Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Fred Phelps a Mole for Satan?

A number of years back, there was a gay rights activist here in the Twin Cities (who shall here remain nameless). Everybody knew who he was. He was noisy and egotistical and hateful. He used to actually run his own gay newspaper. He was constantly organizing really obnoxious protests. For example, he would vociferously protest gay rights organizations that didn't take the position that gay sex should be allowed any time, anywhere, including in public places like parks or restrooms or the University campus. Public sex was one of his favorite causes. He accused a Jewish lesbian friend of mine of being a "Nazi" because she disagreed with his views on this subject. For some weird reason, for many years the Twin Cities media seemed to think he was the representative of the local gay community. He was constantly being interviewed in newspaper articles and on local TV news, despite the fact that most people in the gay community couldn't stand him. Whenever he showed up at some GLBT community meeting, mayhem and contention followed in his wake. I once wrote a letter to his paper protesting one of his positions. He changed my letter to make it sound like I was saying the opposite of what I actually intended, and then published the altered letter. That's the kind of guy he was. People stopped reading his paper until it went out of print. People stopped attending his protests until he was basically the only one who showed up at them. People made it clear he was unwelcome at their meetings. The local media eventually got the clue and stopped interviewing him. Gradually, thankfully, he disappeared. I have no idea what's become of him.

I and some friends of mine developed a theory about him. We figured he wasn't really gay. (Nobody knew anybody who'd actually slept with him!) He was a mole of some anti-gay-rights group, with a mission to undermine the gay rights movement from within.

So whenever I read about the activities of the good Reverend Fred Phelps, such as this recent protest at the funeral of a marine who was killed in Iraq, I wonder. Is Fred Phelps a mole for Satan?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Feeling Vulnerable

I spent the last two Sundays in Utah, and the Sunday before that was General Conference, so this morning when I went to Church it had been a whole month since I'd been able to attend regular meetings at my ward.

As I walk through the entrance, I find myself feeling vulnerable. Unlike attending my parents' ward, here I can't hide behind semi-anonymity. Here I'm a known quantity. They know who I am. I'm exposed. I'm just me. Here I feel weak. Here the brokenness is more obvious.

Sister T. finds me and gives me a program. I arrived before they were available, and she's very conscientious about making sure everybody gets one. It's been several weeks since she's asked me when I'm going to get temple worthy. I'm relieved whenever she doesn't make an issue of it.

Sister P. waves and smiles. I have a standing invitation to sit with the P. family during sacrament meeting, since I don't have a family of my own to sit with. But I can never get up the courage to get up and go sit with them. Maybe some day I'll get over myself.

Brother B. finds me and sits next to me. His wife is not able to be there because she has to help their daughter move today. This isn't the first time he's made a point of sitting next to me. I feel awkward about not really wanting to make conversation; I like the reverence of silence before Sacrament meeting. I hope he knows how much it means to me that he wants to share the silence with me.

Sister J. arrives with the kids. Today she's brought me a present... The letters I wrote her from about the spring of 1986 through the summer of 1987. The letters span the time before and after I left the Church. She wants them back; she's just lending them to me so I can make copies of them. I want to read those letters, but I'm afraid to. That was the most painful year of my life. I'm going to have to figure out how to read them. It's not something I can just sit down and do.

The opening hymn helps me. Verse 5 of "Redeemer of Israel" goes:

Restore, my dear Savior,
The light of thy face;
Thy soul-cheering comfort impart;
And let the sweet longing
For thy holy place
Bring hope to my desolate heart

I didn't know this verse existed. I'm so glad our chorister always insists on singing all the verses of every hymn, even the ones printed at the bottom of the page.

During the opening prayer, a brother prays about the "blessings of membership in this ward." At first I feel excluded. But the Spirit says, "You are here because I've called you here. If you did not belong here, you would not be here."

During Sacrament, I feel awful. The Spirit says, "Listen to this prayer. You need to make these promises too, even if you can't partake." I feel better.

It's fast and testimony Sunday, because next week is Stake Conference. I listen to the testimonies. They're good testimonies. They're heartfelt. My heart is breaking. Some day, I think, I'll be able to stand up there too and bear mine. Some day. Just not today.

We have a new Gospel Essentials teacher. He actually calls on me to read a scripture. Wow! God bless Sister S. She created a few extraordinary moments in that class, but for the most part made me feel like a total alien, like a very bad person.

We talk about the Sacrament. We're reading in 3 Nephi 18. My eyes stray over to verse 25:

I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me....

After the Priesthood opening exercises, Brother B. offers me a ride to Stake Conference next week. I'm looking forward to that. Brother W. sets up a home-teaching appointment for tomorrow. I'm looking forward to that too.

For the first few minutes of Church today, the vulnerability, the brokenness, the broken-heartedness I feel seem oppressive. But it is not long before I realize that this is why I need to be here. This is the only way I can be reached by the healing my Heavenly Father has for me. I have missed this place, these people. Here I know who I am and why I am here. Here I feel the Spirit's presence and comfort most keenly. I'm at peace. It is good to be home again.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


In my last post I wondered about the meaning of "" in the book of Revelation. After thinking it over a bit, here's my take on it. I'd be pleased if anyone has any insights to add.

The first key is Revelation 1:8. Although the Revelator at one point is told "I will shew thee things which must be hereafter" (4:1), the Revelation is narrated from the point of view of the throne of God (described in chapter 4), which is the point of view of "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending... which is, which was, and which is to come." Thus, in this revelation of the world's destiny, we should expect an account that spans past, present, and future. An account of time and mortality from the viewpoint of eternity and immortality.

The second key is understanding the meaning of the number 7. This is probably the most common number in the book of Revelation. There are: 7 churches, 7 candles, a book with 7 seals, 7 angels with 7 trumpets (pictured above in the famous woodcut by Albrecht Dürer), the Lamb of God having 7 horns and 7 eyes, and the Dragon having 7 horns and 7 crowns, etc. Why is this?

The world, according to Genesis, was fashioned in 7 stages. Similarly, when this world is brought to an end, it will be unfashioned in 7 stages; thus, the breaking of the 7 seals, each unleashing plagues and destruction, undoing the creation that was wrought in Genesis. As Latter-day Saints, we understand the span of human history in terms of 7 "dispensations," and understand ourselves to be situated in the "dispensation of the fullness of times," the time when the world's destiny is being fulfilled and coming to completion. The number 7 is associated with temporality, the counting out of days. Seven becomes a symbol of the temporal, time-bound world, its beginning, its destiny, its ending.

So my take on 3½ -- the length of time in which absolute rule is granted to the Evil Powers to "trample the Saints" and persecute the Church of God -- is that roughly half of human history will be spent under such tyrannical, oppressive worldly government.

In the two millennia since the book of Revelation was written, there has been all kinds of speculation about who the anti-Christ of the book of Revelation specifically was. Educated (or uneducated) guesses have included: the Emperor of Rome, Pope Leo X, Martin Luther (each accused the other of being the anti-Christ), Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Ronald Reagan, Saddam Hussein, and George W. Bush. My take is, there is no one anti-Christ. There is the spirit of anti-Christ. It is the spirit of worldly, totalitarian power. Just as we put on Christ by making ourselves humble, meek, and living the law of pure Love, we put on anti-Christ by grasping for worldly power and "security."

Do we all long for worldly security? Yes. Should we put that security above the law of Love? Never. We should rather die.

So "3½" is optimistic or pessimistic, depending as we see the glass half full or half empty. "Three and a half" means that the reign of Evil is limited. It is not more than half of human history. And it will come to an end, for which end the Saints of God struggle and pray. When the world says, "Hey, you've got to eat to survive, and you've got to play our game to eat," the book of Revelation informs us that "Here is the patience of the Saints" (14:12) that we resist and reject the mark of the Beast, that we respond by saying, "Then I won't eat."

Friday, October 26, 2007

I've been reading the book of Revelation again for the first time. (Since my conversion I've been reading all the standard works again for the "first time." It has been an amazing experience.)

I had forgotten how totally the imagery of Revelation has entered into American popular culture. In fact, there's probably no symbolism in this text that hasn't been hashed and rehashed in popular media -- from apocalyptic/satanic movies like The Omen or The Seventh Seal to future histories like The Late, Great Planet Earth or Tim LaHaye's popular comic book series, Left Behind. The two prophets of Revelation 11 made an appearance in the popular TV series The X Files, and the list goes on. Americans love the book of Revelation. So it's hard to read this text without getting caught up in the pop cultural hype. I found myself having to take a deep breath and just put that all out of my head, and try to read this text again, through the lens of Christ, with the help of the Spirit.

I love Revelation because of the fundamental message of hopefulness underlying it. Much of the imagery that has caught everyone's attention -- the Dragon, the various "beasts," the Whore, etc. -- is really about the totalitarian, idolatrous nature of life in a world ruled by evil Powers. We who claim Christ owe our allegiance to a much higher power, and so long as we give that allegiance unreservedly, our place in the world is tenuous at best. The Powers have the power of life and death over us. They may decide who eats and who starves, who dies in their murderous wars, who is exalted and who is martyred. But the book of Revelation promises that their reign is limited. In the end, this reign of blood and idolatry will be swept away and in its place will come everlasting peace and universal love. This is probably all we need to know to truly understand this text.

Nevertheless, I still find myself fascinated by the details of the imagery. On this reading, I've been paying particular attention to the odd numerology in the text. Everyone knows the numbers 666 (the number of the Beast) and 144,000 (the number of "servants of God" -- 12,000 from each tribe of Israel). On this reading I've caught something I'd never noticed before, the prominence of the number 3½.

It's sort of hidden in the text... You have to pay attention to catch it. It always refers to a span of time. In a couple of places (in 11:3 and 12:6), we have reference to a span of 1,260 days. In ancient reckoning, a year was considered to have 360 days. So 1,260 days comes to exactly 3½ years. In 11:2 and in 13:5, we have reference to 42 months. Again, with 12 months in a year, exactly 3½ years. In Revelation 12:14 we have reference to "a time, and times, and half a time," a rather mysterious indication of time, but for those who've been doing their math all along, an obvious reference to 3½ (1 time + 2 times + ½ a time = 3½). While most of these 3½ references appear to refer to the length of time that absolute rule is granted to the Evil Powers, there is one other 3½ reference referring to a span, not of years, but of days: Revelation 11:9, the number of days that the bodies of the two prophets will lie dead and unburied in the streets of Jerusalem.

Anybody have any ideas about the significance of 3½? I have my own theories (hint: 7 divided by 2 = 3½), but I'm curious to see if there are any other numerologists out there with ideas about this number and what it has to do with faith in Christ.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Love Only Gets Bigger

I once wondered... The Spirit has invited me to enter into the path of Christ, of walking in his footsteps. If I accept, I wondered, what will happen to my love for my same-sex partner?

You can't enter that path without letting go all expectations. Without saying, Lord, let come whatever may, I must follow you. So, with fear and trembling, I entered that path.

I am still in that path, so I still can't allow myself any worldly expectations, though maybe Christian Hope.

But my love for my partner keeps growing. It has grown beyond what I ever expected I might feel for him. I fight for him. I would be willing to die for him. I will not leave him behind. Whatever he must face, I will face with him.

In the presence of God, Love only gets bigger.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Racism Makes God Barf

Recently, my little brother Joe found this picture on the Internet.

The guy with the sign that says, "Racism Makes God Barf" is my younger brother Mark. The charming woman to his right is his wife. The occasion for this protest was a number of years back (about twenty, to be exact), when the Aryan Nation was talking about moving its headquarters to Salt Lake City. Mark and some other BYU students decided to let the Aryans know what they thought about that.

Mark says he didn't come up with the sign. Somebody else prepared all the signs for the protest, and when it came time to pick a sign, nobody else would take the one with the goofy caption. Mark volunteered to carry the unwanted sign, which guaranteed his picture appearing in the local papers.

I wonder how God feels about homophobia.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I Believe in Christ

I'm mentally bracing myself for hell and damnation... at work. I've been away for ten days, and due to some changes at the Patent Office that are requiring us to make lots of filings before November 1, I expect to be putting in 10-12 hour days until October 31. This wasn't my fault. We've been planning this trip since something like June, long before the Patent Office decided to afflict us with Evil New Rules. But I will be paying the price.

I will keep myself warm with memories of this recent trip. A trip to Goblin Valley with Göran and my parents. Utahraptors at the Prehistoric Museum in Price. Lunches and dinners with Mohos!! (I won't out you, but thank you, it meant more to me than you can know.) Hanging out with my little sister, Katrina. Family home evening with my brother. Family prayers with my parents. And of course the wedding, and gatherings at BYU and in Salt Lake, which I've already blogged about.

This morning, my dad was feeling under the weather, so my mom and I went to Church just the two of us. The theme at Sacrament Meeting was testimony, which was strangely comforting to me, as this past week I have had more opportunities to verbally bear my testimony than in all the last two years combined! We sang this hymn, which I have come to love, by Bruce R. McConkie. I love the hymn all the more since I once had issues with Elder McConkie, and singing this hymn taught me to love and appreciate him in ways I never did when he was alive. His words have taught me about the simplicity of faith, the unity of faith, and also about hope:

I believe in Christ; he stands supreme!
From him I'll gain my fondest dream;
And while I strive through grief and pain,
His voice is heard: "Ye shall obtain."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Affirmation Utah

Sunday evening, my family and I attended the Affirmation mission reunion and fireside in Salt Lake. This time, in addition to my parents and Göran, my little sister Anne came along as well. If, five years ago, someone had told me I would be attending gay Mormon gatherings with my partner, my parents, and my sister, I would have suggested they see about getting their medication adjusted.

We met at the Metropolitan Community Church in Salt Lake, presumably because Affirmation can't get permission to meet in an LDS meeting house. The gathering began with a potluck in the basement, and then moved upstairs to the sanctuary for the fireside.

The meeting brought back memories of my experience at All God's Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis. We began with a hymn and a prayer, followed by announcements and then a sharing of talents. One chapter member read a poem. Another chapter member played Enja's “Watermark” on the piano. That piece is emotional enough. This rendition was played with particular passion. I wept as I watched the emotion in the face of the player, and as I reflected on the collective life experiences of all who had gathered there to listen. There were so many here who, in our relationships with the Church, had had our hearts broken. So many of us who had found unbearable the task of reconciling Church teaching and our sexuality. So many who had experienced painful rejection. And yet, here we were, singing together, praying together, sharing talents, sharing stories, seeking healing.

I had been asked to speak, and I talked about what it meant to me to be a gay Latter-day Saint.

I talked briefly about the experience that brought me back to the Church, the Spirit's call to me to “come home” at the August 2005 Sunstone Symposium. I talked about how I wrestled with that call until November 2005, when I began to attend Church regularly at the Lake Nokomis Ward. I talked about how the Spirit continued to comfort me and speak to me, and how bit by bit I found my testimony renewed.

I spoke about the conflict this created for me in relation to my partnership with Göran, how I had initially begun to worry about this in January 2006, but how the Spirit had reassured me and counseled me to focus on simple steps of faith like continuing to attend Church, to study the scriptures, and to pray daily. My worries about this came to a head in April 2006 when I finally laid everything on the line before God and said that I did not feel I could be faithful and hold anything back from God, and that I needed to know if it was necessary to leave my partner or not. The Spirit made it clear that I must not leave my partner under any circumstances. I did not understand how this could be, so in the quiet of my bedroom later that night, I prayed again, and again was told that it would be a sin to leave my partner and that I simply needed to be patient. Later, in July 2006, as I was preparing a paper for the 2006 Sunstone Symposium, I was preparing to write some things critical of the Proclamation on the Family, and I felt the Spirit immediately depart from me. I prayed, I wept, and then the Spirit returned and made it clear to me: I must not criticize Church leaders nor argue with them. I must not attempt to correct or speak out on issues of Church policy or doctrine. That was not given to me to do. If there were apparent contradictions between my personal life and the current teaching of the Church, I must simply have patience. If I did this and was faithful, the Lord would bless me, and I could continue faithfully in my relationship with my partner, confident that I did so with the Lord's blessing.

These experiences laid the groundwork for the path of faith I am presently in, which I then described. The companionship of the Spirit is the root of everything else in my life. When I do something or say something or even think something that causes the Spirit to depart, I know that I must not do or say or think those things. I must live my life in a way that allows the Spirit to be my constant companion. This path as it has evolved includes daily personal prayer and scripture study. It includes concern for the well-being of the poor, and giving money and engaging in concrete acts of compassion to help improve the lot of those who are less fortunate than I am. It includes associating regularly with the Saints in weekly Sunday Church attendance, and participating as much as my excommunicated status will allow. It includes obeying the Word of Wisdom. It includes applying the Law of Chastity to my relationship with my partner in the same way I would if we were legally and/or temple-married.

I then spoke about the process of perfecting myself, of living my life in such a way that the Spirit can shape my character, and help me “put on Christ.” Among other things, this involves striving for greater patience in my life, greater acceptance of correction and guidance, striving to open my heart and let go of the need to be in control of things. It involves relinquishing all judgment – of others, and of myself. It involves striving for right thought, right speech, and right action. In most situations, it involves living the word rather than speaking the word. It involves asking the Lord in all situations to help make me an instrument of peace and love. It involves bridling my tongue and avoiding contention. It involves losing my life, not fighting for my life. It involves constantly praying for correction, always being open to more light.

Finally, walking this path has required me to face frustration that I can't take the sacrament, can't speak or pray in meetings, can't hold the priesthood, can't hold callings or go to the temple. There are times when this is painful, but when I have brought this to my Heavenly Father in prayer, the Spirit has reassured me that I need not fear, I need not be frustrated, that these are things that are not needful for me at this time, that I belong to the Lord, and I will be taken care of. What is most needful for me at this time is to bear my testimony, to live my testimony.

I understand my current path in terms of a covenant with the Lord. I will live as faithfully as possible, given the constraints of my present circumstances; I will honor and love and be faithful to my same-sex partner; and I will not criticize or argue with Church leaders. I will accept the Church's guidelines and disciplinary requirements. In return, I will have the Spirit's guidance and companionship, I will receive direct revelation to guide my life, so long as I listen to the Spirit and obey it. I will be taken care of by the Lord in this life and in the next, and need have no fear for my eternal well-being. I will find hidden treasures, and experience the peace that passes understanding.

I can testify that I have been blessed in my life, beyond what I ever would have believed possible. So many of my prayers on behalf of family and loved ones have been answered or are being answered. When I face condemnation, the Spirit is there as a powerful, reassuring presence. I need not answer those who condemn without understanding. They will not be my judge at the bar of Christ. I can be silent and let the Spirit plead my case on my behalf.

I could summarize my path by saying that I seek to put on Christ and walk in his footsteps, and I love and am loyal to my partner and to the Church.

I mentioned that Ron Schow is trying to organize a ministry whose purpose is to encourage gay men and lesbians to attend church. I encouraged any who felt so moved to get in touch with him.

Members of Affirmation had many questions for me and also for Göran. They wanted to know how this path of mine has been for Göran. (He answered for himself and admitted that he's had a hard time with me wanting to re-affiliate with the LDS Church.) There were questions about the particulars of my path, such as how I could consider myself LDS if I am excommunicated. (I admitted that technically I am not, but that I have a testimony, and for me, that is what defines me as a Latter-day Saint.) I fielded a number of pointed questions about how I could support the Church in light of some of the political positions it has taken. (I admitted that I had struggled with some of these things, but that the Church and its leaders are in the process of perfecting themselves just as we each individually are, and that the Church is the Lord's and he will guide it.)

Chapter co-chair Duane Jennings talked about many gay Mormons he knew of personally in the state of Utah who had left or been driven from the Church, who had gone on to become leaders in other religious communities, such as Metropolitan Community Church, other Protestant churches, the Utah Buddhist community, and the Wiccan community, and who were playing an important role in working for civil rights protections for gays and lesbians in the state. I was grateful for what he said, as I hoped that my comments had not been taken to suggest that gay ex-Mormons who had found a spiritual home in other communities, and who were involved in the struggle for civil rights were wrong in following those paths. To the contrary, I am extremely grateful for their testimonies and their work. Afterwards, a number of other individuals came to discuss their experiences attending Church and seeking to apply gospel principles to their life. I talked with an individual who had converted to the LDS Church after he had come out. He was going through a disciplinary process, but he had recommitted himself to a life of celibacy and hoped to have full fellowship reinstated soon.

I was awed and humbled by the lives and struggles and faith of these gay Saints, and grateful for the sweet, peaceful presence of the Spirit throughout the meeting. I envy you Utah gay Mormons the ampler opportunities you have for fellowship with each other, and the support you are able to give each other in person. It has been great to get to know you all through the blogs, but it is such a joy to me to be among you in the flesh, sit in worship beside you, hug you, talk with you, hear your testimonies. You are always in my thoughts. You are and will always be in the prayers I send up from Minnesota. I hope I will always be in yours.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Saturday night, Göran, my parents and I gathered with a group of about twenty to thirty (mostly straight, but some gay) BYU students. This was one of a series of events organized by students themselves to discuss issues related to same-sex attraction – looking at spiritual, ecclesiastical, and political issues. The event I had been invited to participate in was to focus on gay men and lesbians and their families – families of origin as well as families of choice, including mixed orientation marriages and same-sex partnerships. The students' primary goal in organizing the series was to seek understanding. One of the organizers told me that he simply wanted to understand things better for himself, and he hoped he could do it in a way that would be helpful to others who wanted to “listen in.” The tone they wanted to set for the events was one of openness and non-confrontational dialog.

The event began with a showing of the video produced by LDS Resources, “Marriage: Hopes and Realities” (an interview with Russ Gorringe, telling the story of his marriage and his divorce). Then a BYU student talked about her relationship with her gay father, who remains married to her mother and who is still seeking to overcome his homosexuality. Then I told my own story, focusing on my relationship with my parents and my relationship with my partner. My parents also talked about their own journey with this issue, what it was like for them when I came out, and how they felt about my relationship with Göran. Göran even spoke too, and talked about his own spiritual journey.

I've done a lot of public speaking, but rarely have I spoken at an event with the emotional intensity that was in that room. The event had been held at a student apartment, because the organizers were unable to get permission to hold it on campus. So students had filled every available chair, couch, and beanbag chair. Blankets and pillows had been laid out on the floor, and every available square foot of floor space was taken up, and then people were still standing around the edges of the room, in the kitchen, in the entry way. After each presentation, there was earnest discussion, and penetrating, thoughtful questions. The event lasted with this same intensity for almost three hours.

There were pieces of my parents' story I had never heard before! I had never heard my dad speak so movingly and openly about how angry he was at first when he learned that I was gay, and about his journey of acceptance. My mom talked about the spiritual experiences she had had, that had helped her to find peace, and that had led her to accept Göran as a full member of the family. Mom clutched Göran's hand tightly as she spoke. One of the students later commented to me how moving it was to see that.

Afterward, there were hugs, and more earnest, one-on-one conversations. We finally left close to 10:30 p.m.

I left with an incredible feeling of warmth and optimism. Many pieces of the stories shared had been heartbreaking, full of struggle. But I didn't come away feeling hopeless. To the contrary, the evening had been full of determination to communicate and connect, and a hunger for greater honesty, integrity, understanding and spirituality. It was those students' questions and evident compassionate that left me most hopeful of all. It felt momentous. Nothing like this series had ever been done at BYU before. It is impossible to tell where all of this is leading, but I am convinced that it is someplace much, much better than where we are.

Monday, October 15, 2007

We Had to Kill It

At my brother's wedding, one of my nephews found a black widow spider on the wall of the house. The kids all gathered around, horrified and fascinated at the same time.

"I'm gonna kill it," my nephew announced.

"Yeah, kill it!" some of the other kids chimed in.

"Don't!" I urged him. "Haven't you ever heard the old saying? If you wish to live and thrive, let a spider run alive!"

The kids laughed at the poem.

"But it's dangerous!" replied my nephew.

"Not if you let it alone," I said.

"That's right," said Göran, "It's a living creature!"

That seemed to calm the spider blood lust. The kids gradually dispersed.

Later I returned to the section of the wall where the spider had been, and it was gone. "Where's the spider?" I asked my nephew.

"We had to kill it," he said.

I felt saddened that in the mental world of kids, there doesn't seem to be enough room in the world for humans and spiders. Is it human nature, instinct, or nurture, to squash things we just don't like?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Established October 12, 2007

My little brother Joe got married on Friday. He and his wife Becky had their wedding rings -- fashioned from titanium -- engraved with the words, "Established October 12, 2007." Somehow, I really like that unassuming word "established." It speaks to beginnings and foundations. It speaks to commitment and stability. It speaks to the expectation of growth and development.

The bishop gave a lovely talk about five keys to success in marriage: 1) Faith in Christ, 2) Taking time for each other, 3) Putting the happiness of the other before your own happiness, 4) Getting accustomed to asking for and giving forgiveness often, and 5) Praying with and for each other.

I am proud of the fact that my brother and his wife planned a very simple wedding, at minimum cost. It was held in my parents' back yard. We borrowed fold-out chairs and tables from the ward meeting house. Members of the family decorated, provided the music, prepared food. The wedding cake was home-made. A simple layer cake with lots of cupcakes decorated in their wedding colors. I am so grateful that the emphasis was on saving money to help the new couple get a good start in life. Establishing a successful relationship is challenging enough, without financial worry thrown into the mix.

The next door neighbors kindly agreed to put Donkey in the barn until after the wedding was over. Not that we had anything against poor Donkey. But he has a tendency to bray loudly whenever there are people in the back yard, hoping they'll come feed him some sweets. We laughed a lot, imagining Donkey exclaiming, "Hee haw!" at an inopportune moment, such as when the bishop might say, "If there is anyone who feels that these two should not be wed, let him speak now...!"

The groomsmen were brothers and brother-in-law, Mark, John and Göran. Nothing could make me more happy or give me a greater feeling of warmth and peace, than to be there, standing by my little brother's side, as he promised to love and to cherish. Of course, my mother was crying before the ceremony had even begun, bless her heart. Mark scolded Joe, "See what you've done, you've gone and made mama cry!"

The bride was so beautiful. She has lived through a lot of pain, but it has not hardened her. It has opened her heart to others. The poetry she's written about her life's struggles makes me weep. She's down to earth, affectionate, and thoughtful. You can see it in how she treats her parents and her many brothers and sisters. But the best thing I can think to say about her is that my brother is so obviously, hopelessly happy whenever he's around her. The second best thing I can think to say about her is that she wore white sneakers under her lovely wedding gown. I love people with a practical streak and a sense of humor.

I love my family more than I can say.

I noted during the ceremony, the bishop's words, "for the rest of your mortal lives." And I almost hesitate to mention it, because nobody else, absolutely nobody, paid any attention to what the wedding was not, only to what it was: a celebration of love and the beginning of a commitment. But I noticed those words, and thought about them. All I can say is that I have learned to look at life in terms of growth. Nothing ever starts out at its potential. Potentials are grown into. Even the mightiest sequoia grows from a small cone. The most surprising thing about the LDS understanding of eternity is our notion that things and relationships that will have no end begin here in the finite realm of mortality, in a realm defined by death and separation. So here's to beginnings and to hope of much, much greater things growing out of those beginnings.

Established October 12, 2007.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Prairie Home Companion

Did anybody outside of Minnesota see the Prairie Home Companion movie? It's kind of a Minnesota thing. One of my best friends at work was a writer for the radio show. I actually came this close to meeting Garrison Keillor at the Minnesota State Fair a couple of years ago. He was just walking down the main concourse, eating a corn dog. Being a good Minnesotan, I didn't ask for his autograph. Just looked at my shoes and pretended I hadn't seen him. If you're a Minnesotan, you almost had to see the film just to catch a view of downtown St. Paul on the big screen, and to watch big name actors like Meryl Streep, Lilly Tomlin, and Woody Harrelson faking Minnesota accents.

This film, mostly boring and pointless and with virtually no plot, does have its moments. Garrison Keillor plays himself, kind of a self-centered, long-winded, emotionally retarded jerk, who spouts on about the Minnesota values of doing one's duty and not making a fuss, and accepting the inevitability of all endings, including death. At one point in the film, GK reminds the viewers:

We are not a sunshiny people. We are not a paradise people or a beach people. We are a dark people. People who believe it could be worse. And we're waiting for it to become worse. We come from people who brought us up to believe that life is a struggle. And if you should ever feel really happy, be patient. This will pass.

But if I've watched the film more than once, it's because it is also about the transcendence of love. The Angel of Death (played by Virginia Madsen) is a buxom blonde. "Her hair," says Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), "was what God had in mind when he said, 'Let there be hair....' She was wearing a white trench coat so white that rain would be embarrassed to fall on it. The skirt she was wearing was so tight you could read the embroidery on her underwear. It said, 'Wash in lukewarm water, and spin lightly....' She had a Mount Rushmore t-shirt on, and those guys never looked so good, especially Jefferson and Lincoln. Kinda bloated but happy.... It was an honor to just sit there and inhale the same air that she had so recently exhaled."

My favorite line in the whole movie comes toward the end, when Guy makes his move on the Angel. "Listen," he asks in a sultry voice, "if you're an angel, I wonder if you and me were to, uh, you know... Would you feel anything?"

She thinks about it for a moment, and then says radiantly, "I would feel love."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Best Brother in the World

This week, Göran and I head out west, to be with my little brother for his wedding in Springville, Utah.

His fiancée Becky is not LDS, and they are not marrying in the temple. Becky is beautiful and bright and amazing in every way. I would be equally happy for them and equally proud of my brother no matter where they married. If they were marrying in the temple, I would gladly wait outside for them, to celebrate after the ceremony. But I am also glad that I will be able to attend the ceremony itself, and am delighted and proud that he has asked me and Göran to be among his groomsmen.

But what he posted about us on his blog actually made me cry... Read it, and see if you don't agree that I have the best little brother in the world.

(P.S. "Jukka" is me. Ever since I've been little, my family has known me by my Finnish name.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

My conference highlights

Boyd K. Packer - Telling us that his testimony as an apostle is not essentially different from the testimony of ordinary members of the Church. The basic testimony he acquired as a rank-and-file member of the Church was "all he needed" to become an apostle. "You have the same access to revelation that we do." "The worth of souls is great. Every soul."

Richard C. Edgley - Compassion and a willingness to bear one another's burdens is the preeminent qualification for baptism. The Church responds to the deepest "emotional and spiritual needs" of its members. "What happens to one, happens to all."

Mary N. Cook - "Not all families are the same, but each are dependent on spiritual strength," on the same "patterns of righteousness."

Enrique R. Falabella - Our greatest treasure is our testimony.

Spencer J. Condie's words on the cost of impatience, and on the rewards of patience.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf - "Enduring to the end" is not a matter of passively tolerating life's difficult circumstances. Enduring to the end is patient continuance in well-doing. Faith as trust.

Joseph B. Wirthlin - If there was one message I needed from this conference, this was the one. (See my last post.)

Bruce D. Porter - Having a broken heart is "an eternal attribute of godliness." It is the precondition for repentance. With a broken heart, we become willing to do anything and everything that God asks of us "without resistance or resentment." It is a "divine shield against temptation." With it, "the attractions of the world lose their luster," and we experience deep gratitude for Christ's suffering on our behalf.

Keith K. Hilbig - "We dare not hinder, disregard, or quench the Holy Spirit."

Jeffrey R. Holland - I want to find that incredible quote by a 4th-century monk, who lamented, "They have taken my God away from me!" (I hope there's a footnote in the Ensign!) "This is life eternal, that they might know me. Latter-day Saints affirm faith in a "literal, living son of our literal, living God."

Russell M. Nelson - I was very interested in this discussion of the Book of Mormon -- this deserves its own post.

Henry B. Eyring's moving and humble testimony, and his encouragement to seek ways to "recognize and remember" the hand of God in our lives.

Quentin L. Cook's encouragement that we all come out of the closet... as Latter-day Saints.

Julie B. Beck - We need to do less, consume less, and focus more on relationships.

David A. Bednar - Perfection is obtained "line upon line," through "small, steady, incremental improvements."

Gordon B. Hinckley - "I invoke the blessings of Heaven upon you."

A family crisis prevented me from attending the fourth session. I spent a good part of the morning crying, and then Göran and I spent most of the last half of the day being with friends who needed us to be with them. I needed that blessing from the prophet. I was so grateful for the spirit of conference, for messages that reminded me what the gospel is about -- humility, love, bearing one another's burdens.

I remember a time when I couldn't have attended conference -- too much anger. I would have argued with everything, missed everything. I am so grateful to find myself where I am now. I am grateful that my partner has come to a place of acceptance, of being able to let me attend as many sessions as I want. I am grateful for friends in my ward who welcomed me to sit with them, who put their arms around me and invited me to call them when I feel sad. I feel incredibly lucky. I am incredibly blessed.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Did anyone else weep...?

During Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin's incredible discourse on love?

The quality that must define us most as members of the Church of Jesus Christ?

A couple of quotes I jotted down:

"We see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today, but our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever."

"In the end love leads us to the glory and the grandeur of eternal life."

As he began to tremble, Elder Nelson standing so gently beside him and helping to steady him while he persevered until he had delivered his entire talk were in themselves two such incredible gestures of love... Literally seeing the sermon illustrated in the manner of its delivery.

Tears were running down my face. There were audible sighs and sobs at the ward meeting house where we watched. Incredible.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


In 1999, as Göran and I were making preparations to go on a trip to Sweden and applying for passports, we made a very unpleasant discovery.

Göran did not have a birth certificate. And because his mother went under an assumed name after he was born, never kept accurate records of anything, and refused to answer his questions about what his birth name was or who his biological father was, all our efforts to locate it were stymied. Göran's mother died in 1996 without ever answering any of the many questions he deserved answers to. The ramifications of this were dumbfounding. Among others:

1) He could never leave the U.S., not even to go to Canada. If he did, he might never be able to get back into the country again.

2) He could never get a driver's license or legally drive a car.

3) As employment laws continue to crack down on proof of citizenship requirements, he faced the possibility of becoming unemployable.

4) Despite the fact that he has always paid the same taxes everyone else pays, he would never be able to collect government medical or social security benefits.

5) Most horrifyingly, an immigration attorney warned us that the U.S. government could actually imprison him indefinitely, on the grounds that he had no right to be here unless he could prove he was a citizen.

Over the last eight years we collected an accordion file full of documents, trying to accumulate what evidence we could of his citizenship, and whatever we could learn about his mother and her history. He's lived here all his life. His stepfather has known him since before he has any real memories. But again because of his mother's goofy record-keeping, the few documents we had contained conflicting information, making the task much more complicated. We had two separate attorneys who attempted to assist us on a pro bono basis. We went to Senator Paul Wellstone (his office refused to even talk to us). We went to Congressman Martin Sabo (his office was equally unhelpful). We were scared of Republican legislators, and didn't even try them. Oh how we prayed for the legalization of same-sex marriage!

Because of Göran's anomalous status, for the last eight years we just had to learn to live with a certain amount of day-to-day, low-level anxiety that came with knowing that the wrong chain of events could lead to some very, very bad outcomes for us.

Finally, after the election of Keith Ellison to Congress, Göran decided we had nothing to lose by asking for his help. We wrote him a letter, and to our shock and amazement, his office contacted us and agreed to help.

We provided them with the various documents we had accumulated over the years. The bottom line was, we had actually done our homework and had all the information that was needed to locate the actual birth certificate. However -- catch 22! -- because he didn't have any state issued ID in the name on his birth certificate, the Tennessee Department of Vital Records (Göran was born in Memphis) refused to perform a birth certificate search for us. Ellison's office was able get them to perform a search using the information we provided, and, lo and behold, on July 10, Göran received a phone call from Keith Ellison's assistant Mike Siebenaler informing us that his birth certificate had been located.

Göran and I have cried tears of joy. We still can't get over it. We can breathe freely for the first time in eight years since this nightmare began. This was literally the answer to prayers that I had been praying nightly for almost a year and a half now. So when we finally got the good news, we thanked Ellison's office. We thanked the attorneys who have done pro bono work for us. And as soon as we were alone at home together, we knelt down to offer prayers of thanksgiving to the true Author of our freedom.

After paying $12 to the Tennessee Bureau of Vital Records, he received a copy of the birth certificate. There were still other bureaucratic hoops we have had to jump through. But today, birth certificate and other documentation in hand, we went before a judge and finally got a court order to have his birth certificate amended to reflect his current name. Now the final step is to send the court order to Tennessee with a $27 fee, and then, after eight long years, we will finally be able to apply for a passport.

Thank God. We're going to start planning that Sweden trip again!