Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Sixth Deadly Sin

When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat. Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. Proverbs 23: 1-5

Certainly what is said here of earthly riches is true of whatever we set our heart on in envy, whether it is of a tangible nature or not. We had better hold a knife to our own throat than desire what others have, whatever that is.

The proverb counsels as the antidote to envy to "cease from thine own wisdom." In other words, true wisdom is to recognize that we don't need what we think we need. Jesus taught: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" (Matt. 6: 27). Our stature is what it is. We are what we are. True wisdom is to recognize that by letting go of the things we take thought for and toil after, we open ourselves up to receive what God has prepared for us, who will care for us every bit as excellently as he cares for the sparrows and the lilies of the field.

Recently a friend brought to my attention Ty Mansfield's public announcement of his engagement to a woman. I have to admit, I experienced complex emotions upon hearing that news. As I sorted through each emotion and dug to the root of it, I realized that buried at the very heart of the matter was envy. I envied him his Church membership, and now his ability to marry a woman and receive all the blessings and privileges that come along with that.

It's actually embarrassing how childish some of my feelings were. But one of the most painful was doubt. Have I made some terrible mistake? Had I done things differently, could I be where he is now? Will Ty some day be happier than I am now, because of the choices he's making?

It's foolish, because, when I ask myself Am I unhappy in any way? The answer is no. In fact, the answer is I am happier today than I could ever have imagined being at any previous moment in my life. When I kneel to pray, rarely can I get up from my knees again but that my eyes are moist with tears of gratitude.

It's only when I ask that damnable question, But what if he might be happier? that doubts sprout up like ugly weeds. Amazing how quickly Satan can undermine my happiness with a simple question.

I am sure there are others out there who look at what I have, and ask themselves the same question. What if I had done what he had? Could I be happier? It's the wrong question. The only question that really has any meaning in relation to our own happiness has to do with the path that lies directly before us, not with anybody else.

It takes courage to walk that way. It takes courage to look deep within your own heart, to wrestle with your own demons, weigh your own desires, to fight for self-knowledge and then decide. If we are wise, we will do so with humility.

I know Ty, I love and feel deep admiration for him, and if he is at least half as wise as I think he is, I know this is what he has done. He has wrestled, he's sought guidance from God, and now he's decided. And I pray for his (and his fiancée's) greatest possible success and happiness. I can't imagine what it must be like getting married under such circumstances, with the eyes of so many on him, and not all with the most generous of emotions. Not from this quarter. I hope Ty knows of the sincerity of my good will for him and his marriage.

For myself, I'm grateful for my own wrestling with this. It taught me something important about me, and about some of the pain I've waded through in my own journey. When I realized what I felt, at bottom, was envy, that enabled me to turn to God in prayer, to ask forgiveness, and to be freed. And in turn, it was in prayer that I received the gift of the renewal of my own secret assurance, secret because it is mine and mine alone, for the path that can be no one else's.

My love for everyone else is expressed in my hope that we each find our own right path, and our own secret assurance.


Anonymous said...

Another very thoughtful, beautiful, personal, and insightful post. As I have said often, I love how aware you are of your thoughts, emotions, and feelings. And, again, I have learned so much from what you so generously have shared here. Thank you!

With great respect,and love, always. slp

Jon said...

Such a great perspective on envy. I struggle with that too at times. Noticing the success or fortune of others and thinking for a little bit that it somehow takes away from my chosen path. It kind of leaves me with a shrinking, constrictive feeling. Then I remember that other people's paths don't necessarily need to detract from mine. The diversity of choices and paths only adds to my path and my choices and my experience.

Speaking of envy, I love this quote by Henri Nouwen: "In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a [divine] love that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised,” he says, “it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didn’t happen to me."

Jeffrey Holland has said that he believes most commandments are meant to keep us from hurting others, but the commandment not to covet is meant to keep us from hurting ourselves.

Great post, thank you!

J G-W said...

slp - thanks again... again the feeling's mutual.

Jon - "Shrinking, constrictive" about sums it up. Jeffrey Holland preached an incredible sermon on envy not too long ago... I'm not sure if that's the one you pulled the quote from about "hurting ourselves." Excellent quote...

Jon said...

Hmmm, just looked up the talk. The one I referred to was from his April 2002 conference talk.,5232,23-1-266-23,00.html

Which one are you referring to?

Jay said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this John. I can identify with your feelings and feel the same insecurity at time

Dean Grey said...

I think you're quite a wise man, John!

Excellent post!

You're right, we must never compare ourselves against somebody else's life. Just focus on our own and keep moving forward.

Easier said than done, I know but still true.


MoHoHawaii said...

I have never met a man who made it from youth to age 45 as a celibate gay Mormon fully active in the Church. There are lots and lots of 25-year-old men in this category, and you see the occasional person who perseveres to thirty-five. By 45 no one's left. Like you, Ty is a person with an unusal capacity for faith. Since there seems to be some kind of built-in time limit to the celibate gay Mormon role, marriage to a woman is about the only remaining option for someone like Ty as he gets older. I don't find it surprising that he went this way. I wish him and his partner the best. I'm fearful of the challenges that may lie ahead for them, but I absolutely wish them the best.

Most of all I hope your desire for full fellowship in the Church doesn't become a wedge in your relationship with Goran. You have a remarkable marriage with the love of your life. You have an abundance of spiritual gifts. You don't get the same perks at church as Ty, and that's an injustice. Personally, I lean more toward outrage than envy. I hate to see your dignity as a person lessened by the archaic form of ritual shunning that the LDS Church still practices against our tribe.

J G-W said...

Jon - You're going to make me search through my conference notes, aren't you...? :)

Thanks, Jay.

Dean, welcome to my blog!

Mohohawaii - I've observed the same thing, and you may be right... The officially approved course of celibacy doesn't seem to be gaining much traction.

As I think you know, the Spirit has guided me to love and nurture my husband, and to do whatever I can to strengthen and honor our relationship. I don't see the Church as a wedge between us... Göran would have to consider it a wedge for our relationship to end over it, but I do not.

Outrage and depression and self-hate were all, at one point, emotions I've had to work through. But, for me, they all boiled down to the fundamental insight of this post: I envied what was not mine. So the gift of working through those emotions has been to achieve a healthy self-love and self-acceptance. That in turn empowers me to love others without destructive emotions like envy or anger getting in the way.

I've realized that this is something we have to continue to work at. There will always be new temptations to turn aside from that path -- though, gradually, I think we get better at recognizing those temptations for what they are. In a sense, each day you have to recommit yourself to listen, to love God, to love yourself and love your neighbor... I guess that's what I've learned from this experience.

Jon said...

If searching is involved, don't worry about it.

Alan Williams said...

The officially approved course of celibacy doesn't seem to be gaining much traction.

I'm not sure that celibacy was ever officially approved. Celibacy has a lot of power in disrupting the norm...a lot more than people realize in the context of a marriage-only church. What is approved is the idea of "marriage not being therapeutic," but marriage is still the end goal. You might be interested in the conversation Jonathan Langford and I are having at A Motley Vision regarding the politics of Gay Mormon literature, concerning questions of faithfulness, happiness, storytelling and the future.

J G-W said...

Well, I believe the official word is individuals should not marry unless there is "great attraction" between them.

For most gay folks, that would make celibacy the only remaining officially approved option.

Brian said...

I'm glad you're letting go of the feelings that surfaced when you heard about Ty's announcement. Like you, I would wish Ty well. And as someone who was married to a wonderful woman for 25 years, and who has been with a male partner now for over 5, I can certainly look back in hindsight as well as identify the potential risks someone in Ty's position might face -- or even ways that a mixed-orientation marriage could survive & thrive.

Ty and the generations younger than him, though, have grown up in a different climate. Society in general are far more accepting, and the LDS Church has softened its stance from what it once was. Also, far more individuals & couples in mixed-orientation marriages (LDS - or other faiths) now blog openly about their survival tactics -- something that was not a resource when I divorced in 2004. The experiences of these people confirm that each individual, each couple, are in different places on the LGBT continuum AND process things in their own way.

Sometimes, however, such couples are painted into a corner by well-wishing friends, family members, or fellow LDS -- straight or gay -- who see sexual-orientation as an either/or, black/white situation, encouraging the couple to divorce and be done with the marriage, or to 'make' it work because children are involved and the couple are temple married.

I feel that if the LDS Church could expand its policies to accommodate an honored place for the 'earthly' marriages (civil unions, if you like) of gay and lesbian couples, they would feel less constrained to choose celibacy OR even consider the possibility of marrying the opposite sex (if/when they can 'change' enough).

With the pressure off, and the possibilities remaining more open, people could gravitate towards someone who compliments where they are on the continuum.

Right now, as it stands -- it is quite within the reach of many of these Saints to form a loving, committed, life-long union with someone of the same sex -- but that possibility is co-opted by the fears that LDS theology generates in them as to their Celestial future. And, if they opt to court/marry someone of the opposite sex it is no help, too, that the positive feedback they receive from family and fellow saints who are not comfortable with gays or lesbian,s anyway -- feeds directly into such members' internalized homophobia.

Then there is the straight fiance or spouse who is also impacted -- what a hero/heroine, how brave! -- for being willing to undertake a journey with such unknowns, all for the cause of love and the hope of a celestial outcome! These are the admiring perceptions some in the LDS community might have of such an individual.

What huge risks being taken by both parties -- all because of a questionable theology about the afterlife and our place there. A far less potentially harmful practice would be to allow for a separation of Church and state, so that gays and lesbians could marry for time only. The institutional church could then continue to limit temple marriage to heterosexual coupes (unless, or course, at some time it is inspired to make a change). But in the meanwhile the loving relationships of gays & lesbians who are faithful and committed to one another can be honored and given due recognition.

Alan Williams said...

Brian, what you're saying sounds both utopian and realistic. My Mormon mother works at a daycare center, and I asked her how she relates with same-sex parents and their children -- whether she feels the child should be in a different household. And she assured me that, no, she doesn't feel that way, that good Mormons can make a distinction. But this is when Mormons encounter the other; I doubt they would be amendable to having their own wards this ambiguous.

J G-W said...

Brian - The subtle and not so subtle pressures exerted by Church and society certainly have played into my own anxieties, anger and doubt in trying to negotiate my own path.

And that was the subject of this post -- my path, not Ty's. I love Ty and I want the best for him; I want him to be as happy as he can be. But the point of this post is that I think we each need to do our own homework in such a way as to avoid projecting our own issues on others. I think I can be a better friend to Ty if I've wrestled with my own demons, and come to my own peace, so that my issues don't get in the way of being there for him and his future wife the best I know how.

Part of the point of my writing this was to encourage others to do the same... Not to speculate about what this will mean for Ty, but to encourage each of us to reflect more deeply on our own journeys, and make right in our own lives whatever needs to be made right...

Alan - Based on my experience in my home ward, I'd say LDS folks are quite as capable of dealing with this when they are sharing a pew or participating in Sunday School with a gay man, as they are of dealing with it in work situations or with neighbors.

Alan Williams said...

I was under the impression Brian was talking about queer families, not just individuals. I remember you mentioning at some point your family going to church with you. How did that go? Were you pulled aside at all?

J G-W said...

Not at all... I've been there with my husband and my son. Members of the ward were very welcoming. They have offered rides. They have invited us to their homes socially. Individuals at church ask me about him, about how he's doing.

Tonight I had a hometeaching visit in which our son was present and I discussed my partner without any discomfort on their part.

Actually, my husband is far more rejecting of them than they are of him... He's (understandably) upset about little things like Prop 8, so I don't blame him. But as far as members of my ward are concerned they would love to have him attend far more often.

Alan Williams said...

Oh, well then your bishop isn't doing his job! j/k

Anonymous said...

As a woman whose ex-husband didn't do his own wrestling, and married me for the sake of his happy church membership rather than because he loved me, I thank you for cultivating the self-awareness this post demonstrates. There are far too many women and children whose lives are wrecked by men who value church status more highly than their own integrity or the lives that become collateral damage in their pursuit of "righteousness".

I think it will be a while before anyone knows whether Ty's "success" is enviable. Your life and your commitment to your partner are already admirable.

Alan Williams said...

Hey you know, Anon makes a very good point here by bringing in the perspective of wives of gay men. Envying all the blessings and privileges that come along with hetero marriage in the Church can actually keep one politically minded. In some ways, if you drop this envy, and say, "Let them eat their cake, and I'll just stay quiet, humble, happy," then that perpetuates the power structure.

Since I've been doing research recently...(I promise I'm not stalking you =p), I heard a presentation you gave at a Sunstone Symposium a few years ago. In the Q&A section, you mentioned your congregation treating you well. Then, a woman said to you: "You do realize love doesn't equal social justice, right?" And your response was something along the lines of only wanting to see change if it moved with the "Spirit." Do you still feel this way?

J G-W said...

Anonymous - Thank you. You've perfectly summed up my deepest hope for all of us... That we cultivate the kind of self-awareness that enables us to see and respect and be aware of the needs of others.

Alan - Yes, I remember that question and answer. And yes, I still essentially feel that way.

First of all, I believe that the Church will be guided by the Spirit toward greater inclusion and understanding if we exercise faith.

Second, I don't believe that outrage about unfairness and fighting for equal privilege will lead us to the kind of society where inequality can end. Unless we cultivate the kinds of virtues that enable us to face and deal with envy, anger, fear, and so on, we might temporarily abolish certain forms of injustice, but we'll keep replicating injustice in other forms. We'll keep projecting our own anxieties on others and creating new structures of oppression.

In my experience, when I approach members of my ward with openness, kindness and love, they naturally respond in kind. If someone makes a comment that I find heterosexist, instead of choosing to be insulted, I assume good will on that individual's part and cultivate the hope that as that person gets to know me better, they will eventually learn for themselves why what they said was hurtful or inappropriate. This faith on my part has paid off again and again and again as my relationships with individuals have deepened and grown -- all because I chose not to take offense.

What I've said here about the Church isn't necessarily true in all settings. Some people are hateful and mean me harm, and no amount of patience on my part will necessarily put a dent in that. But in my experience, LDS wards are not like that.

J G-W said...

Alan - I don't mean to sound like I'm only concerned about things people say... I am concerned about social justice. But what I've said about building relationships and community applies as much in the area of people's political commitments as it does in how to talk to each other or interact one-on-one.

I think the recent civil rights ordinance in Salt Lake City is an example of how building relationships has led to social change...

Alan Williams said...

I'm still rather curious about how that ordinance went down. What I thought was that the city council was going to vote for it anyway, regardless of the Church -- but then I read that there was a group of Church leaders and gay activists meeting on the side, too? What did those meetings have to do with the city council vote? Were those meetings about drafting the language, before it even went to the city council?

J G-W said...

I think regardless of what role those dialogs played in the city council vote, what was required was a change in perception, where straight Church members came to see their gay neighbors not as an alien force trying to corrupt morals, but as contributing members of the community who want more or less the same thing everyone else wants -- families, jobs, homes, and so on. How many times before have similar ordinances been passed by city councils, only later to be repealed by angry voters in some referendum? So relationship and community was (and will always) be key in efforts to create social justice; our perceptions of one another need to be transformed.

Now part of my point is that this is a two-way street. It is just as important for gay activists to understand that their LDS neighbors are not hate-mongers and proto-Nazis as it is for LDS Church members to understand that gay activists are not harbingers of Sodom and Gomorrah. And it is also important that we enter into relationship with one another without preconceived notions about what "change" is going to look like; if we do, dialog is subverted.

Now as regards "change" within the Church... If we come to the Church without faith in Christ and a desire to repent and join in the building of the Kingdom of God, we are coming to the Church for the wrong reasons. When people have asked me what they can do to "change the Church," my response will always be that it is the Church's job to change us, not the other way around. Whatever changes in doctrine take place, that is not our responsibility; that is the responsibility of the head of the Church (Christ), who will work with earthly leaders through the Spirit.

Our responsibility is to avail ourselves of the gifts of faith and repentance to purify and sanctify ourselves so that we will be capable of hearing the Spirit and receiving revelation in a more unimpeded fashion. And before we desire more revelation, we need to demonstrate a willingness to live according to the revelation we've already received.

Of course there's impurity in the Church, because the Church's members are by definition imperfect. Homophobia and heterosexism are among the cultural attitudes in the Church that impede us from realizing our full potential as a Church. But again, it's not for me to undertake to correct (to judge) my fellow Saints; I'm not the one charged with determining what their sins are and calling them to repentance for it. The moment I do that I've stepped off the path I need to be on, which is about correcting my own errors, wrestling to become a more loving human being. That needs to be my focus, as it needs to be the focus of every member of the Church.

So if somebody asks me, "What do I need to do to fix the Church?" I'll say, "Nothing. Fix yourself."

playasinmar said...

Ty's getting hitched? To a lady!

I'll admit, when I first read that I laughed. Loudly, I laughed. In a library.

But then I thought of the lady he is to wed. And that made me sad. What did she do to deserve this? And how does he deem her worthy of such and affliction?

But, hey, it's not my life.


J G-W said...

Playa - I know, you were expecting a rather different headline.

The one thing you have to admit is it's pretty difficult to marry Ty Mansfield without knowing he's gay. And actually from what Ty tells me, not only has his fiancée read his book from cover to cover, but she has been spending a lot of time on the Moho blogs too. I assume if she's familiar with Beck and Abelard and Scott and Sarah and Bravone and others, she probably has as much info about this as it's humanly possible to have for making an informed decision.

playasinmar said...

It doesn't matter how well versed she thinks she is. If the love in a marriage is, AT BEST, platonic...

That's my definition of Living Hell.

Alan Williams said...

Yeah, well, what you're saying sounds rather Buddhist. Absolute humility reigns supreme over political "change." However, neither Buddhism nor Mormonism are pure faiths, unimpeded by institutional measures. For example, you say, "I'm not the one charged with determining what their sins are and calling them to repentance for it," but the reason you can't be in this position is because you're institutionally forbidden. It's not as though other Saints do not engage in this kind of gate-keeping, not as a matter of imperfection, but actually what they feel is in service of perfection: Church courts, etc. Now how can this situation be turned around without at least a little bit of good ol' fashioned politics? =p

J G-W said...

Alan - if it's a true principle, then we should find it in Buddhism and a good many other places as well.

No, nothing under the sun is "pure."

If I were institutionally appointed to be a "gatekeeper" or a "judge in Israel," I should still be under a moral obligation to practice the principles of Matthew 7: 1-2 or D&C 121: 39-42.

But perhaps it is one of the great ironies of human nature that if I were appointed as a judge in Israel, I would be less inclined to take those principles seriously. That's something worth mulling over.

Alan Williams said...

It is as Plato said: The best king is the philosopher who wishes least to be king.