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.