29 August 2009

The Music Starts, Final Chapter

Aaron had been thinking about BYU a lot, and he'd decided it wasn't the place for him. In fact, he wasn't sure college was the place he needed to be right now. He was trying to figure out a lot of things in his life, and until he finished doing that, he didn't want to start on schooling that might end up taking him somewhere he didn't want to go.

Tim's heart sank.

They talked for quite a while. No, Aaron wasn't sure what he wanted to do yet, or where he wanted to go. But he wasn't going to stay in Idaho Falls much longer. No, Provo wasn't the place for him either, he knew that much. He just had to get out of his hometown, go somewhere and clear his thinking for a while. Of course he would miss Tim, terribly. But he also knew he had to find his own path, and he wasn't sure where that would be or how long it would take to figure out.

By now Tim was quite accomplished at hiding his true feelings. He stayed calm, told Aaron he understood, he knew Aaron was bright and could be successful at anything he put his mind to. But he also knew that wasn't enough, and if Aaron wasn't ready for the discipline of college, then it was probably best that he wait. Aaron assured Tim they would stay in touch as always. They each said "I love you", and the call was over.

And Tim cried again, for a long time.

He knew Aaron's phonecall meant the death of his dreams that they would be together. Tim had known his own career path since age 14 and was following it just as planned. He'd assumed someone as bright and capable as Aaron would have done something similar. It was now clear their last weekend that previous April had truly been their last weekend, and that Aaron still needed to learn some things about himself and where his life would go.

Tim knew that if you truly love someone, you respect their freedom to make their own choices. He couldn't force Aaron to come to BYU, and he was too far along in his own schooling by now to be able to stop and transfer anywhere else without losing significant time & money. His double major was already taking an extra year, and with parents footing half the bill, he couldn't just pull up stakes, follow Aaron who knows where, and start all over again.

This was worse than their parting in England. At least that day he knew they would be reunited in less than two years, and Aaron was there to cling to as they consoled each other. This time Tim was alone, and he didn't know where Aaron was going or how long they would be apart. Regardless, they weren't going to be together as he'd hoped. So the rest didn't matter.

Tim was grief-stricken for months, though he tried hard not to show it. He buried his feelings and buried himself in school work so no one would know how devastated he was. The ache and the sadness gnawed at him till he felt he had no more heart left to hurt, but at BYU it was not safe to say anything to anyone about it. He dared not risk any run-ins with the Honor Code secret police that might taint his plans for grad school. Aaron did keep in touch as promised, but the letters and calls gradually decreased as their lives became more independent over time. Tim eventually recovered, mostly. But never completely. He continued to date, finished his undergrad program, and started graduate school. Aaron had gone to California to work, and Tim eventually discerned from his infrequent letters and calls that Aaron had left the church and had lost most of the faith he once had.

While in graduate school Tim met a remarkably beautiful woman whom he developed some feelings for, and they married. After graduation, Tim took a job in England, of all places. He quickly became so busy with work and church assignments that he didn't think as much about Aaron as he used to, even though the places where they'd spent those happiest of months together were just a few hours' drive away. Tim avoided that area of the country; somehow he sensed he'd have problems if he didn't.

Tim and Aaron did continue keeping track of each other, though, and once when Tim was on a business trip in the States he and Aaron actually met again. Aaron was still unmarried (which made Tim really start to wonder), and had not finished college. He'd had a variety of jobs and remained the happy go lucky Bohemian trying to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. By then Tim had morphed into the classic credentialed professional with business suit, leather portfolio, and an assistant making all his travel arrangements. But they greeted each other with smiles and hugs just like always, and enjoyed a long visit over dinner, catching up on their lives and adventures.

Soon afterward Tim and his wife moved back to the States, where their marriage did not survive. Things were brutal for Tim for a while, but he gradually recovered and realized the divorce was a tremendous blessing, because it had set him free. He finally recognized what he should have done years before. So he came out. Even to his two kids, who were still young enough to be untainted by prejudice. It made no difference to them, and Tim considered himself the luckiest of fathers to have such supportive children. After coming out he found a completely new life, new friends, a new family to add to his own, and was happier than he'd been in a long time.

There was only one loop left to close. So Tim called Aaron, wondering if there might still be a spark. They hadn't seen each other since that evening at dinner. Tim discovered that Aaron had moved back to Idaho, finished college, and had married. His wife was not a Christian, and Aaron had not associated with the church for years. As Tim and Aaron talked, laughed, caught up on each others' adventures, it became clear to Tim that their lives had taken paths so divergent that what had been before truly never could be again. The Aaron he talked with that night was not the Aaron he had known in England. They had wanted and chosen too many different things for too long. Their interests, perspectives, hopes and dreams had created totally separate lives. There was no overlap anymore. In fact, Aaron and his wife were soon going to move out of the United States and did not plan to return. The conversation was pleasant, but Tim could tell when there was nothing more to say. He wished Aaron luck, asked him to keep in touch, and they said their goodbyes.

Tim sat staring into space for a long time. The last tiny flame of hope in his heart, which had secretly glimmered for all those years, had just snuffed out.

Yet after a while, Tim was surprised to find that mixed with the pain and sadness of loss was also contentment and peace. For whatever reason, he and Aaron were not meant to be. Aaron's choices had ended up so different from Tim's that Tim wondered if things really would have worked for them after all. Gradually he realized that now he could look forward with no lingering doubts or what if's and, if he were lucky, he might find someone else he could love just as much as he'd loved Aaron. Much of his life still lay ahead, and he was sure it held the promise of wonderful adventures. If there was one thing Tim had learned from the divorce and from coming out, it was the value of looking forward, not back. So he got up from his chair with sadness but also a smile and peace in his heart. Life would go on. And so it did.

The rest of the story remains to be written. But no matter what course the rest of his life took, Tim would always remember and think himself blessed by the sudden surprise of delight, supreme sweetness, and the golden glowing happiness of the first time he fell in love. With a boy he once knew named Aaron.

- Yes, this is a true story which I have never until recently told to anyone. Names and places have been changed, but the events and people are all real. It has been wonderful and difficult to write. Wonderful to finally tell the whole thing from start to finish, and difficult because . . . well, just difficult. You know why. I will always carry some sadness. But I will also always be grateful that this miracle happened to me.

28 August 2009

The Music Starts, Chapter Five

Tim ripped open the envelope, and just the sight of Aaron's slightly quirky handwriting filled him with the same delight as when they'd been together. Aaron had been transferred, work was slow but satisfying, he missed Tim, how was school? Tim read the letter over and over, savoring every word, recalling their time together and counting the days till Aaron would return. He wrote back immediately, of course, telling Aaron all about school and work and the challenges of adjusting to "normal" life again. He still missed Aaron terribly but the correspondence made things easier, and the demands of school were a healthy distraction.

And so it went for some time. Letters back and forth, with news, jokes, updates, questions, expressions of affection. Aaron progressing to senior companion, then district leader. Tim getting through a year of school, a summer of work, starting another year of school. The letters and cards continued. Tim had finally adjusted to not being a missionary anymore, though teaching at the Missionary Training Center certainly kept one of his feet in that world. It took a little getting used to, walking as a paid employee into the same place where he'd been as a missionary in training, then able to freely walk back out again the same day. By this time Tim had actually started dating casually, but was never interested in anything serious. He wanted to have kids and a family someday, but that was far in the future. While dating was fun socially, and certainly the politically correct thing for a guy his age at BYU, deep down Tim knew something wasn't right. He went along to get along, and at one point had four different girls chasing him, but there was never any spark. It always felt forced. No one ever made him feel like Aaron did.

Then one day a letter arrived with the information Tim had awaited for so long: Aaron's return date, and an invitation to come up for a visit as soon as Aaron was home. Tim was overjoyed, and actually jumped up and threw his fist in the air and whooped it up for a moment. His roommates thought he was nuts. Castle walls and cannons couldn't have kept him away from Idaho Falls, and the closer that homecoming weekend got, the slower time seemed to drag. When the day finally came, Tim risked speeding tickets the entire time he drove north, yet it seemed like he couldn't go fast enough.

Tim rang the doorbell. The door opened, and there stood a beaming Aaron Rayburn. Same smile, same sparkling eyes. Quick as a flash, Tim and Aaron embraced each other and just held on, only this time with as much joy as there'd been sorrow the last time at mission headquarters. Tim was so happy he nearly cried. Aaron introduced his parents, who welcomed Tim warmly and expressed surprise that he'd driven all that way. Tim diplomatically assured them it was no trouble and he wouldn't have missed it. He held back the real reason, which was that he loved Aaron more than anyone else he'd ever known and nothing could have kept him away now that Aaron was home again.

Hanging around the house and talking, out cruising around the city, running errands for Aaron's mom, getting pizza for dinner, the two boys talked incessantly for the rest of the day, their conversations punctuated with playful shoulder punches, back pats, neck squeezes, an arm briefly around a shoulder, savoring the delight of being together again. Tim could hardly believe it. All that elation came flooding back, more, in fact, because this time he knew there wasn't some looming date of long-term separation. The Rayburns had set up a rollaway bed in Aaron's room for Tim, but Tim didn't want to go to sleep that night. It would have meant taking his eyes off Aaron and he hated even the thought. So he fought sleep for as long as he could. They talked far into the night, all smiles and sparkling eyes. Finally, together again.

On Sunday Aaron gave his homecoming speech in church and sent more than few smiles and glances Tim's way. During the Sunday School class second hour, someone passed by and actually stopped to ask Tim and Aaron if they were surgically joined at the shoulder, they were sitting so close together. They both laughed. Tim didn't care. He could hardly feel the ground as he walked, and didn't care what other people said. The rest of Sunday was wonderful, relaxing, warm and bright for Tim, despite the snow outside. The Sunday dinner was delicious, the conversation delightful. It ended far too soon, and so did Tim's visit. He had a long drive ahead to return to school. So the two boys once again embraced, but this time without the sadness of last time's parting. Aaron would let Tim know as soon as his school plans were finalized. Tim could hardly wait for Aaron to join him in Utah. He wasn't quite sure where life would go for them after that, but as long as Aaron was there, he felt he could face anything.

The letters and phonecalls continued. Aaron was working to save money for school and wouldn't be able to come down before fall semester. Tim understood, he was working part-time too. In April Aaron drove down with friends and he & Tim had another joyous reunion, hung out for several days, explored, hiked, and talked and talked. They would have to be apart for the summer, but the letters and phonecalls continued as before. Tim eagerly awaited Aaron's plans for school.

Then one day in August, Aaron called with the news Tim had been waiting for.

27 August 2009

The Music Starts, Chapter Four

This was the one and only time during his mission that Tim pulled rank. There was no request, no negotiating. Just an instruction to Aaron's senior companion that next Monday they would swap companions. Again. Stephens wasn't completely dim; he knew Tim was going home next week and would want to spend his last day with Aaron.

They met at the mission office. Tim was a hurricane of mixed emotions inside. He wanted to linger and visit and say goodbye to all his mission buddies and former companions, some he knew he wouldn't see again for a long time, if ever. And he also wanted to duck out as quickly as possible with Aaron and spend every precious moment possible with him until 5 pm, when mission rules required the companionship swap back again. Tim didn't even want to think about it.

It was past 11 am by the time he broke away and practically raced with Aaron for the door. Destination: Aston Hall, a huge English country mansion that'd been turned into a hotel, where Tim's parents had booked a suite for the next three nights. It was set amidst a beautiful park. A place for Tim to wander one last time through history and peaceful gardens with the person he loved more than anyone else in the world. For all Tim knew, he would never have this chance again.

The boys were lucky. The day was bright and warm. It was early August, the sun was high and clear, and the trees and grass of the park round Aston Hall were a rich emerald green. They wandered through the gardens and talked about anything and everything. Mission experiences. Going home and what each might do then. What the future held. How lucky they were to have found each other. Tim's heart glowed as bright as the sun as he & Aaron strolled through that idyllic, pastoral place. In such surroundings, with Aaron by his side, Tim thought he finally knew what heaven must be like. Decorum and mission rules kept Tim from showing Aaron everything he felt, but he'd never been closer to doing so in his life than during those last precious hours.

Eventually they found their way into the hotel, and were shown to the suite Tim's parents had booked. They had probably landed in London by then for their connecting flight to Birmingham. Tim and Aaron walked around the suite, a corner bedroom with a view of the park and dressing rooms on either side. In his two years in England Tim had not seen a room so lavish, so grandiose. He and Aaron had forgotten such places existed. They sat in the window seat together and looked out over the park, feeling like they'd been transported into another world, one which Tim would soon enter permanently, leaving Aaron behind. It had been easy in the park as they walked through the sunlit green paths to savor the immeasurable delight of Aaron's company, but now, in that hotel room, the looming presence of his parents approaching, Tim felt almost torn apart inside. He loved his parents, yes, and was keen to see them after two years. But he loved Aaron too in a way he'd never loved anyone, and he could hardly bear to think of separating.

Tim sat silently looking out the window for a long time. Aaron, easy-going and affable as ever, understood and sat patiently nearby, silent, with an occasional pat on Tim's back or gentle squeeze of his shoulder. "I know," he seemed to say.

By now it was getting late. Tim got up, and they slowly walked out of the suite, down the stairs, out the main door, and had one last walk through the park--a walk that would stay in Tim's memory for the rest of his life. The sunlight, the trees, the brilliant blue sky, the fresh air, and Aaron next to him, a blend of complete happiness and love and contentment, made the more precious because it was so fleeting. It was the perfection of a snowflake or a Chopin nocturne, matchless in its beauty but far too brief, springing to life for a moment and then fading away. Robert Frost was right: nothing gold can stay.

They reached the mission office where Stephens and Hemsworth were waiting. Tim kept his composure but inside he was practically falling apart. Just a few months ago Aaron had walked into his life and turned it upside down, and now Tim had to walk away. He and Aaron went into a side room for their last talk. Neither could say much, but words didn't matter. They embraced, held each other closely for a long time in silence. Tim thought of David & Jonathan, weeping as they parted from each other. He understood.

There was a commotion outside, and Tim recognized his mom's voice. The time had come for Tim to move on. He and Aaron held each other till the last possible moment, then Tim turned and opened the door to greet his parents. He made introductions all round with as big a smile as he could muster, but didn't hear much of what was said as he watched Aaron slowly walk away, turn, wave, and then disappear through the door.

Several days of playing tour guide for his parents followed as they worked their way south to London. Tim had a window seat on the flight, and his face was pressed to the glass as the plane gathered speed on the runway. When the wheels finally lifted off, Tim could hold it all in no longer, and he shook with sobbing as the plane lifted into the air, his mother tossing Kleenex after Kleenex into his lap. Tim was sure that his wonderful parents were, for the moment, clueless.

Weeks later, installed at his BYU apartment and school starting, Tim felt completely disoriented. He missed Aaron so much he could hardly stand it. More than once he fell asleep on a pillow soaked with tears. He marveled at how much more difficult it was to come home from the mission than to leave for it, especially because of who he'd left behind. He wrote to Aaron immediately of course and eagerly awaited a reply.

And suddenly, one day, there it was.

25 August 2009

The Music Starts, Chapter Three

Tim had never been so eager for Monday. Good-hearted but oblivious Elder Hemsworth was nearly tone-deaf and not thrilled with the prospect of sitting around a chapel for a couple of hours on his day off while his companion sang. So Tim arranged for Hemsworth to go with Rayburn's companion that day, while he and Rayburn went to Birmingham together. A neat bit of conniving, Tim thought, especially since it looked like simple efficient planning.

They met at the train station, and it was just like before. The same beaming smiles, the sparkling eyes, the not wanting to let go of the hands. The other two peeled off and went their own way as Tim and Aaron boarded the northbound train. It was crowded so they were a bit squeezed together on the seats. For a brief moment he remembered how strange and confusing this all was, but he couldn't ignore that buzz, that electricity, that seemed to pass between them as they sat, shoulders and arms and sides pressed together as the crowded train rolled on. Never in his life had the mere touch of someone else affected Tim like this. He was elated, intoxicated, almost short of breath.

Worried that Aaron would be able to feel his heart racing, Tim struck up a conversation about events of the past week. Normal missionary stuff. But eventually Tim couldn't hold back; he threw caution to the wind and began to tell Aaron what he was feeling, about the instant recognition and all the rest of it. His journal entry described it later:

"We talked about the impressions of meeting someone for the first time and recognizing them somehow. And amazingly, he said that the very first time he saw me he recognized me from somewhere too, even though we'd never actually met. And that the feelings I had expressed were the same way he felt about me. I sure wish I knew what was the source of this something that binds two souls together so closely so quickly. Why does just sitting next to him make me feel like this? Why did I begin to love him almost from the moment we met? Maybe we were good friends before this life? I don't know. But what a feeling when we shake hands and look straight into each others' eyes and smile. I still feel good all over from that. I can hardly believe my luck that he feels the same thing too."

Tim practically floated from the train station to the mission office. The practice went perfectly; Tim had not sung so well in years. Probably because he was singing to someone in particular. Someone who stood right next to him and didn't leave his side the whole day. Not that Tim would have let him if he'd tried. The train ride back was a blur and the conversation fuzzy in Tim's memory; all he could remember later was the buzz, the glow, basking in the silly happiness of Aaron next to him, and Aaron's smile when they looked at each other.

That week Tim decided he wasn't paying enough attention to the districts in his zone. They needed more of a hands-on approach. One district in particular, where Tim's visits became more and more frequent. And it was time for some zone activities and outings too, a chance for all his missionaries to meet for something other than work. One Monday he organized a zone-wide outing to Lichfield Cathedral, so he and Aaron could spend the entire day together. More glow, more basking, more smiles, more arms around shoulders. Tim loved big cathedrals, and having Aaron beside him as they walked through that magnificent church was almost sensory overload.

Though he didn't presume to flat-out ask the mission president, Tim began to pray that he and Aaron would be assigned together. One night in his journal he wrote "If I could go back to Leicester [his favorite area] with Aaron as my companion, I would die completely happy." But it didn't happen. You weren't normally made a zone leader after being out only a month or two. So Tim and Aaron contented themselves with phonecalls, visits, companionship swaps and meeting up on Mondays whenever they could. Neither one ever thought of doing anything that would even flex, let alone break any mission rule. But talking and simply spending time together was not off limits, and they savored every precious golden moment. The delight never faded, the sparks never failed. Every day, every moment together was brighter, clearer. Aaron and Tim were two puppies playing, two stars swirling round each other as they raced together through space. Tim had never felt so happy in his life and he prayed it would never end.

Then suddenly, it was the last week. Tim's time had run out. His parents would soon be arriving to take him away from Aaron and the country he had grown to love as his own. One Monday left. Tim knew he had to make it count. So he picked up the phone.

24 August 2009

The Music Starts, Chapter Two

It was like slow motion in a movie. Tim Andersen and Aaron Rayburn looked at each other, broke into broad grins, and for a moment the surrounding world stopped, silenced. "Finally, here you are," each one thought, "I've been waiting a long time since we were together last." Each found himself holding the handshake well past the normal duration until just before that moment when others around them would have noticed something unusual. Neither knew what it was, but as Tim and Aaron said to each other later, something happened to them in that instant. Something neither ever imagined or expected. They recognized each other with a half-puzzled, half-delighted, slightly quizzical smile and sparkle in the eye, an instant connection as hands touched, something deep down that said "I know you."

Tim recovered from the shock of this unexpected recognition quickly, and reverted to standard diplomatic form. He welcomed Elder Rayburn and expressed confidence in his ability, particularly with Elder Stephens, who would be Rayburn's trainer. After a bit of further chit-chat, the new companionships began veering off in their several directions, some for buses, some for the train station. Tim watched Aaron as he walked toward the exit, a suitcase in each hand. As Aaron reached the door, he turned, and his eyes met Tim's again. Both smiled broadly once more, then Aaron turned back round and followed his new companion from the room.

Tim and Elder Hemsworth were soon on the train for Wellingborough. Hemsworth dozed as Tim sat pondering silently. What had just happened to him? Something very like electricity had arced from his hand to Rayburn's and from Rayburn's to his. He had never felt such a thing before in his life. Why had their eyes sparkled as they met, why had his heart jumped? Why had they not wanted to let go of each other? Tim was confused. He never knew such feelings existed before. He felt like he'd been hit full force by a train full of happy, and wow did it feel good. Why did his heart still glow as he thought back to those few moments? And why had Rayburn turned and smiled at him just before leaving? He was glad Hemsworth had remained clueless throughout. This was all wonderful, fantastic, but too new and confusing. Tim needed time to think it over.

The two of them reached home and resumed normal activity for what was left of their day off; errands, shopping, a little basketball. And that night, as they fell into their beds with the usual exhaustion, Tim found that he couldn't sleep for thinking again of what had happened that day. Rayburn's smile and the sparkle in his eyes just wouldn't leave his mind. He finally drifted off, that image still shining brightly.

The rest of their week went much like any other: searching for new contacts, visiting church members, all normal things busy missionaries did. Sunday night came quickly, and Tim found himself eager for the phonecalls from his district leaders; Rayburn's trainer was also a district leader so Tim would have a chance to hear how Rayburn's first week had gone. Quite well, it turned out. He was a quick learner, outgoing, affable, self-assured but not brash. This didn't surprise Tim. As quickly as he thought of it, he played the ZL card and asked to speak to Elder Rayburn directly, heart suddenly in his throat. They spoke for a few minutes, and afterward Tim couldn't remember what they talked about, other than learning that Elder Rayburn was musically trained just like Tim. All he knew was that his heart was glowing again. Elder Hemsworth looked up from his book and said "Well, that call must have gone well, why the big smile?" Tim mumbled something about stats the mission president would be really happy with. Hemsworth believed it and went back to his book.

That night the president called unexpectedly. "Elder Andersen, we have a mission conference coming up in three weeks. We want some music on the program and are putting together a quartet to sing a couple of hymns. We know you sing well, would you be willing to do this?" "Sure, president." "Thank you elder. The first practice will be next Monday at the chapel next to the mission home, we'll see you there at 10 in the morning." "All right, president, see you then. Who else is singing?" "Oh, sorry," said the president. "It's Elder Reynolds, Elder Parkinson, and Elder Rayburn."

23 August 2009

The Music Starts, Chapter One

This year, at least, T. S. Eliot was wrong. April wasn't the cruelest month. It was the most wonderful, miraculous month of Tim's life.

In early March, the mission president had surprised Tim with a phonecall and the news that he was the new zone leader for Northampton. That meant he would probably stay there for the six months he had left. Tim was glad; Birmingham was exciting but loud and crowded, and everyone was so busy all the time. The pace in Northampton and the surrounding towns was a bit slower. People would take time to talk, even with a couple of young Americans in white shirts who wanted to discuss religion. Most were polite but content with being "CE" and with setting foot in church a couple of times a year.

Tim had learned to respect the Anglican tradition even if he didn't agree with everything in it. At least they built beautiful chapels. He wished his own church would build something other than big boxy conference rooms with a plain pulpit at the end. Arches and stained glass just felt more reverent somehow. One of the advantages of being senior was that when Tim got tired or frustrated, he could pull rank and drag his companion into whatever old parish church was nearby, where he would sit and recharge by savoring the reverent silence, the architecture that drew his eyes and heart upward, and the sense of history.

His favorite was the church at Finedon, near Kettering; built in the 1300's, so old he could scarcely comprehend it. People had been worshiping there for over a century before Columbus got on the boat, yet there he was too, in the same place where people who'd never heard of chocolate or Shakespeare or a printing press had sung and prayed almost 800 years ago. Back home in Arizona they sure didn't have any place like that. Tim wondered if he'd been born in the wrong country sometimes. In many ways he felt a lot more at home in England than he ever had where he grew up. It seemed like his life had begun when he stepped off the plane at Heathrow; he could hardly remember anything before that anymore.

That Sunday evening Tim and his companion had back to back appointments far enough away that they had to take a taxi to make the second one. Even after 18 months out, once in a while Tim encountered somebody with the most outrageous countrified accent, and that taxi driver took the cake. He blathered on about his upcoming vacation to Mallorca but Tim and Elder Hemsworth both thought he said New York. Amazing, the variations in The Queen's English one encountered even in a small place like the U.K.

Appointments finished, the two headed back to their flat and the part of being a ZL Tim dreaded the most: collecting weekly reports and writing his own for the mission president. It was an accountant's drudgery, almost always mixed with this or that story of squabbles and spats between other missionaries, or missionaries and members, or somebody allegedly breaking mission rules, or looking too long at a local girl, or sneaking off to the movies during proselyting time. So far nothing so serious he had to go to the mission president, and Tim prayed he'd never have to deal with something like that. Except for the reports and paperwork, Tim loved what he did and was good at it. He'd baptized more than almost anyone else in the mission. He loved being able to share his faith, he loved England, he got on well with Elder Hemsworth and all the other missionaries, who liked and respected him. He couldn't imagine being more content.

Monday morning came. It was transfer day. A big group of new missionaries had just arrived from the States, and according to the mission office several had been assigned to Tim's zone. So he and Elder Hemsworth caught the train from Wellingborough up to the mission home for the monthly check-in with the president and to meet the new kids. It was late April and spring was already well underway. Much to Tim's delight, the sun was out, the low hills of the Midlands were green and fresh as the train clacked toward Birmingham, and tree after tree surprised him with torrents of blossoms in white, pink, blue and purple.

Tim made the rounds in the mission office, visited with the president briefly, then went to the church next door where all transferring missionaries were meeting and making their exchanges. Everything was familiar routine. He found the group of new missionaries and asked for those who would be joining his zone. Two were there waiting, one was elsewhere for a moment but expected soon. Tim had been talking with the two new guys for a few minutes when he heard footsteps behind him, and one of the new elders said "Oh, here's Elder Rayburn."

Tim turned round with hand outstretched, ready to shake. Their hands met. And then their eyes.

(Chapter Two coming soon)

20 August 2009

The Fruits of "Defending Marriage"

All of you sincere, family-oriented folks who walked neighborhoods and staffed phone banks and chatted up your neighbors last fall to pass Prop 8 and defend traditional marriage, and who support the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, please read this. It's a snapshot of the results your efforts have produced.

The following is from Frank and Joe Capley-Alfano, witnesses for AJR 19, the Resolution in Support of Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. AJR 19 recently passed the California Assembly Judiciary Committee along with two other EQCA sponsored resolutions. All three pieces of legislation now move to the Senate and Assembly floors to await an official vote.

"Hello, my name is Frank Capley-Alfano, and I am here with my husband Joe Capley-Alfano. We have been together for nine years. We have been registered as California Domestic Partners for five years, and we have been legally married for a little more than 1 year.

My spouse Joe is disabled, and he can only physically work part time. As a result, he doesn’t qualify for healthcare through his employer, and private healthcare policies cost too much for our working class family, because of his pre-existing condition.

The situation is devastating to me, because I am watching my husband slowly lose his ability to walk, and I can’t do anything about it. I work for the International Union of Elevator Constructors and my union refuses to recognize my legal civil marriage. They cite the Employees Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) using the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to justify their denial of equal treatment to my family.

All of the heterosexual guys that I work with can add their spouses to their health plan, and I want to be treated equally! I work just as hard as my co-workers, and I pay my union dues just like they do.

Like many couples, we recently filed our taxes. Unfortunately, we couldn’t file a joint Federal tax return, because the IRS also uses the Defense of Marriage Act to deny treating our family fairly. We would have saved $4,570 on our 2007 taxes, and last year in 2008, we would have saved $3,071 had we been handled the same as opposite-gendered married couples, and we are angry that just because of our genders, we have been relegated to second class status. We could have used that money. It would have paid for nearly 5 and 1/2 months worth of premiums for the private healthcare plan that my husband Joe went without during the last two years.

It is time for the US Government to treat all citizens equally. Same gendered married couples want and deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect that others expect. We want nothing more and nothing less than to be treated fairly by our government. It’s that simple. We call on Congress and President Obama to repeal DOMA."

Refusing the legal benefits of marriage to loving, committed couples like this isn't going to "defend marriage," folks. It's not going to prevent the formation of these partnerships either. It's just going to perpetuate this kind of unfairness and hurt. WWJD?

15 August 2009

What Do You Read When It's Not A Blog?

FB friend Lisa asked her peeps to tell her their favorite 15 books. As a lifelong bibliophile I couldn't resist chiming in, and then I thought "what a great blog post, bet I could get lots of cool recommendations". So here's my list of 15 books that have really made an impact on me, sort of front-loaded in importance but not absolutely.

1. Ecclesiastes
2. Tom Sawyer
3. Huck Finn
4. Psalms
5. Gospel of John
6. Resurrection, Tolstoy
7. The Innocents Abroad, Twain
8. Le Mort d'Arthur, Thomas Malory
9. Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot
10. Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey
11. People of Paradox, Givens
12. In Memoriam, Tennyson
13. Love, Undetectable, Andrew Sullivan
14. The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
15. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Prince & Wright

Tell me what you think of any of these and share yours. I'm always looking for new stuff. Warning: Twilight series and anything by Jane Austen are automatically excluded. I would say what I think of those except I don't allow others to use that kind of language here so can't very well do it myself.

12 August 2009

It's Not All Heavy

Not every post here is a pulpit-thumping, riveting barnburner worthy of the Congressional Record. Occasionally your humble correspondent doffs the workaholic professional bit, kicks off shoes, puts feet up on sofa, and actually becomes a normal person. And wonders what he should blog about. Inspiration hits! Two things to pass on, true stories both.

First thing. Recently I was in a bookstore and found something called "When I Knew." All kinds of stories about . . . well, about just that. I was standing very near the cash register with the clerk about 10 feet away. One story was so funny I just had to read it aloud so he'd hear. "I knew when the doctor slapped my little baby butt the very first day. If I could have talked, I would have turned around and said 'Hey, don't you think it's a little early for that? I mean, I think you're hot, but shouldn't we at least have drinks first?" And just at that moment the cashier was taking a drink from his Coke. Bad timing. He practically choked from laughter. Yes, I apologized.

Second thing. Simple, really. A love letter of sorts. I am feeling very lucky and grateful and want to say so, and to say why. Though I am physically far away from all for a little while, I am so blessed with so many friends to care so much about; blogger friends, Facebook friends old and new. I reach out to you, and in recent days quite a few of you have reached out to me. Thank God for the Internet without which this amazing group wouldn't exist. You awe me with your talents and your strength, you impress me with your insights, you honor me with your shout outs and by sharing the stories of your lives. My heart dances to hear of your happiness and success, and it weeps when you tell me of your sorrows. It's a privilege and a blessing to know each of you, and my life is infinitely better because you are part of it. I wish only that I could be where each of you are and smile and put my arms around you and look you in the eye and say thanks. I'm honored to be your friend.

That's all.

09 August 2009

What A Difference An Almost Year Makes

I've recently said to a couple of friends that the me of a year ago couldn't have imagined the me of today. In less than a month it'll be one year since I first came out. What a transformation in my heart, mind, faith, circle of friends, knowledge, experience, courage. I'll talk more about that in a few weeks. But today was a good example of just how different things are for me. I spent the entire day doing things I never would have imagined at this time last year.

Actually, I think I'll go backward chronologically. I spent this afternoon and evening walking neighborhoods with other volunteers from Equality California, talking to people about marriage equality and why it's important. I was really encouraged with the proportion of positive responses. Overall, peoples' reactions ranged from a Hispanic woman who flatly refused to even talk about the subject, to a Chinese Christian guy who was polite as could be and said that since the Bible said Adam & Eve, that settled it for him and no further discussion was necessary, to a transplanted Montana deer hunter playing pool in his garage who stopped to say Sure, people should be free in this country to marry who they want, it's none of my business if two guys want to get married, that's their decision and more power to them. Overall, our group of canvassers reported far more positive than negative responses to supporting marriage equality. It was very encouraging.

Let me tell you folks, next time this question's on the ballot the marriage equality side is not going to be caught flat-footed like they were before. It's clear that they know full well what Mormon money and organizational muscle can do, and they're determined to match and exceed it. I just wonder if individual California Church members are going to have the stomach and the money and the time and energy to do it all over again, because they're going to find a much more prepared and formidable foe next round.

This morning I returned, like a moth to a flame, to Grace Cathedral San Francisco. I just can't stay away from this place. Everything about it is more conducive to reverence and worship and focusing on the Savior and His mission and what it means for each of us. Including a warm hug and "Welcome back" from Vanessa, one of the associate pastors. I'm not sure why other places don't resonate with me quite like this or other cathedrals do. Some high church foes would say it's all just calculated drama to induce awe and reverence and that the theatrics shouldn't matter. I disagree. Every church does this to some degree or another, the only question is how and how much. And for me, ever since I was a small boy, there's been something about big cathedrals. The space, the atmosphere, the soaring arches that lift eyes and spirit, the recognition that I am so small in this vast place and so small in the universe, yet it is for me and each of us that places like these are built, with the arches, the stained glass, the glorious music, all of which combine to remind me in ways few other places can of my place in life and the faith I should always remember. The LDS baptismal covenant and sacrament prayers speak of an obligation to always remember the Savior and try to keep His commandments. Places like this great cathedral really help me to do just that.

I feel sad in a way to have come to the realization that my own church doesn't do much of that for me to the same degree a place like Grace Cathedral does. LDS services are more like big family business meetings in many ways, noisy, barely organized, and with topics all over the map. I honestly can't remember the last time I heard an entire meeting focus on the simple basics of Christian faith, on the Savior, His life, his sacrifice for us, His love for us, how we should try to reflect that love to others in our own lives, and how doing so blesses others and ourselves as well. Yet whenever I go to Grace Cathedral, that's what I hear every time. Plus the most glorious music, far beyond anything I ever hear in an LDS ward. Standard Mormon music may work for most others and that's fine for them, but it just doesn't for me. I have heard it all, recycled so many times that it's neither interesting nor (with some exceptions) generally very inspirational anymore. There is so much glorious and inspirational stuff beyond the narrow confines of music which the LDS Powers That Be have decreed are acceptable in sacrament meetings. It really makes me sad that our leaders have chosen to try to cut us off from so much music that is lovely and of good report and praiseworthy. Joseph Smith said he always tried to think of new things to present to those who listened to him. Why does our current leadership prevent us from doing that with the music in our services?

I will leave you, gentle reader, with a glimpse of the magnificent place in which I sat this morning for an hour of genuine worship and contemplation. I hope this video will give you a taste of why I find this cathedral so inspirational. When was the last time you heard anything like this as prelude in your ward? Or even heard the prelude over the din of gossip and visiting in the chapel, for that matter?

What's To Fear? Maybe This?

Past presidents of the Church used to preach that God's children with black skin were inherently inferior and that racially mixed marriages should be punishable by death.

Oops. Glad we corrected those.

Now, the Church's Proclamation on the Family says "gender is an eternal characteristic," something most Mormons take to mean "boys are supposed to be attracted to girls and girls are supposed to be attracted to boys and anything else is wrong and a temporary aberration." Nice and black and white and easy.

But it doesn't say that, folks. First of all, the Proclamation isn't canonized scripture. Conservative orthodox Mormons treat it as if it were, but it's not. There's a process for that which the Proclamation hasn't gone through. So we're free to construe it how we will. And to me, "gender is an eternal characteristic" has nothing to do with homosexuality. Zero. Zip. Nada.

So apart from the purely theological objections to gay marriage--which have no business as a basis for civil law--I am still scratching my head as to the reasons for the Church's furious opposition to it and to any expression of gay affection (e.g. the recent kerfuffle over the kiss near Temple Square), even in a purely civil law context. Is it just ingrained cultural hostility? The same prejudice and conviction that underlay the Church's opposition to civil rights 40 years ago? The arguments and rhetoric certainly are startlingly similar.

Maybe, though, what really worries The Top Fifteen is people like Lisa Diamond, Associate Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She recently released a book that, while focusing primarily on womens' sexuality, talks in general terms about the whole issue in ways I suspect would make the average Mormon cringe. If she's right, lots of black & white thinking about this subject may have to go out the window. And in a Church which--culturally, at least--strongly prefers everything "by the book," there isn't much tolerance for ambiguity, especially on such a sensitive subject.

Prof. Diamond quoted a 1994 study which said that the majority of Americans surveyed and who confirmed same-sex attraction aren't actually doing anything about it. "They are just going about their lives, having attractions and doing nothing about it at all. That’s the majority of individuals with any aspect of same-sex sexuality. Then you have a group of individuals who engage in same-sex behavior, but don’t identity as gay and don’t even say they are attracted to the same-sex. That’s what they report. That group is half the size. And the smallest group, are those who identify and are also having sex and claiming same-sex attractions. So the prototype in our mind of a gay person who identifies is actually the least representative type. And studies in other countries have found the same thing. It’s a small population. So if you broaden up your categories you realize that there are whole bunch of people who have one aspect of same-sex sexuality that is relevant to their lives, and other aspects that are not. We have no theory at all in the social sciences about what these divergences mean. We’ve been studying everything all wrong." And THAT prospect, I think, could seriously scare some of the Mormon leadership.

Oh no, maybe there's actually a lot more o' them dam homos out there than we thought, Martha! Better start totin' a shotgun to church again jes' in case one o' them looks at us funny!

It also means, as Prof. Diamond goes on to discuss, that sexual identities may actually be more fluid than a lot of people would like to believe. Of course this has the prospect of seriously pissing off agenda-driven people on both ends of the spectrum. It also has the prospect of creating more cognitive dissonance for Mormons who want to cling to the belief that being straight is The Eternal Norm and anything else is just a matter of choice, limited to this life only. I'd be less than honest if I didn't confess to a bit of schadenfreude when I think of Molly Mormon's and Peter Priesthood's discomfort with that idea. Not that most of them will read or care about this research, but still . . .

Bottom line is there's still much we don't know. But the trend seems to be clear: things just aren't as cut & dried as the popular Mormon interpretation of "gender is an eternal characteristic" would like to believe. And after a century of furious declamations about racism being The Word Of The Lord, only to find past generations were totally wrong, why can't we point out that the same rhetoric's being used today to denounce gay marriage, and wonder if the Church isn't taking a second lap round the same track?

More on Prof. Diamond's book here.

06 August 2009

A Challenge to "Sxark"

On 30th July I posted a request that readers comment about the things they thought were great about being gay.

Within an hour or two after that post went up, I had the first of two comments from a hitherto unknown person identified only as "sxark." His first comment was "Why do you say I need your help everybody when you know the answer yourself?" Sounded a bit like someone trying to stir up controversy, but I thought Meh, NBD. It didn't contribute to the discussion so I didn't approve the comment for publication.

Within just a few more hours, a second comment from "sxark" arrived, this one clearly intended to provoke: "The only thing 'GREAT' about a series of wrong choices in life is that one continues to live and can take advantage, so they can start making the 'right' choices that negate all the bad ones made previously."

Obviously "sxark" is watching the blog and was trying to poke a beehive. Again, though, his comment wasn't relevant to the post so I didn't approve it for publication.

Now, though, it's time to publish both his comments and to respond.

Sxark, if you are still reading this blog, I challenge you to explain and back up your statements and their implications. Engage me and other blog readers in debate. The free exchange of well-reasoned, intellectually honest and properly researched ideas is welcome here.

There are some ground rules. No personal attacks. Respect at all times. You must be able to back up everything you say with logic and evidence. If you state a personal opinion you must acknowledge it as such. Logical errors and fallacies, incomplete or inaccurate evidence, and opinion disguised as fact will be pointed out and disregarded. If they persist after warnings, the debate will be closed. These are features of any credible debate regardless of forum.

On those bases, I invite you back to defend your statements which I've now released to all the world. Do you have what it takes to return and back up what you said?

05 August 2009

Attention Evergreen - APA Repudiates Change Therapy

In a resolution adopted and statement released today, the American Psychological Association said there is no firm evidence that sexual orientation can be changed through therapy, so mental health professionals should not tell conflicted gay clients that they can become heterosexual with such treatments. The resolution from the APA's governing council said some research suggested "reparative therapy" could induce depression or suicidal tendencies. An APA task force recommended that mental health professionals "avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts when providing assistance to people distressed about their own or others' sexual orientation," usually as a result of religious doctrine.

The APA's official statement said:

"Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation. Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Contrary to the claims of SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts] practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions.

"At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex."

Full story here.

03 August 2009

Look Over There!

Great discussion going on over at Mormon Matters. Readers of this blog will be very interested, I guarantee. Check it out and contribute to the discussion if you want!

01 August 2009

How Would You Feel?

Shout out to all straight readers of this blog. Please watch and give honest, good faith consideration to this: