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.


tito said...

John, you are quite possibly one of the most humble and good men I have ever met... Thank you, sincerely, for striving with such sincerity to live in tune with the Holy Spirit. All of us will be better for it as we strive to follow your example.

-L- said...

There are a million things I've written and then retracted (or not retracted but just regretted... or not retracted or regretted, just changed my mind). It's just life. And what I love about online publishing is that it ISN'T vetted through all the checks and balances to make it perfect. It speeds up the dialog and the exchange. But then you do have those little side-effects of regretting a few things and having legions of cranky people just waiting to kick you when you're down.

As for the content in question, I appreciate your faith in Elder Holland, and I appreciate the honesty you've used in your assessment. Evolving opinions are so much better in my opinion (maybe that's why I love Mitt Romney!).

All the best,

J G-W said...

Tito - I actually felt pretty awful yesterday. And I still feel conflicted about this stuff. I'm still working through things. But when I wrote this piece this morning, I felt a huge burden go off my shoulders. I realized that by dwelling on some of the pain and anger I felt yesterday, I was cutting myself off this whole world of learning and growth that is only possible if I let go of the anger and open myself to listen. I remember what the darkness was like. I don't want to get stuck there again. I don't feel admirable at all, but thanks for your support, because that makes me feel much better too. 'Nuff said.

-L- Thank you. That makes me feel slightly better too. Thanks for reminding me that this is about learning and growing.

Beck said...

Not to rock the boat here, but your comments about creating "wedges" within our families still bothers me. What you said is true. Are you retracting that?

I appreciate your humility and I can see the desire to see Elder Holland's comments in the bigger picture for the betterment of the Church at large. I really do. I don't mean to make you reconsider your pleading for forgiveness - but, isn't there a but there somewhere that can be thoughtful questioning instead of crticism or kicking against the pricks?

J G-W said...

Beck - What really bothered me was the position (implicit and explicit) in some of the comments I made on the Northern Lights blog in relation to Elder Holland's teaching authority on the subject of same-sex attraction.

The "wedge-driving" comment was bad in that it ascribed uncharitable motives to certain General Authorities. I made that comment because I was feeling sick and crabby, and I already addressed it in the comments section of that post. I am concerned about how parents might interpret the comments about not permitting inappropriate behavior under their rooves. I guess I do prefer to keep my comments focussed on interpreting statements like this in the proper spirit, rather than attacking the statement itself (or the General Authority making the statement).

This is where I think discussion is appropriate - on our feelings, our reactions, our lives, our efforts to apply gospel principles to our lives. Yes, we can question. Yes, we can discuss. Yes we can feel hurt and express our hurt. That's what I've done. And I wouldn't -- I couldn't! -- retract what I have said about my relationship or what it means to me.

However, I feel I crossed a line in terms of criticizing a General Authority in his capacity and his authority as a teacher. Even if no one else noticed that I crossed that line, I felt that line being crossed. It felt cold, empty and bad. And acknowledging that, and saying I want to go back and start over with this and wrestle with my feelings of pain and anxiety honestly, but without inappropriate criticism (either in my words or in my heart) felt very, very good. I prefer to keep it on that level.

I love Elder Holland. I want to learn from him. I trust him when he says he loves us. I would love to have a dialogue with him some day. I would like to keep my discussion on-line and in person (and in the quiet of my own heart) at that level.

Behind the Infamous Veil said...

I don't know. One of the things I really, really hate about my Church is that I have never felt the freedom to criticize or oppose anyone in leadership. It always has to be held in, and a calm, smiling countenance must be presented to the world, even when you are seething inside. I think this is wrong. If we in the Church are brothers and sisters, we ought to be able to let our frustrations out. If you can do it with your Heavenly Father, and with your parents, why can't you do it with us? We all know your heart and how hard you are trying to be loyal and faithful to the Gospel.

A lot of my blog is just me blowing off steam over something that has me agitated. OK, maybe I should go to my Heavenly Father about my concerns. Maybe I shouldn't be critical of my leaders. I know that a lot of bloggers have the wrong impression about my activity in the Church because of some of the negative things I have said. But being free to say what I please in this space has kept me sane. I have had my own suicidal moments, and these come when I have nowhere to go with my frustrations.

The times when I have appeared to my friends and my ward to be a perfect Molly, mother of eight with three callings, never critical of my leaders, are the dark times that I have come close to ending it all.

In addition, I love your faithful, repentant moments, but one of the reasons I come to your blog is to hear your frustrations and how you deal with them. I say, let it all out!

Chedner said...

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?"

It sounds like you don't have Windows Vista.

Digression aside, I've often felt the regret you've expressed. I often have a really tough time with what the Brethren have said and do say, and when expressing my frustrations, I have often belittled the Brethren’s efforts (which are well intended), and I know that’s not the Christlike thing to do.

Unfortunately, my heart is not as soft as yours, and I’m still on the “grumble, grumble... I’m gonna complain about the Brethren...” slide of things. Hopefully that will change (your example is a good start for me).

J G-W said...

BIV - (HEY! I just noticed you managed to keep the same initials through your move. Gee, I'm fast.) - I actually feel good about this. I feel very peaceful. I don't feel like I'm bottling up. I don't feel like if I'd kept my mouth shut (or kept my fingers off the keyboard) I would have been bottling up. I feel like I need to just still my heart and listen. This feels right.

As I said in response to Beck, I'm not advocating not expressing ourselves. I think it is possible to express yourself, and still keep a posture of listening, and express yourself in a way that still honors the role of those called to be our leaders.

Anonymous said...

sorry, i didn't see your response as a direct criticism of a g.a., but as a lament, an appeal for understanding.

i wish there had been more criticism of js's banking experiments, of polygamy, of by's rhetoric, of institutional racism, and so on.

there's a difference between respectful criticism and denial of decision-making authority.

Chris said...

I'm coming late to this discussion. Sorry about that, but I was on vacation.

John, I very much admire your humility. (I have no opinion on your feelings of regret -- those are yours and they are what they are.) But I also very much appreciated your criticisms, which I thought were constructive and reasonable. When I attempt to read Elder Holland's article charitably, it strikes me as ignorant. When I set aside the charitable lens and just let myself feel, it strikes me as insulting and patronizing.

When I came out and left the Church, I lost my standing. My opinions now are dismissed because of my apostate status; my criticisms are frequently viewed as evidence of bitterness and misdirected anger. (Oh, what a change from when I was a bishop...) So I, for one, am glad you posted your criticisms. To faithful LDS Church members, they mean a lot more coming from you than they do coming from someone like me.

(Oh, one last thing... Elder Holland has always been a favorite of my boyfriend as well, even now as he is several years out of the church.)

J G-W said...

Chris - All I can say is that the turmoil I felt when I was wanting to argue with or criticize Elder Holland gave way to peace and contentment, once I decided that a better posture for me was to shut up and listen.

I also experienced, interestingly enough, a much purer sense of joy in my relationship with my partner. I have felt guided by the Holy Spirit to be faithful to my partner and to honor all my commitments to him. But I have also felt guided by the Spirit to avoid a spirit of criticism and contention, especially vis-a-vis the leaders of the Church. When I violated my pledge to God to observe the latter prompting, I found it tarnished the joy I felt in following the former prompting. I know to some this might sound kind of weird or spooky, but there you have it. I have to be guided by that inner light in all of its particulars, or I will be truly lost.

Finally, I'll say that once I let go the Spirit of criticism, a very powerful and helpful insight was opened up to me in reflecting on Elder Holland's words. I may blog more about this later... But for now I can simply say this was proof of another principle, that blessings come from letting go our personal agendas, opening ourselves up and listening.

Chris said...

...letting go our personal agendas, opening ourselves up and listening.

I'm not sure what you mean by this, but perhaps I should just wait patiently for you follow up post.

J G-W said...

What I mean by this is that we have a tendency to filter everything related to the issue of homosexuality and the Church through a political argument. Part of this has to do with the need we often feel to justify ourselves or rationalize our existence and our choices. I've found this not so helpful.

I honestly think the only way forward is to lay down our arms. Let go of our defenses (which means acknowledging that we still have things to learn, releasing our assumption that others don't understand us or don't care about us), letting go of our attacks (our criticism or condemnation of others).

This is a vulnerable place to be. Maybe not everyone can go there until they feel strong enough. For me the strength comes from my relationship with God, and with the Holy Spirit. And that relationship is absolutely predicated on listening, faith, a willingness to repent; it's the same path we need to follow with each other.

I dunno... Does that answer your question?

Chris said...

I think it does, though I come at this from a very different place.

It seems to me that you are giving the LDS Church a pass on the issue, which I am unwilling to do. You speak of politics and agendas almost as though the LDS Church does not also possess them.

Perhaps we are unable to see eye-to-eye on this issue for one simple reason: you believe the Church to be God's, and I do not.

MoHoHawaii said...


I have respect for the path you are taking. And like you, I believe that our knowledge is incomplete, that others care for us and that confrontation in matters of belief is counter-productive. None of this is inconsistent with a purely secular worldview.

My issue, and I guess this is where I'm aligned with Chris, is that I just don't buy the more extravagant claims of LDS doctrine. To me it's the problem of Occam's Razor-- there is a complicated explanation and a simple (but more than adequate) explanation. I left the church because I was unable to sustain belief in such a complicated cosmology.

What I appreciate about you is that I feel safe in stating the depth of my unbelief with the knowledge that you will not judge me for that or feel as if I am disparaging your belief.

Also, I too appreciated your analysis of Elder Holland's remarks.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - Thank you. Your friendship, support, and kind words mean very, very much to me.

And yes, I hope you will always, always trust my absolute respect for you and for the integrity of your path.

Chris said...

John, for what it's worth, I echo Mohohawaii. I really appreciate your perspective and your openness to other paths and points of view on your blog.

When it comes to these issues, my elbows are sometimes sharp. I don't really feel the need to apologize for that, but I do appreciate that I can make my voice heard here without judgment from the blog host.

J G-W said...

Thanks, Chris. I know that you respect me, and I appreciate and am interested in your comments. You are most welcome here... (I've been enjoying your blog too!)

There's no basis for me to judge anyone here, given the peculiarities of my own circumstances. But then, for those of us who cling to the mercy seat of Christ, there is never any basis for anyone to judge anyone else under any circumstances.

Chris said...

But then, for those of us who cling to the mercy seat of Christ, there is never any basis for anyone to judge anyone else under any circumstances.

There's never any basis for those who don't cling to the mercy seat either.