Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Light of Faith

Yesterday, after the gleeful carnage of present-unwrapping, after hugs and expressions of love and gratitude, after phone calls to family and time spent playing with new toys, it was time to get down to business.

Glen has holiday homework assignments, including a Victorian-era novel to read. He will eventually need to write a paper about the novel, and he needs to have some understanding of British literary history in order to write the paper. Since he's entered class in the middle of the school year, it was my task to tutor him. We sat down together and discussed the British Neo-Classical, Romantic, and Victorian literary styles. This was some of the most fun I've ever had in my whole life. (Who'da thunk my honors humanities seminar from my Sophomore year at BYU would ever come in handy?) Glen had a good time too, I think. At the end of our tutoring session, he said he was looking forward to more.

As Glen and I were in the midst of discussing why "Romantic" doesn't necessarily mean "Romance," the phone rang. It was "Sister Smith". She was calling, A) to ask why she hadn't seen me in Church lately, B) to ask me why I had not yet ditched my partner, and then C) to lecture me on the subject of temple-attendance. When he picked up the phone, Göran made the mistake of mentioning that I was busy helping "our foster son" with his homework. So the usual lectures were then followed by expressions of disgust, and a scolding about how, in my present circumstances, I am clearly an unfit parent. "You think a child should be in that kind of environment?" she said. Göran and Glen both listened in silence, while I calmly explained that, No, I haven't left my partner yet, and Yes, I value the temple, but Yes, I also value love and family and commitment and that's what my relationship with my partner is all about. I chose not to discuss my qualities as a foster parent with her. She finally backed down and said goodbye.

After I hung up, the tension in the air erupted with Göran angrily vowing that the next time she called, she would get a piece of his mind. Glen just frowned after hearing my account of her half of the phone conversation and said, "That's horrible." I managed to calm them down, and made Göran promise to just let the phone ring the next time her name showed up on the caller ID.

Later that evening, we went over to some friends' for Christmas dinner. Like most liberal Minneapolitans, these particular friends love discussing politics and religion, so that's right where the dinner conversation went. Our friend Alex who loves to bait us with extreme polemical statements just to see how we'll react, said he felt that if humanity was to evolve, all forms of belief must be banished. His mother and Göran were nodding in agreement. Religion was bad, all of it, every kind.

I debated whether to speak up or not. They all know my opinions on this subject, and I felt no need to argue. But finally, after thinking it over, I said simply, "You seem to think that belief is about assent to intellectual propositions. It is not. It is about trust. It is about commitment to moral propositions, the most fundamental of which is love."

"Ah, but..." they protested, citing all of the many examples of religious intolerance and hatred.

I replied, "That represents a failure of faith, not its expression. Those people are angry because they are insecure. They feel the foundations of their faith are being threatened, so they feel the need to fight. That's not faith, that's lack of faith. Those who truly have faith are able to live with and accept a certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty. They move forward in trust, based on loving commitment."

The conversation rolled on in other directions.

This morning, I read Isaiah 42. And though this text is often read as a messianic text, I could not help but read it as a call to each and every one of us. For even if these words describe the Messiah, isn't he the pattern we ourselves should follow?

He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth (vss. 2-4)

And in fact, after the Messianic text comes this gem:

I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.... And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them... Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see. Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD’s servant? Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not. (vss. 6-20)

This is the path we are called to follow: blind in the sense that we trust to things we cannot see, that we do not always trust the things we can see. Here I am, caught again in the middle, condemned by believers and non-believers alike. To the left and to the right, I say the same thing: Have faith.

9 comments:

yusahana6323 said...

First off, I'm glad you guys had a good Christmas, and that your first Christmas was Glen was a happy one. :)

I think you reacted well, both to that phone call and to the conversation. Anger and arguing just serves to bait the opposite person, not stop the conversation in a peaceful way, which is something that, even though I know, I've never been able to stop myself from responding that way. You're really a role model to me.

Happy holidays!

Beck said...

I'm still struggling with what obsession Sis. Smith has in calling you like that? What does she think she's going to accomplish? And at Christmastime no less?

I'm sorry you had to deal with such things and the tension it brings in your immediate family. You're a better person than I to see the silver linings in such situations.

J G-W said...

Yusahana - Thanks! Sounds like you guys had a nice Christmas too...

Beck - It's actually hard for me to get angry at her, for reasons I mentioned in my earlier post about her interactions with me. I guess it's significant she called on Christmas Day, the loneliest day of the year... I hope she wasn't alone that day; I hope she had someone to share the holiday with in a less negative way than she "shared" it with me.

Whatever her motivations in calling me, I suspect she was only saying what many think, but are too inhibited to say. On the other hand, I know that the attitudes she expressed are not representative of all Latter-day Saints. Her way of addressing me is certainly not representative of the vast majority.

MoHoHawaii said...

If Sister Smith isn't representative, what is? What would the majority of your ward say about your relationship with Göran and your being a foster parent with him?

santorio said...

i wish i had a sister or brother smith to phone me. i miss church frequently because of travel, work commitments, or just because i want to stay home with my wife (she doesn't attend and my average work day--leaving home to arrival at night--is about 14 hours so our time together is valued). but no one in the ward seems to notice. i would like to have a conversation about church in general. this sounds condescending, but i think they are afraid of me, or of the pandora's box that such a conversation might represent.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - Well, actually... My bishop knows. His only comments have all been supportive of our foster parenting. The former ward mission leader... Same. My home teachers, very supportive and excited and happy for us. My best friend in the ward has also been very excited and happy for us. On Father's Day this past summer, her daughter actually gave me a flower in anticipation of our foster parenting... It was a very sweet gesture!

Others I've mentioned it to certainly haven't said anything negative, though it's possible they had a more negative attitude and just kept it to themselves.

I honestly think that as people have gotten to know me, they are willing to judge me based on what they know of me as a person, and not just based on my sexual orientation. I have tried not to be defensive or to make assumptions about what they'll think or how they'll act, and in general I've found that has opened doors.

Santorio - I keep hoping that the tenor of my discussion with "Sister Smith" will gradually get more positive. But I agree, being able to be open about my sexual orientation and being able to have honest conversations about it with members of the Church, I actually count a blessing. I would rather have a Sister Smith tell me exactly what she thinks, even if negative, than have people talking about me behind my back, or being disingenuous with me just to keep things nice on the surface.

Holly said...

I think you are a saint. I remembering reading an essay in Sunstone about your interactions with Sister Smith and being struck by your forbearance and kindness. I am truly in awe of your patience and generosity to her, and hope that someday she realizes that you have treated her far better than she has treated you.

GeckoMan said...

John,
I know that you possess many good gifts, and I thought of you and this post this morning as I read and pondered over the last half of Moroni, chapter 10. Your faith, hope and charity comes of Christ; these are the basis of all our salvation, and perhaps you should refer Sister Smith to these verses.

Clark said...

well I am so impressed with the way you handled both situations that you present here in this entry. The sister Smith situation sounds like it was no fun, but clearly you are a guy who has gone back to church in your present state not just for yourself but to help educate others about who we are and what we are about. From the little I know of you I can't think of a better person for that job. You seem so level headed and so truly focused on what your intentions are.. good job on not engaging in that famous 3rd Nephi 11 spirit of contention! I would have found that a difficult pill to swallow. I just think you rock and thats all I have to say! Merry Christmas!