Saturday, January 29, 2011

Flight From Self

Maybe it's too much to ask that we come to terms with our gayness calmly, rationally, and without fear. If we grew up gay and Mormon, we had pumped into us plenty of fear about sex and disobedience. And we learned to pursue exaltation and eternal family, is if they were trophies to be won. Without even really understanding what either exaltation or eternal family really meant.

How could we understand? Because exaltation is nothing less than to enter God's presence. But to enter God's presence, we must know him. And to know him we must be like him. And at the beginning of our life's journey, when we are taught that this is the goal, we can't even really begin to fathom it. We have no concept of it.

It's taken me almost five decades to begin to apprehend the plan in its simplicity and beauty. Love, hope, faith. Patience, long-suffering, kindness, non-compulsion. It's those Gospel basics that -- when we're young -- seem way too simple to be the answer. Yet, the pathway back to God is that simple. So simple a child could know it, if we could keep that child-like simplicity through the complexities and vagaries of adult experience and perception.

If we were lucky, we had a truly happy family. If we were lucky, we had parents who loved us totally and unconditionally. Unconditionally in the sense that there was nothing they wouldn't give for us. Unconditionally in the sense that they knew how important it was to teach us right from wrong. And if we were lucky, we loved and we felt loved. That would be the closest we could come to appreciating something like exaltation and eternal life in the presence of God.

But when we're still immature in the faith, concepts like exaltation are filtered through our experiences in a fallen world. We succumb to the temptation to make ourselves judge and jury -- of others and of ourselves. That's the thing with judgment; it's why Jesus warned, "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7: 2). We can't judge others without, in some sense, our condemnation redounding back on us.

We also succumb to the temptation to think of exaltation in external terms; we compare it to rewards that we get in this world: acclaim, material goods, power. We think that because scripture describes our final reward as a "crown," or an "inheritance," that exaltation is something like becoming king of the world. But those words are just God trying to speak to us using the only metaphors available in a fallen culture.

Jesus came to show us what exaltation looks like. It is actually much more like giving up than acquiring; it is more like descending than rising; more like dying than dominating. Jesus said things like, "Whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all" (Mark 10: 44) and "So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen" (Matthew 20: 16). Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a field of labor in which some sweat and toil through the heat of the day, and others arrive to work only in the last hour, but the reward of all is the same. Not fair by our worldly way of reckoning! No, in our minds, we insist, we should be able to earn and seize what we want, like little power-hungry emperors in training.

Gay Latter-day Saints are blessed -- if we only knew how blessed! -- to have our worlds turned upside down. To have everything taken away from us. To find ourselves suddenly last in the spiritual rat race, when we thought we were well on the way to "earning" our "crown." If we're lucky, the change of scenery will give us something to think about, a perspective much needed in order to see things a bit more truly. To understand what the Kingdom of God, as revealed in Christ, is really made of.

But at first, the shock of coming to terms with our sexuality leaves us wrestling with very, very dark demons: demons of guilt, of shame, of fear. One common defense is to go into denial about human nature and sin.

I think one of the denial arguments is the argument from "need." I "need" love, I "need" a relationship. Or "I didn't choose to be gay." Both statements are true enough from a certain perspective. I think it is true enough to say that human beings require love, that they need it; all dimensions of it, including the love that is expressed in physical touch and physical intimacy, as well as the emotional and spiritual expressions of love. Little children die if they are not touched. I think this is true enough.

But that argument from need puts the cart before the horse in love. It's as if love is about what we get rather than what we give. To say love is about needing is to distort love as seriously as if we were to say that faith is about fearing judgment, or hope is a form of make believe.

It is truer, I think, to say that love is a human quality. That we express our humanity (and our divinity) by giving love (and receiving it). And perhaps in that light we can understand how true love becomes possible only when we cast away our fear about it. When we stop being preoccupied about how others will judge us for expressing it or for living into it. When we can begin to grow into that conception of love, homophobia can no longer touch us in any meaningful way whatsoever. Homophobia becomes irrelevant to who and what we are, just another worldly distraction whose end result would be to shut us up inside ourselves, to turn our fear of judgment into a prison.

When gay men and lesbians try to affirm themselves by denying faith, by denouncing religion as a sham or a delusion because we feel condemned by religion, that can be another trap. It may cut us off from the deepest affirmations of our humanity. If someone calls me a sinner, I don't elevate myself by denying the reality of sin. That kind of denial gives too much power to my would-be mortal judges. Remember, in the Kingdom of God, to go up we must descend. To rise, we bow ourselves down. To find ourselves, we must lose ourselves. The fundamental principles of eternal progression are faith and repentance.

I've spent a good portion of my life fleeing from faith, and thinking of loving in terms of needing. I thought I was finding myself; but I was actually fleeing my real self.

When a gay man or a lesbian comes out of the closet, at least a certain amount of existential terror is unavoidable. I hope that we can get better at being there for each other when that happens. We need to be better guides to one another. We need to calm others by staying calm. We need to give lots of hugs! We need to exchange phone numbers, and assure each other that a call at 2 o'clock in the morning is OK if you're suffering from night terrors. We need to remind each other that disorientation for a while is normal until we get our bearings. In the meanwhile, we need to help each other hold out hope for the best, rather than settling for something unworthy. We need to make real love tangible, so we can start to avoid the pitfalls of myriad pseudo-loves waiting to entrap us.


Mister Curie said...

I was touched by a statement of yours that resonated with me, "To find ourselves suddenly last in the spiritual rat race, when we thought we were well on the way to 'earning' our 'crown.'" It really describes my feelings of losing faith and coming out, the world is turned upside down and it is all very disorienting.

Martin in NYC said...

YS writes: "I hope that we can get better at being there for each other when that happens. We need to be better guides to one another. We need to calm others by staying calm. We need to give lots of hugs! We need to exchange phone numbers. . ."

1. Having come out seven years ago, and yet still connecting to Mormonism via large chunks of testimony and a certain level of activity, I find that I may be stepping into the next stage in our evolution. As evidenced by your call here to assist, empower and inspire others in the beginning stages, I sense that we are all ready to start serving each other with the one thing that straight members cannot help with.

2. When we are done with the process of our own true sexual identity formation, and find ourselves in a decent place with some level of understanding intimate exchanges, Young Stranger has challenged all of us to turn immediately to serving others who might truly need our loving help. This "paying it forward" is one of the most satisfying form of service I have found in my lifetime.

3. Because we "get it", and because some are strong enough to step away from selfishness, we become ready to stand by him, whoever the him is in that chapter of one's life. Hugs, late night phone calls, and yes, even posting. The call, here, is to begin to take community building seriously - not because one shares testimony, but because one suffers the trials of becoming whole, that we might fulfill the measure of our true creation. Then, there is joy.

alan said...

Hi, I've posted a response to this post here.

Amanda Galloway said...

John, I just came across your blog as I have been wanting to start my own "LDS" blog and wanted to see what others were doing. I wanted to say how impressed I am with your strength and resolve to be a shining example that belief in God is possible while being gay. My Uncle was gay and my husband has a gay uncle and the determination I feel to share with others to love others despite their sexual orientation is near to my heart. Gayness does not define who a person is. I remember my husbands uncle once expressed frustration that people think gay people don't believe in God. I was relieved to hear him say that and educate others as you are doing. I think people assume gay people are non-religious because of what you said in your post about how many gay people justify God away because it hurts to deal with their shame. I think we hear of more gays not believing in God because they are afraid to say they do as a result of church goers who might judge or even other gays who feel "betrayed" by such admissions.
A gay person I knew struggled with guilt and feelings of condemnation because no one told them you can still partake of salvation if you have feelings of homosexuality. What you are doing is bringing hope to other people who struggle with the same thing.

J G-W said...

Mr. Curie - thanks! Just spent a good part of the past week with other Mohos, visiting town for the "Creating Change" conference. Similar sentiments were expressed... But also a sense of how some of the anguish we go through makes us more compassionate people, with a greater passion for love and justice...

Martin - Welcome to my blog! Thanks for the comment... I still do really hope that we can find better and better ways to care for and support each other through the coming out process...

Amanda - Thank you so much for this comment, and for the love and support behind it... Keep us in your prayers! (Me, your gay uncles, all of us!)

mandi said...

"Gay Latter-day Saints are blessed -- if we only knew how blessed! -- to have our worlds turned upside down. To have everything taken away from us. To find ourselves suddenly last in the spiritual rat race, when we thought we were well on the way to "earning" our "crown.""
I feel this way about my battles with depression, and my marriage. The things I have learned through these "struggles" have been far greater than anything any person could give.
This post gives me great hope and excitement for the numerous turns of events that are sure to come in my, and our lives.