted me to go to a reparative therapist. They thought the bishop could recommend someone. I told them under no circumstances, never, ever, would I consider putting myself under the treatment of some witchdoctor.

My parents struggled with it for a long time. But finally one night, at 11 p.m. I was awakened in my Minneapolis apartment by the ringing of the phone. It was my dad. "Jukka," (they always called me by my Finnish name), "can you open up your scriptures with me?"

"Sure, Dad," I said. In my mind, I said, "Oh crap. Here it comes."

He asked me to open to Matthew 19:12. I already knew the verse. Jesus on the subject of eunuchs. "Do you think the Savior was talking about homosexuals here?" my dad asked me.

"Dad, I'm not sure what he's talking about here. But yes, if I had to guess, I do believe that is exactly what he is talking about there. Yes. Yes, I think there is a place for us in the Kingdom of Heaven."

After that, things shifted.

In time, I met Göran. He started coming home with me for family gatherings. Göran is one of the most beautiful, loving, generous, open-hearted people I know. My parents fell in love with him. Over time they started calling him son.

Since returning to the Church, my parents and I have a new, blessed level of love and trust. I believe that if I have a testimony now, it is because of their prayers on behalf of me. They support me implicitly, 100%. They believe in me. They support my relationship with my partner Göran, they want it to last, to succeed, to thrive. He is their son as much as I am. They do not doubt my revelations. They know that the Spirit is at work in my life. We have felt the Spirit together. We have prayed together. We have born our testimonies to each other. With the exception of Göran, there is no one on the face of this planet I am closer to or feel more connected to. My parents believe that I will someday be in the Celestial Kingdom together with them. They do not know all things, but they know that God loveth his children.

In thinking about my relationship with my parents, I think of Joseph Smith's relationship with his. When he came home and started telling them crazy stories about visitations from the King of Heaven himself, about angels and gold plates, about "joining none of them" and starting his own Church, did they kick him out of the house? No. They believed him. They knew their son. They trusted him. They believed every word. They became his first converts. That's the kind of parents I have.

I know that in some ways I have been very lucky. Not all gay men and lesbians have parents who are willing to go the distance with them. I know of parental nightmare stories. But I am not unique either. I think, more often than not, the parents eventually go the distance, like mine do. Everywhere there are parents of gay kids, there is a chapter of PFLAG. (Or in Utah, "Family Fellowship.") Why is that? Why do our parents become our first believers?

Why have the General Authorities tried to drive a wedge between gay folks and their parents, by encouraging parents to exclude "inappropriate behavior" from their homes?

My family is the only unit of the Church from which I am not excommunicated. It is the only place where I can pray out loud with other Saints. Where we can worship our Heavenly Father together without distraction, without fear, without the painful disconnects. My family is the first place I learned to trust in God, and it is the place where I still feel the love of God most directly, most purely, and with the deepest assurance. It is where I know I can trust the most.

Thank God for my eternal family.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Weaving Straw into Gold

I've been reading the Epistle of James recently. Martin Luther referred to James as the "Epistle of Straw." He didn't like it because its pragmatic focus on issues of community and practice seemed to put too much emphasis on good works. And Luther was really heavily into this "by-grace-ye-are-saved-through-faith" thing.

But I like James, very, very much lately. Few texts in scripture explore the virtue of patience in more depth and with more nuance than this one does. Right from the beginning, he sets the tone:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (1:2-4)

"Temptations" here could also be translated as "trials." The core message of James is that as we encounter various trials of our faith, our temptation is to try to force the issue, try to fix it ourselves in ways that are generally counterproductive. He speaks of the "double minded man," the person who does not know him- or herself, in the grasp of desire. He speaks against temper -- swiftness to anger -- which is the result of frustration that occurs when our efforts to force something don't produce the outcomes we desire. It is this inability to free oneself from desire, and the ensuing frustration that he sees as the fundamental cause of war:

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (4:1-3)

On the flip side of this coin we see those who have all the good things of this world because they've succeeded at the greedy game of accumulating wealth. For them, James reserves some of the most biting criticism in all of scripture:

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the crust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. (5:2-6)

James recommends detachment from the cycles of lust and greed which lead to war and oppression. By holding our tongues, by keeping silence, we still the frustration, the anger and the anguish that lead to violence. By concerning ourselves with the well-being of others who are poor, we shift focus away from our own wants and needs and lusts.

Patience is "unto the coming of the Lord" (5:7). It is not enough to free ourselves of the external manifestations of impatience. It does not help if we carry grudges in our heart or if we seethe in silence. It is a complete transformation of the heart which is required, by placing all of our trust in God.

And how do we achieve this complete transformation and total trust? Through prayer. Whenever we are confronted with an evil that cannot be solved by compassionate action, we turn to God. Whenever we face a conflict among us because of some irresolvable difference, we are to step back, defer to the other, and pray for God to teach us and resolve the error. And that brings us to one of the favorite texts from James among LDS:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (1:5)

Wisdom is more than just knowing things. It is knowing how to navigate through a perilous world. It is knowing how to live with integrity when everything around us is trying to destroy the things that are truly valuable. It is letting go the ephemeral and focusing on the real.

And what is the real?


Monday, September 24, 2007

Missing Him in Advance

The last few weeks, we've been re-organizing our house. We've been living here now for eleven years, and we were really set up for two men and two female cats. We had to throw out a lot of junk (including tons of old books I accumulated during grad school that I never read and will never read). We installed shelves in the basement and moved lots of stuff down there. We got rid of the old futon, and then moved everything left in what used to be the old computer room into the old guest room.

Göran then patched, scrubbed and re-painted the old computer room. Last weekend a local furniture store was having its big annual sale, with discounts on everything and "0% financing until September 2008!!!" We bought a nice new bed and a dresser, which were delivered and installed Saturday. And voila! Now we have a kid's bedroom (pictured above).

Göran is still fussing and fretting about details. He actually put together a list of what we still need in order make the room more comfortable and homey. A mirror to put on the wall above his dresser. A rug for the floor. One of those cool wooden boxes on rollers that he can put toys and other stuff into, to keep under his bed. A book shelf. We plan to pay a visit to a certain Swedish discount home furnishings outlet to complete it.

As we were going over the checklist in our heads, and admiring the room together last night, I said, "I miss him."

Göran said, "I miss him too."

Is it really possible to miss someone you've never met?

We're still waiting for the licensing procedure to be completed. Only then can we discuss prospective placements. Minnesota just established a new finger-printing requirement at the last minute, and since nobody knows how to implement it, it's taken extra long to finalize our licensing. We've been through the nine hours of interviews, the home inspections, the criminal background checks, the nine hours of paperwork... Now we're being held up because some bureaucrat somewhere can't figure out what to do with our fingerprints. Yet the waiting is not bad. In my present spiritual path, I have learned that often when there is a delay, it's an opportunity to listen. It's an opportunity for that last little bit of preparation needed to make the anticipated moment perfect.

It's not that we're not ready. Before even beginning the process, we spent weeks discussing it with each other, each thinking it through on our own, talking to other parents, mapping out the scenarios, the costs and obstacles and challenges. I spent time praying. For a time we were checking in with each other regularly. "I'm 90% sure. How about you?" "Oh, I'm about 95%." We meet for lunch downtown every day, and one day for lunch, I said, "What percent are you?" He said, "Oh, I'm pretty much 100%. How about you?" I grinned back, "Oh, I've been 100% for a while."

And before that, before I even agreed to say "Yes, we'll think about it," when a social worker friend of mine asked if we'd be willing to become licensed foster parents, there was the experience I had while attending my parent's church in Springville, Utah in August 2006. I was sitting next to my parents in Sacrament Meeting, and the Spirit said to me, "You need to open yourself to taking care of children."

Ever since coming out, I just assumed I would never, ever have kids. No marriage, no kids. Göran has brought it up before and I've firmly said No. But here was the Spirit saying "You need to open yourself to taking care of children." And like so many other times before, my reply to the Spirit was, "I have no idea how we'll do that. But, OK."

And then came the social worker. Then our thinking and praying. And now the bedroom is ready. It could still be weeks or months till we get our first child. Impossible to know. And in some ways, it still feels a little bit crazy. But now as I look back over all of this, and I think, we're ready. Mentally, spiritually, and now domestic-arrangement-edly, we're ready. Except this one little bit more of waiting. Waiting for fingerprints. Waiting for a child.

And I miss him. I don't know how I can possibly miss someone I've never met. But I do miss him.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The God Delusion

I've been meaning to post this essay for some time, but never got around to it. This is the latest installment in a long-going discussion between me and some of my nerd buddies about God. At one point, we each read British atheist Richard Dawkins' recent book, The God Delusion and have been offering our own takes on it. Knight of Nothing posted about it, then GeistX. (Well, actually GeistX confessed to having only read half the book when he wrote his review, so I guess his is only half a review.) Here's my take on it.

First, my general impression of the book, and of Richard Dawkins. He spent the first few chapters of his book blaming all the evil in the world on religion. And nobody, including (or especially) the truly devout of any faith would find it at all difficult coming up with any number of examples in world history of religion gone horribly wrong. Using these as proof that belief in God is delusion (rather than proof of human faithlessness) doesn't seem terribly bright. Instead of trotting out all the worst behavior, you need to show that the best, noblest, and most compassionate behavior is incompatible with belief in God. And the fact that Dawkins didn't seem to get that didn't leave me terribly impressed.

He then pulled the same prank with scholastic arguments in favor of the existence of God. Yes, yes. There have been lots of really, really bad arguments over the ages used to "prove" the existence of God, and demonstrating the fallacy of a thousand bad arguments still doesn't make your point. You need to disprove the best arguments, not the worst. And I think that's where Dawkins fell short.

Finally, his argument about the basis for morality -- namely that morality is universal, that it clearly does not come from the Bible or from belief in God -- is not an argument against God. Mormons call that universal ability to discern right and wrong "the Light of Christ," which our scripture says is "in all things" (D&C 88:13), and in all human beings, regardless of what they believe or don't believe. Other people of faith call it simply "conscience."

These first few chapters consisted of Dawkins blowing up straw man after straw man, and then proudly flexing his muscles over them. If I had stopped half way through, I would have been left with a very unfavorable impression. It was only after I'd managed to hold my nose and wade through his initial arguments that things finally started getting interesting. Once Dawkins got off his high horse and started talking about what he truly loves -- Science -- I began to discover some grudging respect for him. By the end of the book, I decided that I truly liked the man, even if I disagreed with his views, because I believe he is truly a man of compassion, if a bit annoying.

What intrigued me most about the book was his evolutionary or "crane" argument against the existence of God. And this argument should be particularly interesting to Mormons. Because the meat of Dawkins's argument was that something as vast and complex as the Universe could not be designed by something that was itself not far more complex than the Universe. In other words, a God capable of designing the Universe would himself have to come into being as the result of a long evolutionary process. This, Dawkins persuasively argues, is the only kind of God who could possibly exist. This very notion, of course, is at the heart of the Mormon conception of God, and is the key to understanding our relationship with him.

This alone, while interesting, remains theoretical without proof. And for devout Mormons (as well as for many other people of faith) the proof is in revelation. I will note that Dawkins had no argument at all against revelation other than sheer mockery. It was the "bah humbug" argument against revelation. Revelation "may be," to quote Scrooge, "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato." After making fun of a number of people of his acquaintance who heard things "go bump in the night," and got scared into belief in God, Dawkins essentially says, You may say you've received a revelation, but you can't make me believe it. My response is, don't believe in it then.

For Mormons, personal revelation plays a central role in our faith. Joseph Smith taught that we cannot be saved without it. So every Latter-day Saint expects to be the recipient of direct revelation from God, and many, though not all, have received such revelations. Most who have had this experience, as I have, would say that it is unmistakable, impossible to confuse with the call of an unfamiliar bird in the Australian wilderness, or an optical illusion of a face in the curtains, or the result of indigestion caused by a crumb of cheese.

It is possible to doubt or disbelieve such experiences. That's why, ultimately, we call it "faith." The term in the New Testament that is translated as "faith" could probably more appropriately be translated as "trust." And ultimately, whether to trust human reason alone versus some experience of transcendence -- no matter how intense that experience is -- is a matter of choice. Or, more appropriately, it is a matter of conscience.

For me, the decision to trust that revelation flowed from the fact that the revelation itself could best be described as an experience of the purest, most intense, most unconditional love. And I realized that to embrace it, while risky, would lead me into the path of that love, while to ignore it or turn away from it would leave me diminished and cut off. I chose to accept the risk and trust. I have never regretted it.

Mormons believe that we existed in the beginning in God's presence, and that we voluntarily agreed to enter a realm in which our memories of previous life with God would be blotted out and our awareness of God's existence would be muted. The reason for this was that we could not, in essence, learn the lessons we needed to learn with God constantly looking over our shoulders. We could only learn to stand on our own two feet and develop a mature moral consciousness in an environment which was essentially "godless".

By cultivating conscience, and by listening, we might eventually recover the awareness of God we once had -- through revelation. The path of revelation can lead us from light to greater light. Each new step in the process by which God reveals himself to us requires some new sacrifice, some higher level of risk and trust. And an unmistakable sign that the path is genuine is that we in fact more and more begin to resemble God in the trait that defines him so fundamentally that John the Evangelist described him by saying he is it: Love. So everything hinges on conscience.

In other words, whether or not we believe in God, the primary test of this life is to see how well we lend ourselves to that aspect of human nature which Dawkins himself agrees to be universal. So my answer to Dawkins is, believe what you wish, but do not neglect justice, mercy, and compassion. If you are willing to give your life for these things, if you spend your days concerned with "the least among us," the transcendent knowledge will eventually be added, if not in this life, in the next.

I believe Richard Dawkins to be a man of compassion, so I wish him well, and I trust he is in the path we all ought to be in.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Gay Ward?

Lately I've been wishing for a gay ward.

In my gay ward, you would all be members. The married MOM Mohos (with wives and kids, of course), the celibate eunuch Mohos. And then there would be the excommunicated same-sex partnered Mohos with testimonies. (So far just me. Anyone else out there?)

If there are enlightend Mohets, they're welcome too. And I bet I could even convince my partner to attend a ward like that.

But you wouldn't have to worry about saying certain unmentionables over the pulpit in Sacrament meeting. There would be no holds barred in Priesthood Meeting, Relief Society and Sunday School discussions. If something is troubling us, if we were struggling with something, we would talk about it, instead of holding it inside and feeling all alone and achy and broken in silence. When one of us is struggling with doubt, others would be there to reassure.

No one would sit in Church alone. And every Sunday, free hugs for whoever needs them!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nourishing the Tree

There are a lot of things going right in my life right now.

Teaching has been my life's ambition, and I'm finally getting ready to teach as adjunct faculty at United Theological Seminary in the Spring. I've been mapping out class lectures, discussions and readings, putting together course materials, including a detailed bibliography of American Religious History, covering the whole gamut: from Puritans and Indians to New Agers, from Andover to Zen. I am thrilled by the intellectual challenge of teaching again, and am looking forward to new relationships and friendships with students and with other faculty.

I'm working on a book on homosexuality and the Church, and I have a great lead on a publisher. More importantly, as I've continued to "search the scriptures," I feel I've made some conceptual breakthroughs, and am excited about writing the last chapter. And I realize that the greatest accomplishment of writing this book has been the personal journey that has accompanied the writing.

My relationship with my partner is growing in incredible ways, including that he has finally come to a point of basic acceptance of my desire to renew my relationship with the LDS Church. And we are getting ever closer to becoming foster parents, which is something we feel both excited and humbled by. We celebrated our 15th anniversary in August, and I realize that our bond with each other and love for one another is more profound and more grounded and nurturing to us than ever. I feel so incredibly lucky.

Sunday, I had an amazing meeting with my bishop. Each time I talk with him, I leave with such an incredible sense of joy and peace, and I feel so incredibly loved. I feel motivated to do better, and feel so incredibly grateful that the Lord has called him to be in the position where he is.

In my personal life, I am becoming aware of the blessings that have come by exercising ever-increasing discipline in my life in terms of daily prayer and scripture study; avoiding pornography and exercising greater discipline over my thoughts; "guarding my heart"; obeying the Word of Wisdom; and faithful Church attendance. I find the "calm center" in my life expanding, helping to make me a more effective instrument of peace and love. I notice that things that used to really bother me just don't any more. I've noticed some significant milestones.

I remember the first time I re-read Alma 32, and the parable of the seed. At the time, I knew the seed was good, because I could feel it "sprouting" in my heart. That was the only proof I had! That was almost two years ago. I feel like I've come to a place in the journey now, where "behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us" (Alma 32:37). I'm actually seeing the growth, something more than just a "sprout," and it's exciting, and I actually want to keep nourishing it!

I am aware that all the good things that have come into my life have come because I treated each day as a new day, a day when mistakes made yesterday could be fixed, when progress from yesterday didn't matter because I still had more miles to go. Each day is a new day when I either turn my heart toward God and say, "Here am I. What would you have me do?" or when I turn my heart away from God and start getting distracted or caught up in dramas of my own creation. Blessing and cursing is always right there on the threshold. I choose.

I am aware that good things don't always last. It does not matter how well things are going. What matters is the orientation of my heart. I realize that as good as things are going, if my eye is not fixed on Christ and on the path he's shown, I can slip from joy to hopelessness in an instant.

Sorrow doesn't last forever either. It does not matter how poorly things are going. If I focus on the simple things, the basic things, the most important things; if I change the little things I can change; I find that things gradually get better.

Joy comes from being loyal and loving; asking God for the gift of the Spirit's presence; always remembering that I am not entitled to the Spirit, but that it is a gift; remembering my place in the scheme of things; and opening my heart to correction. First principles always count, every day of my life: faith, repentance.

It's a new day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Apostles

-L- recently posted on Northern Lights about Elder Boyd K. Packer's controversial statement regarding feminists, gays, and "so-called intellectuals." This sparked some conversation about the notorious 1976 conference talk (eventually published as the pamphlet For Young Men Only), which RealNeal quoted:
"There are some men who entice young men to join them in these immoral acts. If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that, it is time to vigorously resist."

“I hit my companion….I floored him”

“Oh, is that all? Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.”

“I am not recommending that course to you, but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself.”

While I respect -L-'s position that we always have a choice about how we receive and interpret statements made by Church leaders, here's how I, as an LDS youth took this...

As a boy I idolized Elder Packer. He was (and is) a great orator. I admired his forthright, down-to-earth style. I was moved by his stories and metaphors. Most importantly, as an LDS youth growing up in an affluent, worldly suburb of Rochester, New York, I was inspired by the focus of so much of his teaching on what it meant as a Latter-day Saint to live "in the world but not of it."

I took this particular talk deeply to heart. In my High School Health Class, we had a teacher who liked to teach by sharing stories or scenarios which members of the class were then invited to comment on. One of the stories he shared involved a couple of young men going to a gay bar, where they identified potential victims and then later assaulted them. I raised my hand, took a deep breath, and then said, "If it helped teach them the error of their ways, I think it was a good thing." Then, as now, I abhorred violence, and rationally this seemed like an extreme position. But I specifically remembered that talk by Boyd K. Packer, and in my teenage mind, the logic of that talk compelled me to take such an extreme position. My own doctrinal innovation, I guess, was that it was for the faggots' own good.

Members of my health class were appalled. One by one they raised their hands and wanted to debate me, but I held my ground. Later, after class, I was approached by a boy who had remained silent throughout the debate. This was a guy I had never particularly liked, because he was a bully. He told me how much he admired me for taking the position that I did and defending it, even though it was unpopular. "I believe everything you said," he told me, "but I wouldn't have the courage to say it." I actually felt a bit sick to my stomach about that; I had a sort of "What have I done?" feeling.

It's still painful for me to reflect on that experience. I've wondered what relation this might have had to my later suicidal intentions as a junior at BYU. If I truly believed that violence against homosexuals was justified, was it a leap to direct that violence inwardly, toward myself?

-L- is right. As an adult, I have the power to reason, to question, and to think for myself. And I may take what Church leaders teach to a positive or a negative place. But how much independent thought is a young teenage boy capable of, especially one who idolizes the speaker whose thoughts he is supposed to be evaluating? And when we live in a culture where violence against gays is an all-too-pervasive reality (both my partner and I have been victims of it), what responsibility does a Church leader describing an incident of anti-gay violence have to provide context and explain exactly what he means by self-defense?

I have a testimony in relation to the leaders of the Church. It has been reinforced in numerous ways, through personal prayer and private spiritual experiences as well as through my renewed attendance at conference, where once again I am learning powerful lessons from Church leaders -- including Elder Packer. This story is not proof to me of a "fallen apostle" or a "fallen church." It's not my intention to add my voice here to the chorus of Elder Packer's critics, because I have learned so many positive things from him. In a sense, much of the moral courage I have learned over the years is attributable to the teaching I received from him. I do see this story, perhaps, as an illustration of the kinds of human shortsightedness we're all subject to, and of the responsibilities leaders and teachers in the Church have to those who are led and taught.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This is My Priesthood

It is praying until I feel enough of the love of God that I will have something to share with others.

It is refusing to judge others, no matter how unkind they are, and not letting their judgments ruffle my inmost calm.

It is being willing to wait for the work of God to accomplish itself in my life in its own time.

It is spending more time at the local homeless shelter when volunteers are needed to serve meals or host overnight.

It is not getting bent out of shape when someone says or implies that I am a bad person.

It is preferring to let others have the last word, rather than poison our relationship with bitterness or contention.

It is letting others think what they want to think, and figure things out on their own.

It is trusting that the Spirit is at work without having to fix everything myself.

It is leaping to the defense of others before I leap to my own defense.

It is being willing to serve in whatever way others are willing to use me.

It is going where I need to go, even when it is frightening.

It is doing what I need to do, even when my heart is broken.

It is being broken-hearted enough to learn what I need to learn.

It is offering my service, even when my service will be rejected.

It is being cheerful, even when others are agitated, rude, or frightened.

It is reminding those who feel unloved that they are loved.

It is performing even unpleasant tasks thoroughly and without complaint.

It is never taking my loved ones for granted.

It is praying more for others than for myself.

It is enjoying the gifts of God with thanksgiving.

It is giving more money to help the poor.

It is discerning that which is beneath the surface.

It is making myself an instrument of peace.

It is holding sacred that which is sacred.

It is actively seeking greater light and understanding.

It is doing these things without being noticed.

It is listening in the quiet.

It is putting on Christ.

When I have mastered this, my Heavenly Father will grant me greater priesthoods.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Among the Saints

You know, some Sundays I go to Church and it feels like hardly anybody notices. And yesterday I was feeling all melodramatic about it. But today I arrive, and the first person I see is my bishop. Even though he's busy talking to a new member, he stops to give me a big smile and reach out and pat me on the shoulder and greet me. Then I go in and sit in my usual place, and the second counselor makes a point of walking all the way over and shaking hands with me and welcoming me. Then Brother B., who is sitting in his usual place several rows in front turns back and sees me sitting all alone, so he gets up and walks over, and he says, "Do you mind if I sit with you today?" His wife was out of town at a retreat. Then Sister T. and Sister J. greet me and they sit down on the other side. And by this time I'm feeling distinctly unlonely.

So after Sacrament meeting, I get up the courage, and I ask Brother B., "Would it be OK if, once in a while, I could sit with you and Sister B. in Sacrament Meeting? It gets kinda lonely back here sometimes." And Brother B. says, "Of course!" And then Sister P., who's sitting right in front of us, happens to overhear, and she turns around and says, "You can sit with us too, any time!" And I know she means it, because Sister P. and I have had a special bond, ever since she roped me into participating in a special July 4th multi-stake choir event. Actually, ever since she made me cry when she gave a talk in Sacrament meeting about forgiveness and the Atonement.

And it just continued that way all day. To top it all off, the Gospel Essentials Sunday School teacher was on vacation, so I actually got to participate in the class discussion. Of course, somehow the class discussion also drifted from the plan of salvation to UFO's, and how all the names of all the mountains on the dark side of the moon have Russian names. (Don't ask. That was definitely not my fault.)

But it was almost as if God had gotten a message to somebody. Or maybe somebody in my ward reads my blog. I don't know.

The hard thing for me is not being able to participate fully the way I'd like. But it's not the Saints. No, I think the Saints understand about love. I really believe that. And I am so, so grateful. And that's why I am there; because that is how we all learn to love.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

What Kind of Tears Are These?

Earlier today I was just doing the laundry, folding clothes. And it just hit me.

I saw my whole life up to this point. Everything. All the people. Everything that has ever mattered to me.

I never thought I'd be where I am today. I miss holding the priesthood. I miss having a calling in the Church. I miss being safe in the fellowship of the Saints. I hate feeling like a stranger in my own ward. I hate there being only so far people will go with me. I hate feeling like people are afraid of me because I'm dangerous somehow. Being afraid of just saying what's on their minds. I hate being afraid of telling my story, the whole unexpurgated heart-wrenching version.

And yet I can hardly wait to go to Church tomorrow. I missed it last week because we went camping. How is it that when I miss even one week it feels like I've been gone for a year?

And yet so often I feel like a cypher, a shadow there. I always sit on the back pew. I remember when I was a kid, I remember there was some guy, I overheard some folks saying he had been excommunicated. He always used to sit on the very back pew. I always loved the Church so much, with my whole heart. I never thought I'd be that guy. The excommunicated guy sitting at the back alone. And yet...

Still, I don't know how to explain this. None of that matters. I don't feel pain. I feel longing and unrequited love. But not pain. I don't feel angry. I can't complain for anything. I love my life, I love my home, I love my friends, my neighbors. I love being part of this MoHo blogging thing. I love you. I have the best family in the world. I love my writing. I love that I'm going to be a teacher in the spring. I love the Church. I love my partner. I can't even say how wonderful that is. I love that we are going to be foster parents (though I can scarcely believe it still). My life is filled with love, love that grows more profound and better every day. My life is full of the Spirit. I go to Church and I feel as whole and complete as I possibly can be. That's where I need to be. Where I can grow. Everything is as it should be, the Spirit says.

How can this be? How can nothing be like what it's supposed to be, like what I expected, and yet everything better than I ever could have dreamed?

Still, I miss it. I pray for what Alma told Corianton: "It is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order." Things are broken. They're out of joint. I want it all to be whole, restored to its proper order.

It's come back to me several times, this longing for wholeness, and every time it's come to me this afternoon, and even now, I cry. But I can't tell what kind of tears these are. Tears of sadness, or tears of joy, or tears of holy expectation.

Friday, September 7, 2007

My Take on M & P*

What MoHo blog would be complete without at least one discussion of these endlessly fascinating topics?

P. Observation number one. To my way of thinking, using P is a subset of a larger issue that has to do with maintaining virtuous thoughts and guarding one's heart. Jesus said, "Whosoever looketh upon a woman [or, by extension, upon any other person] to lust after her [or him] hath committed adultery with her [or him] already in his heart." What we're not talking about here is the instinctive way our heart leaps when we see a beautiful person. What we are talking about here is deliberately harrowing up lustful thoughts and fantasies while looking at people in a certain, objectifying, ravenous way. It does not matter whether the looking is being done via the photographic lens in print, on the Internet, with a video, or while you're walking your dog when some shirtless hottie runs past. It does not matter if someone has labeled it as pornography, or whether it is a TV commercial, a segment in a movie, a billboard or a print ad. This leads to...

Observation number two. The critical ingredient is where we go with the manifold stimuli that bombard us in this very photographic, very visual culture we live in. Unless we spend the rest of our lives at the top of some isolated mountain peak in Utah or hide in a cabin it the north woods of Minnesota, we cannot help but be exposed to images of the human body that were specifically designed to arouse lustful curiosity.

But even if all the images were gone, we would still walk among humanity. We would still be surrounded by people -- beautiful, glorious people who awaken this hunger in us that reminds us we are alive and human. How do we respond to these circumstances? The law of chastity teaches us to respond in a way that honors others, and that honors ourselves and the sanctity of our feelings. It teaches us to respond in a way that reserves our most intense feelings for contexts of intimacy and love with the partner we have chosen to walk with through life. But achieving this is ultimately a discipline of the mind and heart. This leads to...

Observation number three. No one comes into this world with perfect discipline and mastery of their hearts and minds. That is what we are here to learn. So we will make mistakes. It will be difficult at first. We will slip and fall and get frustrated. So what? Mastery is in the future. Just get up and keep trying again. The quest for a peaceful, disciplined heart is a lifetime achievement. We will continue working at it years after the last time we have perused a pornographic magazine.

Observation number four. Why are we obsessed with pornographic images? I had a dream that granted me some insight into this. In the dream, I am looking at myself naked in a full-length mirror. But the mirror is broken into different pieces, so the image of me looks fragmented. My head is over here, my torso is over there, my genitals are over there. I am trying to figure out how to find an image of me that is whole.

I think we look at images of the human body and images of sex as a kind of mirror. We are trying to see ourselves in the images, figure out how we fit together. We are trying to reconcile our bodies, minds, and spirits. For gay men living in a straight culture, the fragmentation is more extreme, and the hunger to figure out what it means to live in these bodies, with these desires, correspondingly more painful. I think that's what the itch to use P is about. The closer I come to unity of mind, body and spirit, into an integrated, living soul, the less I feel the need to peruse the fragmented print and video images. For me it has been over six months, and I don't feel the need to go back, and it feels very good.

Even without P, I still have to work at maintaining virtuous thoughts and guarding my heart. As I do, I find the Spirit a much more constant companion in my life.

M. Observation number one. The principle at work in relation to M, I have come to conclude, is not to let ourselves get overtaken with hunger. To be masters of our bodies, not be mastered by them. It's a principle not fundamentally different from the problem of over-eating or cultivating bad sleep habits or indulging in any habitual vice.

But is M a vice like over-eating or over-sleeping, where we say just enough is OK but too much is bad? If so, how much is "just enough"? Once a year? Once a month? Once every morning, just after we wake up? Seldom enough to pass periodic worthiness interviews? Or is M a vice like smoking or eating at McDonalds, where no amount is ever healthy? Where complete abstinence is best?

In the periods of my life (including recently) when I have abstained for long periods of time from M, I have been blessed with wet dreams. I never thought I might have wet dreams in my forties. But there you have it, that's what happens, I've found, when I "save myself." This leads me to believe that just as our bodies eat and breathe and sleep, it is also just a normal, natural facet of living in a male body that we periodically become aroused and emit semen. If I get too twitterpated, I suspect this has something to do with normal physiological reactions, and I think there is no sin in relieving myself, just as there is no sin when my body takes the initiative and relieves itself in sleep through a wet dream. The problem is when I engage in M in a way that is habitual or abusive.

Observation number two. What is habitual? When I don't particularly feel the need, but I engage in M anyway because I'm bored. Because I feel numb and I want to feel something intense. I usually don't feel good after engaging in M under these circumstances.

What is abusive? When I see some gorgeous guy walking down the street, and I indulge in lustful fantasies about him, and then that makes me want to find someplace private and indulge in M. Or when I use P. In these circumstances, M becomes a way of intensifying a pattern of thought that violates the sanctity of heart and feeling I find it so important to guard, as I've discussed above in relation to P.

What is necessary? If you are going out of your mind, if you're crawling out of your skin, I say it is better to M than to burn.

Observation number three. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that our body's built-in capacity to experience pleasure is inherently good, and that M as an expression of that is also inherently good, no different from enjoying a glorious sunset, or a healthy meal, or a good night's sleep.

But I will also say that enjoying M can often be a lesser good. Learning self-mastery and saving oneself for a spouse may be greater goods.

The Sufi poet Rumi described M as "growing one's feathers," part of the process of sexual maturation. He did not think it helpful to shame people for indulging in it. I like his approach. Just as I think using P may be a desperate search to integrate our image of ourselves, habitual M may also be an effort to situate ourselves in our bodies, to grow the feathers that will eventually help us to fly within the context of a loving relationship. Again, the greater the integrity we achieve, the easier it will be to find a balance of self-pleasure and self-discipline that is appropriate.

Integrity of body and spirit is our ultimate goal. That is part of what we came here to earth to achieve.

*For those of you unfamiliar with MoHo blog publishing standards, M stands for (read it in a whisper) "MASTURBATION" and P for "PORNOGRAPHY."

Waiting for Healing

Last night I got a call from a friend who is in a lot of pain right now. It was late. He called me because he could not sleep. He told me a little about the circumstances. I wished I had had advice or insight to give, but I didn't, so we just did what friends do. We talked. We enjoyed the comfort of friendship. It didn't particularly matter what we talked about, I don't think. Only that we did talk, that for an hour that felt far, far too short, we listened to the sound of each other's voices, we laughed together, we talked about our feelings and frustrations, our goals and our hopes. We talked until he felt enough peace and enough comfort to find rest. I hope he slept well afterward.

This morning in my prayers he was still with me. I felt this kind of nausea, this kind of pain in my gut. Maybe it was worry. I'm not sure what kind of pain is worse. Your own pain, or the pain of someone you love. Because at least with your own pain, you know the measure of it. With someone else's pain, you don't know. And you feel powerless. All you can do is pray. All you can do is hope that somehow your friendship adds balm, that it diminishes the pain. But when you can't make the source of the pain go away, even that feels so horribly inadequate.

And even prayer under those circumstances reminds you of your helplessness in the face of the pain. God may heal, eventually. But in the meantime all you can do is wait.

Dear friend, you know who you are. I am waiting with you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Husband the Jedi

Recently, Göran joined the Temple of the Jedi Order.

Before trying to explain what this is, I need to explain what it isn't. It isn't a Star Wars fan club. It isn't a role-playing game. It isn't a joke.

It is an effort to build a spiritual community, using the heroic image of the Jedi Knights developed in George Lucas' Star Wars series as a model for personal spiritual development. In developing the Star Wars stories, George Lucas himself drew on the thinking and writing of Joseph Campbell, an American mythology professor who has studied all of the major religious traditions and reflected deeply on the relationship between myth and psyche. So it is no coincidence that powerful spiritual themes were developed in the Star Wars saga, and not entirely unlikely that fans of the films might feel moved to use them as a springboard for personal spiritual growth.

You don't have to leave whatever religion you belong to in order to join the Temple of the Jedi Order. In fact, they encourage you to be faithful to whatever religious tradition you belong to. Nor do they exclude people based on religious affiliation. They even let Mormons join! Nor is affiliation with any religion required. It is apparently also possible to be an "Orthodox Jedi," though so far only one person has volunteered for that since, Göran tells me, it requires a vow of total poverty.

Some of the principles of the Temple of the Jedi Order emphasize the sanctity of every human being, regardless of outward characteristics such as gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality, ability, etc.; renunciation of torture and all forms of cruelty; democracy, freedom and self-determination as basic governing principles for all human order; tolerance in relation to others who believe differently from yourself; embracing the spiritual values taught in all of the major religions of the world; and striving within whichever religious tradition you belong to, to correct error and promote the highest good.

To be a Jedi, you must "Believe in the Force and its power. A Jedi is devoted to the Force."

Now I know some of you are rolling your eyes and saying, "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid." But I knew this thing was for real when, a couple of Sundays ago, our pastor at Lyndale United Church of Christ preached a sermon on spiritual discipline (incorporating daily prayer, scripture study, meditation and fasting into our personal lives), and Göran sat up and actually got excited about the sermon. After the service, he approached Pastor Don and actually wanted to discuss it more with him, something I've never seen him do. But the day I really knew something was up was when he told me, "I guess it's OK that you are a Mormon. The Force teaches respect for the many different ways back to the One." Wow. That almost brought a tear to my eye.

Göran has been taking karate lessons for years. He's serious about it, not just as a discipline for the body, but as a discipline for the soul. Now the Jedi are giving him a structure for spiritual discipline. Yesterday he was excited because he had been contacted by a Jedi master living in Germany. He had taken note of some of the generosity and conciliatory spirit in Göran's on-line interactions with members of the community. Would Göran consider, he asked, becoming a padawan?

Göran felt that before saying yes, he needed to come clean about the fact that he was gay. The master who contacted him is a Christian, and Göran wanted to make sure he was OK with the fact that Göran and I have been in a relationship for fifteen years. There was a bit of suspense waiting for the response. This was as much a test of the Jedi Order as it was of Göran. Soon, however, the answer came back. "No problem," was the response, "It does not matter who you love, just that you love."

Now, to paraphrase Obi Wan, my honey pie is taking his first steps into a larger world.

There Are No Answers, There Is Only the Way

Over Labor Day weekend, Göran and I went camping with our friend Jonathan in western Minnesota at Lac Qui Parle. This lake, formed by a damming of the Minnesota River, is situated on the eastern edge of what used to be a great sea of millions of acres of prairie, stretching out over most of the great plains from Minnesota in the north, to Oklahoma in the south, from Missouri in the east, to Colorado in the west. Like the Lakota Indians who used to live here, the prairie itself has been pushed onto minuscule reservations. Now the only prairie left in Minnesota consists of a handful of acres of small patches of prairie "preserve" managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Some theorize that the lake was named "Lac Qui Parle" ("Lake That Speaks") by the French because the bird life was so varied and abundant there, it seemed that the lake was constantly speaking to its visitors in the cawing, honking, and singing of its birds. But the lake speaks in other ways too. The veil feels particularly thin to me there. I have had many vivid dreams there that tell me more about where I am and where I need to be in my life's journey. There I have felt the presence of the Spirit with particular clarity. The time I spend there is a time when rising with the sun for scripture study and prayer seems particularly profitable, a time for meditating and writing and enjoying the wind and the sun, the water, the woods and the fields.

I often come to this place with questions, uncertainty, and sometimes anguish that I bring with me from the rough-and-tumble of day-to-day life. This past weekend, many of you were with me there in mind and heart, because of the questions and uncertainty I've read in your blogs, and because they are my questions and my uncertainty too. As gay men, why don't we have more understanding of our role in the plan of salvation? Why do our leaders tell us that they just don't know, when these are answers that some of us literally cannot live without, that too many of us literally die without? But the first night I was there, I had a powerful dream, and woke up early in the morning, before sunrise. The Spirit was there very powerfully, reassuring me. I got up and went for a walk down across the prairie, through a patch of nearby woods enjoying the sense of peace and gratitude that comes with such revelations.

I once thought answers were so easy. Just pull out -- or demolish -- a few scripture texts. But interpreting scripture won't save us. And the most anguished questions aren't amenable to answering through prooftexting. I've come to accept that for some questions there simply are no "answers." I've prayed and pleaded for them, and the only answer I've ever received was that the "whys" are not for me to know yet. Instead of answers, we have a relationship with God, our Heavenly Father, and with the Savior, our elder brother. Our Father and our Savior call us to a way of being and a way of walking through the world that must teach us patience, kindness, and happiness. If we truly listen to our conscience and to the Spirit, and if we learn to simply trust, I know that we will all come through safely.