Monday, June 30, 2008

Gay Pride

I knocked on Glen's door at precisely 9:00 a.m.

"Time to get up. We're going to church, then straight to the Pride Festival. So pick clothes you want to wear to pride. Rainbow colors are du jour."

"I hate rainbows!" he said.

"Then wear black if you want. Be emo. Just get dressed so we won't be late for church!"

Glen is a bear to wake up in the morning. But within less than an hour, he was up wearing bright colors to match his favorite, rainbow-colored belt. By the end of the day he was sporting a rainbow feather boa and waving around a rainbow colored flag.

"What did you tell me this morning?" I reminded him, later in the afternoon.

"I lied," he admitted sheepishly.

I wore white: skinny white trousers, and a beautiful white linen shirt with purple trim that I bought on our last trip to Utah at a Native American store. Göran wore a white t-shirt and tan shorts.

Going to church made us a little bit late for Pride, but to me the most significant moment of the day was during the prayers of the people, when I was able to raise my voice in thanksgiving for the outpouring of gifts: for Glen, for our upcoming wedding, and for the discovery of Göran's family. All gifts it would be deeply ungrateful not to recognize God's hand in.

The Pride parade is a smorgåsbord. There's something there to offend and please just about everybody. (Except the occasional handful of picketers, who presumably are pleased by nothing.) Pride parade wouldn't be complete without the running commentaries from the granola types who are offended by the "commercialistic" corporate floats and the Log Cabin Republicans. ("Did you hear? McCain has a booth at Pride!" "No, really? The nerve!") Then there are the bar-sponsored floats, featuring over-the-top drag queens and thong-wearing, undulating men. (Definitely, by the way, not very hot this year. Yawn-inducing, almost.) There is the never-ending stream of religious groups: "open and affirming" Presbyterians, Catholics, Episcopalians, Quakers, Unitarian-Universalists, UCC'ers, Lutherans, Wiccans, you name it. The Jewish contingent was impressive this year. Glen asked me, "Will there be a contingent of Mormons?" "If there, were," I replied, "It would have been me who organized it." And of course there were the Atheists, all proud that they are none of the above. I saw several signs this year saying, "Happiness is being a gay atheist!" (I thought, "Yes, I was happy that way. But not nearly as happy as I am now!") The only group that garners loud cheers from anybody and everybody is PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

I could worry. I could fret that certain members of the parade are giving GLBT folks a bad name. I certainly don't agree with everything and anything represented in the parade. But it's not my image to fret about, not my movement to control. Not a movement at all really, more like a moment. A pause to reflect on the courage it's taken to reach this place in the journey where we don't have to fear for our lives or our livelihood. (At least, not in this corner of the world.) It's a pause to reflect on what integrity means to us. To me, integrity means having learned sufficient self-acceptance to want to be better than I am, to accept that I am more of who I am when I acknowledge One Greater.

So no worries on Pride. No control fits. No criticism or insecurity or anger. Just the awesome recognition that truth will eventually out. It's the integrity of the journey that counts for all.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Family! Again!

In the past twenty-four hours Göran and I have laughed, wept, offered prayers of thanksgiving, and just been amazed. We are quite overwhelmed in an excellent way.

As I have discussed elsewhere, Göran's mom was very secretive about her family and about his origins. She took whatever she knew about those things with her to the grave. Finally, last summer (almost exactly one year ago!) we located his birth certificate, which began to give us some answers to these questions.

It took time for Göran to get up the courage to try looking up his father -- the man listed on his birth certificate. He was not sure what the outcome of such an encounter would be. At first, he wasn't even sure he wanted to do it, but over time he gradually realized that he had to. He did some research and found a man with his father's name living in Memphis, Tennessee, the place where he was born. A month or two ago, we together drafted a letter to send. We wanted verification it was received, so we sent it certified mail.

After several weeks the certified letter was returned to us, and we were told that it couldn't be delivered. A co-worker encouraged Göran to send it again, but this time by Fedex (so no one would have to sign for it). He did this on Monday.

Yesterday, he got a phone call from a woman he's never met.

"Is this Göran?" she asked (mispronouncing his name "Juron").

"Yes," he replied.

"I'm your cousin Nikki," she said.

He called me immediately. I was taking Glen to a meeting. When he told me what had happened, and told me that he had also spoken to an Aunt, we both wept together. I wanted to be with him, but I couldn't until after Glen's meeting was done. Göran spent the entire evening on the phone, talking to his cousin Nikki, his aunt Dottie, his father, and his younger half-brother and half-sister. He would have talked to his grandmother too, but she couldn't speak. All she could do was cry. She is 82 years old, and she has been praying to God to find her lost grandchildren (Göran and his sister Gay) before she died. They had been searching for him for a much longer time than he has been searching for them, but he had been harder for them to find since he legally changed his name in 1992. But they had never given up hope trying to find him and his sister. His grandmother kept their childhood pictures on a little altar.

Thanks to the marvels of the Internet, we soon had pictures of his new clan -- pictures of his dad, his half-siblings (there are three of them), his aunt and his cousin. We wept again, as we instantly recognized the family resemblance.

In the letter we sent, Göran mentioned his "life partner." They were full of questions about me. Göran told them about our upcoming wedding in California, and his Aunt Dottie immediately said she wanted to come. They all wanted to meet me, to meet us, meet our foster son. We have begun making travel plans again. This time to Memphis, Tennessee.

I went on-line, found a good genealogy program for Mac, and started mapping out all the relationships and names.

Last night as we lay in bed together and cried more tears of gratitude, he said, "I have a family too. I have a place in the Universe."

This story is... to be continued! For now we are simply astonished and happy beyond belief.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The First Presidency Letter

I believe that the work of God requires good order, which requires leaders, communal cooperation, harmony, and individual commitment that is able to transcend our individual agendas.

I believe that the leaders of the Church are called by God. I have a testimony of this, because I have benefited from the wisdom of these leaders when I have listened to and followed counsel that they've offered to the general membership of the Church. I love and pray daily for the leaders of the Church.

I do not believe in infallible leaders nor do I hold fatalistic views of community that suggest a community or a hierarchy is always and ever chosen by God no matter what it does or how it acts. I believe that just as individuals will be accountable for the choices they have made, so will communities. If individuals can make mistakes, so can communities.

Nevertheless, I believe that the good flowing from good order requires enduring commitment to community, even when there is not consensus within a community about how to solve specific problems, and even when mistakes are made. We remain committed to a community not because the community is perfect, but because perfection requires community.

I love the Church and have a testimony of it. And I believe it is no co-incidence that the same day I learned of the First Presidency letter to be sent out to California congregations this Sunday, I also learned how my testimony and actions one year ago have resulted in two individuals receiving testimonies of the gospel and joining the Church. The latter reminded me in a powerful, tangible, and personal way of my testimony and of the fundamental commitments of my life, despite my profound, personal disappointment about the former.

As regards my relationship with my partner, I know from personal experience the goodness, nurture, strength, and happiness that have flowed from this relationship. Our relationship has been and continues to be the context for the greatest, most profound, most meaningful spiritual experiences in my life. It has even provided the framework for spiritual growth that has enabled me to turn back to the Church.

I know from personal experience that God has blessed our relationship. God has answered my prayers for my partner and for our relationship. I have felt guided to deepen my commitment to our relationship in every way, and to strive for ever greater fidelity to that relationship, in deed, word and thought.

Marriage is powerful because it interweaves the highest individual, familial, communal, and spiritual commitments. We can have good lives and decent committed relationships without it. But it enriches and enhances our lives and our relationships when we enter into it, when we accept all the covenants of mutuality, commitment, and fidelity that come along with it. There is not the least hint of doubt in my heart, mind or soul that if my partner and I have an opportunity to make such a commitment, we should.

I feel guided by God to do so. Indeed, had God not answered our prayers to resolve our eight-year-long search for my partner's birth certificate, we would not be able to take advantage of the opportunity to marry legally in California -- which I also see as an answer to the prayers of many, many people, including my own.

I hold these things simultaneously: my love for and my commitment to the Church, and my love for and my commitment to my partner. Both forms of commitment have enhanced and perfected my life and brought me closer to God.

To others this seems like a contradiction.

To me, it just is.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How Great Shall Be Your Joy

I'm sort of overwhelmed right now. I'm sensing the tremors in the gay Mormon blogosphere caused by the breaking news about the First Presidency's decision to send a letter to the Church in California, urging members to back the anti-gay-marriage amendment. I'm reading the emotional posts on both sides of this subject, some sneering at same-sex marriage, and some emotionally defending it. I have thoughts on the First Presidency letter, but they are complex and I don't have the energy to write about this right now.

I also had a powerful experience at Church this past Sunday. It was an amazing Sunday for me. There were incredible moments of clarity. I wept in priesthood meeting. I want to write about this too, but I don't have the energy for that either right now.

Earlier this evening, I found out that as a result of my preaching at Metropolitan Community Church last summer, a woman there eventually opened her doors to the LDS missionaries and, last November, joined the Church. Last Saturday, her son was baptized.

"Did you preach at MCC last summer?" she had asked me.

"Yes," I replied.

"You're the reason I joined the Church," she said.

Like everything else at this moment, my feelings about this are complicated. I feel like crying, but I'm exhausted. This woman is bright, energetic, self-possessed, engaged. An amazing person. And it is obvious to me that though her joining the Church has not been without its complications, it has been a source of tremendous joy to her. It has changed her life. She is full of love for the Church and for others, and full of missionary spirit. And I'm grateful for the new relationship I've found with her. And amazed at this answer to prayer; because I never speak in public any more without first praying that the Spirit be present, that it use my words, that it touch and move those who hear what I have to say, that it open their minds and their hearts. And here is proof that those prayers have been answered. Though this is not my work; it is the work of the Spirit.

And then there is also the sadness I feel, in a sense. I've opened a door for someone else that I can't enter. And I wish I could. So I feel both happy and heartbroken. It's strange how those feelings are mixing right now.

What am I? What do I know? Nothing.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kesäkeitto (Summer Soup)

Hurray! It's Midsummer!

In Finland (where my parents and my two sisters are traveling right now) the big cities are abandoned. Helsinki is a ghost town, inhabited only by hapless foreigners who didn't know about Juhannuspäivä. The natives are all ensconced in their cottages by the thousands of inland lakes, preparing the bonfires, the beer, and the makkara (Finnish sausage, so much better than American sausage that the word "sausage" almost doesn't apply). I loved Juhannus. It was the one day of the year parents let us literally stay up all night (which Finns do to celebrate the height of the midnight sun).

I wish I were there, with my folks!

In anticipation, I made my first ever kesäkeitto. Two cups of small, new potatoes, two cups of snap beans, three small, sweet onions, two to three carrots cut and quartered into two-inch long pieces, one cup of new peas. Boil for five minutes in just enough water to cover the veggies, and then add four cups of milk that you've brought to a boil with a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, and two tablespoons of flour. Simmer for ten minutes, and then add a dollop of butter and some parsley as a garnish. O boy, I love summer soup! It brings back amazing childhood memories.

Glen had a rough day the other day. So Göran cancelled plans he had for the evening and came home early. I made the summer soup while the two of them worked together in our garden. We had dinner on the porch. Glen loved the soup! He had seconds! We went for a long ride around the lakes. (Minnesota looks strangely like Finland, with its many lakes and its forests of birch and pine.) We rode twenty miles. Glen was leading us. He didn't know where he wanted to go. He just knew he wanted to ride, ride, ride until it was dark. That was our Midsummers celebration!

Happy Juhannus!

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's Really Happening

Things have gradually fallen into place for our wedding. After negotiating with the minister and the church and our family, we've settled on a date and time and place. We've contacted the local county clerk's office and verified that there's no "waiting period" in California. We have all the documents we need. We have plane tickets, and my family has rearranged their schedules and made travel plans. It will be the first time we've all been together in one place since my grandmother's funeral.

There's a strange sort of synchronicity at work here. If California had legalized marriage one year ago, we couldn't have gone then, because Göran has only been able to obtain his birth certificate within the past year. If Göran had had his birth certificate and had obtained his passport earlier, we probably would have gone to Canada to get married. But now, marriage within our own country has become an option at the same time that travel abroad has also become available to us. It is almost as if we were were destined to get married now and only now. For nine years, we faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Now all the doors have decided to open at the same time.

I've been mentally trying to process the contradiction in my own heart and head between my testimony of the LDS Church, which I love with my whole heart despite the strong anti-gay marriage stance taken by the Church leadership, and my absolutely unshakeable, unquestioning, rock-bottom sense that getting married is the right thing to do. Nothing can convince me otherwise. I know what the Church says, I know what some people think, I know what some of the political pundits are blabbing about.

A scriptural text has been running through my head the last couple of weeks. I've been thinking of all the instances in the New Testament in which someone with an ailment came to Christ and received a healing, and Christ's response to them was, "Thy faith hath made thee whole." They came to him for healing, and he said to them, essentially, Your faith is the source of this gift.

And I've thought, it would be nice if gay marriage were not so controversial. It would be nice if making a pilgrimage to California to get married were not viewed by so many as an abomination and a mockery. It would be nice if everyone could celebrate our love with the same joy that we feel. It would be nice if our union could be blessed by the priesthood of the Church I have a testimony of. Instead, we're caught in this maelstrom of controversy about something that should be so simple, so basic. Commitment. Love. Family. Community.

I get on my knees and I pray, and the Spirit envelops me and says: It is your faith that gives this act meaning, that gives it the power to bind your family together. Everything will eventually be sorted out. All the confusion and darkness and false controversy will someday subside (maybe not in this life, not in this world ruled by darkness and hatred). When truth and love finally reign, you will look back on this moment and see that it was your faith in this moment of darkness that brought healing to you, to your loved ones, to your community and to the whole human family and all creation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

When We Repent...

When we repent, is it really as if we had never committed the sin in the first place?

Perhaps in the forensic sense... Perhaps in the weighting of the scales at the final judgment... Perhaps in the sense that none of the sorrow or pain caused by a sin will remain to hurt us or anyone else... Which in itself is an amazing thought!

But when I think back on the sins that I have committed, I realize that the pain caused by those sins caused me to learn and grow in a certain way; the way a child learns not to touch a hot stove. I'm not saying that we have to learn through experience. I still believe that sin is an experience we don't need to learn through. Yet, I've learned through mine. I have a profound experiential sense of how and why certain things are wrong, of how and why I misstepped at certain crucial periods of my life, and what changes I have needed to make in my life to avoid those missteps in the future.

Can others learn from my experience? I don't know... I guess it depends on the other in question. Some people seem incapable of learning certain lessons from other people's experience. Some folks seem determined to walk into the same snare I (and so many others) walked into before they learn.

What is my attitude toward others? The memory of my own sin is my number one motivation in restraining myself from condemning and judging others. When I judge or condemn, it is as if I never repented; the burden comes back, the mark reappears.

Isn't this why Christ warned us that we cannot receive forgiveness unless we give it?

So I forgive myself but I don't forget myself. The memory becomes a part of the new me, the more compassionate me, the me shaped more in the image of Christ.

Monday, June 16, 2008

God Will Not Allow...

I occasionally hear these kinds of statements made by faithful Church members, in Sunday School lessons and in talks. "God will not allow our leaders to lead us astray" or "God will not allow the true Church to be taken from the earth again."

Now I understand that when Joseph Smith restored the priesthood authority, he did receive certain revelations along the lines that the priesthood would remain upon the earth until Christ returned again to rule in glory upon the earth.

But how do we as Latter-day Saints interpret such prophecies?

American culture has been strongly shaped by Calvinism. In the Calvinist world view, God's will is absolute and supreme and overrules everything else. Human will and agency are so contingent upon the will of God, that it is more appropriate, from the Calvinist perspective, to say that human beings have only the illusion of free will. Everything is predestined by God according to a will and a wisdom that belongs to God alone, and which are far beyond human beings' ability to influence or even comprehend. In the strictest Calvinist view of things, you can spend your whole life living righteously and believing you will be saved, but you may still be destined for Hell, and there is nothing you can do about it. Because God ordains, and the only ultimate freedom you have is to acquiesce in what he has ordained.

In such a world view, prophecies about what will and will not happen are interpreted with a sense of absolute inevitability. And because Calvinist views of God and divine will permeate our culture (and permeate the world views of those who convert to Mormonism), it is possible that many of us have a tendency to interpret prophecy in that way. But in the understanding of the divine plan afforded through latter-day revelation, can anything possibly be ordained in this way?

In light of latter-day revelation, we understand the entire structure of our mortal existence as being framed by the principle of free agency. We understand that human intelligence is co-eternal with God. It was not created and cannot be created. Exaltation is a process by which God has imbued our intelligences with spirit bodies and then created a world in which we could receive physical bodies, as part of a process of enabling us to achieve eternal life like God. Indeed, we may have been co-creators of this world with God. We have been active participants in this plan from the beginning, a plan to which we freely consented. There were attempts made in Heaven to establish a plan that would impinge upon our freedom, that would force us. That plan was utterly rejected by God, and by us.

The whole drama of human history has been a drama in which God reaches out to us, reveals truth to us, and is present to guide us and help us, so long as we reach back toward God. But it is a drama in which perfect knowledge is eclipsed, to enhance our freedom, to heighten the truthfulness of a test whose purpose is to enable us to make the choices that can cultivate the traits of divinity (or blind us for eternity). We have always been free to reject God. And the tragedy embedded in scripture becomes most evident in those moments when Christ and the prophets have reflected on the nature of our choices, and have been forced to confess, "How God would have gathered you as a hen gathers its chicks, but ye would not."

With such an understanding, is there anything that God will not allow? Or is prophecy more a statement of Divine intent? Of divine hopefulness? When God restored the priesthood again through Joseph Smith, and promised that the true Church would never be taken from the earth again, would not such a prophecy always be contingent upon our faithfulness, just like all promises and blessings we have ever received and will ever receive at the hands of God?

Is it not the statement of a parent who loves us, who desperately hopes that we won't mess it up this time?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

I am incredibly grateful for my own father. He has been an amazing parent. He was always there for us. He has been fiercely committed to his family for over 45 years. There has never been a time when we could not rely on him. Even during the few years when I was estranged from my father, at the time I left the Church and was struggling to come to terms with my sexual orientation (and he was struggling to come to terms with it), I know that his love for me was unquestioned. It was just a time when we were both trying to figure out how best to express our love for each other. Though I know now how truly deep his love for me was. Far deeper than I thought at the time.

I don't even have the words to express the joy that I have felt as my father and I have become fully reconciled in recent years. We have literally wept tears of joy in each other's arms. I imagine that some day that is what my reunion with my Heavenly Father will be like.

In a conversation we had in the past year, my father made an off-hand comment about how his commitment to his family relates to his commitment to the Church. He said, "My ward is a temporal structure. In the next life, I won't be together with my ward. But my family is eternal." Keep in mind that my father is a very devout member of the Church who would do anything to serve the members of his ward. So that gives you some idea of how he loves and serves his family.

I have a growing gratitude for my father's wisdom as a father. All my parents' kids are now grown up and living on their own. But we don't stop needing a father. He still has work to do in teaching us and caring for us, and he fulfills that work faithfully. He will never stop being a father to us. He still prays for us every day. I know this because when we have been together during visits, I hear him and my mother pray individualized prayers for each child and grandchild, every day. We are still in touch with him every week, even when we live on opposite ends of the country from him. He still does whatever he can to help us with our problems, and to guide us through loving example. He still blesses us; he still lays his hands on our heads and invokes the power of the priesthood to bring goodness into our lives. But his insight into the challenges and the difficulties of life that we must face continues to grow. He is wiser than ever.

In case you can't tell, I really love and admire and want to be just like my father!

A year ago at my ward, on Father's Day the youth of the ward distributed little boutonnières to "fathers and future fathers," and I was touched when the daughter of a friend presented me with one. At that point, Göran and I knew we were going to be foster dads, we just didn't know when or who would be our foster son. But in December we finally became foster dads.

This Father's Day, we are fathers too. It sunk in for me when I overheard Glen speaking to a friend on the phone about us, and he referred to us as his "fathers." What an amazing feeling! What an amazing responsibility!

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Edom is the World

Ezekiel chapters 35 and 36 both refer to Edom. Chapter 35 is an extended prophecy focusing on Edom. Although chapter 36 focuses on the restoration of Israel, verse 5 seems to tie back to the preceding chapter, when the Lord says through Ezekiel "in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea." ("Idumea" is a synonym for Edom. In chapter 35 Ezekiel refers to Edom poetically as "Mount Seir," another synonym.)

Edom was a tiny nation on the southeastern borders of Israel, on the edge of the desert. By tradition, the nation of Edom was founded by Esau, the older brother of Jacob (Israel), whom Jacob and his mother tricked out of his birthright. Biblical texts suggest there was considerable mutual rivalry and hatred between Edom and Israel. In the early, pre-kingship years of Israelite history, the Edomites occasionally scored some victories over the Israelites, but they were subjugated by Israel under King David and never posed a serious threat to Israel after that, except possibly as collaborators with the imperial warlords of Assyria, Babylon and Persia who later swept away the Israelite kingdoms. Yet, the Israelites always remembered the bitter rivalry between Jacob and Esau.

One wonders why these two chapters of Ezekiel would give such prominent attention to Edom, a kingdom that by Ezekiel's time was as much a victim of the northern empires as Israel was. Until one realizes that in ancient Israel, "Edom" became a synonym for the Gentiles, for the World. Under Roman rule, for instance, the Jewish slang term in Aramaic for the Romans was "Edomites."

Ezekiel 35 lists the sins of Edom. They are hatred (see vss. 5 & 11), violence and excessive bloodshed (vss. 5-6), anger (vs. 11), and pride (vs. 13). The description in Genesis of Esau, the father of Edom, seems to fit this profile of pride, anger and violence. This prophecy against Edom is the classic declaration of how one's own sins come back to haunt one. Essentially, the Lord through Ezekiel declares that since Edom has lived by the sword, so shall they die by the sword.

Given the association of Edom with violence and arrogance, it is not difficult to imagine why the Israelites came to associate all foreign conquering empires with "Edom," why their nickname for the Romans was "Edomites."

How have the world's empires changed since then? The World is Edom.

I've never been a particularly violent person, but anger and pride have been my sins as well. For many years I hung onto useless anger against the Church and against others I associated with the Church. We leave the World and return to Zion by giving up our anger, our hate and our pride, by giving up our desire for unrighteous dominion. Each time we struggle against sin, it is an acknowledgment of our need for humility and repentance. It is a step away from anger and pride and a step toward the Empire of God.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pilgrimage, Part I

June 10, 2008

Dear Pastor _____:

My partner and I are members of Lyndale Congregational United Church of Christ, in Minneapolis, MN. Our pastor is Don Portwood. He may recently have called and left a message for you. We have been members of Lyndale UCC since 1994.

We will have been together in a committed relationship for 16 years this August. We held a commitment ceremony in 1995, which about 120 immediate and extended family and friends witnessed and participated in.

In light of the recent California Supreme Court ruling, we feel moved to travel to California to get legally married. For us this is a statement of the level and permanence of the commitment we feel toward each other; our belief in the dignity and sanctity of our relationship; our desire to participate in and contribute to the larger society on an equal basis with everyone else; and our desire to benefit from the legal protections -- for us and for our foster son -- that accrue from legal marriage.

We realize that given the existence of a DOMA law in Minnesota, a marriage contracted in California may not receive legal recognition in the state where we reside. However, we believe that the DOMA laws violate the "good faith clause" of the constitution, and we believe it is only a matter of time until those laws are challenged and found unconstitutional. We want to move forward with this, in faith that fairness will ultimately prevail. We are aware that by taking this step, we might even be able to participate in the process of eventually achieving marriage equality here in Minnesota and elsewhere.

I am contacting you because my brother lives in _____, and we will be staying with him when we travel to California to have a legal ceremony performed.

I've already reviewed your "weddings and unions" guidelines on _____ Church's web site.

According to the web site, the fee includes the services of a wedding facilitator, an organist, a custodian, candles and "Carillon bell pealing after the ceremony," in addition to the services of the minister and the use of the chapel and main floor area.

Here's the thing... We literally know nobody but immediate family in the _____ area. The only people showing up for the ceremony will be my partner and I, our foster son, my parents, my brothers and sisters, and my nieces and nephews (a total of 17 people tops, if everyone is able to drive down from Utah to meet us). We don't want special music. We don't need "use of the main floor for 3.5 hours." We don't need special candles or bell peals. We have been married (in our hearts) and living together for going on 16 years, and are pretty sure we don't need a wedding facilitator to go over "the human and the religious meanings of marriage and commitment" with us. We've spoken to our pastor, and he's willing to vouch for us and write a letter of recommendation in this regard! We had our "big ceremony" back in 1995 and we're really not looking to repeat that.

Literally, what we had in mind this time around was an opening and closing prayer, and a chance for me and my partner to tell each other and my family what this means to us. We would like a minister to perform the service, because for us this act will be a statement of faith. We would probably use the chapel for no longer than 30 minutes, and would be willing to use it at a time that doesn't conflict with anything else. We could even hold the ceremony somewhere else, if needed, such as at my brother's home in _____.

Your web-site clearly states that "The fees remain the same regardless of services used," but I am making a plea for mercy since it will already be stretching our budget just to get our small family to California. Given the extremely modest service we have it in our hearts to do, would $300 be an unreasonable fee?

We were hoping to hold a ceremony on or around Friday, July 25. (That date would allow some members of the family in Utah to come down and join us.) Please let me know if there's any possibility at all of accommodating us.


John D. Gustav-Wrathall
Goran V. Gustav-Wrathall


June 10, 2008

Hi John.

I'm off today, but we would be happy to work with you. As you can imagine we are having a lot of marriage requests right now......wonderful. We have certainly made accommodations for the kind of ceremony you're describing. Obviously you're not doing the regular "big wedding" thing, so if you aren't even having any music (let me know) and we therefore don't have to pay [an organist], we'd probably just charge you for the minister's services - the normal fee is $200. A little extra for custodial services would probably be asked - so the $300 fee you're asking for sounds exactly right.

Here's a couple of hitches. First, let me know what date you'd (ideally) like so I can make sure we don't have anything else going on in the church at the time. Second, we don't have any air conditioning and _____ can get awfully hot in the summer; your service will be so brief that you'd probably be OK no matter when we do it, but it would be a lot more comfortable in our sanctuary if you did morning or early evening (after 6:00) when things start to cool down. And finally, third, I happen to be out of town at that time in July. However, I have an Associate who would take good care of you, Reverend _____, if she's in town. I'll need to check with her schedule. And if she can't do it I have a number of other ministers who are members of our church I could approach.

So, given the hitches, shall we proceed?



June 11, 2008

Dear Pastor _____:

I somehow suspected this would become a busy marriage season for you. I agree, it is wonderful. I am gratified and humbled to hear of it. I occasionally hear people complain that it isn't politically advisable, it's going to cause a backlash, etc. But now that God has opened us up a way, I feel deep in my heart the urgency of making this public commitment, making this pledge for decency's sake and for love's. I believe we are participating in a great movement of the Spirit, and it shouldn't and can't and won't be stopped. Yes, it is exciting.

The hitches you describe are not hitches for us, so yes, let's proceed!

Let me know what is the best way to make our deposit. Can I send you a check?

I will need to consult with my family to see if they have a time preference, given the heat of mid-day. I would prefer a morning ceremony. But it could be that the evening, after 6:00 p.m. time slot will work best, given that family who have driven down from Utah the day before may want a day to rest. I can get back to you about this by Monday, latest, so that we can reserve an appropriate time slot.

Having made this initial wonderful contact with you, I am sad that you won't be there, but trust that, as you say, Reverend _____ will take good care of us.

As part of my morning scripture reading today, I read Ezekiel chapter 34, and it moved me to tears. Thank you for beiing a pastor in God's flock -- especially to those who have been abandoned by their shepherds.

Sincerely yours,

John Gustav-Wrathall

P.S. We definitely want July 25, if it's available. It's just a question of time -- morning or evening. We can take any time slot available that day if there are other activities in the church building.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Building Bridges

My friend Lee lives very close to the 35W bridge that collapsed last August. Yesterday we went for a walk across the 10th Avenue bridge, which runs right next to where they are re-building the new 35W bridge. This is a picture she took of just one part of the construction. It really captures the enormity of what they're doing.

When Göran and I ride our bikes across the University of Minnesota campus, over the bridge connecting the east bank of the university to the west bank, we can still see the wreckage from the old bridge. The pieces of the old bridge have been salvaged and neatly laid out on the river flats running next to the University, sorted by type of wreckage. From a distance they look like twisted and broken Tonka toys; parts of a child's erector set that got melted in the oven or run over by a car.

I've heard that the new bridge may be open as early as September, a little over one year after the old one collapsed. People say, "Oh that's quick." I don't know if it's quick or slow. How fast is an interstate highway bridge supposed to be built? It looks enormously complicated, and many people's lives -- not to mention local and regional economies -- will depend upon it being done right.

I look at it and part of me wishes the bridge could already be in place. And the other part of me realizes there's no point in building it if it isn't built right.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Spirit Doesn't Solve Your Problems

But if you ask, and listen, the Spirit helps you discern your problems' true nature.

The Spirit helps you know when you need to hold your tongue, and strengthens you when you need to speak. The Spirit gives you the confidence to be humble.

The Spirit lets you forgive, freeing you for the business you need to be about. The Spirit encourages you to keep trying, and reassures you that there is always the possibility to do better.

The Spirit grounds you in the infinite love of God, and makes you a conduit of that love. It reminds you to do the things and say the words and make the changes that say "I love you" to the people around you.

But you still have to solve your own problems.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I Signed Up For This

Some days things just don't go right.

The spouse gets edgy about something. The kid cries. There's an argument and suddenly blame is going all around. You go to work and nobody is cooperating. You can't get work done because you keep getting interrupted and they end up making you late on the one day when you really need to be home on time, because there are fires there that need tending.

But the thing is, I signed up for this.

In the pre-mortal existence, I was given the option of coming down here, and obviously I accepted. And after I arrived, I made the choices that brought me to this moment, this configuration of family and work and circumstances that seems to be colliding. And this is ultimately more or less just a test to see how well I can do with this, with all these choices. So when things go wrong, it can mean only one thing. I still have things I need to learn. No point getting upset or feeling sorry for myself. That just digs me in deeper anyway. It doesn't solve anything.

Just take a deep breath and ask yourself again, What can you do to move forward and make this right? Back-up (repent) if you need to.

And remind yourself, John, You signed up for this.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


It's been a long time since I felt the kind of hopefulness I felt last night as I watched Barak speak at the Excel Center. (I watched it on TV, had no desire to battle crowds in St. Paul.)

The sense of hope I felt was quite involuntary and unexpected. My hopes and expectations have sunken pretty low in the last twenty years. All I wanted was someone who was not in the thrall of the neo-cons. Someone who wasn't just downright evil. But Barak is so much more than "not Bush."

Part of me is skeptical. They always start out looking so nice. He sure can give a speech.

Part of me is also afraid. He's young, idealistic, and black. Seeing him on the stage with Michelle, it's like the 21st-century version of Camelot. He looks and sounds like a combination of JFK and Martin Luther King. And we know what kind of end they both met...

But all you can do is hope and pray for the best, and do your part to make the best come into being... I'm glad that godawful interminable primary is finally done, and Barak can get down to the business of trouncing McCain.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Why Am I Gay?

Why does this question matter?

Do straight people ask themselves, Why am I straight?

What if I get to decide if this question is important, and if so, why it's important?

Because when other people ask this question, it typically has something to do with rationalizing...

Why they think I need to go through some sort of therapy.

Why they think it's OK to exclude me from their church.

Why they think there should be laws on the books that make my relationship with my partner illegal.

Why they think my partner and I shouldn't be allowed to marry, or adopt, or raise children.

Their favorite answers to the Why am I gay? question are things like:

I chose to be gay because I hate God and want to rebel against him.

I'm sick and I need to be cured. Though my failure to be cured is usually my fault because I didn't try hard enough.

I was brainwashed by the gay rights movement to think I'm gay when I'm really not, I'm just confused.

This is a test. God is testing me to see if I can endure loneliness until I'm dead.

The answers usually don't have anything to do with any of the real facts on the ground.

The only answer that really makes much sense to me, based on the data is that I was more or less born this way. I don't ever remember not being gay. I only ever really remember becoming aware that what I was, was not what people expected me to be. I know that what I am enables me to love and to receive love from an incredible man, and to have a relationship which has become one of the greatest sources of true joy in my life.

But why, why?

When I put the question to God, the only answer I get back is Love. Love, love. God loves me unconditionally and is proud of me, and wants me to do the best I can in life. The family I am building is a very, very good thing, something I need to nurture with that sacred gift of love. My family is a sacred trust. My whole life is a sacred trust. The greatest sin would be to turn away from love, to forsake those trusts, to do anything less than to love with my whole heart.

Is not this gift of intimacy a nurturing, good gift? When we are able to experience it, do we not feel more whole?

We could ask, Why did God give us this gift?

It seems like a self-answering question. The answer, I think, is because we must all be interconnected. Because humanity is not just an aggregate of lonely selves. Humanity is a family, every member connected to all the others through the links we forge with each other. Göran links me to his family and I link him to mine, and the nurture we provide Glen will some day link us to others that he cares for. Humanity is this. We are made to be more than just our lonely selves.

Which is why it can feel like we are dying inside not to at least be able to try to connect ourselves intimately. Why that hunger for intimacy can drive us mad if we are forced to deny it.

I don't know all the whys, but I know that this gift is very, very good. And I know that we owe it to each other to honor that gift by helping and caring for each other.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

One Learned Man Is Harder on the Devil Than a Thousand Ignorant Worshipers

I want to thank the Somali Muslim woman who had this bumper sticker posted on her van. I caught a glimpse of it as she was pulling into the parking lot of a local Islamic center.