Tuesday, September 4, 2007

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.


playasinmar said...

"...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..."

It's because they don't know. They have no idea.

J G-W said...

Playa - I can't argue with you there.

But in any event, our relationship with God and our peace of mind can't depend on that.

playasinmar said...

For our sanity's sake, it better not.

MoHoHawaii said...

Camping! Yay!

I'm with Playa S. M.: They have no idea.

My father once had a personal interview with a big name GA after I came out. (As a former stake president he had the connections needed to get such an audience.) After telling his story about my situation, my father got a frosty, exasperated response. "This issue causes so much trouble!" sputtered the Famous GA and shortly ended the interview with my father.

Bottom line: the Famous GA had nothing to contribute. My father presented very real, very heartfelt issues that involved a child he loved very much. The respected elder had nothing to say.

This happened a few years ago, but it made a deep impression on me at the time. I think it was also a turning point for my father as his church activity declined to the point of nonexistence.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - You are very fortunate to have a father who was willing to be an advocate for you (and, by extension, for all of us who are gay and Mormon). I am so thankful and heartened every time I hear about people who lovingly share our stories and try to get answers to some of the painful questions that we gay folks have had to struggle with on our own and all alone for a very, very, very long time. God bless your dad! If I ever come visit you in Hawaii, will I have a chance to meet him?

We know that our leaders are human. They are susceptible to error, just like the rest of us. They cannot possibly know everything, just like the rest of us. We Mormons know this. We remind ourselves of it in one-on-one conversations and over the pulpit. We believe our leaders to be inspired. But this is not the same thing as being infallible. God does not tell our leaders everything, because God expects them to work out their salvation, acquire knowledge, and learn compassion just like the rest of us. To make them somehow all-knowing, all-seeing and always right would require God to take away their agency and make them puppets in a way that would undermine the plan of salvation. We Mormons know this, or should know this.

And yet, we are shocked when we learn that our leaders can make mistakes, they can occasionally be short-sighted, they can even have glaring personal flaws. I can't fault anyone, not a single soul, for losing faith when confronted with such realities. I can fault your dad least of all, since he is clearly a man of compassion. I myself lost faith for a very long time, largely as a result of coming to terms with the flaws and failings in LDS Church leaders, from Joseph Smith to the present.

But, I come back with eyes wide open. I'm aware of the failings in all their pain and glory. Faith is about a relationship with God, not about idolizing leaders. Leaders are called to their positions because somebody has to do it. The Church has to have structure, there has to be discipline, there has to be an order of things. There has to be an organized way of teaching the principles that will help nurture our relationships with God. And in my experience, the Spirit does in fact use even flawed leaders to accomplish that purpose. The Spirit accomplishes that purpose in my ward every Sunday that I attend Church and have a chance to learn from my very human, very flawed, but also extremely wonderful, beautiful fellow Saints.

So while I once would have been terribly angry about the story you've shared, now it only makes me aware of why we are all here. Don't take this as criticism of anybody who's left the Church, by the way... Your dad felt he needed to choose between continuing activity in the Church and his love and compassion for his son, and I am so glad he chose compassion. But I hope we all can move forward and find a way to choose compassion for each other, even across these very painful differences. This is part of what I mean when I talk about "the way" being the answer -- it is the way we love each other in the final analysis, not the "answers" we acquire, that will count in the eternal scheme of things.

J G-W said...

Oh, and... Camping is GREAT. I love it. We always have a great time, have fun together, and bring home great memories.

GeckoMan said...

John, thanks for sharing. Having lived out in the prairies of western MN, I know and love the feeling you've described of wide open space. My poem, Outstretched Hand, describes such a place.

You have such a way of seeing THROUGH things to meaningful clarity; this is what I love about you. Your comments here to your post are illuminating to me. Thanks for being you.

On Labor Day I got my way, and took the family out of town to the base of the Superstition mountains for a little hike. Despite 100+ heat, we walked and climbed a small ways up the mountainside, admiring the rocks and cactus. Thankfully, when we desired to go no further we found a huge boulder lodged on the shoulder of the mountain that provided some shade and a moment to catch our breath. It's a grand thing to be with those you love and view the world from heightened perspective. Even in an environment as harsh and hot as the Sonoran Desert, there is great beauty and solace to be found.

J G-W said...

Geckoman - I was wondering if this post would make you homesick for the prairies.

We love the mountains too... Whenever we visit my parents, we make a point of doing as much mountain hiking as we can.

It seems like the mountain terrain in every part of the inter-mountain West is totally unique. One of my favorite places in the world is northern New Mexico. The mountains there were so breath-takingly beautiful, it made me cry when we had to leave. I would love to get to know Arizona better too. The name of the "Superstition Mountains" alone intrigues me!

-L- said...

I'm so behind on my blogging, it's shameful. But I've really enjoyed your last several posts, now that I've had a chance to read them. You are very wise in many ways and the love you show feels very soothing.

J G-W said...

Thanks, -L-.

I on the other hand, have been blogging far too much. It's a convenient excuse to avoid getting to work preparing the course I will be teaching in the spring.