Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Help from The Help

Göran and I watched this movie last night, one of the films we put on our list of post-Oscars must-sees. Here's my favorite quote from the whole film:

God says we need to love our enemies, though it's hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it felt like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.

Friday, February 24, 2012

This Won't Convince Anyone

I understand this guy's frustration.

But if I were a talented gay hair stylist who wanted to marry my partner of 15 years, and I had a chance to style the hair of New Mexico's anti-marriage-equality governor on a regular basis, I'd do it, and use the time to get to know her better, and to talk to her about the issues.

Those kinds of connections and relationships are an opportunity, not an indignity.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


"Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are imposters who beg to escape work, and with an evil heart practice imposition upon the generous and sympathetic, and that only one of the ten who visit your doors is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will all say, administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy and truly needy person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy."

--Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:12
as quoted in John A. Widtsoe, ed., Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake: Deseret Book Company, 1941), p. 274.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Love and Guilt

During my latest round of phone banking on behalf of the campaign to defeat the anti-marriage-equality amendment, I had a lengthy phone conversation with a woman who is opposed to extending any legal recognition to same-sex couples.

I asked her what marriage meant to her, and she replied, "Marriage is ordained of God."

I waited a moment to see if she might add anything to that, but she seemed to think she'd said all she needed to say on the subject. I asked her if she could elaborate on that. Is that all marriage meant to her?

After thinking about it for a bit, she said, "Well, I guess it is a companionship. A partnership."

I guess I was surprised that she didn't have anything to say about love, though perhaps that's what the word "companionship" means to her.

I spoke to her about my own companionship, my partnership with Göran, and what that has meant to us for the last 18 or so years: caring for each other, lifting each other up, being friends and life partners. I did speak about my love for him.

She brushed that off. What we had wasn't real love. It was unnatural. We were harming each other by being together, damning each other for all eternity.

I told her that as far as I could tell, there was nothing unnatural about our love. This is how I am designed; how I've always been designed. I had a relationship with God, and God knew me from my inmost parts. This is part of who I am, as God created me. And I am a child of God, no less than any heterosexual person. I told her that all I wanted was to be able to protect my partner and take care of him, and I wondered why she felt that we should be denied the basic protections that heterosexual couples took for granted.

She said that we didn't deserve protection or recognition because ours was not a "sacrificial" love.

I replied that I thought she was making assumptions about our relationship without knowing anything about us. To be honest, anyone who takes some time to be thoughtful about it will know that you don't make the kind of a commitment to a person that keeps you together for at least 18 years, without making sacrifices for each other. I told her that, without needing to get into gory details, my husband and I had made plenty of sacrifices for each other, and for our foster son.

That was when she explained to me that we didn't know what sacrifice was, because we hadn't experienced the pains of childbearing.

I pointed out that her husband hadn't experienced the pains of childbearing either.

She retorted that he had been present at the birth of her children, and so he had experienced the pains of childbearing.

I explained that those aren't the only kinds of sacrifices that a relationship demands of you.

But that's when she became quite eloquent about the notion that God only sanctions sexual behavior if it leads to the pains of childbearing.


There were a few other things she discussed. She seemed to have it in her head, for instance, that I was an "unproductive" member of society because I was in a same-sex relationship. I explained to her that, to the contrary, I believed I was a much more productive member of society, because of the security, well-being and companionship I experience in my relationship with Göran. She seemed to think that gay people wanted marriage because they felt guilty about their relationships, and they wanted to try to assuage their guilt by getting married. It occurred to me to ask her if her reasons for getting married had more to do with assuaging guilt than with love or commitment. And then I realized, perhaps they in fact did.

Yes, this woman said a lot of things to me that it would be hard to interpret as anything other than demeaning. Still, I could not really feel anger at her. Only pity.

By the end of our twenty-minute conversation, a clear picture had emerged. Marriage was a commandment of God. Not about love. Not about caring. Maybe companionship, maybe partnership, but apparently that was secondary. Sex was bad, and the only justification for having it was to be willing to be punished in the form of the physical and emotional agony of child-bearing -- something that, I guess, a husband could participate in vicariously. Marriage, for her, seemed to be mostly about guilt, not love.

I've had plenty of conversations with people who didn't see eye to eye with me on the issue of same-sex marriage. But I felt like more often than not, we could find common ground in our experience of our relationships, which were about love, finding joy, keeping promises, taking care of each other, and providing a foundation for service to others. It's about good. Our relationships are good things, that provide good fruit. After talking about marriage with other people -- even those who've disagreed with me -- I've come away with a sense of joy and gratitude for all the ways that these kinds of relationships bless us.

After talking to this woman, I just felt sad.

We closed the conversation cordially. I thanked her for being willing to converse. I always do (and I always am thankful when people are willing to be patient and discuss this issue with me). She wasn't rude. She was, I think, even trying to be caring in her own way.


Perhaps her marriage was not as bad as it sounded based on our conversation. Perhaps (I hope!) she found joy in her relationship with her husband (who is now deceased). I hope she remembers him with fondness. I hope her motivations for marrying him were out of a positive desire to build something good and productive and hopeful, and not just out of a desire to obey commandments and avoid wrath. I hope that the intimate aspects of her relationship were positive and joyful, as they are for me and my husband. It is possible that her comments to me were simply rhetorical devices to serve her homophobic biases. Because it is too sad to me to think that somebody would actually live that way.

If so, though, it would be a sad commentary on how homophobia can distort our views of marriage.

Or is it that homophobia (and like other forms of prejudice) is fed by our inability to find genuine joy in our lives? When we're truly joyful, don't we just purely and simply wish the same for others? Do we really need to be gatekeepers against other peoples' happiness?

That would be my advice to people who just can't seem to understand what my relationship to me husband means to me. Go and be joyful. Find whatever joy you can in your loves, in your relationships. Because if you do, you won't possibly see any need to deny my joy.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Damaged by Religion

I'm in my second week of teaching a new semester of American Religious Histories.

Partly because I've been teaching this course long enough to feel very comfortable with the material, this year I've been delivering the lectures in a more conversational way. I'm very pleased with how this is going, because it seems like my students are much more likely to stay engaged and ask questions in the course of the lecture. It feels more Socratic!

I've always divided my classes into a lecture portion in the first half and then a discussion portion in the last half, where we talk about the readings, or discuss questions the students may have had about material covered in the lecture.

In the past, depending on the make-up of the class, the discussions can get kind of interesting. The student body at the seminary where I teach is very diverse religiously. The majority of my students come from mainline Protestant denominations. But we get students all along the theological perspective, from the more conservative/evangelical Christian end of the spectrum, to folks who are secular humanists, and everything in between. We have folks who take a more hard-boiled rationalist approach to religion, and folks who are more mystical. Every year in each of my sections, I get at least a few Catholics. A fair number of my students also come from New Thought, New Age or Wiccan perspectives. This is the first year I've had an ex-Mormon student. You get the idea.

We've occasionally had discussions that got kind of tense. For example, a student of a more rationalist bent might refer to charismatic worship as "crazy," and somebody from a holiness or pentecostal church background might take offense. Some folks who identify as "recovering Catholics" might make some comments that come across as disparaging to individuals in the class who relate to their Catholic heritage with fondness and devotion. I had a student from a more conservative Protestant background once who referred to Roman Catholic devotions to the Saints as "idol worship." I've always done my best to set a tone of openness and respectfulness, but still it can be challenging when people don't always realize that they have been misinformed, or that a particular attitude could be offensive to somebody else.

I do some work trying to unpack biases and assumptions that are common in our culture -- especially when we begin to study religions, like Native American religion, or Judaism, that are based on a fundamentally different set of assumptions than Protestant or Catholic Christianity. Judaism is particularly tricky, because a lot of folks from Protestant backgrounds think they know more about Judaism than they actually do, just because they've, say, read the Old Testament. Words like "Judeo-Christian" or "monotheistic" complicate Christian efforts to learn about Judaism, because they encourage Christians to make assumptions about what common ground may or may not exist.

This past week, the topic of my class was Evangelicalism. Because my lecture style has become more relaxed, I think it has encouraged a more free-wheeling discussion of the topic, which, as I said, I like. However, it also came to my attention that at least some of my students were experiencing a fair amount of anxiety and pain in relation to this topic. These students had experienced some form of abuse in a context involving people of conservative Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian faith. And they found that they were reliving some of the pain that they had experienced in these situations in the context of the class, as we were studying the religion that their abusers identified with.

The truth is, that while I strive to put a positive spin on all the religious traditions we study in this course, American religious history has often, unfortunately, been a history of religiously motivated intolerance and violence. Gay people have experienced extreme abuse in churches. Black people have suffered heart-breaking indignities in predominantly white churches. One of my students recounted a chilling story of intolerance she and her non-Christian family experienced in a small, predominantly conservative Lutheran town in the rural Midwest.

Of course, part of the purpose of a course like mine is to try to defuse and perhaps even heal old animosities through understanding. My own passion for American religious history is fueled by the pain I experienced growing up gay and Mormon. And I have found that it has been incredibly healing for me to face my fears and seek deeper understanding of those who -- inadvertently or purposely -- have hurt me in the past.

Still, this is a reminder to me of the importance of pausing from time to time to acknowledge that individually and collectively, we are far from living up to the high ideals of love and fairness proclaimed in our religions.

I teach a course like this partly in the belief that repentance -- both individual and collective -- is possible. And so is the forgiveness and healing that true repentance makes possible.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chalkboard Path of Life

Göran and I have been cleaning out our basement, throwing out a lot of stuff that has accumulated over many years. We've probably tossed about 10 boxes of junk. We've also found a lot of cool stuff worth saving -- like all the wonderful wedding cards people gave us when we had our ceremony of commitment in 1995.

In one box -- 95% of whose contents I tossed -- I found this interesting dream I recorded on May 30, 1990.

I did, in fact, seriously consider going to Luther Northwestern Seminary, but ultimately decided not to when the Director of Admissions told me that he could only support my admission if I agreed to stay in the closet. I look at this dream now, and I see the seminary as a symbol of my commitment to prepare myself for whatever calling God had for me.


I was in a classroom with my seminar on the history of the Y.M.C.A. We were going to have an end-of-the-year party. The classroom contained a huge chalkboard which was very long. I was one of the first to arrive in the classroom – only Clark Chambers, the instructor, was there. I took a piece of chalk, and began to draw a long, winding, mountainous road on the chalkboard. The road went across cliffs and jagged peaks and deep down into valleys and through swamps and deserts. Dr. Chambers was watching me draw, and he was encouraging me to keep drawing. As I began to finish the picture, he said to me, “Now you have to draw in the trees! You must draw in the trees.” I didn't quite understand, so he explained to me further, “Often it's not until you reach the end of life's path that you can ever see the trees.” Then his face broke into a deep smile, full of wisdom.

So I went back to the beginning of the drawing, and I began to draw trees next to the path. As I drew, the chalkboard became three dimensional, and I found that I was no longer drawing trees, but building them. And the trees started out slender and branchless, but as I continued, I built great trees which branched out in many directions, and went far beyond the confines of the chalkboard, up into heaven. I had to climb up onto a counter, and hang from a partition on the ceiling in order to continue my work.

As I was thus working, classmates of mine began to enter, and they were all amazed by my work of art. Many of them began to walk from one end to the other, following “life's path.” A few of them (A.C., J.D., and P.H. – all of whom I believed to be Christians) came to me and said, “John, where are you going?” Each one of them wanted to know if I was going to seminary, and each one came to me one at a time, and repeated the question a couple of times: “Where are you going?” Each time I replied with a frown, and shook my head, and said, “I don't know. I don't know.” Finally the thought began to grow in my mind, “I am going to seminary.” I decided to fill out all the necessary forms and send them in immediately to Luther Northwestern Seminary in St. Paul, and I thought, “Whether they accept me or not, I will go.”

As I woke up, God said to me, “Go.” And I said, “Why me, God?” God replied, “Don't ask. Just go.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"I Still Pray"

I occasionally cry in yoga practice.  I want to be a member of the Church.  I long for the completion that will come some day when I am finally a member; when my outward relationship with the Church reflects my inward faith and testimony.  And when I reflect deeply on such things, as yoga prompts me to do, I sometimes weep.  It's not a bad thing at all, actually.  The tears come along with a deep, deep comfort; a reassurance that this all will work out eventually.  It helps me find patience and hope and love.  It's a good thing.

I have a yoga instructor who's particularly sensitive to these kinds of moments.  And she'd noticed me crying through a couple of sessions and finally asked me if everything was OK.  So we ended up talking a bit about what was going on for me, and that meant explaining to her that I was both gay and Mormon.

Her eyes lit up.  "One of my best friends is gay and Mormon," she said.  She told me that he practiced yoga as well, in the same studios where we practice.  I asked what his name was, and when she told me, I realized I had already met him.  I had actually had some classes with him.

"I want you two to meet and talk," she declared.  "Sometimes he takes this class.  Next time he's here, I'll introduce you."

I told her that would be nice, and we sort of left it at that.

In the weeks after that conversation, I actually occasionally passed him by in the halls on the way to or from a yoga session.  I thought about introducing myself, but it just seemed kind of awkward.  I tried to imagine how I would start that kind of a conversation.  "Hi, I hear you're gay and Mormon!  So am I!"  Nope.  Way too awkward.  I had no idea what his Mormonism (or his gayness for that matter) might mean to him.  He might consider himself totally ex-Mormon, and might not really be interested in talking to someone who considers himself a believing/practicing (even if excommunicated) Mormon.  Neither our gayness nor our Mormon/ex-Mormonness necessarily meant we had a whole lot in common.  So we continued to pass each other in the halls from time to time without me approaching him.

But Monday he showed up in the yoga class that I have with this particular instructor who had wanted to introduce us.  And sure enough, after the practice was over, she said, "Hey, John, _____ is here today!  I want you two to talk!"

When I came out of the locker room, the instructor was sitting there chatting with him.  She introduced us, and then departed.

"Well," I smiled a bit sheepishly, "E. thinks we might have something in common worth discussing."

He smiled back.  "Are you an artist or a dancer?" he asked.

"Well, no," I replied.  OK, so our instructor hadn't told him why she thought we needed to talk.  And obviously he wasn't expecting that it might have anything to do with being either gay or Mormon.

I sort of put the ex-communicated gay Mormon thing on the table.  He smiled knowingly.  "Oh, OK!"

We ended up talking for about a half an hour.  I told him bits and pieces of my story, and he told me bits and pieces of his.  Eventually, I told him that I had been attending Church in my ward for the last six years.  That raised an eyebrow.  He asked me what it was that had gotten me going back to Church, and so I told him a bit about the spiritual experience I'd had at Sunstone years ago that set me in this path.  I talked about what it meant to me to face up to the fact that I had a testimony after all.

I wasn't sure how he would react to this.  Sometimes I've encountered a mixture of anxiety, defensiveness or even hostility from other gay ex-Mormons when I tell them that.  But I got none of that from him.  I told him what this means to me.  He talked about having a testimony, though he hadn't been to Church in many years.

"I still pray," he said, "just the way I was always taught."

"I stopped praying for many years," I said.

We continued to talk for a while about our respective journeys in life, and what we had learned.  There was a gentle, graceful spirit there between us as we spoke.  There was The Spirit.  I felt so grateful for this.  I felt so grateful for him, and for the quiet testimony born just in the fact that he still prays.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reflecting on this.  I reflected on the incredible way that our Heavenly Father takes care of us.  He does not under any circumstances abandon us, even when we've been abandoned by the Church.  I wondered how many of us there are out there who have been discarded or pushed away or left feeling there was no home for us in the Church any more, who had this kind of love and faith.

I think there will be a great, wonderful, terrible surprise for all of us in the end, when all things are finally revealed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine's Day Message

This morning, I woke up and started work in the usual way.  I found some Valentine's Day gifts from my sweetheart waiting for me on my desk.

I am the luckiest man in the world!

Among other things, there was a CD with Stevie Wonder's "As" on it, and instructions to listen.

Here's a few lines from that beautiful song I wanted to share with all of you:

We all know sometimes life's hates and troubles / Can make you wish you were born in another time and space / But you can bet your lifetimes that and twice it's double / That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed / So make sure when you say you're in it, but not of it / You're not helping to make this earth / A place sometimes called hell / Change your words into truths / And then change that truth into love / And maybe our children's grandchildren / And their great grandchildren will tell / I'll be loving you until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky...

I wish you all to find the love you all deserve, a love that inspires you as love has inspired me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The True Church

Recently I listened to John Dehlin's talk on "Why People Leave the LDS Church."  I also listened to his Mormon Stories interview with Brooke and John McLay, a couple formerly employed by the Church Educational System who recently resigned their membership in the Church.

Now, I must confess, at the stage where I've come in my spiritual journey, I am much less interested in the question of why Mormons leave than I am in the question of why they stay -- or return.  I recently also had lunch with a friend of mine who left the Church a few years ago, only to come back again recently, and we had an interesting chat about what our commitment to the Church and our faith in the Gospel means to us.  Whenever I attend the Sunstone Symposium, one of my favorite things to do is to listen in on the perennial "Why I Stay" panel discussion, which never fails to reduce me to tears.  I had an experience last summer with a close friend who experienced a severe crisis of faith, who eventually made it through and has emerged with a deeper, maturer more solid faith than ever.  I was grateful a couple of Sundays ago to attend Church with another close friend who has shared with me some of her own recent faith struggles.  We later met over lunch to talk about our struggles, and just be friends to one another in faith.

It's not to criticize those who do end up leaving -- far from it.  Having left the Church for many years myself, I understand that sometimes leaving is as critical a part of the faith journey as anything else.  From the perspective of LDS faith, perhaps a decision to leave the Church can be seen as analogous to the "fortunate fall" of Adam and Eve.  The decision to leave the Church is rarely ever easy.  It is frequently filled with doubt and intense loneliness.  When people leave the Church, they choose to abandon the cozy comforts of tight-knit Church community, and an innocence preserved by never asking hard questions, in favor of a search for truth and for broader understanding that is earned by the sweat of one's face.

John Dehlin's message in "Why People Leave the LDS Church" may be viewed as negative by many Church members, but I think John does Church members a service by giving us concrete examples of the ways in which we frequently let one another down.  When someone is going through a crisis of faith (and I can attest to this as one who has been through crises of faith), the things they usually need most are to be reassured that their concerns are legitimate, that our love for them is unconditional, and that we will defend their freedom to do whatever they need to do to find the answers that they yearn for.  Many Church members respond to crises of faith with fear and defensiveness; and they try to shut down the answer-seeking process in favor of a rigid "follow-the-prophets" mentality.  This rarely helps anyone.  It usually only drives people out.

Which is ironic, because any seminary student could recite the fact that one of the main covenants we make at baptism is to bear one another's burdens.  I understand that as a willingness to be with someone through their struggles with faith, to eschew condemnation in favor of listening, empathy, and understanding.

When I was a student at BYU, I witnessed a baptism.  A non-LDS BYU student had converted and joined the LDS Church.  I remember him saying something that struck me as rather odd at the time.  He had decided to join, he said, not because of any goodness of the members of the Church.  The members of the Church, he stressed, were not perfect.  He made it known he was joining the Church not because of, but in spite of, its members.  His comments drew a few laughs (maybe nervous laughs).  At the time, I didn't quite understand why he felt obliged to make such a point.  But a few short years later I understood only too well.

OK, nobody in the Church claims to be perfect.  But often there is an assumption that Mormons are somehow better than others.

Recently, I commented on  Andrew's blog:
I would say these kinds of attitudes are part and parcel not of “religion” per se, but of human nature. And there are plenty of religious communities — mostly mainline and liberal — that have done a pretty good job of deconstructing the kind of legalism/authoritarianism that makes religion… hmm… searching for a better word than demonic, but can’t find one.
By the way, if you listen to stories like those of the McLays, I think the evidence also clearly supports that the problem lies not in some sort of conspiracy of the Church leadership, but in Mormon popular culture. If you listen carefully to some of these stories, one of the things you realize is that a major part of the problem lies in how the disaffected believer him or herself projected certain perfectionistic ideals both on him/herself and on the Church… They struggle mightily to make everything (including themselves) fit with these perfectionistic ideals, and when they can’t (of course they can’t!!!!) everything comes crashing down like a house of cards.
I would argue that there’s a mighty good reason for this. It’s because we cannot invest in human institutions or human beings the kind of faith that we should be placing only in God. To do so is idolatry. Good, old-fashioned idolatry. There’s a reason why “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is the First Commandment.
When this kind of faith comes crashing down, Heaven rejoices (and so do I). I actually find the McLays’ story inspiring and hopeful — an example of how the edifice of false religion needs to be torn down in order to make way for something authentic.
So I insist — and what I’m saying is only a part of the puzzle, of the bigger picture — the problem resides not in the doctrine or the religion per se, but [in] what human beings add to it. And when I say “add,” I’m not talking doctrinal changes, I’m talking an attitude of legalism and perfectionism.
Andrew's response was something to the effect that he didn't see how I could separate legalism and perfectionism from the Mormon faith per se.  His broader complaint is legitimate.  How could I presume to take those parts of Mormonism that I don't like, and label them as something extraneous to the faith.  On what authority could I claim that the Mormon Gospel isn't legalistic or perfectionistic, when Mormon leaders seem to teach it?

My response would be that if you immerse yourself in the Gospel as taught in the scriptures, there's a preponderance of evidence that legalism, judgmentalism, perfectionism are condemned unequivocally.  Anybody who's spent any amount of time reading about Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees as described in the Gospels, or Paul's writings on Law and Grace will know this.  And anyone who's familiar with the scriptures will also find them to be as much a chronicle of the Saints' failings as of their achievements.  Can the Church possibly go wrong?  Can we get distracted and lose track of the Gospel message?  Have you ever read the Book of Mormon from beginning to end?

I think the only correct scriptural understanding of the Church -- and I could be wrong, because I certainly am not perfect, or even better than anyone else! -- is that if the Church is true, it is not perfect.  It gives us, at best, an opportunity to strive for perfection.

If I had to list one of the top reasons for why I stay, it is this.  I find in the Church that spring of life everlasting, that abiding connection with God, that presence of the living Spirit.  I also find Saints who are no more nor less perfect than I am.  And we together find this opportunity -- in our relationships with one another and with God -- to take up our cross daily, and follow Him, and become more like Him.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

God's Timetable, Our Need

I've been studying the Gospel of John for the last week or so.  This morning, I was pondering on the miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, described in John chapter 2.

Parenthetically, it's clear to me here that the wine in question was alcoholic.  I don't know how else to read the response of the "ruler of the feast" to Jesus' miracle in verse 10.  It's clear to me from this and other New Testament texts that not only did Jesus not disapprove of wine-drinking, but that he partook himself.  See, for instance, Luke 7:34/Matthew 11:19.  I live the Word of Wisdom, and I believe it is divinely inspired, though I see it as a sign of obedience/devotion that is asked of the Saints in this dispensation, not necessarily in others.  This is an important clarification; a reminder that what is most important is that we be attentive to what God is asking us to do now, in this time and place, not necessarily what he has required of Saints in other times and places living in other dispensations.

But this was not what interested me most in this chapter.  In verse three, when Jesus' mother drops a rather broad hint that Jesus should use his miracle-working power to help provide wine for the wedding, Jesus' response is rather brusk: "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come."  Some of the translation notes I've studied suggest that the original Greek is at least as harsh-sounding as this comes across in English.  Imagine addressing your own mother as "woman," and responding to her request for help by saying "What do I have to do with you?"  One translation note I looked at pointed out that this is the same question the demons address to Jesus in Mark 1:24 and Luke 4:34.  Harsh.

The harshness of Jesus' response to his mother reminds me somewhat of the harshness of Jesus' response to Peter in Matthew 16, after Jesus had revealed his impending death in Jerusalem, and Peter had protested, "Far be it from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee" (Matt. 16:22).  Here, in John, I think the key to the harshness of Jesus' response to his own mother is in the phrase, "Mine hour is not yet come."  Here, as in Jesus' response to Peter, it was a question of Jesus' devotion to the calling he had received from God.  Human beings should not, it seems, try to interfere with or "manage" that calling in any way.  As Jesus understood it, that particular time and place -- the wedding feast at Cana -- was not his time yet.  And he let his mother know in no uncertain terms.

Yet -- and in this, I can totally imagine Mary as a mom -- Mary is not phased in the least by the harshness of Jesus' response.  She simply proceeds to instruct the servants at the wedding to do whatever Jesus asked them to do -- implying that he's going to go ahead and perform the miracle requested anyway.  And Jesus, in fact, obliges her, in spectacular fashion, as attested in verse 10.

So the puzzle in what ensues is: Why, if his hour had not yet come, did he go ahead and perform the miracle?  It's not that Jesus can't say no to his mother.  He apparently does, for instance, in Mark 3:31-35 / Luke 8:19-21 / Matthew 12:46-50.

But this account's summary of the miracle (in verse 11) was that "this beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."  So the miracle in fact served a divine purpose.  It became essentially, Jesus' "coming out," the beginning of works and teachings through which he would manifest his mission.

So even though this was not "his hour," at least not the one that he would have chosen, at Mary's insistence, he made it his hour.  In other words, God's timetable was in fact rearranged to meet human requests/needs.

This tells us something important, I think, about the theology behind prayer.  It seems to me that in fact there are blessings that God withholds from us, until we are willing to ask for them.  Cross reference this story with the parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8, or with Revelation 8:1-4.  If we are suffering an injustice, God does not expect us to fatalistically accept injustice.  He invites us to plead, to pray with all the energy of our souls, for injustice to end.  And if we exercise faith, and turn to him in faith, divinely ordained timetables of history can be changed.  God will reward our faith, hope and persistence.


I just learned that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that California's Proposition 8 is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.  I have long believed that the patchwork of DOMA laws and state constitutional amendments denying marriage to same-sex couples were unconstitutional.  This ruling affirms that.  Though, obviously, now this is going to have to be settled by the highest court in the land.  And who knows how that will go?

I have been getting more and more involved in the statewide campaign here in Minnesota to stop our state constitution from being amended to ban marriage for same-sex couples.  Last night, spent two hours calling Minnesota voters and talking to them about the proposed amendment.  I had some incredible conversations with people who are opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage.  I went into these conversations in a spirit of prayer and humility.  My hope was that these conversations would be an opportunity for us to discuss real issues -- and the impact that laws and amendments like this have on real couples, real families.  Like mine.  I did feel the Spirit present, keeping me calm, and helping me find the words to move conversations forward in a constructive, positive manner.  More importantly, I felt it present helping people to understand why -- if marriage is a sacred commitment -- its sacredness and value as a form of commitment only become more meaningful by including couples like me and Göran, not less.  I have had an intense sense of the sacredness of these conversations.  I can hear it in the tone of voice of the people I speak with, as they begin to realize -- in talking to a real live gay person, in a real live relationship -- what this is all about.

I have prayed about this.  I've actually even agonized about it a bit.  I love the Church, and I have a testimony of it.  And there's nothing that I want to say or do that would in any way undermine the Church, or the authority of those who have been called by God to lead it.  There is no doubt in my mind that they are divinely called.  And yet, every particle in me says that the current positions on homosexuality and on marriage for gay couples are wrong.  And now that this fight is in my home state, I can't be any less than fully committed to be in this fight.  But I don't want this to appear in any way as a rejection of my faith.  Because every particle in me also says that the Church is true.

I understand why many in the Church believe what they believe about homosexuality.  But I honestly believe much of the quandary over homosexuality is the result of the fact that folks are misapplying scriptures and commandments that were given in another time and another place for other reasons; and that we as a Church have not spent enough time seeking to understand God's mind for us here and now, in this time and this place on this issue.

And I have prayed and pleaded with God for help and insight as regards my own personal path.  I've asked God if what I was doing in relation to marriage, and this campaign was the right thing.  Because, for me, the bottom line is that if I received even a hint from the Spirit that being involved in the campaign to defeat the marriage amendment was wrong in the eyes of God, I couldn't in good conscience participate.

But the Spirit has said to me simply: "Fight."  If I want justice, if I want people to understand the truth about me and my marriage, now is the time to stand up in faith, patience, love and hope, and expend all the energy I can in helping them to understand.  I am pleading every day and night for God's help too...  Like the woman in the parable.  Like the saints under the altar.  Ultimately, I trust that it's in God's hands.  Things will proceed according to his timetable.  But God also expects us to be active in the unfolding of his kingdom.  To ask for what we need and want.  And to let our lives be the unfolding of those prayers.