Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pilgrimage, Part II

The past week has been overwhelming emotionally. It's included some family struggle, which has been negotiated (I won't say "resolved") with good prospects for long-term growth and happiness. It also included some painful discussions with a close friend, that began with introspection and grieving and ended with affirmations of love and mutual commitment. All this amidst the general hectic preparations for two, not just big, but life-changing trips: one that begins tonight to California to get married, and another in August to visit Göran's lost and re-found family.

In the past six months, I realize, there's been a tremendous amount of change in our lives. All good change -- unbelievably good! But change nonetheless. And with it has come a certain amount of stress. In a way, the better the news, the bigger the change, and the more the stress. So there have been moments of tension and uncertainty, as well as rejoicing.

In recent weeks, adding to all this stress, both good and bad, is the rising stridency of the California gay marriage debate in the Church. The calls for decency and compassion on the one side and the calls for faith and obedience on the other are growing in intensity (and tone deafness). I still don't know how to assimilate it.

People are so sure that the First Presidency letter of June 29, 2008 represents the Lord's will, and not just the fallible human opinions of a generation of leaders that came of age before the McCarthy era. They insist that if you have any kind of a testimony of our leaders at all, then you must support them in this, even if everything else in you says they can't be right about this. Others insist that this letter from the First Presidency is proof of callousness and bigotry, and proof they can't possibly be true leaders of God's church. I can't find myself in those kinds of arguments.

I'm certain that the Lord requires obedience, and I agree we can't know the mettle of our faith until it has been tried. And other people's seeming certainty that this issue is the test of our faith for this generation has certainly challenged me. And there have been moments when I've wondered, Can I be making a terrible mistake to get legally married? And those moments can be even more painful when the stress has been running high around here... Which it has on several occasions in the last week in particular.

In addition to these heart-struggles, on July 15 I received a letter from the Office of the First Presidency in response to a letter I sent on June 15. The wording of the letter made it clear that President Monson never saw the letter I addressed to him, and it was being answered by an assistant. It was, all the same, a personal response -- clearly not just a form letter, though the bulk of it appeared to be a boilerplate statement likely included in responses to all letters inquiring about SSA. It did also include a statement I assumed to have been penned specifically in response to my letter: "The Lord loves all of his children. However, it is not possible for one to both practice homosexuality (or adultery, or fornication, or a host of other infractions of the laws of God that come as a result of succumbing to our inclinations) and be in full fellowship in the Church."

The letter wasn't surprising in any detail. What would have been shocking was if the response had been anything else than what it was. But it was a tangible, physical, personal reminder that arrived in my home mailbox of the way the lines are currently drawn so as to cut right through me, cut my heart literally in two. And it certainly was another occasion for more soul-searching.

Nevertheless, the pattern I've noticed is that my doubt about what we are about to do is greatest when I am least in tune with the Spirit. When I'm caught in the midst of a stressful, contentious exchange with a friend or family member. When I'm feeling down or disappointed or stressed. When my prayers have been shallow, or I was too rushed to do my scripture study and meditation. When I don't take the time to listen to the still small voice.

When I truly listen, as I did in the quiet of the morning today, at 7:30 a.m. when my family was still asleep, when I stay grounded by practicing patience and love, by working my way through the stress and pain by remembering who and what we all are -- children of God -- I know what I need to do with a crystal clarity.

It is odd that the good, faithful people insisting on blind obedience is more like a temptation to ignore the Spirit, to turn away from God, to stop listening to what I know. Just kill the Spirit, quench it. Obedience is more important. More important would be getting caught up in a growing fracas that is more about being right or wrong than it is about caring for all the children God loves. That's how it always starts. High flying statements about God's love. Which sound fine and good until somebody's corpse is bleeding on the steps of a California stake center.

Sometimes I wish this were easier. But, like Forester in this on-going conversation about his marriage I refuse to try to resolve this by letting go of the apparent contradictions. I have to affirm the truth where I see it, cling to it, hold it, live it the best I can, trusting that somewhere down the road the meaning of all these things will come clear and grandly reveal themselves.

At this point, I see only the next step in a life's journey: when we get on a plane for California.


Anonymous said...

first, I don't think that "the Lord requires obedience" is the final statement. obedience is a means to an end: developing the ability to love god and all men. i prefer to focus on the end, what ever means gets me there.

the response saying that one can't "practice homosexuality" and be in "full fellowship" reminds me of adam & eve's dilemma: they couldn''t partake of knowledge and still be in the garden (of innocence). they had to make a choice

some of us don't practice homosexuality and remain in full fellowhip; others do so and don't receive full fellowship. we have to make a choice.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference"

Chedner said...

It has been amazing to me how quickly the clarity of the still small voice gets muddled in the midst of unbridled passion. So easy is it for me to teeter in fear towards a life that would leave me voided but in good standing with my family and church.

But, as you mentioned, if I can just filter the flying contention out and listen on my knees, a steady and encouraging Being guides, and I am led to know what I must do, which sacrifice I must make (alluding to Santorio's comment).

Beck said...

Keep listening to the Spirit. All other voices can be helpful or distracting, even hurtful... but the Spirit will be constant and sure. You know that... keep going!

J G-W said...

Thanks, Beck. The Spirit has never failed me yet.

Beck said...

Dear John:

All my best during your venture into the exciting and amazing world of matrimony! May God bless you and Goran and your journey together, and may you feel the love of your family, friends, and fellow bloggers...



J G-W said...

Heh... It's interesting to use the specific term "matrimony" in a case where there are no "maters" involved! :)

But thanks for the well wishes!