Monday, December 31, 2012


The other day I was having a chat with a friend about my experience exploring a Roman Catholic monastic order.  I spent the summer of 1988 at a monastery run by the Order of St. John in Le Creusot, France (in my former mission field) because I wanted to explore what it might mean to live my life as a celibate gay man.

That particular order had a rule of general silence.  It's not that talking was against the rules, but the monks were encouraged to keep silence except in specifically mandated situations.  For instance, it was OK to have very open discussion during classes where we were studying the scriptures together.  After meals on Sunday, conversation and socializing was also allowed.  But generally, you observed silence.

At the monastery, the monks slept in a kind of dormitory.  You had your own private cell.  You showered and washed in a common bathroom where there were private shower stalls.  You ate in a common area, and spent most of your day in group activities (working on a potato farm owned by the monastery, participating in matins, vespers, and other devotionals, scripture study, etc.).  But you didn't do a lot of talking.

My friend seemed sort of surprised as I described this.  He asked me, "Could you ever invite invite another monk to your dormitory cell and have one on one conversations?" I replied that it wouldn't have surprised me if that was against the rules.  Even if it wasn't, I didn't think that would be a general practice. The monks took their commitment to celibacy seriously, and I am sure they would have been aware of the temptations associated with privately entertaining someone in your bedroom.

I think my friend wondered if a life without intimate conversation wouldn't be a life without intimacy, a life of loneliness.

What I can say from my (admittedly short) experience of this, though, is that silence is actually more conducive to intimacy than conversation.  We often use conversation as a shield or a mask.  We can use talk to put on a persona or to distance people from us.  Silence is, oddly, more congenial to truth.

To me, there was something very powerfully intimate about kneeling silently with someone in prayer, or working silently side-by-side with someone in a field.  The intimacy comes through your common work and commitments, and just being together.  Under the right circumstances, there is also a special kind of intimacy that comes from observing the mutually agreed upon physical and spiritual boundaries associated with a commitment to celibacy.

It wasn't a calling that I ultimately felt called to, but I am extremely grateful I had that experience, and I'm grateful for what it taught me about the power of silence.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lower Law, Higher Law

There's a tendency to read Paul's commentary on the lower law as a critique of the Levitical ordinances prior to the coming of Christ. There are problems with this, not the least of which is that it contributes to an anti-Jewish reading of the Scriptures. More than that, however, a close reading of the Pauline texts reveals that Paul is addressing conflicts and challenges within the Church that are very much alive today, and his commentaries on Law have direct relevance to us. The teachings of Paul regarding the lower law and the higher law make so much more sense if we understand the lower law as something that is still functional in today's Church, rather than as something that was swept away in the ancient Church and has no more relevance in our day.

Based on the Pauline texts, we can understand the lower law in terms of a series of commandments and punishments that are designed to inculcate higher moral awareness. There is no guarantee that it will do this. But at the very least, if the law does not teach or train, it preserves good order. For these reasons, the law is ordained of God, even if it does not represent the highest stage of development that God hopes for us to achieve.

Paul is very clear about those to whom the lower law is intended to apply: those who cannot control their anger, lust, pride or other worldly impulses, and those who are more motivated by short term tangibles more than by long-term intangibles.

One way of looking at the lower law is to see it as a school in which the ego is broken down. Once we have learned how to submit our will to a higher will, we are ready for the higher law, which demands greater patience, sacrifice and compassion of us than the lower law.

Paul always seems to be talking to two categories of people: those who get it, and those who don't get it. He has much higher expectations of those who get it. They are expected to be more patient and tolerant with those who don't get it. One of the clearest signs that we don't get it is that we invest a lot in roles and status. The overarching ethic that everybody is intended to understand in his writing is that there is a place for all of us in the Church, whatever our gifts, whatever our roles, and whatever our level of understanding.

I am fascinated by the notion that God expects us to go through stages of development. God recognizes the impossibility of becoming like him without intermediate stages between where we currently are and where he is now. To me this is a very comforting notion! It means that God is always willing to work with us wherever we are! Most of us are still living the lower law in at least some areas of our lives.

The higher law is not a club. It is not a reward for adhering to some dogma. It has nothing to do with whether we call ourselves Christian or not. It offers no special privileges, though it does entail special responsibilities. It offers its own rewards. There are no gatekeepers to include or exclude us from it. We participate in it by simply living it. Those who get it live it, those who don't won't.

Christ is the model of the higher law. If we want to understand what it is, how it works, and what it demands of us, we need only study his life.

I am particularly fascinated by the fact that in the Pauline writings, Paul seems to acknowledge that the Church needs to govern its daily affairs by what looks like the lower law. Check out, for example, I Timothy 5 verse 20. Using public shaming techniques and fear to govern the Church is clearly an example of the lower law at work. In fact, the entire chapter is a study in what the Church looks like, and what Church leaders' admonitions need to be when members of the Church don't seem to be capable of living beyond the lower law. In this chapter, Paul finds himself obligated to address basic problems of anger, idleness, lust and pride.

Paul's views on slavery have been a source of much controversy in the last few centuries of Christendom. But if we understand the lower law / higher law scenario, Paul's views become more comprehensible. The lower law places a high premium on social order. It therefore tends to regulate slavery, rather than to ban it. Under the higher law, we see slavery as an abomination that could not possibly be countenanced living the kind of love that Jesus Christ taught and modeled. In I Timothy 6, Paul speaks to slave masters and counsels them against the dangers of coveting riches, evidence that he is speaking to a group of people who haven't "gotten it" yet.

The higher law mentality thrives in the recognition that we can be happy, whatever our lot in life. While the external conditions of slavery are an atrocity, there is a way in which a slave can ultimately only be a slave in his or her own mind. Once we make that recognition we will always be free, no matter what anybody else does to us externally. Paul sought to inculcate this understanding among members of the church. Unfortunately, some of these admonitions have been misinterpreted as acceptance of slavery. That would be, by the way, a very "lower law" way to read Paul's writings on the subject.

Everything that I've said here about Paul's views on slavery apply equally well to the subject of homosexuality and the church. And either we will get it, or we won't get it. But I still believe that the misunderstanding and the mistreatment of homosexuals by Christians offers gay and lesbian people an opportunity. Learning how to face that and to deal with that and come through victorious can be a school in the higher law for us.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sin, Hope and Redemption in the Story Arc of Jean Valjean

Spoiler alert! If you want to enjoy the movie Les Misérables without hearing extended discussions of it before hand, don't read this post if you haven't seen the movie yet!

Viewed from the perspective of Inspector Javert, the central concern of the story in Les Misérables is redemption from sin. Jean Valjean has broken the law, and he must pay. Once he has paid his debt to society, he is free. This is on the face of it a very reasonable perspective. Arguably, no lawful society can exist without adherence to this principle.

Of course Victor Hugo's entire point in writing the novel was to show how very problematic this is in the kind of world we live in. In a world where injustice reigns, slavish adherence to the law is the sin. From the perspective of Jean Valjean, "Against love there can be no law."

From the perspective of the law, Valjean is a repeat sinner. He steals, twice; attempts to escape from prison; violates parole; and joins in an unlawful uprising.

But Valjean stole bread in order to feed a starving child. He attempted to escape prison because feeding a starving child cannot be a crime. He violated parole because society was forcing him to continue to pay even though he had completed his sentence. He joined in a revolution that sought to alleviate the conditions of injustice that produced tragedies like his and so many others'.

Jean Valjean is from the beginning to the end of this story a person fundamentally driven by compassion. This does not change. It is not a variable within his story arc. From the point of view of the story's author, Victor Hugo, Jean Valjean is not a sinner (at least not in any conventional sense). Inspector Javert, though on the side of the law, is a sinner: utterly lacking in compassion, which is the Higher Law.

Javert Is never redeemed from his sin. Though offered numerous opportunities to tender mercy, he refuses every time. In the end, he succumbs to suicide (despair) at the moment when he simultaneously recognizes that compassion is the higher law, and that he is incapable of submitting to it.

Yet, Jean Valjean sees himself as a redeemed sinner. If he is a consistently compassionate person, what sin can he possibly be redeemed from? Valjean is redeemed in a very real sense, but not from lack of compassion as Inspector Javert should have been. The sin from which Valjean is redeemed is his lack of hope. He gives up on the world and on himself, not because he lacks compassion, but because he lacks hope that compassion has any place in such a world as this.

This is why Bishop Myriel's act of mercy is so significant to him. Valjean recognizes through this act that compassion in the world is possible, and it does make a difference. This act of mercy gives him the gift of hope. And from that moment on he commits his life to making a difference. Valjean's story arc is about redeeming himself from cynicism, not mercilessness. He evaluates every decision in his life based on whether it will provide concrete comfort and relief in this world.

Valjean must, by the way, believe in God in order to find hope. Only faith in God, who was manifested through the incomprehensible charitable act of Bishop Myriel, could offer him hope that his actions would ultimately make a difference in a world plunged in mercilessness and cruelty. Bishop Myriel made God real to Jean Valjean. And Valjean in turn made God real to others through a lifetime of consistent, sacrificial compassion.


This is why the story of Les Misérables resonates so deeply with me. As a young Mormon missionary in France, the central lesson I learned was the importance of love over the law. As a missionary I was subject to very exacting rules. I learned that frequently in order to respond compassionately to particular situations I needed to be willing to bend or break rules. I also needed to be able to forgive myself and others for perceived transgressions.

This lesson was extended over the years following my mission, as I came to terms with being gay. I learned much about the cruelty of the law, or at the very least, the cruelty of certain legalistic interpretations of the law. My coming-out process was a process of learning compassion toward myself and toward others.

What was much harder for me to learn, was the lesson that I needed to learn about hope. Serving a mission and coming out had taught me the central importance of love as the highest principle in the Gospel. But for many years I was plunged in despair and anger, because of my inability to believe in the possibility of love manifesting itself in the world that we live in.

To learn hope ultimately required a much greater act of faith on my part.

Monday, December 24, 2012

All Coming Together

Yesterday, Göran and I went to church with our new foster son M.  We went to Lyndale United Church of Christ.

I did feel the Spirit there.  And there was this incredible moment in the service when this sister got up and spoke about her last five years' spiritual journey with the congregation.  She talked about her slow, painful recovery from brain damage (that got my attention), and what the love of the community has meant to her, how it has made her feel like she'd found the home where she could walk totally sustained.  I think her talk was also the one moment in the service where our foster son (who'd complained all the way to church) literally sat up and listened to every single word.  I was grateful for this; and grateful for where the Spirit fills in the gaps for me, giving me the message I needed to hear.

During the "prayers of the people," when any individual in the congregation could speak out loud the prayer closest to his or her heart, I prayed out loud about an important piece of my journey as a gay Mormon, about the journey I'm in with Affirmation right now, in the midst of new opportunities for dialog within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I spoke from the heart about the rush of emotions many of us are experiencing right now in the wake of the Church's latest overture ("Mormons" to "gays" "dot org").  It felt fairly raw.  Vulnerable.  But honest.  And the Spirit was present.  I felt spiritually cared for.

The best part of being at Lyndale yesterday was running into an old, old friend, also named John.  John is, like me, a teacher.  He delights in clear thinking.  He's a talented writer.  (The two things usually go together.)  He is a deep questioner, but a man of even deeper faith.  He understands what it means to take leaps of faith, even as he surveys the leap ahead with the eye of a skeptic.  We don't run into each other often at Church (since I have a track record of attending Lyndale something like once or twice a year, and he's not an every Sunday parishioner either).  But I felt a genuine leap of delight in my heart when I saw him sitting there, and saw three empty seats next to him.  It was a genuine delight to worship beside him, and share some hugs of fellowship.

After the service, John turned squarely to me and we talked heart-to-heart for a while.  He had tons of questions about the whole "gay Mormon thing," which for me includes my rock-bottom commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (I'd said the full name twice in my prayer) and my rock-bottom commitment to my marriage to my husband.  He said to me, "To be honest, John, I thought I understood everything about your journey, except your return to the Mormon Church."

I replied, "To be honest, I understood that part of my journey very little myself -- except that it is what the Spirit required of me."  At that he nodded recognition and respect.  "But," I continued, "with the benefit of hindsight, I'm starting to understand better."

We left it at that, with much love.


This morning, I found a message in my Facebook inbox from one of my sisters.  She said, "Jukka what are u doing?"  Jukka is the Finnish equivalent of "John," or maybe more colloquially "Jack."  It's the name I've always been known by in my immediate family.  She continued, "_____ and [I] have asked [each other] this a thousand times. That religion is so not worth saving. What they did to u as a gay man is nothing compared to what they do to us as women. I know you are an extremely spiritual person but u know joe smith was a liar and [adulterer]. Really give me something. I love you."

Like the question of my friend John at Lyndale UCC, my sister's plea was both loving and uncomprehending.  This post is, in some measure, my attempt to "give her something." To give my friend John something.  To give something to the many others who have asked me this question on-line and off, some more politely than others.

There's a level at which there's nothing I can give to anyone else who demands these kinds of answers of me.  I have to follow the Spirit, or I will lose the Spirit.  And the Spirit has told me to cast my lot in with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  And I would be lying if I said I didn't have a testimony of the Church.  And that's as much as I want to say on this score right here.

If you don't understand that, at least know me.  If you are a woman, and you think my commitment to the Church must be some kind of denial of your humanity, I can only share the understanding that the Spirit has shared with me about women's place in this journey.  Some sense of that was captured in the dream I shared on my blog the other day, the dream I've labeled in my dream journal #976, "Family Reunion," in which a grand matriarchal family gathering was presided over by my grandmother and all my other great aunties, and in which I learned that a true understanding of Church history will look to the role of women and not men.  (This was symbolized in my dream by an imaginary Mormon matriarch named "Cornelia Roads West."  I think of Cornelia as a sort of imaginary amalgam of what Eliza R. Snow might have been if she'd been Church president instead of Relief Society President!)

Or I could speak in real-life terms about my real-life mother, and what her faith as a Latter-day Saint has always meant to her and what it means to her now, even as Alzheimer's diminishes her ability to always express it as clearly as she once did.  I could speak of it in terms of mom always being the real backbone of our family.  My father is a wonderful, sensitive, faithful, loving man and has always been a wonderful patriarch, but I think he won't disagree that mom was the real strength in our family.

And I simply don't belong to a Kingdom of God which isn't also ruled by Queens, Priestesses and Moms as well as Kings, Priests and Dads.  So I don't think my devotion to the faith of my mother, the faith I am certain of in part because she "knew it" (Alma 56:48) detracts in any way from her humanity or the humanity of any other woman on the planet.

And yes, I suffer because of sexism in the Church.  And I cheered for the former Relief Society President in my ward who wore pants to church two Sundays ago.  And yes, I understand what it means to be denied priesthood because of who and what I am.  The one thing I can say with certainty is that there is a good deal of light on a good many subjects that will cause all of our eyes to smart when the veil is pulled all the way back: on women, on race, on gays and on many, many other things.  The rabble rousers for justice will be just as surprised as the status quo worshipers.  The meek will be less surprised.  The peace makers, less surprised.  But we're still all in for a wonderful surprise.  I think that's what scripture means when it says, "every knee shall bow" (Mosiah 27:31).

The Church is not perfect.  No church on earth is perfect.  And I'm yet to meet a perfect person of no faith at all.  And I've encountered many arrogant SOB's of all creeds and no creed at all.  And I've been an arrogant SOB myself.  I categorically don't exclude myself from that category.  And the good, really faithful, patient, salt-of-the earth Mormons that I know, they all know that humility befits us better than any kind of certainty that demeans others.  I've learned that lesson so well from other Latter-day Saints.  Through their lives they have taught me a faith I'm willing to embrace.  And so if you are concerned about justice, pay attention to the example of those good, humble, loving Mormons at least as much as you do to the legalists and pharisees.  That is as much as I honestly want to say about that right here and now.

Oddly, I'm at a strange place in my life where it's more painful to me to see others treated unfairly than to be treated unfairly myself.  It's partly the nature of my relationship to God.  God has made me see so clearly my own true worth, and he's made me see it in a way that I am so utterly confident of it, I am frequently surprised to find myself virtually untouchable in that inner sanctum of my heart to all those from all sides who would try to tarnish the dignity that is my birthright as a child of God.

So don't understand me if you can't.  But I really do love you.  And I trust that love to carry us all through to the Glory God has prepared for all of us.  And I don't begrudge another human soul making this journey however God lets them make it.  But I have to make this journey as a Latter-day Saint.  God won't allow me to do it any other way.


Since I'm sharing very personally this morning, I want to share this excerpt from my diary, which very much captures how I feel right now:
...Made love to my husband this morning. In [it] I understood our love for each other as a lynchpin for everything else in our lives: my work to build Zion, for reconciliation in the Church; my calling as a teacher; our love for [M., our foster son], and the importance of [our son's] road.
All coming together. A fundamental rule of perception: when we lack the Spirit, we see only fragmentary images. Things look unresolvable, insurmountable, like life is a tangle of contradictions. When we have the Spirit, we can see the road stretching ahead. We may not always see the end goal (sometimes we catch a glimpse of it), but we see clearly where we need to go.  And things come together.  We see how life's not a jumble of irreconcilable contradictions, but a beautiful harmony of all things working together, all things moving toward some great perfection in a dance of love.
This is the only "something" I can give anyone.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Affirmation and the Gay Mormon Hero's Journey

Carol Lynn Pearson released her book The Hero's Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon just a couple of short weeks before the release of Peter Jackson's film version of another of my favorite hero's journey stories: The Hobbit.  And all this, just as a change in the leadership of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons and lots of media buzz about the "Mormons and Gays" initiative signal a crossroads in the "hero's journey" for many LGBT Mormons.

Having been asked to play a leadership role in Affirmation, I'm more aware than ever that every hero's journey is always the journey of a band of heroes -- whether we're talking about Odysseus and his men; or Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion; or Dr. Who and his "companions"; or Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Ori, Nori, Dori, Kili, Fili, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, and Bilbo.  I kind of love the fact that the "hero" in The Hobbit is the smallest and seemingly least important member of the party that sets out to regain the Gold Under the Mountain from the Dragon Smaug! Ultimately, there are no "unimportant" members of these kinds of bands of heroes.

I realized that committing to join others in Affirmation in a collective journey was frightening to me.  I would no longer have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and criticizing, which is something I admit I've done my fair share of.  I could no longer easily distance myself from what I didn't like in the organization.  I had to cast my lot in with the goals of the organization, not just focus on my own personal goals, though I had to feel that my personal goals could align closely enough with the organization's goals for me to do that.  I had to take responsibility to actually do something.  I could be judged for my failures as an individual.  I could be judged for our failures as an organization.  I would be judged by the company I was keeping and they by mine, and I had to be OK with that (and feel like they were OK with that too).

The fears didn't really detain me too long.  Something deep inside of me said these were all risks I had to take.  There was an almost irresistible voice deep within me that insisted: NOW is the moment when all my personal fears and my personal agenda pale in comparison with the opportunity before usThis is the gay Mormon moment.  Every journey starts only at the moment we recognize that call, however we ultimately recognize it.

But does a sense of call make us a unified band of heroes from the get go?  Every story tells us No.  What is interesting to me when you look at every tale of a hero's journey that's ever been told, is that there is inevitably as much conflict among protagonists as there is between protagonists and antagonists.  The heroes themselves can clash with each other over every significant decision that needs to be made, and at every major stage of the journey until the very end.  They can clash over the goal itself, over the best means to achieve the goal, and over the roles each of them are supposed to play.  The personalities of some heroes will clash with the personalities of others.  They get angry at each other.  They harshly criticize each other's failings.  The conflict can become so intense, they can even doubt each other's loyalties and wonder if they are all actually members of the same team.  Heroes can even betray and abandon each other at critical junctures of the journey when their suspicions and insecurities get the better of them.

We see this type of drama played out in stories and movies and art time after time.  And yet we are taken aback when these interpersonal dynamics play out in our own hero's journeys.  Disillusionment sets in quickly and easily.  We think: "This isn't the journey I signed up for."

There's a natural reason for this.  These conflicts among protagonists occur because each of us embarks on the journey from our unique perspective.  As spectators in an audience watching a movie like The Hobbit, we see things from a more objective, third-person perspective.  As actors in a real-life journey, we see things only from our very subjective, first-person perspective.  For us as real-life heroes, the journey ahead is the one we personally envision, and it's hard for us to understand why everyone else doesn't just see it our way.

But this is good news, not bad.  We know we're on a journey worth having the moment conflict strikes. If this journey were going to be easy, our objectives would have been achieved a long time ago by somebody else.  If we have to work hard at this, it means we're working on something hard, something that requires our own personal best efforts and the collaboration of many others.

This is also good news because the diversity of our perspectives, our strengths and our weaknesses is what makes us stronger as a collective than we possibly can be individually.  Will we fail each other?  Yes!  But fortunately, we won't all fail each other in the same way.  That's a good thing.  My weakness is somebody else's strength.  Your strength becomes my strength the more I learn to let go and trust you when I've stumbled, just as my strength can become yours as you learn the same.  Each different perspective is a vantage point from which different opportunities can be spied out, different threats assessed, different options explored, so long as we can learn to listen to and value one another.

What we often find in these stories is that complete unity is achieved only at the very end of the journey.  Heroes often seem to triumph in spite of themselves.  They may learn that the one course of action they thought would fail, that they failed to prevent, was actually the course of action that led them to victory.  We rarely recognize our friends as friends -- more often see them as competitors or obstacles -- until after victory is achieved, and with hindsight we see how the contributions of others enabled our own contributions and vice versa.  Almost always, heroes in the end are saved by grace after all that they can do.


I need this perspective now more than ever, because as I join the hero's journey Affirmation has been on for three decades now, I'm already running up against obstacles, finding areas of difference and disagreement.  I've experienced personal criticism and even attacks, both in public and in private.  And to be honest it hurts, as much as I'd like to just be able to rise above it.  Yet, I think it's important to try not to take it personally, to try not to assume the worst of people who say things that hurt.

I remind myself: ours has been a uniquely painful journey.  The toll of excommunications, family alienation, depression and suicide is proof of this.  So the stakes feel higher for us.  Listening to the perspectives of others is more difficult, the more intensely you feel the stakes in pursuing this your way.  That's just a fact.  And the more intense the pain you've experienced in the past, the harder it becomes to trust in the present.  This is true of every single one of us.

Sometimes the attacks get personal.  It is so easy to demonize the people we ought to consider our friends.  But we won't get there ultimately without each other.

I remind myself: things seem to be changing fast.  We're seeing rapid political and social change in relation to the place of LGBT people in the larger society and in the Church.  We experience this change as both opportunity and uncertainty.  That raises the stakes as well, and makes everything feel that much more intense.

I'm not sure there's a sure fire way to do this.  But here's what I'm willing to say I'm sure of.

Our number one objective is to save lives, both literally and figuratively.  We need to be about love and healing, as each member of our band of heroes understands and defines love and healing for themselves.  Some think the journey must take us far, far away from the LDS Church or even from any organized religion.  Some (I'm in this latter category) think the journey must take us right back into the heart of the LDS Church.  Maybe the party needs to split up at key parts of the journey.  Sometimes success means not putting all your eggs into one single basket!  But that doesn't mean we can't still be part of the same band.  It doesn't mean we are no longer obligated to each other; that we can any less afford to be about saving each other's lives; that we can abandon each other, or abandon the notion that I cannot be saved without you nor you without me.

We are on a collective journey, but we also need to recognize that we are on individual journeys.  You must achieve your personal goals in order for our collective accomplishment to be worth anything.  Without that sense of personal home-coming, "victory" is hollow.

And finally, in that spirit, we can't be superficial about this.  We have to be honest.  We have to speak up if things aren't working.  We have to be ready for anger, for frustration, and for sidetracks and backtracks and delays.  If someone gets lost or left behind, we can't win without finding them and reuniting with them first.

I'm trying to prepare myself for it mentally, though I know the only ultimate preparation is in the doing of it.  You have to just jump in and see where it goes.


My husband Göran and I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for the second time earlier today.  (Spoiler alert, for those of you who haven't seen it and who want to experience the end of the movie without hearing it second hand from me!)  I love the end of this first of three parts.  Bilbo and his dwarf companions stand on a mountain peak together, and in the distance they can see their objective: the mountain home of Erebor.

I was reminded of the first time I saw the mountains of Utah from the window of an airplane.  I grew up out East, but Utah is where I was born, and in the land of my dreams, and in my spiritual life as a Latter-day Saint, the Wasatch Mountains have a special symbolic significance: the same signficance as "the Lonely Mountain" in The Hobbit.  For me, they symbolize both my literal homeland and my spiritual homeland, my Church.  Like the dwarves in The Hobbit, I'm in exile, trying to find my way back.  Home is my objective.

The gold under the mountain in the story of The Hobbit is like the gold of faith, love, hope and perfect communion I yearn for in my own spiritual journey.  I want to be welcomed back into Zion without losing my integrity.  Without having to deny the love of my life and without losing the family I've worked so hard to forge.  The hero always brings back home that part of him- or herself that he or she has forged throughout many wanderings.  That is as important a part of the journey as the home coming itself.  Perhaps the more important part.

I love Bilbo's journey as an ally.  Bilbo is not going on this journey to find his own home.  He already has a home which -- to a certain extent -- he's put at risk by going off on this journey with dwarves.  But he learns to empathize with his friends, to realize that if they don't make it home, he won't be able to live with himself, even if he stays safe at home.

I love that in the end, Thorin Oakenshield, who had once thought Bilbo useless, acknowledges how wrong he was, and acknowledges that without Bilbo, they could not have come so far.  That realization was itself a kind of mountaintop.  One of those rare moments when we see ourselves in the other; when we experience our unity.

Those moments of transcendent perspective never last forever.  But I pray for it for me and for us, even if only in flashes long enough to keep us all in this journey together.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mormon Matriarchs and Inverting Our Worldviews

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, I had a dream about attending a family reunion which was hosted by the many great matriarchs of my family.  My grandmother was preeminent among them, but she was surrounded by many of my great aunts.  (Almost all of these great matriarchs except one --  my Great Aunt Helen -- have all passed on to the other side of the veil.)  They were teaching us various arts and crafts.  I was working on a history project, writing about some great early twentieth-century Mormon apostle.  Someone like James E. Talmage, though I couldn't clearly remember his name.  But as I sat in the arts and crafts room where my family was being taught by my grandmother and all my great aunts, I realized that the wife of this apostle, a woman named "Cornelia Roads West," was actually a much more important and influential figure in early Mormonism, so I decided to re-focus my historical research and write about her instead.

That was Sunday.


This morning I had a rather different dream.  It involved some blockbuster movie with grand special effects and a heart-warming story that everybody in the world wanted to go see.  I call it "The Green Movie," because it was a fantasy film whose color pallet was predominantly green.  Göran and I were on our way to see the movie, though I had a story collection project that I was working on all along the way, writing and collecting people's stories.  I worked on the story project on the bus on the way to the theater, and then in the theater lobby while we were waiting to be seated.  Finally we went into the theater and started watching, but I realized that I had left my story-telling work out in the lobby.  I got up and left the movie and reclaimed my work project and started working on it.

I left the theater and took a long journey on an isolated road, until I reached a cottage in the countryside where there were lots of LDS Church members who had gathered to talk and share stories.  It was a place full of life and warmth and love.  I realized, this was where I needed to be to do my project.  I stayed there for a while until two guys dressed in Mormon missionary suits arrived, to tell us how homosexuality could be overcome or transcended.  But I realized they were fake missionaries.  Their suits were the wrong color (grey) and made of polyester, and they didn't have name tags.  After they left, I caught up with them and spoke with them some more.  I realized they were longing for human contact, so I hugged them, and realized that they were starved for physical affection.

I went back to the movie theater where I had left Göran, but found myself on the other side of the screen.  There were quite a few people gathered there.  One of them was a friend of mine who is a performance artist (who happens to be Asian American and a woman).  We could see the images of the Green Movie being projected onto the screens, but we saw the inversion of them because we were looking at them from the back.  From there I could see that the images weren't green, but black and white.  Through a hole in the screen, I could see my husband Göran and some gay Mormon friends of mine raptly watching the film.  I started waving to them, and managed to get their attention, and was trying to encourage them to come over to my side of the movie screen.

That was this morning.


These were very different dreams, but I think they were about basically the same thing.  Both dreams addressed the question of how I need to live my life and tell my story.

Both dreams were about the beauty and wonder of life, first of all.  Both dreams took me to settings that were home-like, places full of people who interacted with each other as family, loved each other, and spent time together socializing, telling stories and creating art.  In the first dream, that place was the home where my matriarchal family reunion was taking place, and in the second dream it was at the cottage in the countryside where members of the LDS Church had gathered to socialize -- away from the hustle and bustle of the city and a blockbuster movie.

Both dreams were also about authenticity, and the challenge of finding authenticity and living authentically.  In the first dream, the great examples set by the matriarchs of my LDS family helped me realize that I was trying to write the wrong history of the Church, that I was focusing on a popular male figure when I should in fact realize that true understanding of Church history would be to see it through the eyes of his wife, "Cornelia Roads West."  ("Roads West," I think, is an allusion to the pioneer trail that shaped early Mormonism.  Is "Cornelia" the female version of the biblical "Cornelius," the figure who represented the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles?)

In the second dream, there were two "inauthentic" stories I found myself debunking: a worldly blockbuster movie that entranced everybody with special effects and that was supposed to be all about life (filmed in a green color pallet), but in reality was superficial, 2-dimensional and grey.  It was a counterfeit of the real life people were supposed to discover outside of a movie theater.  There was a second "inauthentic" story of how homosexuality could be overcome or transcended, presented by two Mormon-missionary-like characters who turned out not to be real missionaries, and who were starved for real, authentic human affection, which I offered them in the form of physical hugs.

In that second dream, real life was to be found in live human interactions among other Saints, and "on the other side of the movie screen" where we could be actors, not passive viewers of a counterfeit version of life that's sold to us by popular culture.


Many people harshly criticize me for my desire to be actively involved in the Mormon Church.  But I continue to insist that involvement in the Church is the single most important commitment I make as a disciple of Jesus Christ because living the Gospel is about real human relationships.  The Church is not some abstract notion.  It is real relationships with real people, and with a real, living God who has interacted us within the confines of human history.  When we commit deeply to those relationships in the Church, we enter into a journey of mutual learning with our fellow Saints.  A "journey of mutual learning" is how I would characterize the entire Plan of Salvation.  So the Gospel is about the Church and the Church about the Gospel.

I think the reason people are upset about my commitment to the Church is because there are false narratives/inauthentic narratives floating around that present particular ideas of what the Church is and/or is supposed to be.  In embracing the Church, do I embrace false narratives about the Church?  Absolutely not.  At the heart of the Gospel is the task of sorting truth from error, of finding the real narrative.  My second dream in particular reminded me that there are multiple inauthentic narratives.  Some originate from popular culture, some from within the Church. Rejecting one inauthentic narrative doesn't necessitate embracing another.

Please note that the "false church history" in my first dream was a story that I was writing.  It's not that the Church was false, or that "Church history" generally speaking is somehow "false."  It is we who create false understandings and narratives, we who are in need of correctives that come to us from life authentically lived in the Spirit.

Do I know what the "true" narrative is?  I think the answer to this is a resounding "No."  The real narrative is not a narrative per se, but life itself.  The real, live relationships with other human beings.  We learn the truth in the doing, in the being, in the loving.  The inauthenticity in the story of the fake Mormon missionaries was revealed in a human hug.  The inauthenticity in the blockbuster movie was revealed by going to the other side of the movie screen, the part of the stage where people become actors instead of audience.  The inauthenticity in Church history I had been trying to write in my first dream was revealed through the creation of art that the matriarchs in my family were teaching me.

We learn the truth, in other words, by staying lovingly committed to one another.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Comfort You Concerning Your Faith

I love Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. There's some great stuff in there about how being a Saint involves having the Holy Spirit in our lives to guide and direct us. It talks about how the Holy Spirit is our true teacher. And of course it talks about trusting in and waiting on Jesus Christ. But today, I'm particularly grateful for Paul's words of comfort in the third chapter. There Paul reminds the Thessalonians (and us) that true faith is challenging.

Paul says to the Thessalonians, "We told you before that we should suffer tribulation" (I Thessalonians 3:4). He writes "to comfort you concerning your faith" and that "no man should be moved by these afflictions" (vs. 1 & 3).

This struck me particularly as I've been reflecting on the tribulations that LGBT people face in the Church. We tend to live in a church culture where there's something wrong with you if you can't join in the chorus of "all is well." So many Mormons think of a life of faith as being happy, shiny, and trouble-free.  But here at least is a scripture where the writer makes it clear that he expects faith to involve tribulation.  True Sainthood must make place for tragedy, even as we affirm that tragedy can't have the final word.

I relate this to my experience as a gay Mormon. Gay Mormons even at our best live constantly on the edge of tragedy. We have all faced life and faith shattering crises. Even when we've graduated to a place of acceptance or joy we can't avoid awareness of the alienation and suicide that are all too present realities for so many LGBT Mormons, past, present and future.

Many will insist, living with the kind of tragedy LGBT Mormons live with shouldn't be embedded within our experience as Mormons.  Our faith should provide us a comfort.  Our fellow Mormons should be our friends, not our antagonists.  The Church should not be the main source of our alienation.

But I don't see any guarantees in the Gospel that our relationships with fellow Christians will be trouble-free.  Look at the tragic, conflicted relations between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the first century and beyond. We have Jewish Christians insisting that Gentile Christians were not real Christians, so long as they did not submit to the Law.  Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the early Church was a kind of apostasy that allowed Gentile Christians eventually to label Jews as Christ-killers and assent to various forms of genocide throughout the middle ages and beyond.  This intense Jewish vs. Gentile conflict was a reality of the congregations Paul ministered to.  It has shaped much of our understanding of the Gospel as revealed a throughout the Pauline epistles.  Conflict within the Church has always defined Christianity.

No, the Gospel speaks directly to the tragedy and alienation we LGBT Saints experience as Saints, living in this time with the particular kinds of conflict and misunderstanding that mark our experience as unique, just as the experience of every age of Christians has been unique.

The goal of the Gospel, as Paul puts it in this epistle, is that "the Lord make [us] increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all men" (v. 12), "to the end that [Christ] may stablish [our] hearts unblameable in holiness before God" (v. 13).  Our unblameable-ness is in our growth into Christ-like love.  This is the trajectory Christ has established for us LGBT Saints no less than any others, and the unique challenges we face can equip us for this work no less than any other.

This past week has been a painful week for me because of the extent of alienation I've witnessed among us, especially as we attempt to make sense of the Church's latest initiative dealing with "same-sex attraction" on the "" web site.  I was aching to go to Church, and was so grateful to finally gather this morning with other members of my elders quorum, and then Sunday School, and then Sacrament.

The Spirit was there, with healing in its wings.  Our chorister decided to sing all five verses of the Sacrament hymn, "How Great the Wisdom and the Love" (LDS Hymnal #195), instead of just singing the usual first three.  It was an inspired decision on her part.  That last verse struck me with particular force: "How great, how glorious, how complete / Redemption's grand design." And what struck me is how for so many of us LGBT Saints it has felt anything but complete, like there wasn't a place for us in the Gospel.

In Sunday School, our teacher had listed the "saving ordinances" on the chalkboard:
  1. Baptism
  2. Holy Ghost
  3. Priesthood (for men)
  4. Endowment
  5. Sealing
(I pondered the mystical nature of women that requires only four saving ordinances for them to achieve complete exaltation.)  I looked at that list and thought, at best, the Church tells gay people that their completion is for the next life, but in this life we must be left with missing pieces. But if redemption's grand design is, at its best, incomplete for gay people in this life, who is to say they know exactly how it is incomplete? Who exactly is to say what scales will fall from everybody's eyes when that shore appears to our view?  And with such big questions ahead, why let despair have the final word?

As we sang the words of that hymn, the Spirit sang sweetly with me: "In Redemption's Grand Design you are complete, and its completeness is in its full inclusion of you too."

And I was comforted concerning my faith.

And I will not be moved by these afflictions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Righteous Anger

Whenever good Christians want to justify a temper tantrum, they usually cite the example of Jesus overturning the vendors' tables in the temple. The problem is, I'm not sure Jesus was actually angry here. I think Jesus was making a calculated political statement, challenging religious authorities in a way that led to his execution. The fact that Jesus never acted out of anger, that he was always in control, was evidenced in the way he faced the ordeal of his crucifixion and death.

Of course many Christian theologians wrestle with depictions of God's wrath in the Old Testament. I personally see descriptions of God's wrath in the Bible as reflections of our own anxieties and inclinations. Perhaps God presents a wrathful face to us in order to break through to us. Or - and this how I prefer to see it - perhaps through the distortive filters of our own wrath and our inability to abide God's presence, we see God's loving face as wrathful.

I believe this, because if we look at the image of God presented in scripture we see it becoming progressively more loving. We see God's love shining through in the prophetic utterances of Isaiah. And we see it perfectly expressed in the life of Jesus.

So to those who want to use the Bible to justify modern-day religious zealotry or wrath against those we disagree with, I say, why should we regress? The Scriptures are a record of our history with God. That doesn't mean we need to relive the darkest aspects of that history. The Scriptures can be a Rorschach, in which we see ourselves as much as we see God's will. We can only understand the true meaning of the Scriptures through the Spirit, which always speaks to us in the language of peace and love. That says something about the Author of supposedly wrathful scripture.

So is anger a sin? I'm inclined to say no. If it is, we shouldn't emphasize that. It is certainly not a sin in the ordinary sense of a natural reaction to some hurt or wrong.

Perhaps we can distinguish between anger as a normal human feeling, and anger as a mode of acting in the world. Anger, as I understand it, plays an important role in any healthy grieving process. In a social sense, anger is important as an indicator of where hurt and injustice are.

But I would still argue that it is not helpful to act out of anger. If there is sin in anger, it is there. We should pay attention to anger, we should be aware of it, but we should not let it dominate us. When we let anger rule our emotions, we become incapable of hearing or seeing clearly. Effective communication becomes impossible because we hear everything through the filter of our anger. Instead of hearing what people are actually saying, we hear what our pain and what past bad experience incline us to expect. That in turn closes us off, and shuts us down precisely at the moment in communication when we need to be opening up.

Anger causes us to see adversaries and opponents where they are not. It causes us to act rashly, and lash out in ways that hurt even those who are our friends, allies and loved ones. The beautiful, terrible thing about anger is that the most natural response it provokes is anger, which in turn feeds the original anger, creating a seemingly never ending cycle.

I call this beautiful, because anger has a quality that allows us only effectively to control it in ourselves. Whenever we try to hush other's anger, whenever we try to point out to others that they are angry, it only provokes more anger on their part. So the most effective response to anger on the part of those of us who wish to dissipate it is to control it in ourselves, and allow it to run its course in others. Anger, In other words, requires a unique discipline of us that focuses us deeply inward.

One great fear that I frequently hear expressed by activists is that suppressing anger makes us ineffective in standing up to injustice. I agree that we should not suppress anger. Suppressing is a form of denial. It is a purely negative act. We should, rather, tame our anger or bridle it. Taming our anger involves acknowledging it, not denying its validity, but holding it in check so that we can evaluate all our options.

That inward taming of anger has the benefit of producing a unique quality in us especially valued by activists: determination. Determination is the blessing of feeling and experiencing anger, but not allowing it to dominate us. That blessing of determination is what grants us the strength and feeds the ingenuity to seek justice, peace and love.

That inward taming of anger has another benefit of producing unique qualities in those we interact with: calm and empathy. When we interact with others in a disciplined way, others will mirror back to us those qualities that we project. Anger produces anger. Calm produces calm. Listening makes space for listening.

Taming anger gives us, in other words, the tools we need to address the sources of injustice and hurt that produce anger in the first place.

So is there such a thing as righteous anger? If there is, it is solely the province of God, a mystery that belongs only to the Source of all creation and wisdom. If we follow in the footsteps of Christ, we will not traffic in it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

With His (or Her) Might

"How can you stand it?"

That's a question I've frequently been asked when I've described the past seven years of my activity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I am excommunicated from the Church, and have no prospect -- under current policies and practices -- of being reinstated into the Church so long as I remain committed to my husband and family of over twenty years.  Even if I were to leave my partner tomorrow and go through what most would consider an arduous "repentance process" in order to have my membership reinstated, my understanding is that my Church membership record would be permanently marked identifying me as "homosexual."  My reinstatement would require clearance from the First Presidency.  There would be certain Church callings I would never be allowed to hold.  Without being able to get married to a woman, I would be denied access to what most Latter-day Saints consider the most sacred ordinances of the Church, and I would be barred from certain priesthood leadership callings.  Even if I lived by every single rule the Church currently prescribes for someone in my situation, my membership status would always be what most people would consider second class at best.

Then there's the informal stuff.  There are the ignorant things that people say, privately as well as over the pulpit or in classes.  There are always a certain number of people who shun me, either because they see me as tainted, or because they're embarrassed.  There are the people who see me as a "mission," somebody who's mixed-up or confused that they need to help see the error of my ways.

And then there are the memories, like scars in my mind and in my heart.  The memories of those dark places I was driven by rejection or fear of rejection.  Those memories of anguish from a time when I felt completely abandoned by everyone.  Those Sundays I would sit alone in the pews, desperately hoping someone would read the pain and the loneliness in the circles under my eyes, and say something, anything; reach out to me and ask me what was the matter; just be my friend! To no avail.  And there are those many desperate nights I once dreamed of and planned for my own death.  The darkness is always there on the threshold, even many years after the fact.  Like a recovering alcoholic who could always fall with just one drink, the darkness is still there, inviting me to slip into it.

Yet, beginning at the end of October 2005, I quietly started attending my local LDS ward regularly again.  I didn't leave my partner, but I did begin to live my life more and more, as much as possible, as a Latter-day Saint.  I claimed that name for myself.  I felt a stirring in my heart, something we Latter-day Saints call "a testimony," something I have shared more and more frequently in many different forums both formal and informal, including, on very special occasions, with very special dispensation, with the LDS missionaries or over the pulpit of an LDS Church.

People ask me: "How can you do that?  How can you stand it?"


What I have experienced is what I would simply describe as pure grace.  The best way I could describe it is it's like there is some guardian angel appointed to stand watch over me, ready to smite down whatever might come to destroy my peace.  I have the Holy Spirit as a friend, comforter and companion, whenever I need him.  He reassures me that my Father in Heaven is very pleased with me; that my efforts to love, to live righteously and to do justice are pleasing to God; and that God's love for me is infinite, and that while some may view me or treat me as a second class citizen, while my status in the Church is excommunicated, in his Kingdom I suffer no disadvantages, and there, there is a place of special glory appointed just for me and for my family, including Göran and all those we hold dear.

Time after time, I've had the experience of something happening at Church (somebody saying or doing something stupid), or some event taking place in the news (like, say, the whole Prop 8 fiasco; or some General Authority statement like that notorious talk by Boyd K. Packer) that ought to send me into a tailspin, that ought to make me throw up my hands in despair and leave for good.  But whenever that's happened, I've always gotten some extra measure of the Holy Spirit reminding me not to despair, buoying me up and giving me hope.  It seems that the more events conspire to give me pain, the more I find myself filled with joy!

In my home office, I have a framed picture on my wall, a print of the great Renaissance painter Raphael's portrait of St. Michael and the Dragon. That painting is a visible, tangible image of the protection I seem to receive from my own guardian angel, keeping my heart lifted and hopeful, keeping me turned ever to God, the source of all hope and strength and life.

I would like to be able to give to others what I have, this incredible gift.  But I know that I can't. It doesn't come from me, but from God, as a sheer, pure gift of his love and grace.

We can never be the source of that grace, but that grace can work through us if we lend ourselves to the work of God by exercising what faith, hope, patience and love we are able.  If we use the talents God has given us, whatever we have available to us today -- however meager! -- God multiplies that grace tenfold.  God begins to work in us and opens up that fount of life never-ending, and he opens it up in the most intimate, deepest wellsprings of our hearts.

Once God has broken open that fount, so long as you stay fixed upon it, there is nothing anyone can say to you; no discriminatory laws or Church policies or hateful words or acts that can disturb your peace or harm even a hair of your head.  They could even kill your body, but they cannot touch you.  Not the real you.


I've been asked by Randall Thacker, President Elect of Affirmation, to serve as the senior vice president of this oldest organization of, by and for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Latter-day Saints.

When Randall first asked me to consider serving in this position a couple of months ago, he was still wrestling with the question of whether to serve himself; whether, in response to pleas from members of the Affirmation Board and Executive Committee, he would accept a nomination to run for president of the organization.  We discussed this question late into the night.  We prayed about it together and individually.  Ultimately, when Randall asked my advice about whether he ought to run for president, I told him I thought he had to.  And when he responded in turn that if he ran he expected me to serve as well, I felt the Spirit whispering that I had no choice but to say yes.  I told Randall yes.  It didn't matter what other commitments I had, I had to say yes to this commitment.

From the beginning, we've realized this was not something any one of us could do individually.  This was not Randall's work or my work or anybody else's work.  It was a work we were joining, a work already in progress that we would lend ourselves to for a time.  And we were overwhelmed by the sense that we needed a host of others to help us in this work.  And we needed God's help.

As Randall and I discussed who might fill the vice president role, Karin Hendricks came to my mind.  I had wept when Karin bore her testimony at the Affirmation Conference of 2011 in Kirtland.  I think Karin's testimony was also an enormous help to my husband, who has long been one of those people who has asked me "How could I stand it?"  Shortly after the Kirtland conference, I connected with Karin through Facebook.  I at one point was wrestling with the question of whether I could really stay connected to or active in Affirmation, and it was Karin who convinced me to stay the course, to get more involved in Affirmation, not less

So in recent months I returned the favor by approaching Karin to find out if she would be willing to serve in some leadership capacity.  Karin surprised me (though I guess I shouldn't have been surprised) by saying that after my initial Facebook message asking if we could talk, she had intuited the reason I was approaching her, and she and her partner Tawnya and some close friends had already been joining them in prayers for guidance before she and I even had a chance to talk.  Eventually, after receiving the guidance she had been seeking, she accepted the invitation to become vice president.

Similar stories could be told for all those who are stepping forward in a variety of leadership roles: people like Tina Richerson, Todd Richardson, David Baker and Tom Christofferson; people like my friends Beth E. and Sam N. who are either stepping into local leadership/organizing roles, or who are joining one of the many impact teams we are trying to organize to gather LGBT Saints, for the purpose of healing each other, giving each other hope, and strengthening our efforts to build a better world, to build Zion.

As the Church becomes increasingly serious about building bridges, sharing stories and increasing our capacity for empathy and understanding, we desperately need faithful LGBT Mormons to come forward and bear witness to what we know: both of the pain we have experienced, as well as what we've experienced of God's healing and grace in our lives.

That means you.  If you respond with enthusiasm to one of my blog posts, you might expect to get back a response from me: Come Join Us In This Work.

Affirmation excludes no one, regardless of Church membership or relationship status.  We seek to sustain individuals in their journeys of faith.  The vision that unites me, Randall and Karin as an Executive Committee is a vision of Affirmation as an organization that is unconditionally supportive of individuals who are seeking a faithful way forward.  Whether you are in a same-sex relationship, single, divorced or in a mixed-orientation marriage, whether you are excommunicated (like I am), or a member of the Church (like Randall is), whether you have faith in God but are no longer active in the Church (like Karin), or whether you wrestle with or question faith all together, Affirmation welcomes you and needs you.  Your life is sacred and your story -- your unique journey -- is powerful and can and will transform us, the Church and the world.

We will not be alone in this work.  Trust me: if you do not already have stories you can tell of guardian angels that "smite death's threatening wave before you," join us in this work and you will begin to experience the grace that I and others of us are already experiencing.

"If ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work... and lo, he [or she] that thrusteth in his [or her] sickle with his [or her] might, the same layeth up in store that he [or she] perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to [their] soul." (D&C 4:3-4)  There's a harvest of grace we are all called to participate in, right here, right now.


Our greatest challenge is still in coming to terms with the incredible pain so many LGBT Mormons have experienced.

It is encouraging to see initiatives like the one unveiled by the LDS
Church on the "Mormons and Gays" website this past week. At the same time, there have been so many suicides, and for so many decades so many thousands of people have been forced to find solace and hope with no support or encouragement from their devout LDS families and wards. So, yes, those initiatives -- as much reason as they offer for hope -- feel to so many like empty gestures that are too little, too late.  And there are still policies in place, there are still entrenched attitudes, that will continue to provoke the question from so many of my well meaning friends: "How can you stand it?"

But the Holy Spirit has taught me that the misunderstanding of others doesn't define me, and the Spirit's confirmations of God's unconditional love for me have freed me to go where God calls me to go.

Furthermore, the evidence I see of a desire to understand and to overcome the divisions between straight and gay Mormons feels qualitatively different, more genuine and heartfelt than ever before.  Many devout members of the Church are not just engaging in lip service.  They are engaging in concrete acts to make good. They are acknowledging the depth of the pain that they knowingly or unknowingly have contributed to, and are actually doing something different. I see an incredible openness among so many Church members -- a true, unconditional openness to watch and listen and see where the Spirit leads us as a Church.

As I approach straight LDS Church members about the work we are trying to do in Affirmation, including members in my ward and in surrounding wards and stakes, they are responding in the affirmative. Long-time allies and pioneers like Ron Schow, Bob Rees, Bill Bradshaw, Carol Lynn Pearson and Gary and Millie Watts are finding their ranks strengthened by new, faithful allies like John Dehlin, Spencer W. Clark, Anne McMullin Peffer, Hollie Hancock, Greg Prince and a growing host of others.

A little over two months ago, I found myself in a situation where I was literally 24 hours from death. I believe I am still alive and am blessed with health and strength for a reason. And I am SO ready for this journey. Wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.


If you want to get involved, contact me through Facebook or using the contact information in my Blogger profile, or go to this page on the Affirmation blog.

We have a great work to do, and we need your help.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can't Wait for the Grand Kids

A dream has been coming true for us this past week.

Our son Glen's boyfriend Will called us out of the blue Wednesday, and wanted to come over and meet with us.  Glen and Will have been together for about three years, and there have been a few times when one or the other of them have come to us with difficult questions in search of advice.  We wondered what new question or challenge might be around the corner, and why Will wanted to speak to both of us alone.

As it turned out, Will arrived with a request I'd never expected.  He wanted Göran's and my blessing to ask Glen to marry him.

I wept.

I remembered when Glen was first placed with us as a foster son, reading through the file the social workers had given us.  I remembered reading the goals Glen had written for himself and his life.  In the last month, Glen -- now a junior at the University of Minnesota -- was accepted into the National Dean's List Society.  He's preparing for a career in urban planning.  He's playing a leadership role both locally and nationally in the gay fraternity my husband is a founding member of (Delta Lambda Phi).  And now, this...  One by one, he's accomplishing his goals, including finding a life partner to help give those goals a new kind of meaning.

Of course, Göran was already planning the wedding.  Will's idea was a long engagement -- a wise idea as far as both families are concerned.  They have decided to wait to actually tie the knot until after both of them have graduated, though they wanted to make this commitment to each other now.

Will had a romantic date planned for the following Saturday night.  After dinner, he would take Glen to his favorite scenic spot in the Twin Cities. (Prospect Park, under the "Witch's Hat" tower.)  A mutual friend of theirs would help prepare the scene with candle-lit paper lanterns.  Will showed us a picture of the ring.

We were in tears as we hugged him good night.  Of course he left with our blessing!

The toughest part was keeping my mouth shut for three days until the event itself.  In the meantime, friends and family of both Glen and Will planned to gather at a nearby restaurant on Saturday night, to eagerly await word.

Of course, through the miracle of Facebook and our iPhones, we were apprised while waiting at the restaurant shortly after Will had popped the question.  A message appeared on Glen's FB page: "Glen and Will got engaged," with a picture I'd taken of the two of them at Thanksgiving!

When the newly engaged fiancés arrived at the restaurant, we were there with Will's mom and his sister, and about twenty or so other friends.  Applause!  Hugs and hugs galore, and more tears!

Glen and Will had both wept together after Glen had said Yes Of Course.  I asked Glen: "So what exactly did he ask you? What were the words?"  And Glen grinned, "I don't remember, exactly!  I was too excited.  Something about wanting to know if I would spend the rest of my life with him."

I reminded Glen of that list of goals of his I'd read so many years ago. "I'm so proud of you, I told him."  That moment will go down in my life's history as one of my happiest.


Isn't this how it's supposed to be?

At a time that is within my lifetime, a man pledging his love to the man he wanted to spend his life with made him an outcast -- from his family, from his church, from civil society.  It required choices that no person should have to make.  It forced a kind of social dismemberment.  It was sort of like having to cut your arm off in order to save your life.  So many of us suffered horribly.  And so many of us have never quite completely healed from the wounds caused by those choices.

For many of us -- depending what part of the country, or what religion you come from -- that kind of dismemberment is still a reality.

But we are trying to give a better world to our children. Göran and I vowed to ourselves and to our foster son that we would give him the youth we ourselves had been denied.  We would keep him safe, and give him, as a young gay man, a context to learn about himself and about relationships that would lay a foundation for hope, for love, for faith, for family.

Sometimes we fought like hell.  Gay or straight, teaching values to your kids can be a battle.  That's what it's like having a teenage son!  It was worth it.

Two young men pledging to spend their lives together deserve to be surrounded by family and friends, rejoicing with them.  And of course we were there making pledges of our own: to be there for them, to be one more guarantee of their happiness, no matter what happens.  I was so glad to be there with Göran as part of the cloud of witnesses cheering them on earlier tonight.  I was so grateful for Will's mom (and his dad, unable to be there physically, but present in spirit).

I gave my heart and soul to a political battle for same-sex marriage this past year.  My involvement in the campaign against Amendment 1 was one form of the fulfillment of the pledge I made years ago when we took Glen in to protect him and keep him safe.  And thanks be to God, we won that battle.  Glen and Will have a year or two till they've both graduated from college.  Which means I have more work to do, because I feel like the best wedding present my husband and I could give him would be for the two of them to be able to marry here in our home state.

What will the two of them do with their lives?  I don't ultimately know.  I know that whatever they choose to do, they will be able to do it with more confidence, with more poise, and more love, because they'll have each other.  And of course they'll have us and all the rest, that whole village that it takes to ensure boys grow up to become men.  I know that whatever Glen and Will do, it will be fantastic.

Though, personally, I'm hoping for some grand kids.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Religious Experience, Memory and Reason

If I had to distill all of "Mormonism" down into one word, it would be "revelation."

Why that word?  Why not, say, "love"?  "Love" is actually the word that I would use if someone asked me to distill all religion down into a single word.  In elaborating how "revelation" is the core concept explaining Mormonism, (i.e., what precisely is revealed through Mormonism) I would hasten to add that "love" is the "what" that is revealed when we speak of what "revelation" reveals in Mormonism.

But if I were to draw a line to distinguish what Mormonism is/believes/practices from all the rest of religion, the line that I would draw is "revelation."  I would say that almost all other religion points to love as what "has been revealed."  Most Christians, for instance, would say, "Everything that God needs to reveal was revealed in the person of Christ (who revealed God As Love), a record of which we have in the Gospels.  There's no need for more revelation than that, and anything more or less than that is blasphemy."  A Mormon might say (or this Mormon says!): "What God has revealed is only part of the story, and the less important part of the story at that.  God reveals (present tense!) himself to us today in a living and resurrected Christ through living prophets and Saints.  That's why, for us, the blasphemy is to insist that the last and only time Christ could ever have revealed himself to living humans was recorded in the Book of Revelation in the ancient Near East.  We have a record of him revealing himself in the Americas, and of him announcing he would reveal himself elsewhere.  He revealed himself to a 14-year-old boy in a grove of trees in upstate New York, and in the Kirtland Temple in Ohio in 1836, and on countless other occasions to living prophets and living Saints of which we may or may not have a written, public record.  The moment we convert the present tense of the statement 'God reveals himself' into the past tense, revealed, we no longer have a living religion.  We have a remembered religion or even a dead religion.  Our definition of 'apostasy' is when we stop receiving God's current and always living revelation to us."

We understand this principle most clearly, when we pose the question, "What does it mean for a faithful Latter-day Saint to actually live her or his religion?"  And I think the best answer to that question would be: "To live our lives in such a way that we will always be in harmony with the Spirit, and to seek and to be able to receive God's guidance in our day-to-day lives."  A Latter-day Saint lives her or his faith by seeking to practice a kind of constant communion with God.  Mormons who live their faith know how to seek and receive revelation from God, and strive to live their lives in accordance with the revelation they have received.

Now there are other religions where you get some sense of this.  All religious people who have some belief in the divine seek some sort of communion with that divine.  You get a more vivid sense of this (closer to the vividness of the sense found in Mormonism) in most traditional Native American religions.  When Lakota people go on a vision quest, or prepare for and perform the Sun Dance for the purpose of seeking divine guidance for an important decision they need to make, most devout Mormons would understand exactly what they're doing and why -- though we ourselves go on similar quests through simple fasting and prayer.  When Pentecostals insist that we recognize true religion through the presence of modern day miracles and signs, they are making an observation that Mormons would universally assent to.  Though there's a line that Pentecostals are unwilling to cross: new scripture.  The fact that that's not a line Mormons are worried about gives some sense of how important a concept modern-day revelation is in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To the extent one takes issue with Mormonism as a religious system, one inevitably deals in some way with the personal or collective manifestations of revelation.  Thus, one of the most common accusations against Mormons is that they are led by "false prophets." Personal revelation is dismissed as a form of delusion -- either satanically or self- induced.  Mormons are accused of mistaking "mere" feelings for the promptings of God, etc.  The possibility of actually receiving revelation from God is denied, either categorically (as atheists would deny it), or contingently (as Evangelicals or Pentecostals would deny it in the case of Mormonism but affirm it in the Bible or in manifestations of the Spirit they consider acceptable).

For me the question is always how do I personally recognize when a revelation is true or false?  What if I receive a revelation I once recognized as true, but later conclude that it was not?  Does that call into question the whole premise of revelation as the foundation of true religion?

My dad taught me how to recognize the Spirit by putting me in situations where he felt I was guaranteed to feel the Spirit, and then asking me to be attentive, and to observe what I felt.  I could then use that as a base-line for recognizing the work of the Spirit in my life in other situations where it might be less obvious. I've come to realize this is the closest anyone can come to "teaching" us how to recognize and follow the Spirit.  Because the Spirit speaks to us internally -- in our minds and hearts -- as opposed to externally -- i.e., in an objectively audible voice -- learning to recognize and follow the promptings of the Spirit is literally something we do on our own.

The baseline my dad gave me is what I've used throughout my life to recognize and judge spiritual experiences.  Over time, those have included numerous "gifts" and different manifestations of the Spirit.  I have experienced the literal "burning in the bosom" that scripture speaks of.  I've experienced the Spirit giving me literal words or phrases that came to me as if someone were speaking them.  I have had visions, I have seen divine light, and I have had even more powerful experiences.  What I have discovered is that the intensity of the experience may vary, but the nature of the experience does not.  The most subtle "still small voice" can be just as powerful -- sometimes more powerful -- than something more tangible.

I had had many rich, powerful spiritual experiences prior to leaving the Church.  Even after leaving the Church, I could not deny the experiences themselves.  The experiences were real.  I had had them.

But there was a time in my life (which was not co-synchronous with my time outside of the Church) when I questioned the nature or the validity of these experiences.  Were the visions I'd had hallucinations?  Was the "burning in the bosom" some kind of physical or hormonal manifestation?  Were spiritual promptings I'd experienced "just feelings" or a kind of "self talk"?  Were they the result of wish fulfillment?  Did I, for example, want a testimony of the Church because, as a young child, I knew that obtaining a testimony would please my parents?  So I then proceeded to manufacture an experience for myself that could serve as a testimony?

I have found it to be true that the more I distance myself from those experiences, the less real they seem.  I could never completely deny them, but I could downplay them.  And if we can do that, isn't that as much as saying, we make anything of them we wish?  Maybe we did just manufacture them.

Questioning my spiritual experiences did lead to doubt about the spiritual experiences I'd had.  But eventually, during a time in my life that I would characterize as the most doubtful, angry period of my life, I was spiritually awakened by a manifestation of the Spirit that was so powerful and so distinct, I found it difficult if not impossible to deny or explain away.  At that point I actively fought the revelation, I tried to deny it.  But it returned again and again, persistently, I would even say lovingly, until I surrendered to it.

I feel fairly certain that had I refused to surrender for long enough, it would eventually have departed and I might at this point in my life be a confirmed atheist.  In fact, I remember that the turning point for me in my struggle with this revelation was the moment when the Spirit said to me simply, "I won't stay with you always, unless you act on what I am telling you."  At that point, I had to decide.  And I ultimately chose to surrender.

After some time of wrestling with questions of this nature, and of learning what it means to listen to and follow the Spirit, I acquired an important insight.  I can remember the very moment when I acquired this insight, because I acquired it on the verge of another, subsequent act of spiritual surrender, and the insight is related to the concept of surrender, which, I believe, is closely related to the concept of faith. It relates to a concept of faith that is illuminated by an analogy Mormons often like to use of faith being like the act of a child who leaps into a dark pit, subsequently to be caught in the loving arms of the father who had called to her from the darkness, whom she had not been able to see, but whom she trusted enough to leap into the darkness.

For me it boiled down to how I answered the question: What is the fundamental nature of our relationship with the Universe?  Is the Universe hostile to us?  Does it seek to destroy us? Is the Universe indifferent to us? Do we exist by chance? Do we thrive merely by a combination of luck and perseverance? Or does the Universe love us? Does it yearn for our happiness and reach out eagerly toward us, like the finger of God painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel?

How I answered this question determined how I might answer a (to me) very urgent corollary question: If some voice is speaking to me, some voice which speaks to me deep in my heart, piercing through to my "inmost parts," but seems to be not of me, seems to be coming to me from somewhere "out there," out from beyond, should I trust it?  Should I listen to it?  Because if there is some Great I Am who is capable of reaching me, of speaking to me, it could be all powerful but I should not trust it if it is not beneficent, if it wills to harm me.  And if it were indifferent to me, then I cannot imagine why it would speak to me; so I should interpret this voice as my own imagination.  But if it is all powerful and Love Incarnate, then I should surrender.  I should throw myself into the dark pit, trusting the voice of a father promising to catch me, and I would be caught.

I did have experience to rely on.  The Spirit had told me that the Church was true, and so I had trusted the words of scripture and teachers and begun to learn love and service and patience.  And all these things had been good.  And, yes, I had learned homophobia in the Church too, and the homophobia hurt me.  It almost destroyed me!  But before it could destroy me, I had received another prompting through the Spirit reassuring me that my gayness was a good part of me, which gave me the courage to begin to work that out over the course of the years.  And this was a very, very good thing!  So even where the Church had failed me, the Spirit had not.  In other words, the Church is not perfect, but God is.  Every Sunday School child knows that truth.  The Spirit prompted me to leave the Church for a time, which I did, and learned many important things in doing so.  The Spirit prompted me to seek out and find my husband, the man I have loved for over 20 years now, and who has helped me to grow and become wiser and stronger than I was before I met him.  And that is also good.  So the Spirit did not lead me astray there either.  And the Spirit has so often comforted me in grief and given me courage in fear, and the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that the Spirit had always been a light to me in the darkness.  I could look back over the arc of my life and see the Spirit leading me from good to greater good to greatest good.

So now that the Spirit was prompting me to believe in God again, and to trust in God's goodness, and to come back to the Church and be faithful, what was most reasonable for me to do?

And even the very most rational, most skeptical part of me could look at that and think: Maybe there is no God.  But even if this voice which is speaking to me is nothing but my own subconscious, somehow it has never significantly led me astray.  Maybe even if this voice is just me talking to myself, it seems to be the best part of myself, the part of me that I should trust and follow.  Faith could be what we choose to believe.  Maybe it is all just inside of me.  Maybe God is like the God of Alcoholics Anonymous: whatever we make him.  Maybe, maybe.  But even then it still seemed wise to just trust, and see what happens.  And I have, and incredible good has happened.  The greater the trust, the greater the good.

And I could just continue in trust, suspending belief in God.  I could just say, I don't know what this is, but I'll continue to follow it as long as it leads me good places.  But there comes a point where you realize that what you are learning is principles like faith (trust), love, compassion, patience, hope, strength, and you are learning that there is a power greater than you that gives you strength greater than you imagined yourself capable of, and you begin to realize that what you have is something like a copy of the Sacred Word, an internal guidebook of life like the Standard Works, written and guarded in your heart, and that points you toward the same thing that those external paper and ink Standard Works point you to, namely God.  So why not just give it up and call it God?

Because ultimately what you also learn is that the longer you tread in that path of goodness, the one feeling that comes to overwhelm all the other feelings is simple gratitude.  Which makes no sense if the Universe is just emptiness and indifference and non-entity.  We can only be meaningfully grateful to Some One.  So God must exist if only to be the One To Whom We Give Thanks.

There are moments of darkness and anguish in life, when the view is obstructed, when faith seems naive and stupid.  Sometimes those moments seem to stretch out into something like a life time.  I'll grant that.  And we can always choose to curse God and die.  I choose the alternative.

In relation to remembered spiritual experiences, what I have found is that we can dismiss or downplay spiritual experiences from our past much in the way that our memories of someone we once knew many years ago can become distorted caricatures of the real person.  When we remember a person, we focus on certain traits of that individual that we remember to the exclusion of other traits we actually experienced but choose not to remember.  The longer time separates memory from the actual experience, the more distorted the caricature.  But when we know and interact with a living person on a day to day basis, our memory -- our internal image of that person -- is constantly challenged by the reality of that person.  Our memories never surprise us.  But a real person often surprises us, as we learn more about that person we didn't know before.  So it is with God.

And this is why, for me, a True Gospel is always about revelation in the present tense.  Yes, God is the God who was with me yesterday, and last year, and ten years ago, and who was with my ancestors a hundred and a thousand and ten thousand years ago.  The God of our memories is God, which is one reason God commands us to remember.  The scriptures are the collective expression of our obedience to that commandment: "Remember me."  But the God I know best is the God who is here with me in the now.  The God I turn to every day, whom I know through obedience to the commandment, "Pray always without ceasing."

It is through the understanding granted by that present God, the God who never ceases to surprise me, that I am able to make sense of memory and enter the future with hope.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gay, Mormon, Hopeful, Faithful, Excommunicated and Called

This past Sunday, Sacrament meeting felt particularly poignant for me. As an excommunicated member of the Church I am not permitted to physically partake of the bread and the water, but I do partake of the sacrament spiritually by reflecting on my life, on what kind of person I want to be, and how I can more effectively follow in the footsteps of Christ. I often feel the Spirit as I do this, and receive great comfort from my Father in Heaven, so I really value being able to participate in sacrament meeting as often as I can.

During Sacrament meeting, one of the speakers talked about how actually physically partaking of the bread and the water, and having to reflect on whether he could do that worthily, provided a particular impetus to work harder on the issues that he needs to work on in his life. I realized that, while I am able to use the Sacrament as a sacred occasion for reflection and communion with God, I do miss out by not being able to physically partake of the bread and water. I was feeling a little bad about that.

I was sitting with a brother and a sister to whom I feel a particular closeness, who had given me a ride to Church that morning. Worshiping with them, and participating in the Sacrament with them – even if I could not participate fully – was comforting to me. I felt very grateful for my fellowship with them.

Afterwards, the husband gave me a ride home. We were silent in the car for a while. Finally he spoke up. He said, "During Sacrament today, I felt a particularly strong desire to share the Sacrament with you." He apologized if his words in any way minimized or trivialized what I as a gay, excommunicated Latter-day Saint have to go through. He then shared with me his hope for us to someday be able to share the Sacrament in full equality as brothers in Christ. By the time he finished sharing his thoughts with me, we were both weeping.

I shared with him some of my current struggles, including some of the difficult reflections I had experienced during the Sacrament talk.

There was a time in my life, when I would have doubted the possibility of two human beings to completely understand and empathize with one another. There was a time in my life when I believed that human beings are doomed to existential loneliness. But the Spirit was there. And I felt something of a foretaste perhaps of the Celestial Kingdom, when our communications with one another will be perfect and when we can dwell in total harmony with each other and with God. In that moment, I experienced better than I have ever experienced before, what it means for the Saints to bear one another's burdens, because in this moment this brother helped me to bear mine.

I am writing this post to my brothers and sisters who are gay and Mormon and excommunicated. I am writing this because I want you to know that it is possible to be all of those things, and it is also possible to be faithful, hopeful and called by God to be a light to the church and to the world.

On Being Gay and Excommunicated

OK.  For starters, let's discuss being gay and excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I used to think you couldn't be openly gay and not excommunicated.  Now I'm not so sure that is or ever was true.  I think very, very many (perhaps most) gay Mormons have just quietly dropped out of activity in the Church, but have formally stayed on the membership rolls.  Many of these value their church membership.  Some (like Buckley Jeppson) have fought to keep their membership when it was threatened.  (And Buckley, somehow, mysteriously succeeded, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the high media profile he attracted.)

Despite the curious case of Buckley Jeppson, the general rule was gay Mormons could only get excommunicated by getting "on the radar" somehow.  Some, like Gay LDS Actor, and like Lis and Jay, while loving the Church and desiring to remain members, forthrightly informed Church leaders of their decision to marry the ones they loved, and were (sometimes hesitantly and regretfully, sometimes more harshly) excommunicated.  The saddest excommunication cases, in my opinion, have been individuals who were involuntarily "outed" to Church leaders and whose excommunication proceedings were used to shame and alienate them.  I learned of a tragic case earlier this summer of a gay Mormon man who years ago was excommunicated shortly after his partner died.

My personal case is rather curious, and for the purposes of this discussion the oddball details are worth elevating.  In a prayer in which I broken-heartedly confessed my homosexuality to God, God spoke to me and told me that he "knew me from my inmost parts" and that my gayness was a good, inherent part of me.  Later that summer, I followed a prompting of the Spirit to resign from the Church "for a time."  Though this was very difficult for me to do (perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever done), I followed that prompting.  At that point, I had committed no offense worthy of excommunication by the Church's standards.  Furthermore, I simply wrote a letter to my bishop, asking that my name be removed from the Church records.  My bishop, apparently in contravention of Church rules, initiated excommunication proceedings against me and had me excommunicated in absentia.  So it is technically correct for me to describe myself as "an excommunicated gay Mormon," though my excommunication was probably not proper and had nothing to do -- so far as I know -- with me being gay.

But then, every one of us has a unique story.

The bottom line is, excommunication for gay Mormons is rarer than most people think. Also, excommunicated gay Mormons who desire a continuing positive connection with the Church are probably more common than most people would believe. 

It seems to me that most leaders and members of the Church would assume that the proper course of action in the case of a same-sex partnered individual (married or not), whose case is known to ecclesiastical leaders, should be to excommunicate them.  That assumption may be false.  Leaders of the San Francisco and Oakland Stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have publicly made the case that that assumption is false. It is no longer clear to me whether Church policy requires this, nor that there is unanimity within the governing bodies of the Church that this should be the case.  It seems to me that the Church is feeling its way forward into new terrain in relation to the place of same-sex partnered, gay members in the Church.

Nevertheless, the specter of excommunication hovers over all gay Mormons -- whether they have actually been excommunicated or not.  This past summer, I had a number of conversations with Randall Thacker about the reaction of his bishop to him and other gay Mormons in same-sex relationships who have been coming back to activity in the Church, who have been welcomed and informed that they would not be excommunicated.  Randall admitted that a change of leadership in his ward or in his stake could result in his excommunication.  When Randall's story drew media attention, he was contacted by LGBT Mormons and family members of LGBT Mormons from all over the world who saw his story as a hopeful sign. Randall's response has been to encourage LGBT Mormons who feel so called to return to activity in the Church.  But at the same time he worries, "Am I giving people false hope?"

For what it's worth, I do not think Randall is giving LGBT Mormons false hope in encouraging them to come back to the Church, and I join him in encouraging all people to "come and see," to learn the breadth and depth and goodness of God's love within the framework of a people taking Christ's name upon them and working together to establish Zion.  That's always been the mission of the Church, and I claim it as my own personal mission.  But the hope being offered has nothing to do with avoiding excommunication, which we may or may not do.  It has to do with entering into a journey of faith, living a life guided by eternal principles, and encountering God.

Hope In the Stories of Excommunicated Gay Mormons

Toward that end, the stories of those of us who are excommunicated -- who are typically offered no hope within the framework of Church -- may be particularly instructive of what hope and love mean within the eternal framework of faith in Christ.

I'm not going to share more of my story here -- I've done that enough elsewhere in my blog.

But I invite you, if you are excommunicated and have a testimony and are active in the Church, please share your story here or post a link to your story on your own blog or elsewhere.  Or email me.  Perhaps I can persuade Affirmation to devote a web page to a collection of such stories, where people can find hope in what we've experienced and what we have -- through much pain and struggle -- learned  about ourselves and about God and about the Church.  It's time we start building a canopy of hopeful, faithful, loving stories.

I invite you, if you are gay and Mormon and excommunicated, and feel the least stirring of the Spirit calling you back, but you're not sure how to take that next step, email me, friend me through Facebook, call me, join AffirmationTake some next step.  You won't regret it.  Weave your story back into the story of Jesus Christ's Church.

While I'm not sharing my full story here, I want to make a number of true statements about what it means to me to be gay, Mormon, hopeful, faithful and excommunicated.  I'll just call it as I see it and let the chips fall where they may.

I spent many years outside of and far away from the Church.  Leaving the Church helped me find happiness and health that had been impossible for me to find during my last painful, nearly suicidal years in the Church.  But since I have renewed my testimony and returned to the Church, I have found a depth of happiness I literally don't have the words to express.  I have found a depth of companionship and communion with God I never imagined possible.

I believe this is because God calls us all to build Zion.  The Church is the vehicle to accomplish this.  Without the Church, we cannot fully live the Great Commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, because the Church is the collective expression of loving one's neighbor.

I value membership in the Church.  When friends have asked my advice in relation to their Church membership, I have advised them to be true to themselves, and do what they feel called to do in relation to a possible intimate life partnership with someone of the same sex, but to retain their Church membership if at all possible.

If for whatever reason my relationship with my partner ended, I think I would choose to remain celibate and make every effort to be re-baptized.

I would not remain celibate and seek re-baptism because I think my relationship with my husband was wrong or a mistake.  I was guided by the Holy Spirit to seek out and commit to my relationship with Göran.  It would be solely because I feel I've established the family the Lord wanted me to establish, and I value Church membership for the blessings it could afford me in this life.

I do not believe my excommunicated status is representative of my status in the Kingdom of God on the other side of the veil.  Helmuth Hübener was excommunicated from the LDS Church for joining the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Germany during World War II.  He was posthumously reinstated into the Church after the defeat of Adolf Hitler.  There are lots of errors that have been made on this side of the veil that will eventually be fixed, if not before the millennium, after.

God has poured out his Spirit on me, and communicated his love and approval of me directly, and has blessed me and my family.  I know where I stand with God.

My family is part of an eternal family, with eternal potential.

In the Kingdom of God, the way things look on the surface here below seldom resembles the way things really are.

I love and am grateful for faithful individuals in situations that are seemingly the inverse of my own -- individuals like Ty Mansfield, Josh Weed and Steven Frei. I am grateful for the love and support they've shown me. I regard our faith in Christ and our testimonies of the Church as weighing more in the scale of life than our different life choices. I don't see their marriages to their wives as proof that my marriage to my husband is wrong, any more than anybody should see my loving relationship with my husband as proof that their relationships are somehow inauthentic.  Each of our stories and each of our journeys is unique.

So long as we do our part and are faithful, I trust God to work things out for all of us in the next life, regardless of what our situations are in this life.

I've decided I don't like the term "reconciling my sexuality and my spirituality."  This has no theological meaning to me.  Theologically, when we speak of "reconciliation," we are speaking of what it means for human beings to be reconciled with God.  We are speaking of the Atonement.  So the only "reconciliation" that is meaningful to me has to do with repentance.

However, I do believe that God created this earth, and gave us this Grand Opportunity called Life so that we could learn more about our true natures, so that we could become more like our Heavenly Parents, and so that we could grow into our fullest, most authentic potential.

I believe I am able to accomplish this goal through my relationship with my husband as effectively as any of my heterosexual brothers and sisters can accomplish this goal through their marriages.

Being active in the Church has filled my life with unimaginable blessings.  I experience a depth of love and support from the members of my ward I never would have imagined possible.  I feel more supported and loved by my LDS ward than I have ever felt in any religious community anywhere.

There are gifts of the Spirit I have experienced that go beyond anything I've ever experienced in my life before, even when I was a member in good standing, things too powerful and too sacred for me to share here.  And I experienced them because of my willingness to exercise faith, and go to a Church I was once convinced it was pointless to attend because they would not have me.

I share my testimony whenever I can.  This past Sunday, my bishop asked me to work with the missionaries and meet with an investigator who feels she has a testimony of the Church, but who is hesitant to join the Church because of its position on homosexuality.  I plan to share with her what I have shared with others in her situation.  If you have a testimony of the Church, trust that the Lord will work this out for your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters if we are all of us -- gay and straight! -- faithful.  Do not deny yourself the blessings of Church membership on my account.  The Lord is taking good care of me, and if you are faithful, perhaps you can help move forward the Lord's work on behalf of his LGBT sons and daughters and others who need to be gathered before the Great Day of the Lord.

Is it frustrating being excommunicated?  Painful? Do I sometimes feel discouraged or wonder why?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

Do I find it painful sometimes to see other gay Mormons in same-sex relationships who are allowed to remain members of the Church, when I must remain outside the formal fellowship of the Church?  In moments of weakness, yes.

But I realize, I am where I am because this is where the Lord directed me to be.  It was the Spirit that prompted me to resign from the Church "for a time," leading to my excommunication, however odd the circumstances of that particular excommunication.  It was the Spirit that prompted me to enter a faithful, loving, life-long committed relationship with my husband, and for us to become foster parents.  It was the Spirit that prompted me to come back to the Church even in spite of the fact that it would be almost impossible for me to be readmitted to full membership under the present circumstances.  This is the Lord's hand in my life.  I trust that he has a plan.  And I know he has a purpose for placing me where, when and how I am placed.

I am grateful that some are granted the grace to find and build faith as members of the Church.  But I consider myself privileged to find myself in an (albeit painful) membership status that must ultimately be resolved before the status of all LGBT Saints can be finally and satisfactorily resolved.

I am called to a unique work in God's kingdom that only I can do.

So are you.

So if you feel the Spirit tugging at your heart, take the next step.  Begin on the path so that you too can learn what your unique calling is.