Friday, March 21, 2014

The Dalai Lama On Same Sex Marriage

I find the Dalai Lama's response to Larry King's question very interesting.

What matters to him is that a person follow his or her conscience. If you have a particular faith, he says, you need to follow the teachings of that faith. But if you can in good conscience enter into a same-sex relationship, if it is practical, and if it brings satisfaction, then it is fine.

He calls it "a personal matter." But this is different from saying "anything goes." To say that a person must follow his or her conscience puts the responsibility back on the individual. If we really feel that a same-sex relationship is the right thing for us, but we refrain because we fear what other people will think of us, we are harming ourselves. If, on the other hand, we really feel a same-sex relationship is wrong, we are harming ourselves if our choices divorce us from the moral framework in which we feel we need to live our lives.

The Dalai Lama is also clear that bullying or abusing others because of their relationship choices is unequivocally wrong. If gay and lesbian people must remain in the closet or are not permitted to enter into relationships with one another because of legal or social persecution, this becomes a "human rights issue."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Acquitting Yourself

My husband and I have been having our kitchen renovated. Anybody out there thinking of doing this, I have one piece of advice for you: Don't Do It. Göran and I were talking about this and he said, "Next time, let's just buy a new house."

Yesterday, we had our electricians install some new circuits to accommodate a dishwasher and a new (powered up) combination microwave oven/hood, and bring our kitchen up to code by installing a new outlet. (We live in a house that's over 100 years old, and one of the major headaches of renovating has been dealing with old plumbing/circuitry and new codes.)

After completing their work (which was all beautifully done), I completed the paperwork for the job and made the final payment. And just as they were leaving, one of the electricians handed me a little card that said "ASK ME ABOUT MY FAITH." "We're a faith-based company," he explained, "and we're always happy to answer any questions people might have about our faith."

I was mildly amused, only because, being as devout a Latter-day Saint as I am, and having engaged in some missionary activity of my own over the years, it felt odd to be on the receiving end of someone else's proselytization. Also, I didn't expect to be proselytized by my electrician.

At one point, while they were checking which circuits they needed to turn off to work in the kitchen, I had actually had to turn off my work computer and was making good use of the time by doing some daily scripture study in the living room. They had seen me sitting in front of two open Bibles (I was using different translations of the Bible for this particular study), and my Bibles were still there in plain view on the coffee table as they were shaking hands with me and getting ready to walk out the front door. Surely they realized that I am a devout Christian. This was also their second trip, and in some of our discussions I had said, "I'll need to check with my husband about that." So I assume they must also have realized that I am gay and that they were doing their electrical work in a gay household. I wondered what they made of all that.

I have to admit I had some complicated thoughts and feelings about it all. I couldn't help but wonder, were they judging me for being gay? Was it that kind of faith they wanted me to ask them about? What would have happened if I had taken up the invitation from the card and asked them? What kind of conversation might have ensued about the fact that they were inviting a gay couple to investigate their faith? And what would they make of the fact that I am gay and am also already a devout Christian?

It also occurred to me that it seemed odd that I should care at all what they thought, since my framework for understanding myself as a gay man is within the context of my faith as a Mormon. That is where it matters to me. I'm not so much concerned about how my gayness might play out in a Jewish or Buddhist or Unitarian or Evangelical Christian context, but in a Mormon context. Still, for some reason I did care.

I had put the card they handed me into the file where we've been keeping all the other receipts and documents related to our kitchen renovation. But finally I couldn't resist the temptation to pull the card out and take a look at it. There was, of course, a URL on the card, so I typed it into my browser and checked out their church's web site.

The first thing that struck me about the web site was the lack of identifying labels. The word "Christian" didn't even appear on their home page. Weird. I dug deeper. There was a link that said "What we believe." So I clicked on it, and found a series of one-sentence summaries of what they believed about things like "salvation," the "trinity," "the Bible," etc. I read all of the statements and by the end had concluded they were indubitably Evangelical Christians, but had obviously done everything possible to make it impossible for anybody but a scholar of theology and religious history to attach that label to them. A rather ambiguous statement of belief under the category of "worship" suggested that they may or may not tolerate speaking in tongues. I couldn't tell. The very last category was "marriage," and there they had two sentences about the sacredness of marriage, which they described as being between "one man one woman," and how they promoted "strong family values." I didn't assume that this meant they were anti-gay. I tried digging deeper by using the site search engine to do a search on "homosexuality," "gay," "lesbian," and "same-sex marriage." Literally nothing came up. I wondered if they had rigged the search engine to prevent such search terms from achieving a match, or if they had studiously avoided publishing anything on their web site that might contain such terms. Interesting.

Still, I was left with one impression. The electricians I had encountered had been polite, helpful and efficient, and they had done excellent work which they obviously took pride in. It occurred to me that if I was going to hire an electrician, I might prefer to hire one who used his electrical work as a form of evangelization. At the very least I could trust that he'd do the best electrical work he possibly could in order to make an impression on potential converts.

As I was praying this morning at the start of the day, I thought of them again. Of course I have my own salvation to work out, which was the main subject of my prayers. But as I thought of these two electrician guys, I felt the Spirit affirming that they belong to God too. All I needed to understand about their invitation to me to "ASK ME ABOUT MY FAITH" was that they had a relationship with God that entailed certain responsibilities, including the responsibility to share the good news with others, and that they had acquitted themselves and that was good.

Friday, March 14, 2014

To Join or Not to Join

Recently I was contacted by a gay friend. He has decided to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Believe it or not, this actually happens. In the last few years, I've encountered a surprising number of gay and lesbian individuals who are drawn to the principles of Mormonism and who -- sometimes in spite of themselves -- feel the Spirit and desire baptism. They know full well the Church's current positions on homosexuality and gender. Still, they recognize the truth of the Gospel and desire to align themselves with it in some way.

Needless to say, joining the LDS Church is a more complicated prospect for gay or lesbian individuals. For those who can make an opposite-sex marriage work, the landscape looks a bit different, at least as far as Church membership is concerned. For those who can't, I've observed three basic approaches.

Approach 1: Join the Church with a wholehearted commitment to remain celibate for the rest of your life. (This is the rarest approach.)

I have sometimes seen folks in this situation work out very complicated relationship configurations, such as living in a sexually abstinent but emotionally intimate partnership.

Approach 2: Join the Church not knowing what the future holds. Maybe a relationship will not be in the cards, which at least simplifies one's status in the Church. If the prospect of a relationship presents itself, work out the messy details at that time. Most people who take this approach generally know going into baptism that lifelong celibacy is not a sustainable choice for them. They know that -- for them! -- a choice between Church membership and the prospect of relationship and family is an impossible choice. But they hunger and thirst for the blessings of Church membership, and as long as that remains an option for them, they choose it.

In most cases where I've seen individuals joining the Church under these conditions, they are quite open with the missionaries, their bishop and other Church members and leaders about how they feel, and about the possibility that, at some future time, their membership in the Church may no longer be tenable. I have also observed that Church leaders and members tend to be empathetic toward individuals in this situation, and generally are willing to work with them.

In some wards and stakes, individuals are not being excommunicated for entering into a committed same-sex partnership or marriage. In others they are. Complexity and uncertainty seems to be the rule in this terrain right now.

Approach 3: Be a dry Mormon. Don't get baptized, but attend Church and live the Gospel as fully and completely as you are able under the circumstances. That's my situation.

In my experience, Church leaders and members tend to be empathetic toward individuals in this situation as well. They generally recognize that what is being asked of gay and lesbian individuals is extremely difficult, so they try not to judge. My ward and my bishop and other priesthood leaders have been so loving and supportive of me, I almost sometimes forget that I am not actually a member in good standing. Almost.

What can be more painful than the challenges of navigating Church membership and intimate relationships if you are gay or lesbian is the confusion, indifference and rejection you might experience from family or LGBT friends.

My friend described to me the reactions of friends: "Are you sure?" "You know what celibacy means, right?" "Don't do it!" "Are you kidding?" "All I wanted was congratulations," he said, "Instead I got condolences."

For him this was a joyous time, a joyous decision. For him, discovering the Gospel was opening up new understanding, new possibilities. He was experiencing a rebirth. This individual is not young. He's not naive. He understands the complexities involved in this path for someone in his situation. He recognizes the potential heartbreak down the road. And yet... And yet he's hopeful.

In thinking about his situation (and mine), I remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? ... Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matthew 6: 27, 34). Jesus' words here are about the true nature of faith. Faith is acting on what the Spirit prompts us to do, whether or not we know how things will work out in the long term. It means trusting that things will work out, if we do what we know is right.

There's another part of the Sermon on the Mount that speaks to this situation as well. "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). There's a righteousness in hope, in possibility, in the courage prompted by faith, that exceeds the righteousness available to us in hewing to the letter of a law, or conforming to people's expectations. But we have to be open and faithful if we want to learn what that righteousness might be.

LGBT Mormons are in a position to know things about faith that others cannot. The Church needs us, and maybe that is why so many of us are experiencing an outpouring of the Spirit that is leading us to act in faith even when our friends (and maybe even our own logical processes) can't discern a way forward.

When my friend said, "All I wanted was congratulations," I said, "Congratulations!"

He laughed.

The joy of finding a truth, finding that "pearl of great price," and acting on it in faith is always, ultimately, a sacred secret. Others may never understand it. That makes it all the more worthwhile in the end.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We Have Dreamed a Dream, and There is No Interpreter of It

At the April 2012 General Conference, Elder Richard G. Scott spoke on the topic, "How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life." His talk was the topic of our priesthood lesson last Sunday.

At the time he gave this talk, I was interested to hear him discuss the role that dreams can play as a source of personal revelation. He said:

Revelation can also be given in a dream when there is an almost imperceptible transition from sleep to wakefulness. If you strive to capture the content immediately, you can record great detail, but otherwise it fades rapidly. Inspired communication in the night is generally accompanied by a sacred feeling for the entire experience. The Lord uses individuals for whom we have great respect to teach us truths in a dream because we trust them and will listen to their counsel. It is the Lord doing the teaching through the Holy Ghost. However, He may in a dream make it both easier to understand and more likely to touch our hearts by teaching us through someone we love and respect.
When it is for the Lord’s purposes, He can bring anything to our remembrance. That should not weaken our determination to record impressions of the Spirit. Inspiration carefully recorded shows God that His communications are sacred to us. Recording will also enhance our ability to recall revelation. Such recording of direction of the Spirit should be protected from loss or intrusion by others.
I've been keeping a dream journal since January 2006, in response to a prompting of the Spirit I felt around that time.

Many of the dreams I've recorded have seemed bizarre or whimsical, and certainly weren't "accompanied by a sacred feeling." Even these dreams, however, have given me insight. I definitely have had many experiences with dreams that were sacred, that communicated profound spiritual truths.

Perhaps it is because of the special challenges associated with being gay in a society and a culture that misunderstand and are hostile toward gay people that I have felt a particular need for personal revelation and guidance. There isn't a day I feel I can afford to go without the presence and guidance of the Spirit.

Dreams and understanding or interpreting dreams is something I have a particular interest in. I have shared quite a few dreams on this blog, especially those that have given me insight either into the general human condition or my specific situation as a gay, believing Latter-day Saint that I have felt were appropriate to share. I recently started a new blog devoted to the subject of dreams and dream interpretation.

It's actually possible to buy books on dreams and dream interpretation. There are "dream dictionaries" available that purport to offer the meanings of dream symbols. I've actually read a fair number of books on the subject and have a few dream dictionaries in my library (some of which I consider nearly useless and others not completely useless).

My approach to this is that the meaning of any given dream symbol can be very individual or very unique. I've found that paying attention to dreams has actually helped me get a sense of my own personal "dream vocabulary."

The feelings that we experience in conjunction with dreams are usually clues to the meaning of a particular dream, though not always in the way we think. Nightmares or "bad dreams" are not always bad. They may actually be giving us keys to understand and work our way through the most debilitating fears in our lives.

I've often found that the best way to figure out a dream is just to talk through it.

Thus my new blog, devoted to discussing and understanding dreams.