Friday, July 29, 2011

Take Care of Yourself, Take Care of Others

If you don't take care of yourself, you can't be much use to anyone else. It's impossible to spread happiness to others, if you yourself aren't happy.

It's not that we should be self-centered. There's a difference between selfishness and self-care. It's just that we need to eat right, sleep well, get exercise, breathe, enjoy rest and quiet, and spend time laughing with friends. We need to be able to express love and feel loved. This is all part of the care and feeding that every human being in the world needs, that is more or less the human birthright.

In fact, I suspect that most selfishness in the world is at least in part the by-product of a failure to care properly for and feed the self. Because if our souls are well tended, how could we substitute something as spiritually thin as the hoarding of wealth for something as spiritually rich as sharing?

So if you are tired, rest. If you are weak, stretch! If you are lonely or in pain or depressed, call a friend. If you feel ashamed or guilty, don't beat yourself up! Forgive yourself. Take one step at a time back toward the light. Whatever the next step is, is the only step you need to focus on right now. Learn to trust that if you truly want to do better, God has already forgiven you completely.

Whatever time and energy we need to take to water the garden of our souls, to sun and feed and weed it till it begins to blossom freely, is time and energy well spent.

If you're to give the world some flavor, make sure your salt has savor! If you want to be able to love others, love yourself.

I'm getting ready to take some time off, on a much needed, long-deferred honeymoon with my sweetheart! See you when I get back! And in the meantime, take care of yourselves!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Urim and Thummim

I've always been fascinated by the Urim and Thummim. Joseph Smith described them as two crystalline stones, through which it was possible to receive revelation and light from God. The Book of Mormon makes reference to them as well as playing a role in translating the records of the ancient Jaredites. In my own prayer and scripture study, it gradually became clear to me that the scriptures themselves are a kind of Urim and Thummim to us.

Alma refers to the scriptures themselves as "very small means [by which] the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls" (Alma 37: 7). The scriptures are physically small, and -- with the benefit of modern e-book technology -- are getting smaller all the time! I've got a whole library of scriptures on my Kindle -- not just the LDS standard works, but the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Library, the Books of Enoch, the History of the Church, the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Discourses of Brigham Young, and so on and on.

The scriptures are fascinating as physical, historical artifacts. They tell us much about the times and places that produced them, and offer a wealth of physical, material and historical information, if we know how to glean such information from their pages. Many scholars have, in fact, devoted their lives to studying the scriptures as historical documents. But to look at them solely in this fashion is, in essence, to reduce them to physical objects alone, having no more than mere physical interest.

The reason the scriptures are so vitally important to us is precisely for reasons that have nothing to do with reading them in this fashion. When we approach the scriptures in a spirit of prayer and faith and hope, the scriptures are able to transcend their mundane physical nature. The Spirit can use the stories, ideas and principles in the scriptures to open our minds up to heavenly and spiritual worlds previously inaccessible. Through the scriptures, the Spirit can help us to see humanity and creation in the context of their fullest potential; and to see ourselves in our own fullest potential. The scriptures, in other words, become a physical vehicle, a physical means by which the Spirit can open up wider understandings to us than are available just in the letter of the scriptures. In this sense, the scriptures are, like the Urim and Thummim described by Joseph Smith, translucent: light shines as much through them as from them.

In order for the scriptures to function for us in this translucent fashion, we too must, to a certain extent, be translucent. The light of the Spirit needs to be able to shine through us. Much in life of what I think of as "sin" are distractions, that cause is to forget what's important. Sin is like junk that clogs up our mind and body, preventing this light from passing through. Just like the actual Urim and Thummim, just like the physical scriptures, we ourselves are physical beings with transcendent capacities. If we think of ourselves as Urim and Thummim, as crystalline beings through whom the light of God can shine, then sin is basically like dirt on the windows of our soul.

I used to look at sin as a violation of some rule that God gave us; and so when we commit a sin, God punishes us by taking the Spirit away. But I realize now it isn't so much like that. It's not so much a sinful act per se that we're being punished for. It's that sin has emotional, mental and spiritual ramifications.

If I'm addicted to porn, for instance, my mind and Spirit, instead of turning to God, are looking for the next sexual thrill. So there's an aspect of dissipating valuable time and energy on things that won't lift me up. And there are the emotional after effects; the empty feeling that accompanies the impersonal, anonymous sexuality that porn offers; the disconnect that comes from looking at the body as a piece of meat rather than as the temple of our spirit and our intelligence; the cheapening of actual, real relationships that occurs when we start comparing our own bodies or the body of a loved one to the artfully posed and airbrushed and "perfect" bodies in the magazines and videos. These are all real effects I've perceived in my own experience with porn.

Recently, I've taken up the practice of yoga. In the last seven days, I've taken eight yoga classes and have experienced an incredible sense of well being through this practice. One of our instructors talked about a "detoxifying" process that is a part of yoga. The emphasis is on being silent, being present, being attentive to spirit through the vehicle of physical movement. The practice of yoga can be emotional. I've found that as I've practiced it, occasionally very strong emotions come up that have literally brought me to tears. The yoga instructors periodically remind us that when such emotions come up, we need to acknowledge them, then let them go, and then ground and center ourselves again in the present.

This practice is like the process of repentance. (I suspect, like any disciplined spiritual practice -- including prayer and scripture study! -- yoga can help us with the process of repentance.) Repentance is basically getting our life back into appropriate postures that enable life-giving light and energies to flow through us unhindered again. The various things we do as part of the repentance process -- asking forgiveness, making restitution, and then forgiving ourselves -- will help us deal with the toxic after effects of sin, help us deal with unpleasant emotions that darken the windows of our souls.

I don't think we can do this successfully in a judgmental way. In fact, judgment -- both of ourselves and others -- I would class as a sin. I dare say -- if I were to rank sins as superior or inferior -- that judgment is a worse sin than using porn. Porn is maybe a physical or emotional sin. Judgment is a spiritual sin -- far more weighty. Judgment darkens our minds more effectively, I think. It shuts us down and discourages us from moving just at the moment when we need to be moving freely. Judgment of others always leaves a residue of judgment on ourselves, and will ultimately shut us down more effectively than it shuts down others.

I've come to realize we can tell sin more effectively by its effects than we can by comparing our lives against the various laundry lists of sins we can find in the scriptures. What is sin to one person might not be sin to another. Only we, ultimately, are in a position to know what darkens us and what leaves us clearer.

It has really helped me to understand that our lives are less about accumulating things -- even accumulating intangibles such as knowledge -- than they are about becoming. When I remember this, it helps me to brush aside the distractions and focus on what is most important.

Friday, July 15, 2011


About a year or so ago, a friend of mine persuaded me and Göran to take a yoga class with her.

It was actually this amazing (and kind of emotional) experience for me. At the time, I almost published a blog post about it but ended up not publishing it because of a lot of conflicted thoughts and emotions I had about it.

A key point in the experience was where the instructor told us to clear our minds of everything in the past and everything in the future, and to just be present, here, in the now. In the moment he told us that, however, I was very aware of how important, as a believing Mormon, the interrelated concepts of memory, history and the past are. What flashed through my mind was an awareness of all the times in scriptures where the Lord admonishes the faithful to "remember": remember their covenants, remember their history, remember who they are. Everything that I am, everything that matters to me, I thought, depends on my ability to stay grounded in memory. So I wasn't sure I could allow myself to do what the instructor was asking me to do. It was an emotional moment. I think I started to cry.

Despite my emotional issues, the experience was amazing. It definitely pushed me to my physical as well as emotional limits. In fact, I'm sure the fact that I was being pushed to the edge physically had something to do with the emotions I was feeling. I did as many of the exercises as I could. I spent a fair amount of time in the "child's pose," the position we were instructed to take if we were too tired or felt unable to try some of the more advanced positions. The instructor was really incredible. He was great about creating an environment in which it was OK to try and fail. His whole approach was, Maybe you won't be able to do this position, or hold it very long, but there's nothing lost in trying. Occasionally, he would come by and gently reassure me by placing his hand on my back, or helping me with a particular posture. And always reminding us to focus on our breathing... Really important in yoga.

It was definitely this intense experience that I had a longing to repeat, even though I wondered if the "philosophy" that was being presented in class was compatible with my faith as a Latter-day Saint. I've given it a lot of thought on and off in the intervening year.

That was my one and only experience with yoga until yesterday. A member of my gay Family Home Evening group was encouraged by a friend from his ward to take a yoga class with her, and he became hooked. So he's been pestering me to try yoga again with him. We took a "sculpt" class yesterday -- very physically rigorous.

This time, there was no talk from the instructor of letting go the past or the future. Just a work out. She was basically just telling us what to do, what physical postures, what moves, etc. It was kind of a combination of yoga and an aerobics class. Still, there came a point -- especially as I was beginning to reach my physical limits -- where I found my thoughts naturally gravitating toward my life, and big questions about who I am, and what I really desire in life. A funny thought came into my head, mostly focused on how exhausted I was starting to feel, and how some of my muscles were started to feel fatigued or achy. I thought, "This is sort of what it's like being a gay Mormon." I mentioned it to J., on the mat beside me, and he sort of smirked, we both sort of laughed a bit. But at the same time, the thought triggered deeper emotions. I was aware of everything I am, and everything I desire deeply, including full acceptance and inclusion in the Church. And I started to cry again.

I do think, however, I've found a kind of resolution to the whole issue of being "fully present" versus the importance of "remembrance." I think there is a way in which memory is only necessary within the realm of the temporal. Memory is important to us now. Memory is important because there is a now that is somehow separate from past and future. But, as best I understand, the scriptures also make clear that God inhabits a realm in which there is neither past, present, nor future; in which all things are present. And as I have come to understand it (partly through the experience I had yesterday), this is the realm we were being invited to enter by my yoga instructor a year ago. I was being invited to be present with the me that just is; the me I have become; and not the me that is filtered through my intellect. In the day-lit conscious mind, there is an ego constantly trying to living up to some expectation of myself, there is an ego holding on to certain ideals of how I see myself and how I would like others to see me. And this ego, for the most part, is far too limited; our conscious will and desires too often hold us back from our full potential. As far as I can tell, much of God's involvement in history has been to try to break down human ego. (That's what the whole concept of repentance is about.) So I understand how it is necessary to try to free ourselves from that, from ego. And one way to do that is to spend time grounding ourselves not in a mundane now, but in a transcendent now that is the totality of everything we were, everything we are (in the mundane now) and everything we will be in the future; in the same transcendent Now that is present always to God. Spending time reflecting on that wholeness, and reflecting on the ways I already abide in it is a powerful thing, something I've decided I really need to do more often.

Remembrance is important. It has to do with the fact that we are related -- connected -- to God, to all our brothers and sisters, to every living soul, to all creation -- which the concept of covenant holds. Yes, we must remember our covenants in the time-bound realm. But in the eternal realm, we are our covenants. When we enter into the realm of completion, where we have become, there's no more need to remember.

There was a point, yesterday, at the end, where the instructor invited us to pray. And I did, freely and joyfully. This yoga class was this amazing experience, and something I've decided I want to participate in regularly.

I'm going again this afternoon!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


OK, here's another analogy of grace.

When I was a young child -- I believe about 5 or 6 years old -- we moved from our inner-city Rochester, NY apartment to the suburb of Greece. Our parents had completely packed and cleaned out the apartment, and we were literally on the verge of leaving. My parents apparently needed to pick up some food and other supplies before we left, and since their errand wasn't going to take longer than 10-15 minutes, they decided to leave me and my little brother Mark alone at the apartment.

Somehow I was not aware of the fact that they were just running an errand and were going to be right back. Either they told me, and I wasn't paying attention, or they figured the errand would be short and so they didn't need to tell me.

But in my 5- or 6-year-old mind, I knew we were moving to a new house. And so when one minute I was playing quietly with my brother, and the next I looked up and realized we were all alone, I simply assumed that my parents had decided to make the move without us, abandoning us at the apartment. I started wailing, and when I started wailing, my little brother started wailing too.

At that point, I realized it was just me and my little bro, and I needed to take care of him. And I'd remembered hearing somewhere that in case of an emergency, you can dial zero on the phone and the operator can help. So that's what I did. I picked up the phone and dialed zero, and I was in the process of explaining (through my tears) that my little brother and I had been abandoned by our parents, when my parents arrived through the door with a sack full of groceries.

I still have a perfect picture in my mind of me standing there on my tip toes (the wall phone was a bit of a reach for me), sobbing to some strange female voice on the other end of the line; and then the rush of relief and joy when I heard the door click open and saw my parents' faces.

In that moment of aloneness, which couldn't have been more than a few minutes, to me it had felt like we had been abandoned for good. Of course it wasn't true! Even as I was dialing emergency assistance, parents were rushing home to reassure us.

The grace of God can be like that. When we are without it, it can feel like we've been abandoned forever. We can feel utterly low and alone and lost. But if we just wait, we will feel it again, and in abundance. And when God's grace, as communicated by the loving, peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit, is upon us, we feel whole and complete and as if nothing ever lacked. When we have the Spirit, we realize that even when we felt alone, we never truly were alone. We realize that the pain we experienced in the preceding night actually had a redemptive purpose; we can even be grateful for the pain. I think that ability of the Spirit to heal and transform past pain into present understanding and joy is what is meant in the Book of Revelation when says that in the end, after every trial and tribulation, God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes (7:17).

The ability to wait in patience is, I think, the definition of hope. Hope is resting in our knowledge of God's perfect love for us -- even when we don't or can't feel that love. There have been times in my life when I've been able to rely mostly on love, times when my greatest source of strength has been my faith. Lately, it seems, I've had to rely more on hope, probably the least understood of Paul's cardinal virtues. I'm glad it's there.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Faith/Doubt, Part II

I guess I'd say that I've always relied mostly on my relationship with the Spirit as the foundation of my faith. Since I've been old enough to think rationally about belief -- and for me, I think that was about when I reached the 7th grade -- I've always more or less understood that there were certain intellectual challenges related to religious belief. (The 7th grade is when one of my best friends in High School who happened to be an atheist started to debate the existence of God with me during our lunch breaks.) I've always understood that there were contradictions within the scriptures, or between certain cherished religious beliefs and what we can learn through science or history or other disciplines. And I've always been interested in exploring those contradictions or challenges, and reconciling them where possible. But my faith has never reposed on the need to resolve all contradictions or challenges or ambiguities. Rather, my faith has been strong when I've had a good relationship with God, and when I've lived in a way so that I can feel the Spirit in my life. As far as the intellectual challenges go, I'm willing to defer resolution; I'm willing to wait and see how things go; and not lose my salvation just because I don't happen to have intellectually pleasing answers to all my questions at any given moment.

Again, it's not that I don't value intellectual exploration of issues related to belief. For instance, when I was in Utah last week, I bought a book entitled Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon: Is This the Place?, by John L. Lund. Will I buy all his arguments? Probably not. I'm curious to see if I do. Right now I'm reading The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke. Some of the information in this book I find challenging (he's certainly writing from a perspective of non-faith), but I'm also finding things in it that are strangely confirming of my belief in the Church. This is basically the only kind of stuff I read, and I read it all the time. Someone once asked me when was the last time I read anything but non-fiction, and I honestly can't remember. My devotion to the Spirit does not correspond to a devaluing of science or history or anthropology or other similar disciplines that may on occasion seem to compete with or contradict religious belief.

I've read broadly enough on LDS history and theology and textual criticism of the Book of Mormon and so on that I can safely say there's no skeleton in Mormonism's closet that I'm not fully cognizant of. Oddly enough (in some people's minds, maybe) I credit Fawn Brodie with my renewed testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Even though it was more or less her intention to destroy his reputation as a prophet, it was while reading No Man Knows My History that I felt the Spirit testifying to me about him, as I pondered the question: Why would he give himself up and go to Carthage? So I'm sort of a believer in letting folks learn whatever they want about the Church from whatever source (even South Park or The Book of Mormon, the Musical!), and letting them make up their own minds.

I'll say that a lot of things people might learn about the Church that could throw them for a loop don't bother me for two reasons. First, I'm not bothered because I know Church leaders and members aren't perfect. God works perfectly well through flawed vessels, or even through vessels that -- to our eyes -- seem broken. (This is what it means in the Book of Daniel when we compare the Church to the "stone that was cut out of the mountain without hands.") Second, I'm not bothered because the unconventional does not frighten me. (I say this both as a believing Mormon and as a proud, openly gay man.) So polygamy or magical beliefs or whatever other rabbits you want to pull out of the hat of Mormonism don't worry or embarrass me.

I consider reason more or less a friend to orthodox belief because in my increasingly old age I've learned to be humble enough (some would say "credulous" enough) to keep an open mind and accept that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my (or anyone's) philosophy. I am an orthodox believer because I have the Spirit in my life, and because it works. Living by the Spirit and accepting the testimony of Jesus has made my life better and has made me a better and happier human soul.

OK. Anybody who regularly reads my blog knows this about me already. But recently I had an experience that shook me somewhat. I was having a conversation with a faithful LDS friend about Church history. This friend well knows my orthodox (if unconventional) commitment to the LDS Church. And somehow in the course of the conversation there was discussion of the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy (news to my friend) and the (to my mind fairly well settled) fact that Joseph initially practiced polygamy without Emma's knowledge or consent (shocking, very upsetting news to my friend). Now I've lived with these "facts" and more or less made peace with them long enough ago in my faith journey to have forgotten that they ever upset me. But upset me they did, deeply and profoundly, when I first learned them.

Now the friend in question is someone I love deeply. He is also someone whom I would describe as having experienced profound, positive life changes as a result of his association with the Church. His testimony of the Church has been the rock, the foundation, that has enabled him to face some pretty terrifying demons in his life and come through victorious. I would go so far as to say that the Church has been the primary social force for good in his life. And this conversation that I had with him has shaken his faith in the Church profoundly, to its very core.

Now I remember I went through three stages in terms of dealing with Joseph Smith's polygamy. Stage 1 was, "He can't possibly have done what he did to Emma and be a true prophet of God. I cannot possibly believe in anything Joseph Smith did or said any more." I continued to read Church history and struggle with this issue, and eventually I got to Stage 2, which was, "Maybe he was a prophet of God, but what he did to Emma was wrong without any question. If he was a prophet, he was a flawed prophet whom God was able to use to establish the true Church in spite of his flaws." Sometimes, to be honest, I think I'm still in Stage 2 with this. Though, as I've continued to read and ponder, I've come to feel more comfortable with Stage 3, which goes something like this: "Maybe God did command Joseph to take plural wives. Maybe God was trying to stretch the Church and push it to a new conception of marriage and relationships that went far beyond our conventional wisdom on this subject. And maybe in an ideal world, Joseph would have been up front with Emma and with everyone about this from the beginning. But he knew how people would react. How he feared they would react was, in fact, the way they did react. Emma freaked out. Outrage about polygamy was a contributing factor in the events leading to the prophet's assassination. So maybe Joseph had good reason for revealing what the Lord had commanded him only slowly and carefully, even to his wife." With Stage 3 I've even been able to consider that Celestial relationships will likely require extraordinary selflessness of us, a kind of selflessness that the practice of polygamy did in fact require of the Saints who practiced it. Whether I find myself in Stage 2 or Stage 3, some sort of faith is possible. Faith (in an LDS context, anyway) was not possible as long as I was in Stage 1. Which is definitely where my friend seems to be with this right now.

So at some level I feel very bad. Did I do something terribly wrong, by casually revealing to this person some information that has really shattered his faith? My faith eventually recovered from this information, which is part of why I hold to an ethic of believing that it is ultimately not healthy to withhold information from people. But what if my friend's faith doesn't recover? What if he loses his testimony? And what if all the good things that have come into his life as a result of his faith are lost? What if, for instance, he lapses into addiction again without the rock of his testimony to help him resist temptation? Am I responsible for that? So I've really wrestled with this a lot. It's been very painful for me. It's always been my desire to strengthen faith, never, ever to undermine it for anyone.

What I did do was make my friend promise not to make any snap decisions about his Church membership or activity as a result of having learned this. I bore my testimony to him. I told him that there is no question in my mind that Joseph was a true prophet, and the Church he restored is true. I encouraged him to keep reading and learning. I gave him a few titles of books... Donna Hill's Joseph Smith: The First Mormon, Richard Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling. And, yes, Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History. Remember, I got my testimony reading that book, even though I would say I presently disagree with many of her conclusions. I had to let her arguments sit with me for a while, think about them, and weigh them against information that others had to present. And I weighed them as well -- ultimately -- against my own testimony. Against my experience with the Spirit, and my experience with the Restored Church.

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." But ultimately, as my friend and I have spent much time discussing recently, I want to believe and I must believe that "the glory of God is intelligence."

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Last night, a group of people I'd mostly never met face-to-face humored me by showing up at my parents' home here in Springville, UT, to participate in what I had haphazardly called a "Gay Mormon Family Home Evening." Up until about an hour or so before people started showing up, I really wasn't quite sure what exactly we were going to do, or even if anybody would show up to eat the chips and veggies my dad and I had bought for the occasion.

I say people humored me, because I'm sure a number of folks showed up mainly to socialize (and not even necessarily with me!), and I insisted on starting and ending with a hymn and a prayer even though I knew some folks who showed up are not into that. And in between the socializing (which started around 7:30 p.m. and didn't end till 1:00 a.m.) we sat in a circle and took turns telling a little bit about ourselves, whatever we wanted to tell. And so the things people shared ranged from the mundane to the sublime, and there were stories of faith and doubt (and neither faith nor doubt), all intermingled. That, to me, was actually quite amazing.

The big happy surprise of the evening, for me, was the arrival of Kiley. I think she was actually the first one to RSVP on Facebook, so that was a big happy surprise from the moment she messaged me a few weeks ago to say she was really looking forward to it. I told her (only partly tongue-in-cheek) that I was amazed she was coming because I thought she was pissed off at me. And she said something to the effect that if she occasionally gave me that impression, it was only that the messages of faith on my blog hit too close to home for her. Which, if I had to summarize how I feel about her blog, would be very close to what I'd say about her. I understand the doubt thing, not just because I've been there, but because when I'm honest, I have to confess that the doubt is always sitting there, just at the threshold. Which is why it felt so good to actually see the real flesh and blood Kiley, and give her a great big hug, and to smile and see the smile on her face, and recognize that whatever we express of doubt or faith on our respective blogs, in the flesh we're something like a brother and a sister and much, much closer to each other than our words might make us out.

I recently received a confession of doubt from a close friend. He was weeping, because he felt like his faith and his life in the Church had been a great, big lie. He had confronted some uncomfortable truths about Church history that literally rocked his world, and he didn't see how faith was possible for him any more. I've never seen someone so utterly bereft and heartbroken. He wept and hugged me and trembled like a child.

And it occurred to me, as I was reading this recent post by Andrew, that people have this tendency to act as if the line between doubt and faith is this static boundary, which we are either on one side or the other of. When someone expresses doubt, if we've ever felt doubt, we act as if that person is where we once were. If someone expresses faith, and we no longer have faith, we act as if we were once "there," as if we've "been there, done that."

But there is no static boundary, there is no static realm or dominion of faith or doubt. Our lives are like a mountain road with a lot of twists and turns, valleys and vistas. And our faith is like that bend in the road just beyond an outcropping of rocks that lets us see miles all around us in the valley. We can sit for a while and enjoy the view. But when we move beyond that point (and move on we must, because our lives are a road we must keep walking), of course we lose the view we once had. Now we're on a stretch of trail where we can see nothing but steep walls hemming in our view, and a path that disappears after a few dozen meters. No vista any more. But it doesn't mean we didn't see what we saw earlier in the journey. It doesn't mean that previous vista was false. And if we stay on the journey, eventually we'll catch another vista again. And when we do -- when, once again, we can see the valley stretching out below us for miles away -- it's no longer the same vista we had before, but a completely new and different vista, one likely with a larger perspective than the earlier one. Even that perspective will eventually have to be abandoned if we want to keep growing.

So a normal, healthy, growing soul passes through faith and doubt, which are not so much opposed to one another as interconnected phases of the same journey; a journey which could not exist without both. When a person of faith wrestles with doubt, he's not "returning" to doubt, he's moving forward. We may wrestle with doubt at many phases of our lives, but doubt is never the same. It's always a different twist in the road. And faith reaffirmed and re-embraced is never the same faith. It's always a maturer faith, more refined by the doubts that preceded it.

Yes, Andrew, faith is relevant. But only so long as we don't define faith as the things we supposedly know -- the static, unchanging facts -- that make us moral beings (which is sort of how you've defined it in your essay). For me faith, in some profounder way is the journey, even when I'm passing through darkness and doubt. Because in those moments when my view is cut off, I've learned to keep walking, knowing that as long as I don't stop moving, I'll eventually see more clearly again.

Doubt represents the hard-won acquisition of indispensable truths. We should never jettison those truths, and so in a real sense, we never jettison those doubts. They just get incorporated into the larger understandings we acquire further up the path. That is why I ultimately can't bring myself to argue with someone who doubts, to try to convince them that they are wrong. At some profound level, I do not believe they are wrong, and to persuade them they were wrong would be to send them in the wrong direction, backwards instead of forwards.

That's why I was so happy last night. I loved that feeling in the room last night, as I sat there conversing till early this morning, that sense that wherever we are, we're all in this together.

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Because I'm Gay"

Earlier today, I went to Salt Lake. I dropped my sister and my friend E. off at Temple Square, and then went to meet a couple of friends for lunch. (Meeting friends = happiness!) After lunch, I headed back for Temple Square.

We went to the Visitor Centers -- first South then North. As much as I enjoy the historical stuff about the building of the temple at the South Visitor Center, my favorite place to be is in the room with the Christus statue in the North Visitor Center. I love that there are seats there where you can rest and meditate. I never go to Temple Square without taking time for that. I found a seat, and began to contemplate the statue, to contemplate creation and the work of Christ, and let the peace that comes with such contemplations fill my soul.

A couple of sister missionaries saw me taking in the Christus. The flags on their name tags showed that one was from the Ukraine, the other from Mexico. I assume they took one look at my dress -- a summery south asian shirt with a beautiful blue embroidered pattern and a colorful necklace -- and assumed I was not a member. It was a technically correct assumption, though, of course, the truth is a bit more complicated. After complimenting my shirt, they offered to take a picture of me with the Christus. (This is part of the picture they took.)

They were sort of making a typical missionary pass at me, trying to convert my interest in the Christus into an opportunity for a deeper religious conversation. I thought I would head them off at the pass by explaining that my friend and I attended the Lake Nokomis Ward in Minneapolis. They didn't let me off the hook. "So... Are you a member?" the Ukrainian sister asked. She did most of the talking. I surmised she was the senior companion.

"My friend is, but I am not," I admitted. "Though I guess you could say that I am as active in the Church as it is possible to be without being a member."

She looked a little puzzled. "How long have you been attending?" she asked.

"Six years," I said.

"Why haven't you joined the Church yet?"

"It's complicated," I smiled politely.

They weren't satisfied. "But why?"

"Because I'm gay," I finally clarified.

"Oh," the sister frowned. "I see."

"My husband and I will be celebrating our 18th anniversary in August."

"You are married? Really? When did you marry?"

"We married legally in California in 2008."

She frowned. "Oh, well that won't work. You can't join the Church."

"I know," I said. "That's why I've been attending for six years without becoming a member."

Both their faces registered frustration.

"Why do you attend Church then?" the Ukrainian sister asked.

"Because I feel the Spirit there. Because it helps me live my life the way I would like to live it. Because I have a testimony of the gospel."

She shook her head. "How long have you been this way?"

"As long as I can remember," I replied. "I've been aware of my attraction to others of the same sex since I was eleven. I was fourteen when I figured out this might mean I was gay."

"Oh," she frowned. "Did you want to change? Have you tried to change?"

"Oh, yes. I prayed, I fasted. I tried to live as faithfully as possible. I wanted God to change me. But it never worked out that way."

"How long did you try to change?"

"Eleven years."

"Oh." Sighs and more frustration.

"But what about your parents? What do they think of this?"

"This was difficult for my parents to accept at first. But they know me. They know what kind of a person I am. They love me and they love my husband, and they accept him as a member of the family."

"You don't want to leave him."

"No," I replied, "I don't want to leave him."

The sister frowned and shook her head again. "That won't work at all."

The sister from Mexico tried a different tack. "What brings you happiness?" she asked.

"My family. My faith."

At that point, the conversation sort of sputtered to an end. Neither of them seemed to have much more to say. I checked my watch, and noticed that we had less than ten minutes to get to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where we were going to watch Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. My dad had recommended it.

"I need to go..."

The Mexican sister smiled at me. "You want to see the movie..."

"Yes," I replied.

"Well," she offered, "Just keep going to Church. Just keep doing your best."

"I know," I smiled.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Revisiting the Past

I'm here in Utah, visiting my parents without Göran, but with a friend. So my friend is sleeping in my parents' guest room, and I'm sleeping in the basement in my brother Joe's old room. But it just so happens that the bed I'm sleeping in is the same bed I slept in all the years I was growing up.

It was an old bunk bed, purchased when my brother Mark and I were small children. When our family moved into a bigger house, and Mark and I were able to graduate to our own bedrooms, the bunks were separated, and I continued to sleep in it as a single bed until I graduated from high school and went to BYU, and then on my mission. I continued to sleep in the bed for a while after my mission, and then when visiting parents for summer vacation. I think the last time I slept in it was the summer of 1986.

It's funny how a physical object can bring back intense memories. I saw the Strassenburg Planetarium sticker I must have put there when I was still a pre-teen, which brought me back into a completely different mental world full of dinosaurs and astronomy. (Well, maybe not completely different!)

Last night I was remembering how this bed was the place where I spent at least a third of the first half of my life -- sleeping, doing homework, studying scriptures. Dreaming. And... masturbating. And feeling guilty. And praying. No -- pleading with God. A bed is an intimate place.

It's strange to be back in that bed now, and remembering. Remembering the wrestling, the conflicts, and the coming to some kind of resolution, some kind of peace. It's strange having a concrete reminder of the path that's brought me to where I am now.

Göran was here for one night, and neither of us sleeps well separate. So Göran crawled into the single and we slept peacefully intertwined. The following morning, I woke up and knelt next to the bed to pray while Göran was still sleeping. That was a moment of realization too, symbolic maybe of the ways in which the most significant aspects of my childhood -- my faith and my hope -- are still with me. But added to it is a larger perspective, the fuller life that is possible with family and experience and compassion.

God just keeps adding. Nothing is ultimately lost. Everything is still there, inside my heart. Even the old pain is sweet now because it helped make me who and what I am, leaving me nothing but gratitude.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Gay Mormon Family Home Evening, Springville, UT

Göran and I arrived in Utah yesterday morning. We're here visiting family. This time, we brought along my friend E. (a member of my ward) so that he and my sister could get to know each other better. Long story! Saturday and Sunday we were in Roosevelt, attending the Northern Ute Pow Wow and spending time with in-laws. Earlier this evening, I went for a long walk with my dad, having a heart-to-heart talk.

Being with family is magical for me. I feel so peaceful, happy and relaxed. My family are the coolest people -- every one of them. There's no one else I'd rather be with. And I feel like here I'm more me than I am anywhere else. Göran is part of the family too, which is part of being able to be me. I love watching him interact freely and intimately with my parents, siblings and in-laws. I love seeing him appreciated and loved fully and without reservation by my family. And here, the spiritual half of me is validated as well. I participate in family prayers and can talk about spiritual things with my parents. We had a little family home evening, and my dad asked me to give the lesson -- which felt wonderful to me. My family is the one branch of the Church I am not excommunicated from. So to me, being here with them feels to me like what I imagine the Celestial Kingdom will be. This is my best taste of eternity.

Tomorrow, after a family July 4th cookout, Göran is heading back to Minneapolis, while I and my friend E. will stay until next Sunday. It feels weird... It's the first time Göran and I will have gone on a trip together and then had to part ways. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It will be hard for me to say goodbye to him tomorrow.

But the cool part will be staying here with family and also -- I hope! -- being able to connect with blogging and other friends here in Utah.

To that end, I've planned a little "gay Mormon family home evening" for this Friday, July 8, at 7:00 p.m., at my parents' place in Springville, UT. The purpose will mostly be to share stories and socialize over refreshments. If you are in the area and are interested in coming, please email me through my blog or contact me through Facebook! If we haven't met, I would love to meet. If we've already met, I would love to see you again...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Given for a Principle

As part of my daily scripture study today, I read D&C section 89, "The Word of Wisdom." In verse three -- at the end of the preamble written by the prophet -- I was particularly struck by the phrase "given for a principle." The Saints usually focus on the phrase "principle with promise"; we usually focus on the health benefits that come from following the injunction to avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. But it seems to me that the prophet invited the Saints to look at this revelation as more than just a health code; to see the social, moral and spiritual principle underlying it. So this time around, I read it to see if there was a larger pattern that might be applied in other areas of our lives.

The beginning of the revelation proper is verse four, which warns against "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days." The revelation then proceeds, in verses five and following, to discuss a series of products and their healthy and proper uses. The evils and designs at issue have to do with the ways in which American capitalism subordinates all human values to the profit motive; how it exploits human needs and desires by fostering addictive behavior; how it uses clever techniques to create extraneous needs and desires, to persuade us that we want things we don't in fact need at all and that may in fact be bad for us. That's why the Word of Wisdom is presented in the form of an explanation of what humans in fact need, and how the world's goods supply those needs in a healthy way when used properly. Proper use is a central principle here. The goods at issue here are not in and of themselves harmful. The concern is misuse of good things.

When we consider the history of American capitalism since 1833 when this revelation was received, how our entire economic system has been possessed by mass consumption and mass marketing spinning ever out of control, it gives added significance to the phrase "evils and designs which do and will exist... in the last days." Whatever concerns the early Saints may have had about the evils of Demon Rum, they seem, to me, dwarfed by the mayhem of the wars and world-wide ecological disaster that are the unintended side-effects of oil-driven industry. The Word of Wisdom does have something directly to say to the modern meat industry, about which a good deal more could be written -- whether we're talking about the destruction of rainforests for the production of South American beef, or the toxic ecological effects of concentrated, mass-scale hog farming, or the cruelty of the poultry industry, or the health effects of McDiets. The bottom line is, we live in a society where something on the order of half a trillion dollars a year are invested in mass marketing, in order to get us hooked on fast food, fast cars ("zoom! zoom!"), pornography, stylish clothes, and hand-held electronic devices, all with very questionable effects on human lives, human relationships and the ecology of our planet.

Pornography, to me, is a classic example of our our economy works, and how the Word of Wisdom exposes the evil underlying it. Humans have a legitimate need for love and affection, and sex is the physical dimension, a physical expression of that most sacred need. Pornography commodifies that need, and sells us sex in a way that can't possibly meet that need in a humanly satisfying way. We become "addicted to love," substituting pictures of sex acts for human relationships, and in the process distorting the human relationships themselves. And our economy uses pornography to sell us chewing gum and cars. Has anybody else noticed how common it has become lately to sell clothes -- usually really expensive clothes -- by presenting pictures of people who aren't actually wearing any?

The Word of Wisdom, I think, humanizes us by reminding us that all the world's goods have a proper use, and warning us against a system that would use our own fundamental needs and urges against us, to get us buying stuff without thinking whether or how we actually need it.