27 November 2010

Music and Identity

Blog buddy Invictus Pilgrim has recently posted a Youtube clip of a beautiful violin piece that he says portrays all the feelings of his heart as he struggles to find his own soul and voice again after years of near-asphyxiation. I've shared favorite musical bits on my blog before like that, but his post prompted me to share another that has similar meaning for me.

Sir Hubert Parry was one of the finest English composers of the last two centuries. Yet he's virtually unknown in the United States except to aberrational music wonks like myself. This really is unfortunate because he wrote some of the most glorious stuff I've ever heard. Including one that has for me the same meaning as Invictus Pilgrim's violin piece does for him: it "seems to reach directly into one’s soul and issue a challenge to defy fate, to embrace and live life in all its texture, to experience sorrow as well as joy, agony as well as ecstasy, doubt as well as faith; to be – in the fullest sense of the word – human."

The piece which does that for me is the last movement of Parry's 5th Symphony. Curiously, Parry gave rather cryptic names to each movement of this symphony, and the last one, already so perfect a picture of life and its joys and struggles, is perfectly named: "Now." Especially for me. Now, more settled and happy and content than ever before. Now, past so much angst and turmoil, conflicts well-remembered but largely resolved. Now, looking ahead to a future brighter than for most of my life I imagined possible. And Parry's music captures it all, including the challenges and struggles that have led me to where I am, before it ends with some wonderful, brilliant resolutions in shimmering, resounding major chords that practically lift you out of your seat.

Caveat: It's 9 minutes long, and it's not background music. It requires your concentration, but trust me, it's worthy of it. If I could pick one piece as the soundtrack for my life, it'd be this one. Hope you like it.

25 November 2010

Why Is It A Gift?

On Thanksgiving Day before putting the turkey in the oven I want to respond to Invictus Pilgrim's question about how one could be grateful for being gay. He quotes another blogger whose perspectives I don't share, but the questions are worthwhile. I'll answer the questions and then share some of my own thoughts.

1.   Warren’s first statement presupposes that God “makes” some of his sons and daughters attracted to people of the same gender as they.  To paraphrase an infamous question recently posed in General Conference, “Why would Heavenly Father do that?”

In this question we hear the voice of Boyd Packer jousting with the Calvinistic theory that certain people are predestined to certain fates. It assumes what's been called "the magical Mormon world view," a relentless habit of ascribing everything in life, no matter how small or detailed, to divine intent, design or intervention. I think the LDS scriptures themselves belie that notion, particularly Doc. & Cov. with its statements that we are supposed to act for ourselves and that "it mattere[d] not" to the Lord whether early Church leaders did one thing or another.

The question also assumes God could but never would do "such a thing" because it's intrinsically evil and wrong. Apparently those who say this never stop to examine the bases for their premise or wonder whether God might have more to say on the matter. Never mind about the 9th Article of Faith.

I don't think it matters whether God "did such a thing" or not. Evidence is overwhelming that, whatever the reason, being gay is an intrinsic part of one's nature that can't be eradicated (to me, that suggests it is a natural and morally neutral phenomenon, but that's a topic for another time). The only question then is how one can best deal with it. Asphyxiate, stifle, deny, endure, tolerate, accept, value, embrace?

2.    Warren’s second statement goes further, and presupposes that, not only does God “make” certain of his children gay, but that gayness is a “gift,” implying, as Warren so states, that SSA is not a curse, but rather a gift.  How does one come to make such a statement?

I don't accept the premise here. But I do believe one can choose to embrace being gay as a benefit, even a blessing. That too is a long discussion for another time. But I know from my own experience that it's possible. Once I embraced that part of myself, the whole world lit up in glorious technicolor that drowned out all the drab of before. How could that not be a gift?

 3.    If one accepts the fact, which I do, that one is born gay, how does one (particularly he who is steeped in the Mormon faith and culture) come to celebrate his gayness rather than to feel shamed and cursed by it?  Specific instructions would be appreciated.

(a) Stop thinking of it as something shameful. This is a process and will probably require you to reject much cultural Mormon programming as false (which it is).

(b) List all the things that make you happy when you are conscious of the gay part of yourself. Imagine how your life would be without them.

(c) List the ways you think you are a better, kinder, more understanding, intuitive, loving, caring person as a result of being gay.

(d) Think of all the ways you're happier since you started coming out. Of all the art, music, creativity, the beautiful things in life you appreciate more than straight guys might.

(e) Think of all the friends you've made since you started the journey and how they may have enriched your life.

(f) You never could have made your own movie list if you hadn't started coming out.

4.    Moving beyond question #3, how does one come to view it as a gift from God? 

A gift is what we make of it. You have this characteristic as part of you. You can make it into something beautiful and wonderful and fulfilling, or you can make it a source of frustration, stagnation, and unhappiness. How you come to view this characteristic will depend on which of these paths you choose.

5.    I am perplexed by Warren’s statements because he is an active member of the Church who currently serves in a bishopric.  (My intention is not to “pick” on Warren, but simply to use him and his statements as a basis of discussion.)  He “honors” his priesthood and lives his life as a heterosexual priesthood holder living “the plan of happiness.”

Therefore, if gayness truly is something to be grateful for and a gift from God, how does he/one reconcile the dichotomy between living what one truly believes one to be by divine grace [Oxford: “the unmerited favor of God”] versus living the “priesthood path” (straight, married, father, church service, etc., etc.) as taught by the Church?

Within the way the LDS Church has currently framed this issue, no such reconciliation is possible. One must give way to the other eventually. The choice depends on one's priorities, one's trust in the LDS Church as an institution, one's trust in one's own heart and ability to discern personal inspiration.

Concluding thoughts:

Since coming out, my life has been transformed. The old grey world is now aglitter with millions of glowing hues. I feel 100 pounds lighter, free to be my real self rather than being ashamed of it, a reluctant actor on a stage every waking moment. That was exhausting! Friendships are deeper, as is faith. My heart is peaceful, my confidence far higher than before. Especially on this Thanksgiving Day, how could I not consider it a gift?

21 November 2010

Why I Like Clouds and Rain and Cold Sometimes

I know that title may seem strange for a lifelong California beach guy to say, but there is a reason which I'll get to in a minute.

As a lawyer I can't resist a good policy discussion about controversial legislation. So this morning I attended a presentation about Don't Ask Don't Tell at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral. Lots of fascinating stuff and three key take-away points for this son of a retired Army officer.

First, DADT is more than just not asking or telling, it has tragic results on individual lives, cutting short promising careers, spending millions to actually reduce military readiness and capabilities at a time when those are not only crucial, but when a majority of military personnel themselves say they'd have no problem with LGB soldiers serving openly. Thus making more and more ridiculous such ostensible mandarins as John McCain, whose bigotry in trying to preserve DADT is increasingly desperate.

Two, DADT is a crashingly discordant exception in American law in that it requires discrimination by the same government which everywhere else must not discriminate.

Third and possibly most disturbing, DADT creates a culture of lying and mistrust. It "belies" who our military is "as an institution", says (just today, ironically) no less a figure than Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the military leaders whose advice Senator McCain said 4 years ago he'd follow re this issue, and whose advice he is now desperately trying to ignore.

DADT is now part of the Defense Appropriations Bill pending for a vote in the Senate before 10th December's Christmas recess. If you live in a state where your senator(s) support DADT or are undeclared, give their offices a call and them to listen to Admiral Mullen and get rid of this idiotic, tragic law/policy so they'll be on the right side of history and won't be lumped with the McCains of the world.

OK, public service announcement over. 'Cause obviously none of that explains why I like clouds and rain and cold sometime.

Since the DADT presentation ended just minutes before the regular church service started at St. Paul's, and since I have friends who sing in the choir there, I decided to hang around for services. It's a beautiful cathedral and the music is terrific. Very inspirational. The sermon was great, about "the cosmic Christ" and what that concept means for us individually. And I love the smell of that incense.

I didn't have a sweater or jacket. The cathedral is all masonry, floor to ceiling, so it was on the cold side. Outside it was raining and the air was slightly damp. The wooden benches aren't exactly cushy soft. But I found myself happier than I'd been in a long time. Why?

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to take a couple of trips to Europe with friends. You know how it is when you're 16 and 17 and think you've got the world figured out and you're on the verge of being a legal adult and chomping at the bit to leave home and explore. Thrilled at finally being able to get out of the nest, be on your own, make your own life. Thirsty for adventure.

Well, I was all of that. And spent many weeks filled with that enthusiasm while exploring countries whose histories and culture had always fascinated me. Particularly the cathedrals. Both trips were in the late spring, and at that time of year Northern Europe can still be pretty cold and damp. One particular Sunday we were in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was Easter, actually. There was still snow on the ground and a few flurries in the air. Everything was wet. But it wasn't unpleasantly cold.

Though it was overcast, the clouds had that bright quality by which you could tell the sun was shining behind them. The first few green buds were appearing on the trees. Icicles were melting. The lake was beautiful. I was almost intoxicated with the feeling of such history all around me; this city had existed since 750 A.D., an almost unimaginable history in my hometown where anything over 50 years old tends to get torn down. I walked the covered wooden footbridge over the lake whose eaves were still decorated with the paintings done in the late 1500's when the bridge was built. My friends and I returned twice to admire the statue of the Lion of Lucerne, which we found profoundly touching in ways we couldn't articulate. (I've since learned that others have felt the same.)

And of course, we spent time in a big church. It was Easter, after all. The church was probably 17th Century, from the look of its white & gold German-style Baroque decor. Yep, that one to the left, that's the very one. It was cold, and damp. But the music and the incense and the atmosphere were wonderful. Outside were the first signs of spring. Though it was cloudy, the sky glowed. And there I was, in the middle of this grand adventure, surrounded by all this wonderful stuff, these omens of a bright future. It was a wonderful, exciting, memory-making day that, obviously, I never forgot.

So while it doesn't happen often, today it happened again. All those factors once again converged--the damp, the cold stone church, the incense, the cloudy but glowing sky (with the glow coming through stained glass windows) and I felt that same sense of happiness and gratitude and excitement and gratitude for a bright future. True, since that Easter Sunday in Lucerne I've had a bit of life experience, but there's still a lot of future left to embrace.

And the icing on the cake was when my buddies from the choir collared me in the hall outside afterward to sing some barbershop pick-ups with them, just for fun, on the spot. No written scores, just pick one you know, sing everybody's part through for them, then all together. Short clips. No reason other than the sheer joy of singing with your friends. Can you imagine such a thing happening in an LDS chapel after priesthood meeting? No wonder I like St. Paul's.

Days like this are why I like clouds and rain and cold sometimes.

10 November 2010

In Which Your Local Correspondent Gets Picked Up

Life sure can surprise you sometimes. I got picked up yesterday and didn't even know it. Thanks to Brody for alerting me. And if you want to see just how I got picked up, click here.

09 November 2010

Thank You, One Hundred

Lots of measurements and benchmarks are ultimately kind of arbitrary. New Year's holidays in cultures other than our own may fall at very different times through our year. You can vote and join the army at age 18 but you can't legally have a beer till you're 21 (does that mean we collectively think it takes more maturity to drink responsibly than to volunteer to give your life for your country?). The dividing line between an A and B at school sometimes fluctuates. Life's full of arbitrary measurements that nevertheless manage to give us some structure, some means of assessing progress.

I hesitated a bit to write this post because I didn't want it to come across the wrong way. But then I realized the only reason I can write it is the kindness of other people, and I have an obligation to thank them.

A few days ago, my little blog acquired its 100th self-declared follower. It's been just barely over two years since I started writing here, after Troy urged me to give it a go. I honestly thought it'd be a waste of time and that I'd have nothing to say. What could I possibly have to contribute that would interest anyone else or mean anything to anybody?

Well, obviously I found out. Not that I had anything meaningful to say, but that I was at least capable of churning out content, vapid though it might be. So the blog became a good place to wrestle with issues, express frustrations, put ideas out for discussion, tell a story or two. It's done me a lot of good. And it's helped others waste some time, I'm sure. I'm in a lot better place today than I was two years ago, and a good part of the reason is this blog, the friends I've made as a result of writing, the things I've learned. And it all started from nothing and an honest belief that this was going to be a waste of time.

So when I see that one hundred people have been brave enough to attach their on-line personas to my little corner of cyberspace, nobody is more amazed than me. I honestly never expected anything like that and it is hard for me to believe that many people are interested.

I'm kind of torn. Part of me would much rather do what I can quietly and anonymously. And part of me realizes that sometimes I have things to say and I need to speak out, and this blog is one way to do it. More paradox in my life. As if I needed more.

But I certainly can't complain about the things I've learned, the ways I've grown, the friends I've made and grown to love so much, the experiences I've had, all as a result of blogging here. It's been an immeasurable blessing.

So I now stand with hat in hand before you brave one hundred followers and say a humble thank you. For flattering me by sharing some of your time to read what I write, for your comments and for your friendship. I've no doubt that I have benefited far more by talking with and getting to know and learning from you than you may have by visiting here. I will always be grateful.