Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Thursday, Glen, Göran and I will be boarding a plane for Denver, with a connecting flight to Salt Lake City. There we will be greeted by my little brother Joe, who will drive us back to his place in Spanish Fork, where we will spend the next ten days during our family reunion. My sister-in-law Becky is a member of the Ute Indian Tribe, so part of the reunion will be spent at a Pow Wow near Roosevelt, UT. Glen has never been to Utah before, so we are planning some outings and day trips to Timpanogos Caves, Arches National Park, the Great Salt Lake and the Salt Flats. And of course, Mormon Central. But other than that, we are just very much looking forward to spending time with family.

Glen can hardly wait; he is so excited he is beside himself. He adores my family -- my parents, my siblings, all my nieces and nephews. He first met my parents when they came to Minnesota for a visit specifically to meet him a year ago April; he met everyone else for the first time at our wedding in Riverside, CA last July. And he fell in love with them (and they with him).

We're all a bit stir crazy, anxious to just get away from Minnesota. Not that we don't love it here. But we're ready for more mountains, less humidity, and a change of pace. And family!

I'm so grateful for my parents. I miss them. We've grown so incredibly close these last few years, closer than ever before in my life. The time I spend with them is literally sacred to me. I look forward to long walks with my mom and dad, play time with nephews and nieces, and talks with my siblings. Göran will spend lots of time in the kitchen with my mom. Glen will hang out with his "cousins."

I don't get to go to the temple. But my family is my temple. It is where I enjoy relationships that are literally eternal. Where I belong unconditionally, where I am loved and embraced, where I can pray out loud, and where I can speak freely of sacred things. There was a time in my life when I never thought I could say this, but it is with my family that I am most myself, where all the aspects of my life, my relationship with my husband, and my faith all come together without contradiction. I feel so incredibly lucky.

Two more days!

Monday, June 29, 2009

I Brought My Scriptures to Gay Pride

In order to keep my marriage on an even keel, I am not able to attend Church as often as I would like. One week ago last Sunday was one such occasion. I don't feel bad or guilty about missing Church under these circumstances. Sometimes the right place for me to be is Church, and I need to do whatever is necessary to be there. But the Spirit has indicated to me that strengthening and taking care of my family is one of my main missions in life, so taking time off from Church once in a while to show my husband that I love him and to spend quality time with our son is sometimes also the right thing to do.

I generally try not to miss Church two Sundays in a row. That presented a challenge, because yesterday was Gay Pride Sunday in the Twin Cities, and as I have posted previously, there's a strong expectation on the part of my family that I be at Gay Pride and not at the Mormon Church on Gay Pride Sunday. This time I managed to negotiate a compromise. I would attend Sacrament Meeting, which in my ward takes place from 9 AM to a little bit after 10 AM. Then I would head straight home, change out of my Church clothes, and we would head downtown in time to find a place to watch the parade, which began at 11 AM.

I'm glad I didn't miss Sacrament Meeting. I didn't have the usual opportunities to renew friendships in Sunday School and Priesthood Meeting. But I felt the Spirit so strongly, and the messages about faith actually helped me find some resolution to a little problem that's been gnawing at me lately. There was a particular moment when Bro. B. was reading some passages of scripture in his talk, and the Spirit gave me a key insight through the text as I read it in my own set of scriptures along with him. I was blessed!

But Sacrament went a little late, and so I arrived home a little late, and we were a tad rushed moving on to the next activity, and I left my scriptures in the pannier bag of my bicycle, a fact that went unnoticed until we arrived downtown and locked our bikes up. There's lots of petty thievery downtown, and as unlikely as it seemed to me that someone would steal my scriptures, believe it or not they are valuable to me and I didn't want that. So I had no choice but to bring them along with me to Gay Pride.

When Göran saw me taking them out of the pannier bag, he said, "Why did you bring those?" "I forgot to leave them at home," I said. He rolled his eyes and moaned, "I have nothing to say." So off we went to Gay Pride, me with my scriptures.

Of course I had no real use for them there. But having them made me aware that, metaphorically at least, there is no place I actually can go without my scriptures. In some sense I carry them everywhere in my heart. Having them there physically with me was, of course, a more-graphic-than-usual reminder of who I am and what I believe.

The Saturday before Gay Pride, there was a rather important, frank fathers-to-son talk that Göran and I had to have with Glen. And the subject of the talk was, what things about Gay Pride are good, and what things are bad. In the good category was: the affirmation that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of, the affirmation of the positive things that the gay community has accomplished in the forty years since the Stonewall Riot in 1969, and the affirmation of the diversity of the gay community, which includes support groups, PFLAG, Rainbow Families, and religious groups. Much of what we see at Gay Pride is a visible reminder of the efforts ordinary people have made and are making to improve their lot and to become better people and a better community. All very, very good, and more than enough justification for being there to witness it and support it.

In the bad category: the ever present "easy sex" mentality, the superficial emphasis on physical beauty that, I've decided, has a deleterious effect on our spirits and our culture, the numerous scantily clad boys bumping and grinding... You get the picture. It's not that I've become a prude. Sex is a very, very good thing and an important part of life. But there's something to be said for maintaining a kind of propriety in public; there are valid psychological and social and emotional reasons for doing so, I think.

Last year at Pride, our son met up with some friends of his from District 202 -- a support group for gay youth -- and they wandered around the park together, periodically checking in with us. This year, our son stayed with us. Some friends of his from school (Glen's "girl posse") met up with us, and we all toured the various booths in the park together. And I think it was a good thing. I think Glen was actually grateful to have his two dads with him this year keeping an eye on things (one of whom was carrying his scriptures!). I actually enjoyed interacting with his friends too. That was a bonus.

I ran into a number of my students from the Seminary there. (In the past two years, I've had about a half-dozen students who are gay.) I enjoyed introducing them to my family, and my family to them.

The high point of pride for me though, was visiting the "J-Pride" booth. "J-Pride" stands for Jewish Pride. It's a small thing, I know, but it made me deeply happy to see so many people in the park -- people of all races and ethnicities -- sporting "J-Pride" stickers. I thought of the long history of anti-Semitism in America (which is part of what I teach about in my course) and I, of course, thought about the Holocaust and the time when the world stood by while millions of Jews were massacred. And my recollection of the horror of that in contrast with the sight of so many non-Jews wearing Jewish Pride stickers made me profoundly happy. Never again, I thought. Never again should they -- or anybody! -- stand alone. And that, my friends, is what Gay Pride should be all about.

While I was at the booth getting my own "J-Pride" sticker (it was the only sticker I chose to wear), I ran into a very old friend from my days in campus ministries at the University of Minnesota, Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, who has been the interim rabbi at Shir Tikvah, a local synagogue. We hugged and exchanged news. Those friendly exchanges with old friends -- by the way -- another of those things that falls in the "good" category at Gay Pride.

As I walked away from the J-Pride booth, I actually felt the Spirit. It was quite strong, quite amazing. And the Spirit brought to my mind one other thing of great importance about the Jewish people besides the fact that we should never, never again let anything like the Holocaust happen. It is that the very existence of Jews as a people is -- like the presence of my scriptures at Gay Pride -- a visible, physical witness of the justice, mercy, and love of God. We should all be such a people, a people who by nature of our existence testify to the reality of God and of God's justice and love.

Happy Pride!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism, With a Key to the Scriptures

I really wish I had been the first to write a play, or a book, or a dissertation, or anything, really, with that title. But Tony Kushner beat me to it. What I can't figure out is, why this play premiered at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I thought Tony Kushner plays could only premier in New York City, leaving us benighted Midwesterners to lap up the crumbs fallen from the tables of the cultured East Coast. Things being what they are, I really had to see this play. I really had to see any play with this title, whether it had been written by Tony Kushner or not. And I did, last night, with my whole family.

The truth is, just about any play written by Tony Kushner could have that title, since I'm not sure that Tony Kushner has yet written a play that was not, at heart, a guide to Capitalism and Socialism, with a key to the scriptures, written by one of America's most intelligent homosexuals. This particular play of that title was about an old man who has gathered his family together one last time, to announce to them his intention to sell his New York brownstone home for $4 million, and then kill himself so that they can have a decent inheritance. And it is about this man's forty-something gay son, who is forced by the hustler he's been having an affair with to choose between his lover and his husband of seventeen years. And it is about the old man's lesbian daughter, who must decide how hard she will fight to keep her father from killing himself.

The gay son character, oddly enough, is a gay man in his forties with an African American husband, who did his doctoral work in History and who lives in Minneapolis. That's about where the resemblance between this character and me ends. I could be a character in a Kushner play, though. Me, the forty-something gay man, whose African American husband of seventeen years must decide if he can forgive me for discovering that after two decades excommunicated from the Mormon Church, I can't deny my faith. Tony Kushner really should write a play about me. Or maybe I should write a play about me.

The beauty of a really good play is that you watch it, and you realize that -- whoever or whatever the characters are -- it is really about you. About your hopes, your fears and your struggles. And this play was definitely one of those.

And what is the "Key to the Scriptures"? There is a very scriptural question at the heart of this play. That question is, What gives life meaning? Is it spirit or is it the flesh? Or is it their convergence?

This is my key to the scriptures: Life is too precious a gift to waste on ingratitude.

Thank you, Tony Kushner.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Taking My Family to the Temple

Yesterday, during our stake conference, the temple president of the St. Paul Temple and his wife were invited to speak. Sister Archibald shared inspiring stories of miracles and personal revelations that had blessed the lives of faithful members who had attended the St. Paul Temple. President Archibald spoke about the importance of personal revelation, the importance to each of us of engaging in our own personal quest to know our Heavenly Father. He pointed out that there are many things we cannot learn except through the Spirit, things we can only understand through the Spirit. And he underlined the role that is played in being able to be worthy of personal revelation by the process of becoming worthy to enter the Temple, and then regularly participating in its magnum opus, its great work. Other speakers at Stake Conference underlined the importance of temple work, and the importance of personal revelation as well.

Through all this, I felt the Spirit tugging at my heart. I felt incredibly happy and privileged to be at Stake Conference, surrounded by the Saints, in the beautiful chapel at our stake center in Crystal, Minnesota which was decorated for the occasion with beautiful flowers. The chapel was filled with light -- both physical and spiritual. All I could do was pray gratitude that I could be in this place where I felt such peace and happiness and the unmitigated presence of the Spirit. But the sweet was intermixed, as it often is in life, with the bitter too.

Later that afternoon, Göran, Glen and I were driving around the Twin Cities. Glen has his learner's permit, and our friends Betty and Sarah have generously allowed us to regularly borrow their car so he can practice drive under my watchful eye. (He has become a very safe, skillful driver, so there's very little I need to watch any more!) I realized that, though the St. Paul Temple was dedicated in 2000, I've never actually been there. I've never seen it, even from the exterior, and I felt a sudden hunger to be there, to see it.

Glen is always asking us to come up with ideas for new places he can drive to while practicing his driving skills. So I suggested we ought to drive to the temple. I called my friend, Sister J., and she gave us instructions on how to get there over the phone. After getting a bit lost on the highways, and after having to find an unexpected path around all the highway construction presently happening on Interstate 94E going to St. Paul, we eventually made it. The above photo is a picture of the temple that Göran snapped with his i-Phone. He uploaded it to his "Loopt" account, with the caption, "John needed to go see the Mormon Temple @ Oakdale, MN."

As you can see from the photo, when we arrived there it was starting to get dark, and it was a bit cloudy out. I expected there to be lights outside the Temple, but there were none. There were lights on inside the temple, illuminating some of the stained glass windows on either end. Unlike the temple my family attended when I was growing up in Rochester, NY, the Washington, DC Temple, this temple is very small and inconspicuous. While the Washington Temple leaps out at you as you're driving down the beltway toward Bethesda, MD, like some shining castle recently descended from Heaven, the St. Paul Temple is invisible until you are almost right on top of it. If you are not looking for it, you can easily miss it and drive right past. It's short and rectangular, and has a mausoleum-like feel to it, the more so given the cemetery-like manicured and fenced grounds around it, and the chapel/visitor's center nearby, which is as big if not bigger than the temple itself. I marveled a bit, actually. I'm accustomed to temples being enormous, overawing structures, and this one definitely is not. All the same, I felt the same happiness in this place I had felt earlier in the morning at the Stake Center in Crystal, the peaceful recognition that this was a sacred place, that I was standing on sacred ground. After a while, we got back in the car and drove back to Minneapolis, where I dropped Glen and Göran off and then returned the car to Betty and Sarah.

I confess my desire to go to the Temple. I long for the opportunity to participate directly in its great work of uniting all the families of the earth, both living and dead. I participate only indirectly now through genealogical research and data extraction work. I long to be in this sacred place, to stand on sacred ground, and be qualified to receive the revelation that being in such a place qualifies us to receive. But while most Saints enter the temple for the first time in order to be sealed forever to the loved ones they have chosen, in order for me to enter that place again I would have to say goodbye forever to the loved ones I have chosen. Others enter the temple in order to seal their promises to each other for all eternity. In order to enter, I would have to break the promises I have made to my other. And that, I cannot do. Thus the bittersweet of being in that place. Thus the heartbreak.

During Stake Conference, our new counselor to the Stake Presidency, brother Jeffrey Kerr, compared being married to having two hands that can work together, that help one another accomplish all the work in life that we have to do. That much I can also testify. Losing Göran would be like losing my right arm. It would be worse. I'd rather lose my right arm. I'd gladly put it on the chopping block before I'd lose him. To hurt him would be like jabbing a knife in my own right arm. I consider the journey we've walked together the past 17 years, and I consider the many ahead, and I don't want to imagine it without him. Everything of value I've learned in life, I've learned because I've loved him, and because, through thick and thin, through heartache and exquisite joy, we've been there together. This testimony that I have of the Church, and my hunger to join the Church again, has been perhaps the greatest trial of our relationship. But even through that, there is no one else I would rather wrestle with. What is the point of having an eternal family if you can't have it with the one you love eternally?!

These are the feelings that have welled up in my heart the last twenty-four hours. It's painful. But I have also been blessed and comforted by the Spirit. There's a reason he's called the Comforter! The Spirit has promised good things to me. He has reminded me that there's only one path forward for me, and it is to keep my promises -- all my promises -- the very best I can. To love and have faith and to hope. To pray without ceasing, to bless the lives of others through service and optimism, to always, always bear witness to the truth. There is no sacred ground -- for me -- without moving forward in that way, with a joyful heart. And my heart is filled with joy, even if it aches occasionally.

I want to go back there again. I want to stand on that sacred ground and feel the Spirit there, even if -- for now -- I can only stand on the sacred ground outside the temple.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Center of Gravity

This morning as I was biking to work, I was aware more than usual of a basic law of physics. If I'm trying to get speed on my bike, the easiest way to do it is to position my body in such a way that my center of gravity is just above my hips. Then when I peddle, it's much easier to exert force with my legs. When my center of gravity is elsewhere, say, when I'm sitting upright and maybe even leaning back a bit, I get completely exhausted very quickly if I try to peddle at the same speeds I can peddle when my center of gravity is more forward, and more directly above my hips. When my center of gravity is in the right place, I'm able to go much faster and be less tired.

This principle works in other physical disciplines as well. Back when I was a student at the University of Minnesota, because I had written a number of letters to newspapers and spoken in public forums in support of gay rights, I periodically received phone threats and hate mail. I even received some calls threatening physical violence, so I enrolled in a martial arts/self-defense course for a time in order to be able to protect myself physically if necessary. If there was one thing I learned from these classes, it was that when defending yourself the main thing you need to pay attention to is where your center of gravity is. If you stay centered, it is much harder for an opponent to knock you off balance, and much easier for you to deliver disabling blows to your opponent that will prevent them from harming you and enable you to escape.

Where your center of gravity is located is key. You always have a center of gravity, but the closer it is to your physical center, the more balanced you will be. Force exerted from your center of gravity will always be more efficient. Basic physics.

The same principle applies spiritually. We all have a spiritual center of gravity. When our spiritual center of gravity is located in our "outward observances," in our "works," in the things we do, we will be spiritually out of balance. We become spiritually and emotionally exhausted focusing on all the stuff we are supposed to do in order appear righteous to others.

If, on the other hand, our spiritual center of gravity is inward, in the center, the outward observances flow more naturally. They become a reflection of our inward faith, hope, and, most of all, our love. For love is the spiritual center of all things. If our center of gravity is there, in the heart of love, it is harder for others to knock us off balance. When the things we do proceed from that spiritual center of love, they become easy to do, they become a joy, rather than that exhausting "one more thing" on our long list of things we're doing to try to impress God or impress our fellow human beings.

The past week has been trying for me. And there have been moments when I have just ached inside, when I have felt like I couldn't do one more thing, take one more step, say or write one more word. I was very aware of how weak and imperfect and flawed I am. I was grateful for Church on Sunday. I was aware of the presence of the Spirit, encouraging me to just be still, be quiet, wait. If I had no energy left, it was OK to just be still, to acknowledge that I am me and God is God.

Those moments of weakness are good. They are painful! I was hurting! But they help remind us of our utter dependence -- if we let them. The pain helps us if we let it remind us where our ultimate spiritual center is -- in God. To recognize that we are not self-reliant in any ultimate sense is to find our center, to know who and what we are. It is to know that we are children of God.

Fortunately, like all things good and bad, the pain eventually ends. I woke up this morning from a peaceful, reassuring dream (that maybe I will blog about later). After I had written it down, and knelt in prayer, I found not necessarily that I had found my center, but that my center had found me, and life is very, very good. I am grateful. And grateful for what I have learned, once again, about who and what I am and how to get home.