Tuesday, October 27, 2009


In August 2006, I had a spiritual experience while attending Church with my parents in Springville, UT. The Spirit very clearly told me that I needed to open myself to the possibility of having children. This seemed like an odd prompting to me at the time. When I came out back in the late 1980s, I simply assumed that children would never play a significant role in my life. I actually went through a kind of grieving process, and said goodbye to the idea of fatherhood. When -- decades later -- the Spirit prompted me to open myself to parenting, I still didn't see how that would be possible. Göran and I have both found it necessary to work full time jobs, and I've never seen much point in adopting a child unless we somehow might find the means for one of us to quit work. But by the time I had this experience, I was growing in my ability to trust the promptings of the Spirit, so I responded by promising God that I would do as he asked, and open myself to this.

Some months later, a social worker friend of mine asked me if Göran and I would consider becoming foster parents. Had I not received that prompting and responded positively to it, I probably would have dismissed my friend's request without giving it much thought. But thanks to the Spirit's encouragement, I discussed the request with Göran and we mutually agreed to look further into foster parenting. Long story short, in December 2007 Göran and I became foster dads, and our lives have been forever transformed as a result.

My life acquired a new purpose. Once our foster son was placed with us, we both realized that from that moment on, he would be our top priority. Sacrifices of leisure and money I once never would have believed myself capable of became taken for granted. The way our home life was organized, the kinds of activities we would be involved in, our finances -- every aspect of our life together -- would now be arranged with the idea of providing nurture and support to our foster son, doing everything possible to help ensure his greatest future growth and happiness.

There have been times when I felt that -- if called upon to do so -- I would willingly give my life for him. It amazed me that such powerful feelings -- feelings I had never imagined possible in me -- could come into play in my life. And in such a short period of time! One moment, this boy was a complete stranger to me, and within days of meeting him we were bonded for life. It amazed me. Is it that the parenting instinct I had somehow suppressed, once given an outlet, welled up with extra force to make up for lost time? But needless to say, I have discovered a new richness in my life. I now can say I literally can't imagine what my life would be any more without Glen.

As time passed, we began to make more and more choices that have enhanced our capacity to function effectively as parents. In September of this year, for instance, I was finally able to persuade the managers of our law firm to allow me to work out of a home office, to enable me to be more available for our son, and to manage our home life better.

My involvement in the LDS Church also became a resource to me as a parent. With Glen in our lives, I participated in Priesthood and Sunday School lessons and discussions on parenting with heightened interest and a sense of urgency. The principles of family life taught in the Church -- principles of self-sacrifice, of putting others before oneself, of patience, chastity and fidelity, humility, persuasion, discipline, and the outpouring of love that effective discipline requires, of the need for prayer to find strength from beyond oneself, the gift of discernment, and trust in the guidance of the Spirit -- these principles have been my guiding lights in the journey of parenthood. I find myself on my knees, again and again, asking for help in developing the virtues that being a father and husband require. And the Lord has never left a single one of these prayers unanswered. In fact, rarely do I seek my Heavenly Father's guidance and help in such matters but that I am solemnly impressed by the Spirit that there is almost nothing in my life more important than to be an effective mate and dad.

Of course there is irony in this... Another one of the more powerful spiritual promptings I've received came in June 2008, when it became evident that a Supreme Court ruling in the State of California had opened to me for the first time ever the possibility of being legally married. The Spirit immediately prompted me to go and get married as soon as possible, not to wait. And so we did just that. Our wedding itself was a mountaintop spiritual experience for me. It was a time in my life overflowing with the warmth, light, and love that accompany the presence of the Spirit. Through the Spirit I felt with immediacy and power the approbation of my Heavenly Father. I knew he was very pleased with me -- with us -- for making this commitment.

We were blessed with an outpouring of rare spiritual -- and physical -- gifts as a result. After returning from California, as I prayed for the first time back in our home in Minnesota, the Spirit instructed me that because of the obedience I had shown in obeying the prompting to go to California and get married, I would be entitled to special gifts in my efforts to father Glen and nurture my spouse. What I asked in Christ's name, in my capacity as a father, to bless and strengthen my family, would carry special weight, so long as I honored all the promises I had made to my spouse and to God. And since then, there have been numerous situations in which I have seen that promise fulfilled. It has certainly strengthened my resolve to resist certain kinds of temptation -- to keep my mind and my heart pure, to avoid anger and impatience, to keep working even through the inevitable stresses and strains of life. (And teenage-hood!)

These mountaintop (and valley) spiritual experiences of course have contrasted sharply with the messages coming from the Church leadership in conjunction with the campaign to deny me and my partner the legal rights and recognition of marriage. I still don't completely know what to make of the contradiction. To say it is painful is an understatement. But I have received comfort and reassurance from the Spirit in proportion to the difficulty of that contradiction, and in response to the occasional pain caused by unthinking and insensitive statements made by members of the Church that I love. God is my refuge on this (as he must be in all aspects of my life). When I have made efforts to forgive, to love, to have patience, even in the face of misunderstanding and injustice, I have been blessed beyond my ability to receive.

Another irony is in the kinds of discussions that occasionally crop up in Church contexts, usually when the Proclamation on the Family is brought up and discussed, particularly in the characterizations made in the Proclamation about gender. When I listen to the Proclamation (or excerpts from it) read in Church, I mostly find myself nodding in agreement. I have a testimony of the importance of family, and my experience as a same-sex husband and as a parent has strengthened my testimony that the most important work that we do and the most important things that we learn, we learn as members of a family. I also have a sense of the importance of having a parent in the home who functions as a provider, and a parent in the home who functions as a nurturer. Though I find myself shaking my head a bit at the insistence that only a man can play the former role and a woman the latter.

I shake my head, first of all because in our home life Göran and I each at turns and in our own ways both function as provider and nurturer. We both work. We both care for household maintenance, for meals, for clothing. We both have functioned at times as disciplinarians. We both have had to provide emotional comfort. As I am sure most heterosexual couples do. There are times when the mother must work and discipline. There are times when a father must comfort and do household chores. Isn't that the way all families work?

I also smile, because, if I had to pin a role on my lapel, I'd say that I would probably wear the "provider/disciplinarian" button, and Göran would probably wear the "nurturer/comforter" button. Its just the way we work, the way our personalities mesh, the ways we compliment and interact with each other. Glen recognized it immediately. Within weeks of including him in our household, he was (with an impish sense of humor) introducing Göran to his friends as his "mom" and me as his "dad." He was just joking! (he felt it necessary to explain!) We're both his dads. But there was a grain of truth, if ever so small, in the joke. I enjoy doing more "daddy" like chores -- like scraping and painting the house, which was "my" project this past summer. Göran does more "mommy" like stuff -- planting a flower garden, and playing hostess when we entertain guests. I generally take a "head" approach to things, being more philosophical and rational. Göran tends to take the "heart" approach, following his feelings and occasionally getting impatient with my "intellectual" ways.

Earlier today, a friend of mine asked me if we had Halloween plans. I said (truthfully) that we are thinking about attending my ward's Halloween party. He asked me what costumes we would wear. I said (jokingly) that I would wear a suit and tie, and Göran would go in drag, and our costume would be called "one man/one woman." The Devil made me say it. But it was my way of acknowledging that from our perspective, gender seems so much more flexible a thing than the wording of the Proclamation would imply. I see the evidence of gender's flexibility both in gay and in straight couples, both Mormon and non-Mormon.

And yet, there's a principle in the Proclamation that I know is true. I know it from promptings of the Spirit. I know it from mundane, everyday, nose-to-the-grindstone-of-life experience. Every family needs a provider or providers, every family needs a nurturer or nurturers. And to accept those roles with a loving heart, with humility and prayer, is the highest, noblest, greatest and best thing we can do with our lives. Of that I have not the least doubt.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where I Am in My Journey

Thanks, Abelard, for posing this question to other members of the Moho blogging community... It's a great exercise to think through these questions and answer them -- for ourselves, if not for others.

How did you get to where you are today?
I almost committed suicide the summer of 1986. At the time I was a student at BYU, struggling to deal with my feelings of same-sex attraction, struggling with doubt and self-worth. I was in a lot of pain. Later that summer, I had my name removed from the records of the Church, after having a powerful series of spiritual experiences in which I felt that God was guiding me to distance myself from the Church for a time.

In the late 1980s I came out. Also, following a series of spiritual experience in which I sought God's guidance to help me figure out whether I should be celibate or try marrying a woman, I felt the Spirit pushing me to be open to "all the possibilities." I spent a summer in a Roman Catholic monastery. Eventually I started dating men.

I met my husband in 1992. We've had our ups and downs, struggles and joys. We celebrate a number of "anniversaries." When we first moved into the same apartment together (1993), when we had our first "commitment ceremony" (1995), when we got married in the eyes of the state of California (2008). We remain lovingly committed to one another, despite the fact that, in 2005 I had a series of powerful spiritual experiences which led me to return to the LDS Church.

I've been "active" in my ward in Minneapolis since October 2005. I have sought guidance from the Lord on what to do in regard to my relationship with my husband, and the Spirit has instructed me that under no circumstances am I to leave him. I am to be faithful to him and honor our relationship as I would if we were a legally married husband and wife. I try to live as faithfully as I can, applying as many principles of the Gospel as I can in my life. I have a testimony of the gospel and the Church. I believe that the present leaders of the Church are called and inspired by the Lord though, like all of us, are not perfect. I strive to be faithful in the same way that all of us are called to be faithful -- to be loyal to the Church despite my imperfections and the imperfections of others.

Are you happy with where you are? why or why not?
I often experience sadness and pain about not being able to be a full member of the Church, given my current circumstances. Sometimes I wrestle with serious self-doubt. I have a testimony of the Church and its leaders, and the Church at present has taken such a hard position on same-sex marriage. Is something terribly wrong with me? Am I so out of touch? Will I be eternally damned?

But in general, despite this kind of wrestling on occasion, the Spirit is powerfully present in my life, reassuring me, comforting me, and helping me to grow. I believe I am a better, kinder, more loving, more patient person, a better husband and father as a result of my willingness to turn back to the Church and strive to live as faithfully as I can.

My life is FULL of joy, and I could not be happier.

Where do you see yourself in the future?
In ten years: Göran and I will still be together, and we will have had several more foster children. We'll be celebrating our 11th anniversary of getting married in Riverside, CA, and by then the US will have legalized same-sex marriage, of which we will be enjoying the rights, privileges and responsibilities.

In one thousand years: We will be living in the presence of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, continuing to build God's ever expanding kingdom with joy and thanksgiving. We will look back at these trials and struggles with joy and gratitude for everything that they taught us about ourselves and about our relationship with God.

If no one else has expressed this intention... I plan to have regular Moho reunions in the Celestial Kingdom, so we can all get together and reminisce about the "bad old days."

What roadblocks do you have and/or have overcome?
One of the biggest challenges in terms of my relationship with my husband is my involvement with the Church. He saw it as crazy and dangerous -- to me, to our relationship. He was very resentful of any involvement I wanted to have with the Church. At first, it was so intense I wasn't sure our relationship would survive. But we have generally weathered those storms and have grown as a result of them. It is still not always easy, but is getting better.

Members of the Church have their share of "issues" as well, though I am blessed with a ward that is very generous and accepting. We have grown tremendously together. My Elder's Quorum is incredible. I weep when I think about how loving and supportive they have become of me.

What advice do you have for others following a similar path that you have?
If you think that you are going to "change" the Church, it is the wrong reason for getting involved in it. If you are to try to nurture any kind of relationship with the Church under circumstances similar to my own, you must do it because you have a testimony and because you want to enter into the path the Christ showed us. You need to have a genuine desire to listen to and obey the Spirit. If you enter into the path with those motivations, I guarantee you will be blessed beyond your wildest expectations.

What advice do you have for family and friends?
If you need advice, I will refer you to my parents... They have been so incredibly loving and supportive, and have become a huge source of strength to me. But it took them a while to get there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


The English phrase "the handwriting is on the wall" has it's origins in a story in the book of Daniel (chapter 5) in which the Babylonian emperor Belshazzar's feasting is interrupted by the appearance of "the fingers of a man's hand" writing these mysterious words on the wall of Belshazzar's throne room. The emperor is terrified, and asks Daniel to interpret the words, which he does:
God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it... Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting... Thy kingdom is divided...
In English, we use the phrase "the handwriting is on the wall" in situations where some troubling, inconvenient truth that those in positions of power and authority would like to ignore becomes obvious to everybody present. That moment -- when the handwriting is on the wall -- is the moment when change has now become inevitable, just a matter of time.

A gay, married man with two young children has been struggling to be a good father; he has kept himself worthy according to Church standards. He attends Church every Sunday, prays with his family, pays his tithing, avoids pornography, is faithfully celibate within marriage. He's at the end of his rope. No matter how good he is, he now finds thoughts of suicide pushing up unbidden out of his subconscious into his conscious mind, during the work day, when he's alone. He can't overcome the feelings of sadness, loneliness, and inferiority that make his good life a prison. He reaches out to his Stake President. His Stake President, a good and loving man, wants to help him. He tries to counsel him. But he cannot -- he will not -- say the words this faithful man needs to hear, because he is afraid of being out of step with the brethren. This faithful, married gay man leaves his office, more depressed than ever, with that word, "suicide," more insistently jangling around in his heart.

A straight man, a man who has devoted his entire life to faithful service in the Church, who has served in responsible callings of high leadership, a father and grandfather, a man of deep compassion, an articulate, educated, intelligent man, has his temple recommend taken away and his church privileges rescinded because he wears a "No to Prop 8" pin to Church.

Another gay, married man, also doing the best he can to live faithfully and worthily, has his temple recommend taken away because in his efforts to stay faithful and worthy, he has written certain things on his blog. He refuses to hide behind a blogger pseudonym. He now feels he must choose between telling the truth as he perceives it, and staying in the good graces of Church leaders. He chooses the truth.

Another straight man, a faithful member of the Church, a father and grandfather, attends a suicide memorial and speaks words of comfort to those who are gathered. He knows he may suffer repercussions in relation to his Church membership for being at that gathering and speaking those words. He chooses to be there anyway. It is better, he decides, to mourn with those that mourn.

A gay Mormon man marries his same-sex partner in California. He is doing his best to live a good life, a moral life, a life that is focussed on love and family and faith. He obeys the Word of Wisdom, prays, attends Church, volunteers at local food shelves and homeless shelters. He does these things not because it will win him back membership in the Church. That is impossible for him. He lives this way because he loves God and wants to do what is right. His parents -- life long, faithful members of the Church who have devoted many years of service to the Church, have served two missions and are contemplating serving a third -- insist on attending the marriage ceremony of their gay son. In a quiet moment, the father, explaining to his son why he has chosen to be present at this wedding despite the Church's recent letter urging Saints everywhere to support Prop 8, says simply, "They just don't understand."

Are these fingers writing on the wall?

A general authority of the LDS Church speaks at a gathering of "ex-gay" Mormons, and spends most of his time talking politics. Many faithful Mormons won't say anything publicly, because they are afraid to be disciplined. But privately, they are distressed, in anguish.

Another general authority makes another political speech at a Church college, lashing out against people he characterizes as opponents of the Church. Many faithful Mormons won't say anything publicly, because they are afraid to be disciplined. They love the Church. They have testimonies of the Church and its leaders. But privately, they have quietly decided that they share the beliefs of the so-called opponents of the Church.

Whether or not these are fingers writing words on the walls in the corridors of power and authority, they are not signs of health in a spiritual community.

When ordinary people, loving people, faithful people, people who have spent their entire lives committed to things like family, church, community, country and duty, find that they are being forced to choose between, on the one hand, truth and compassion, and on the other, loyalty to Church leaders, this is not a good sign.

When honesty and conscience are punished, when they are publicly tarred as disobedience and faithlessness, this is not a good sign.

That's handwriting on the wall kind of stuff.

I have spoken to too many faithful LDS individuals in recent weeks and days who feel a deep sadness. The kinds of choices they are being forced to make are sad choices. They are choices where, no matter what you do, a part of you is lost. What can you do but keep doing what you've been doing your whole life? Pray, listen, love, work, and be patient. Ignore the bad stuff. Focus on the good. Be grateful for what you have! Do what you know is right, and then accept the consequences, and hope for the best. Trust that God is in charge -- of his Church and of his world. Hold on to your testimony, no matter what! Be faithful.

I feel the sadness too. But it is a bittersweet kind of sadness. It is not a hopeless sadness. Not despair. Not hopelessness. It is a very, very hopeful, joyful sadness. (Is that even possible? Can such feelings really be all mixed up together, deep inside your heart?) I am grateful for my blessings. I am doing what I know I am supposed to be doing. My conscience is clean. I don't envy those who are in power, those who must make big choices, far bigger than all the little choices I've ever made in my tiny, insignificant life.

Whether the handwriting is on the wall or not, we must always be aware that we are being "weighed in the balances."

Monday, October 12, 2009


Recently, Göran and I went to see the movie Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis. The film (for those of you who somehow managed to have missed the TV and theatrical previews) is set in the near future, in a time when people no longer interact with the real world. Instead, 98% of the world's population hooks itself up to machines, and lives life through robotic surrogates. The surrogates supposedly guarantee that people can interact with the world in complete safety. Anything can happen to the surrogate robot, but the user will be completely unharmed. However, tragedy strikes. Bruce Willis plays a police investigator who must get to the bottom of a mysterious incident in which the destruction of two surrogates appears to have simultaneously killed the surrogates' users.

The plot of this suspense action thriller is a bit thin. This despite the fact that the script-writer introduces some twists and turns by fully taking advantage of the fact that anybody can log onto and use any surrogate. (Sorry if this is too much of a spoiler for those of you who haven't seen the film yet but intended to!) However, there is a profound spiritual principle underlying the premise of the story. It is this spiritual principle that gives the story its emotional appeal, and kept me interested right up to the tear-jerker ending.

The spiritual principle is that there is a profound link between our spirits and our bodies, and when we degrade that connection, we literally lose our souls. The film of course portrays (thankfully not in too graphic detail) the amoral consequences of living life through surrogates. Anybody who has had experience in any number of on-line chat rooms already knows about that. When you can interact with the world without people knowing your true identity, without direct consequences for misbehavior, and without accountability, you might easily choose to behave in barbaric ways.

But the film writers, interestingly enough, chose not to focus solely on that aspect of severing the spirit-body connection. They chose instead to focus on how our spirits are nurtured by the real world activities and relationships our bodies engage in. Our spirits are literally nurtured by physical touch. When we lose these connections, our spirits atrophy and our interactions with the world become soulless. Infants literally die when they do not receive adequate physical touch. Without touch, without physical connections to other people, we begin to lose any sense that life has appeal or meaning.

It is true that certain forms of promiscuous behavior -- anonymous or casual sex, overuse of stimulants, use of pornography -- effectively severs the spirit body connection as much as, if not more than, inadequate physical touch. We think we are feeding the body by giving it various kinds of stimulation that it craves. But in these situations, we use our bodies in ways that ignore the sensitivities of the spirit and actually deny it what it needs: soulful touch.

However, we can and often do also sever that connection through prudishness, through an ascetic approach to life, through shame and denigration of the body. This is why scripture wisely counsels us to bridle our passions. We are not counseled to exterminate our passions, not to stamp them out, but to find appropriate outlets for them -- outlets that nurture both body and spirit, that respect the delicate integrity that must be maintained in order to feed and strengthen our souls.

All people need this. Finding the appropriate body-spirit balance, finding ways to touch and be touched, and to interact lovingly and respectfully with the beautiful world our Heavenly Father has created for us is as critical to the spiritual well-being of gay people as it is to straight people. Most of us who are familiar with the gay community are all too familiar with the damage caused to our spirits and souls when no appropriate outlet for the vital human need for touch is permitted. We also see the damage caused when spiritual sensitivities are ignored. This is one of the consequences of the fact that so many gay and lesbian people have been excommunicated -- sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively -- from the spiritual communities that should have taken responsibility to help us nurture that spirit-body balance.

Though I'm not sure we'll ever see a real world where everyone lives through robotic surrogates, in many ways we already do live in a world where people live their lives with their spirits disconnected from their bodies, only barely getting by and barely nurturing their souls. We have much work to do.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

How My Parents Love (and How God Loves) Me

First of all, my parents love me unconditionally. Their love for me is an expression of who they are. They love me because they are loving people, not because I have done anything to earn or merit their love. They have loved me from a time before I was even born, from when I was still inside my mother and could not have done anything at all to merit or lose their love.

There are certainly things I could do that would hurt them, make them angry, and even break their hearts. But their hearts would break, they would be angry and hurt because they love me. When they disciplined me as I was growing up, it was because they wanted me to be happy. Their heartbreak has usually been because of their fear that I might be hurting myself.

God forbid I should do anything to hurt or break my parents' hearts! Because I love them.

But even if I did not believe in their love for me, even if I did not love them back, they would still love me. They would still reach out to me. They would continue to work and pray for my redemption. Because their love for me is unconditional.

This is what I learned from becoming a parent. A parent's love is by nature unconditional, because there's so little that a child can give back in return for love. The love of a child for his parents is conditional love. A child loves because of what his parents give him. A child fears that his parents might stop loving him, because his love for them is conditional. That's the only kind of love he knows. Before I became a parent, I simply had to trust that my parent's love for me was unconditional. But when I became a parent, I suddenly knew.

One may attempt to parse out love. One may attempt to tell a parent: "You should not love unconditionally. You should place conditions on your love for your child, for that child's own good." But that is not how love works. You cannot, by definition, take something endless and sacred, and crop it and parse it out. You cannot turn love on and off. Love naturally defies such attempts to limit it. A parent can never truly cut a child out of his or her heart, no matter what that child does.

But to say that a parent should not love unconditionally is to confuse love and approval. Of course parents do not approve unconditionally of what a child does.

My parents frequently tell me both that they love me and that they are proud of me (two separate things). They accept my husband as their own son. As a couple we are not merely tolerated in their home. We are eagerly wanted, we are wholeheartedly welcomed! We are urged to visit frequently, and whenever we would like! And when we are unable to visit, they come to visit us in our home.

My parents have made it known that they approve of the choices I have made for three reasons. First, because they know me. They have watched me grow up. They have seen me struggle with the choices I've had to make. Better than anyone else in the world, they know my heart. And they know that I am a good person, who desires to make good choices.

Second, they have seen the fruits of my choices in my life. Certainly I have made my share mistakes (and have paid the price for them). But my parents have seen the trajectory of my life -- toward love and responsibility, toward maturity and patience, toward faith and hope. They have see the good blossoming in my life in a stable, faithful, loving relationship that makes both me and my husband very, very happy. They see how I care for him and how he cares for me. They have seen us make very public commitments to one another, and to request accountability from our friends and family. Furthermore, we show our love and respect for them through concrete acts that show that we honor them. All these things have grown into trust. My parents trust me. They trust that I will continue to make good choices because they have seen the accumulation of good choices I've made in the past and continue to make in the present.

Finally, they approve of the choices I have made, because they love me! This is that unconditional love that delights in the happiness of one's children; that is joyful in their joy and sorrows in their pain; that is grateful for their good choices and heartbroken for their bad choices.

In every significant respect, my earthly parents' love for me is a model of my Heavenly Parents' love for me. Their love is unconditional. Their approval is not (because their love is!) But they see my heart, they know my struggles, and their pride and respect for me is what I have earned by doing the very best I can with what I have been given, both the good and the bad. My response to their love with my very best efforts enriches our relationship, though it could never earn their love, which is, always has been, and always will be fundamentally unearned.

Unlike my Heavenly Parents, my earthly parents are not perfect. They are still striving, like us all, to perfect themselves. They can still make (and have made) mistakes. There have even been times when my parents have expressed regret and asked forgiveness for misunderstandings, for judgments made without sufficient information, and for needless pain caused by those misunderstandings or misjudgments.

But that does not change the awe and gratitude I feel toward them, for everything they have given me and continue to give me, and for the way they have modeled the path that I need to follow myself if I wish to return with them to our Heavenly home.

If my parents are proud of the choices I have made, it is because those choices have enhanced my capacity for love. All the classic virtues -- trust, obedience, sacrifice, hope, patience, honesty, fidelity, selflessness, optimism, thrift, self-discipline -- all these things are virtues because they make us more decent, more capable of giving and receiving the unconditional love that makes us like our divine Parents, like the ones of whom scriptures testify they are love.

Law simply for the sake of law is legalism. It cramps our souls, and diminishes our capacity for divine love. That's why Christ relentlessly condemned that attitude toward law. But law for the sake of Love frees, empowers and ennobles us.

I pray for that kind of law, and that kind of love.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What Keeps Me Going

There are times when the only thing that keeps me going is my relationship with God.

My friends at Church try to be supportive and kind. But sometimes judgment or misunderstanding clouds the best of intentions, and I end up feeling like the alien in their midst. There's nothing more I want than to partake of that baptismal covenant to bear their burdens and have my burdens be born. But so often I feel alone, on the edge; invited in when folks are feeling that missionary fervor. But broken and apart when they don't feel it. There are the so frequent reminders that despite my testimony and my love for the Church and my best efforts, I'm not a member and can't be a member.

My family -- my husband and my son -- are always present, always a part of my life. They love me unconditionally and I love them back. We share the burdens and joys of every day life. That shared life is one of the greatest blessings of this life! The source of all the most valuable lessons I have ever learned and continue to learn! I can never be ungrateful for them, for the sheer gift of their mere presence in my life. But they don't feel the Spirit like I do; they don't understand my testimony or my relationship with God. To them, it is some kind of figment of my imagination that they tolerate because they love me. So the most profound, most important, richest part of my life I can't share with them. Oh how I wish I could! And that sometimes makes me feel more lonely than I have words to express.

My parents love me unconditionally. When I'm really down, or I really need encouragement, I can pick up the phone and call them. In their minds and hearts, I am not an alien, not an outsider or a foreigner or an exile from the Kingdom of God, I'm one of its most cherished members. And my testimony and my love for the Church and my love for God and for my Savior doesn't set me apart from them. They share it, and there's a language we can speak to each other about faith that we all understand. It's the language of the Spirit. Sometimes I talk to them on the phone and I just weep, and they weep with me. What a blessing my parents are to me! But my parents are far away, physically. (I've thought many times how I would love to live in Utah, closer to them!) And sometimes there are struggles and pains I can't share even with them.

And in those loneliest of alone times I turn to God. There's a text I just read this morning, that cut deep, right to the marrow of my bones:

Then hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render unto every man according unto all his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men:) (2 Chron. 6: 30)

Only my Heavenly Father knows my heart. That I can turn to him and confide everything in him, and be heard by him, and receive from him counsel and encouragement and wisdom... That's what keeps me going.

I received an email from a friend the other day, and he sent me words of comfort that were just the words that I needed to hear at that moment. My eyes filled with tears and I wept, I was so grateful. I was so thankful for his compassion. He is a member of the Church, and it was truly one of those "bearing one another's burdens" kind of moments. I was so grateful to God for this friend, and for the blessing that came to me from God through him.

This morning I had another such moment, when I got up and, after my usual morning routine, sat down at my desk to start work, and found there two cards, one from my husband and one from my son, wishing me a happy birthday. I opened and read their heartfelt expressions of love, and that too brought tears to my eyes.

But even those moments when I receive tremendous gifts from friends, from my husband and son, or from my parents, I still sometimes doubt myself. I doubt that I'm worthy of the love they offer me. But when I turn to my Heavenly Father and offer my broken heart to him, his words of comfort I can't doubt or deny. His reassurance enables me to receive and trust all the other assurances. It makes love and community and every other blessing possible; possible to be given and possible to be received with thanksgiving.

So I'm thankful to him, and thankful to everyone else. What would I be if I weren't thankful?

That is what keeps me going!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Lord's Anointed

I recently finished reading 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings (also known as the 4 books of the Kings).

A major theme of the narratives in these texts is obedience. King Saul is ultimately rejected by God because of his disobedience to the word of God as conveyed to him by the prophet Samuel. On the surface, the story of Saul and Samuel looks like a classic power struggle between civil and priestly authority. Samuel tells Saul, "Thus saith the Lord..." Saul does it his own way, and then Samuel essentially excommunicates Saul.

But a different narrative about the complexities of obedience and authority gets played out when David enters the scene. Samuel anoints David king while Saul is still on the throne, potentially setting the scene for a bloody civil war. Based on the way such situations have typically played out in history, one would have expected David to immediately claim the throne and lead an armed rebellion against Saul, who refused to relinquish it. But David does something quite shockingly different...

Instead of letting his anointing go to his head and claiming the throne immediately, David waits. He swears allegiance to Saul, and remains obstinately loyal to him, even when Saul repeatedly tries to have him killed. Not only that, but he continues to serve the king by defending Israel against its enemies (the Philistines), even as he must remain in hiding to avoid being murdered by Saul's loyalists. In doing so, David severely tries the patience (and credulity) of his supporters, who don't understand why he won't claim what is his by divine right. When asked to explain himself, David repeatedly affirms that he will not raise his hand against "the Lord's anointed."

A most dramatic moment occurs when David is in hiding, on the run from Saul's forces. Through a freak coincidence (providence?), Saul takes refuge, undefended by his body guards, in the very cave where David is hiding. While Saul sleeps, David cuts the hem off Saul's robe, but does not harm or disturb Saul. How easy it would have been for him to be done with his enemy then and there. But as he later declared to Saul, he would not lay a finger to "the Lord's anointed." He even apologized for cutting the hem of the king's robe (which he later presented as proof of his loyalty to Saul).

After Saul is finally killed in a battle with the Philistines, David grieves the death of the king -- a man who never stopped trying to have him murdered! David's followers were distressed by his public display of grief for the fallen king, to the point of complaining (with some justification!) that David was making them look like fools for supporting him.

But the narrator of 1 & 2 Kings makes clear that David's reverence for King Saul in his capacity as "the Lord's anointed" was pleasing to God. Because of David's respect for authority that God established -- even an authority that God had putatively rejected -- God prospered and protected David and blessed his reign.

As king, David, of course, also gets into trouble with God, when he commits adultery with Bathsheba and then has her husband Uriah the Hittite murdered to cover up his sin. If there's any moral there, it is perhaps that power corrupts, and that it is very, very difficult for any man with absolute power to be perfectly loyal to God. A truly wise man might pray never to be placed in a position of such power, given how few can resist its temptations (see D&C 121: 34-46 and Mosiah 29: 11-25).

What fascinates me is the curious balance David had to strike in those years between his anointing and his final ascension to the throne. On the one hand, David was a fugitive from the law, considered a rebel and an outlaw. He might have been justified in making full fledged war against Saul. But David recoiled from that. He recognized that there is inherent value in the order that authority provides. It may be that the relative civil peace experienced during David's reign was a by-product of his insistence on respecting even unjust authority. But more importantly, David honored Saul because to honor God's anointed is to honor God, the author of both authority and peace.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bearing Witness

I've been gone a while... For those of you who noticed, it is because the last half of the summer I was concentrating on finishing a book manuscript I've been working on since April. I finished a first draft in June, and then put it through a round of major revisions. I finally got it "finished enough" to feel I could put it aside for a bit while trusted friends read and give feedback. Unfortunately, that last, more intense round of revision and writing meant I had little energy left over for blogging (or much anything else). A lot of stuff went on hold during the final sprint. Blogging, especially, went on hold, since after an afternoon or evening of revising my book manuscript, I was more or less "written out." But I'm finished "for now."

(Göran will tell anyone who dares ask, from having gone through this once before, that it actually never ever is really finished until the publisher whacks my hand with a big ruler and says, "We're going to publish this now!" When I was working on Take the Young Stranger by the Hand, there was a conversation in our household that was repeated ad nauseam: GÖRAN: "What are you doing?" JOHN: "Working on my book." GÖRAN: "I thought you were DONE!" JOHN: "I'm never done." GÖRAN: "ARRGH!" JOHN: "Go to the Mall.")

After I "finished" (this time around), I came down with the usual head-splitting, post-partum cold, right on schedule. The same afternoon I finished it. I think that was my body's way of telling me to give it a rest. So after finishing last Friday, I've been forcing myself to do nothing. (It's really hard!) But it's been a good thing.

A couple of days ago, my post manuscript hiatus was interrupted by an email from an individual who had listened to the interview I did for Sunstone a couple years ago. He explained that he was gay, but non-Mormon, and wondered if we could talk. So we talked yesterday for two full hours.

This person was one of the most remarkable listeners I've ever encountered. He was an active listener. He would ask a question, and I would answer, and then he would ask another question that showed he had really, really been listening. Really, really good questions. And this went on for two hours.

He had a lot of questions about my spiritual journey of the last three years. And as I said, he is not a Mormon (actually, he is not Christian either), so some of the questions included things like, "What do you mean when you talk about the Holy Spirit?" And, "How do you know when the Spirit is speaking to you?"

In answer to that last question, I told him the story of how, when I was seven years old, my dad, who was a Stake Missionary at the time, had given me the discussions. I remember after one session, my dad sat down with me, just the two of us. We opened a Book of Mormon together and he found a passage and asked me to read it out loud. After we had read, Dad asked me to describe to him what I felt as I read it. And in seven-year-old terms, I did the best I could to describe to him that good, peaceful feeling, that peace unlike any other peace that has become so familiar to me since then. And then dad explained to me, "That is the Holy Spirit." I explained to this individual, "That is how I learned to recognize the Spirit."

He then asked me to tell him when I typically felt the Holy Spirit the strongest. I knew the answer to that question, but it took time and effort to tell him, because by then the Spirit was very powerfully present, and I was finding it difficult to speak without weeping. I finally found the composure to explain that the times when I feel the Spirit present most powerfully are those times when I am reading and learning and bearing witness of Christ.

As the conversation continued, and as I continued to tell my story, I continued to weep quietly at times. But this remarkable man did not show the least bit of discomfort. He continued to listen, compassionately and attentively, letting me bear witness and tell my story, and always asking questions that showed he was absorbing what I had to say, and had deep respect for me. It was one of the most wonderful, intimate conversations I have ever had in my life. And when it was finished, we truly had put aside our strangerly selves and had become friends.

Toward the end of our conversation, he shared something of his own spiritual journey of recent years, which had many things in common with my own. We promised to stay in touch with each other and continue this remarkable conversation.

This was something of a miracle. For the rest of the evening, I felt so joyful, so full of peace. I had been given such a wonderful gift by someone who wanted only to listen!

This is the gift that we give each other. Ultimately, it's why we blog... Because of this need to tell and to listen, to bear witness, and to have that witness received.

In that spirit... I'm back!