Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposition Eight

I have a brother in California who is married and has four children, the eldest of whom is now old enough to vote. I have other relatives living in California as well: an aunt, an uncle, numerous cousins (first and other).

It had not occurred to me to seek in any way whatsoever to influence any of them to vote one way or the other on Proposition 8, until last night when I received an email from a friend urging me to do so. Since last night, I have pondered a number of questions. If I could speak to a family member living in California about this issue, what would I say? What would I hope from them? Should I take initiative in speaking to them about it?

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I think Proposition 8 is wrong. It is wrong in terms of the injury it will inflict on an entire class of people who are harming no one. It is wrong in the sense of being incorrect or untrue in what it purports to do. Denying marriage to couples who love each other and are committed to each other will not preserve or protect heterosexual marriage. In significant ways, I believe Proposition 8 and anti-gay-marriage campaigns in general promote an erroneous conception of marriage by treating marriage as a club that belongs to the "right" kind of people, rather than as a solemn, loving, intimate commitment between two people. What comfort is it to a wife who is being abused by her husband that loving same-sex couples can't get married? How does that help her?

Despite the fact that I have strong feelings -- or perhaps because I have strong feelings -- about Proposition 8, I have avoided talking to other family members about it -- even those family members who are in a position to vote on it. Why?

As Göran and I were making plans to travel to California to get legally married, I called my brother, who lives in Riverside. I explained our plans to him. I asked him if it would be OK for us to stay at his place while we were there.

I did not assume that he owed us hospitality. Had he not been able to host us, we would have stayed at a hotel, which would have made the trip much more costly. We were committed to do this, one way or the other. Had my brother refused us hospitality, I think I can honestly say I would have tried not to let that cloud my relationship with him. When I made my request to him, I did my best to word it in such a way that he could refuse us without fearing that he would hurt my feelings.

My brother warmly extended us hospitality. Of course we could stay with him. It was clear to me, from the way he worded his response to me, that he wanted me and my family always to feel welcome in his home. We had a wonderful visit with them. It was an opportunity for me to get closer to him and to his wife and children in a way I never had before. My nieces and nephews warmly and immediately embraced Glen as their cousin, and had a fabulous time with him and with us. My brother and his whole family attended our marriage. He and his wife changed long-standing plans in order to be there. He offered a prayer at the beginning of the ceremony. His youngest son was a ring bearer for us. His oldest son took video and his oldest daughter took pictures of the event.

Still, my brother and I never discussed the "issue" of gay marriage. I do not assume -- despite his warm personal support for me as a brother -- that he believes in or supports marriage for same-sex couples. I believe it is entirely possible that his hospitality was extended to me, and his presence at and participation in my marriage ceremony was an act of love for me personally, and nothing more. It is entirely possible that he believes same-sex marriage to be wrong, but that he also honors my right to make free choices for myself, to learn for myself, to do what my conscience tells me. I make no assumptions.

I have written elsewhere in this blog about my brother's abiding sense of fairness, demonstrated by his strong opposition to racism. My brother is a fair, loving, compassionate person. This was clearly demonstrated by his hospitality toward me at my marriage, especially in light of the fact that there was a time when I was not equally hospitable toward him.

My brother married in 1988. He and his wife were married in the Manti Temple. Despite the fact that I had left the church a year and a half earlier, he invited me to come and be present at their wedding. Of course I could no longer be present at the ceremony itself, but he at least wanted me to travel to Utah anyway, to meet his bride and to celebrate with him. I refused. I had my reasons, all of which seemed good to me at the time. But I did what my brother clearly has not done: I let my personal feelings and needs cloud my relationship with him. I should have been there for him as a brother, and I was not. And he -- and his wife -- were deeply wounded by my actions. I have since come to regret what I did. I have shed tears over my actions. I have apologized to my brother and his wife. But the one thing I cannot do is take the time back and be there for him when I should have been. The fact that my brother did not treat me in kind at my marriage speaks volumes about the kind of person he is.

If I am to believe some of the accounts I've heard coming out of California, apparently there are many who support Proposition 8 for all the wrong reasons -- out of fear and hate. Or they have supported Proposition 8 in the wrong way -- in divisive ways, in untruthful ways, in ways that have belittled and even demonized those who disagree with them, in ways that have scapegoated and stereotyped gay people. I hope that such behavior would at least give pause to those who support Proposition 8 who have some sense of fairness and decency. I hope they would consider the concrete impact that discrimination against gay folks has had on us, and the concrete impact Proposition 8 would have on real people, on real lives. I hope they would consider the negative impact that every campaign against equal rights for gay people has on the psyches and souls of gay people. But I acknowledge that the fact that some people support Proposition 8 for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way is not in itself an argument against Proposition 8.

What I can say about my brother is that I trust him. I know enough about morality to know that the way we make a choice is every bit as important as the choice itself. I trust him to make whatever choice he makes for the right reasons, because I know what kind of person he is. I trust that if he votes for Proposition 8 next Tuesday, it will be because he has thought things through carefully, because he has weighed everything church leaders have said, he has weighed what he knows about law and ethics and morality, and because he thinks it is the right thing to do. I trust that, and I believe it, and I hold his right and responsibility to make such a choice too sacred to unduly influence it with emotional appeals. Which is all I could do at this point. He knows me, he knows Göran, he knows what our marriage means to us. That is all he needs to know. It would be unfair for me to coerce him in any way, to make him feel that my love for him in any way is conditional upon the sacred choice he needs to make in the ballot booth. And if I owe my brother that kind of respect, I owe it to all of my family members and friends in California.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Overcoming Political Addiction

Before my conversion, my political behavior used to be different.

I used to obsess about politics. In fact, it used to be one of my main topics of conversation. In election season, it became virtually my only topic of conversation. Whenever an election season started to ramp up, I would begin to obsessively turn on the news and check the election coverage every night. Shows featuring political/election commentary became my standard TV fare. During the day at work, in between political conversations with co-workers, I would go several times a day to or other news-oriented web sites and check the latest polls to see how "my" candidates or issues were doing. More importantly, I became inordinately emotionally invested in the outcomes of political campaigns.

I wouldn't say I consciously made agreement with my political views a criterion for friendship, but I did have a tendency to hold and express strong views on political subjects. I did so often enough and strongly enough that it certainly -- however unconsciously -- shaped my circle of friendships and acquaintances in such a way as to exclude anyone who didn't pretty much agree with 99% of my political views.

My conversion changed all that.

My conversion made friendships and relationships with people primary, which naturally forced political concerns to the second or third rank in terms of my conscious priorities. Now, instead of just blurting out my political views to anybody I met, with the assumption that if they didn't like it, they could just take a hike and go talk to somebody else, my primary interest was the other person, and feeling that person out and understanding them, and being more sensitive about not saying something that might turn that person off or prevent us from getting to know each other better. And beginning to attend church regularly at my LDS ward meant that I was certainly getting to know people with political views different from the views I espoused prior to my beginning to attend church there in the fall of 2005. Certainly there are members of my ward who are politically liberal like I am, but that was no longer the most important point for me in a potential friendship. Rather, the most important point was shared faith and testimony, and strengthening and loving each other. I began to learn that being a Saint meant love and unity had to take priority over political solidarity.

Layered into this growing people-oriented awareness is my sense that there are certain sorts of behavior that very quickly cut me off from the Spirit. Political attitudes, emotions or behavior that have the effect of cutting me off from the Spirit include: fearing, blaming, condemning, attacking, and arguing. I was finding that much (if not most!) of my emotional investment in politics was tied up with these negative postures. My "political addictive" behavior was leaving me feeling cut off from the Spirit, and so, without making a necessarily conscious decision to do so, I just naturally found myself deciding -- in order to stay grounded in the Spirit -- to stay focused on my work and not to obsessively log on to or keep talking about political issues with co-workers or to watch news all the time at home. It's not that I don't still try to stay informed, and it's not that I don't converse with others about politics, or that I don't occasionally get sucked into the old sorts of conversations. But I do make conscious choices to try not to indulge the "dark side" or to do so obsessively in the same way I once did. And I find myself having to consciously "re-ground" myself spiritually when I do.

A growing awareness is emerging from this shift in behavior. Yes, political decisions are important -- morally and spiritually. I have always believed that and I still believe it. But I need to let go of specific political outcomes. Or rather, I need to be concerned about political outcomes in ways that are grounded in a more holistic, more positive view of the world. I need to understand that the political means to an end that I find most persuasive may not always be the only or even best means of achieving a morally desirable end -- such as peace or economic justice. I need to accept that others who desire those ends may have very different views on how those ends can be achieved. And sometimes they may be right and I wrong, and sometimes it may be a good thing that the political means I personally have espoused don't succeed. Sometimes I have to be open to learn from others.

If my political views cause me to feel intense anger or even hatred toward another person or a class of persons, it is a sign to me that I am on the wrong track. If the political means I espouse are causing a major rift or dissension or contention or hatred, maybe I need to question those political means or even let go of them. If political action leaves me feeling burned out and angry and frustrated, maybe it is the wrong sort of political action.

On the other hand, if political engagement leaves me feeling energized and positive and happy and more hopeful; and furthermore, if I can see a clear connection between that political action and the good, hopeful things in non-political areas of my life and my community; those are signs that I am engaging in the right kind of political action.

This emphatically doesn't mean never doing anything controversial. But it does probably mean never doing anything that is calculated to provoke, ridicule, or divide. For instance, I see my decision to go with Göran to California last July to get married, as falling into this more positive category of political action. Our journey to get legally married was simultaneously personal, social, familial, and political, all at the same time. It was not something non-controversial. But at the same time, it was an act that attacked and demeaned no one, that detracted from no one. It was something I knew in my heart to be the right thing to do. It empowered me and energized me personally; it made me a stronger and happier person, and Göran, Glen and me stronger as a family. It left me feeling more spiritually grounded and joyful than almost any other single thing I've ever done.

Finally, reflecting on this has given me insight into a particularly Mormon understanding of the connection between politics and religion in a democratic society. I've always believed -- even in my non-Mormon days -- in the fundamental truth encapsulated in this Book of Mormon text:

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land. (Mosiah 29:27)

I certainly believe that there will be in the divine scale of things a reckoning for any nation that chooses militarism over peace, that chooses economic inequity over concern for the poor, that chooses pride of race or class or gender or sexual orientation over justice for those who are politically weak or who are minorities. But I do not believe that people who make unwise political decisions are necessarily unrighteous. Only God, who sees the heart of the individual voter, the individual political agent, knows what motivates that voter, knows whether a decision is made out of pride or love, hate or concern, indifference or empathy. A voter -- or a nation of voters -- may have a good heart and still make mistakes. The difference between a good heart and a bad heart is that the good heart learns from mistakes and tries to do better. And we may nurture hope even in the face of potentially devastating political mistakes if the heart is still good.

Very often, American political behavior has been motivated by a bad heart. For instance, it is hard for me to interpret the history of American slavery (and its racist after effects) in any other light than that very many Americans chose greed and pride over fairness and love. Though I do believe many good people were caught up in slavery and in racist institutions, who were doing the best they thought they could (though maybe not doing enough).

It is nurturing the good heart that demands our very best and highest political efforts, to keep love flowing in our political and our nonpolitical lives. The more I foster that awareness, the more I can once and for all put political addiction behind me.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Visual Dream Journal

Since late July, I've been working on the following animated video shorts. Friday and Saturday, I presented them at Patrick's Cabaret. The animation is crude, I know... I'm still mastering the art of making pictures move. But I was pleased with the images and the art, and relieved to finish everything by the deadline.

These are three dreams that I've had in recent months that were significant to me. They are presented below in the order that I produced the videos (not in the order I had the dreams!). My favorite video is the last of the three, Dream 414.

There are dreams I would not share, because they are too personal or too sacred. But there are some dreams I feel the things I learned from them are worth sharing. After my presentations over the weekend, I had a couple of people commented that even though these were my dreams, they found the themes touched on in the dreams universal. If I've chosen to share these, it is because I hope that, if they are not "universal," at least others will be able to relate to them.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet

After the end of the fourth session, I couldn't help breaking out into smiles. The prophet's message left me feeling burdens lifted, my heart lighter. By the time I got home, I felt positively joyful... Couldn't go without calling my parents on the phone and expressing my gratitude and love for our new prophet, Thomas S. Monson. Couldn't go without taking this moment to write my gratitude into this blog...

The beginning and ending of his message underlined that change is inevitable, that we have no choice but to adapt. And in navigating change, we need to learn to distinguish between what is important, and what is not. And what is important? The people in our lives, the ones we love. Never let problems become more important than people, he reminded us. The love and relationships in our lives are self-evidently blessings from God. Joy is for the here and now! Be grateful for what you have! Ingratitude is one of the greatest sins! Gratitude is one of the greatest virtues! Gratitude teaches us the proper relationship between us and our Savior, us and our Heavenly Father. Never have I seen gratitude raised to the level of a theological virtue in just this way...

I am so grateful for President Monson! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!