27 July 2010

Another Challenge To The Paradigm

I just ran across a fascinating bit of analysis while surfing through Sunstone on line. The following comment was posted to an article about Mormons who come out and also choose to stay celibate and active in the LDS Church. I'd love to hear responses to this comment from those who defend the Dallin Oaks/Lance Wickman/Bruce Hafen theory that faithful celibate gay Mormons will be made heterosexual and given "all the blessings of family" in the next life if they can just grit their teeth and hang on for the duration of this one:

Mormon doctrine has from its infancy taught that our basic character and mind does not change at death.

Add to this another key Mormon doctrine: God did NOT create the mind/spirit of the individual. As Joseph Smith clearly taught in the Doctrine & Covenants, intelligence (meaning the individual mind) was not created–”nor indeed can it be.”

In his King Follett Discourse, Joseph taught regarding the mind of the individual “there was no creation about it…the very idea lessens man in my estimation….God never had the power to create it [the mind of the individual] because God could not create himself….”

So if the mind of the individual was not created by God, if it is “co-equal with God” (Joseph’s own words) and without beginning or end, whence comes the doctrine that God can change the mind of the homosexual in the next life if that homosexual is celibate and faithful to the Church until death?

God cannot change that which He never had the power to create and which is, by its nature, an eternal free agent with the power within itself to learn to become a God itself.

Neo-Mormonism (the evangelical, Christian fundamentalist doctrines that the LDS Church and her apologists have adopted over the past 30 years) is at odds with traditional Mormon doctrine.

I can think of no other area of current debate in which the shortcomings of Neo-Mormonism are more evident (and more out of touch with reality, reason and the findings of science and medicine) than that regarding the nature of human homosexuality.


The article which prompted this comment--and which is well worth reading itself--can be found here.

25 July 2010

What I Might Say If I Re-Engaged

About four months ago I reached a point where I could simply no longer deal with the escalating drama that had erupted in my family when I came out. I told my dad that I needed to take some time away, that he shouldn't worry because I would come back at some point, but I just had to have some peace and quiet and respite from the criticism and the resistance and the insinuations of what I was doing to destroy everybody else's family unity. Take that last one for what it's worth.

So I haven't talked to my dad or any of my siblings for about that long now. To their credit, they've respected my wishes and have left me alone. My intent in backing off was not only to give myself some peace, but also to give them time away from dealing with me, in hopes that they'd be able to calm down, reflect, let passions cool, ponder priorities. I don't know to what extent they've done that, but it seems to me that four months is long enough to at least start.

I don't expect my conservative traditional Mormon family to suddenly switch to full support of their gay son instantaneously. It took me a long time to wrestle with this myself and to finally gather the courage to face it and embrace it and learn to be proud of the way God made me. I can't expect them to turn immediately away from assumptions and attitudes they've held their whole lives and never been forced to really examine on the merits.

On the other hand, the impact of homosexuality on them is far different than it is on me. To them it's collateral. To me, it's essential, as in "part of the essence." One could reasonably think, therefore, that they might not need as much time as I did to process it. So I've been thinking about what I would say to them if I resumed contact. I'm still sorting that out, and I'm not 100% ready to actually reach out yet. But I've thought about what I might want to say, and it'd go something like this.

Dear family, I love you all so much. There's so much I want to say to you, so much I want to share. Facets of me that you've never known about through all these years. I and the kids want to be part of your lives. If you would just be willing to listen and consider, I truly believe I could make most if not all of your angst go away. But when three out of five of you tell me explicitly that you don't want to hear another word about it, or you tell me flat-out that you will refuse to listen to anything I say and you accuse me of shaming our mother and trying to destroy family unity, well, that's not a very good recipe for us getting along is it.

I know I've challenged your paradigms and I don't expect you to change your opinions overnight; God knows it took me long enough to come to terms with this myself. But please don't refuse even to talk about it. Please try to set aside your fear and anger and suspicion. I really do think I have the answers that will help you do that. But you must be willing to listen, to do what St. Paul said: investigate, search, don't be afraid to question a status quo. Don't be afraid to learn something new or to question the bases for your own beliefs. Joseph Smith wasn't. If what you believe about this issue is true, then it can easily withstand examination. Don't be afraid. Please learn from my experience; I let myself stay afraid for far too long and I suffered needlessly for it.

I'm not selfish as some of you have accused me of being. I'm just tired of a charade and want you to know who I really am. I still don't understand why wanting to share this most vulnerable part of myself with the ones I should be able to rely on the most is "selfish." All of your hurt and anger and fear is so unnecessary. Please try to calm down, and above all else, please be willing to talk to me and listen to what I say in good faith. Not just hear the sounds, but give honest, full consideration to the content. Other LDS families have done just fine after one of their kids came out, please listen to me and I'll tell you how. And how coming out made me a better Christian than I ever was before.

If we can't at least talk and give good faith consideration to each others' opinions and beliefs, then what's the point of anything else?

23 July 2010

Going Home

Lots of men hate housework. They hate to clean, and mop, and iron, and scrub, and do laundry. These are not considered particularly manly things. As a divorced dad, sometimes I have no choice. I have to do these things or else the house would start to look like my college dorm. And I lost my tolerance for that a while back.

But sometimes I actually like doing all that stuff. These are things one does at home. Doing them reminds me that I am home. After the grueling business travel schedule of the last year and a half, this is a very refreshing thing. I like being home. I like having a kitchen to clean and floors to mop. This is my place. I belong here. I feel comfortable, secure. It's a bit of the hot chocolate in front of the fireplace thing, even though it's July.

This past week a young man named Todd Ransom took his own life in Salt Lake City. Todd was gay and lived in the heart of homophobic Mormondom. Many, including myself, instantly assumed that his death had something to do with the way the Mormon Church treats its gay members, and gay people in general: a handful of not-too-effusive claims from senior leadership that the church loves and welcomes gay people (an admittedly welcome turnabout from 30 years ago when gay members who came out were instantly tossed out) have still mostly not reached the rank and file, where ostracism, avoidance, misunderstanding, fear, bigotry, hate and sometimes eviction from one's own family still regularly occur, and all in the name of upholding Church teachings. Not to mention the Church's decades-long efforts to shut down marriage equality and its' members' financing of incredible myth-mongering two years ago to put Proposition 8 over the top. Gay Mormons also know that the Church's doctrine forces on them the worst sort of Sophie's Choice between (1) hewing to the demands for lifelong celibacy and aching loneliness as the price of salvation in a church that obsesses about family happiness, and reminds them daily of what it doesn't want them to have, and (2) seeking the love and companionship and intimacy everyone wants during this life, at the possible risk of losing a place in heaven. This mix of social and spiritual consequences has too often proven lethal for gay Mormon men, and Todd Ransom appeared to be just the latest in a tragically lengthening line.

I didn't know Todd. I'm reading now that his life was not all tragedy and tears, that he had a loving and supportive family, and that his suicide may not have resulted directly from how Mormonism treats its gay members, at least not entirely. A few have spoken out on line and objected to blaming the Mormon Church for Todd's death. If he did have a supportive family, that is some comfort. But it's very small. Fact is that another young gay Mormon man has taken his own life. I don't know the reasons. I have assumed some of them, and I believe those assumptions are at least partly correct. And even if they were not as true of Todd as they've been of others, it can't be denied that the doctrine and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian churches with regard to God's gay children, and their collective insistence that those gay children deny their very nature and contort their spirits and live a lie in order to be good enough for God, have produced tremendous misery and tragedy in countless lives instead of the peace and comfort that Jesus promised His followers.

The innumerable Todds who've chosen to leave this life did so because they never found a home. A place where they could live peacefully without fear or doubt. A place where they could celebrate just being themselves, completely and unreservedly, where they could savor the mundane delights of sweeping their own floor or doing their own laundry, knowing it was all theirs, that nobody and nothing threatened them. A place where they could live without fear of judgment or threats of damnation, just doing the dinner dishes with the one they loved.

I don't know all the reasons Todd Ransom left us. But I know the reasons far too many like him have left, and despite all our best efforts, will probably continue to leave. Some we can't anticipate, and some we can't cure. But every person and every entity that had a part in Todd's and all the others' lives should stop to think about what they could have done better, what they might do for the next Todd who's on the brink. Sometimes the answer will be "nothing, all that could be done was done." But that's an individual judgment of fact or conscience. For organizations like the LDS and other Christian churches, much can be done, and many of these organizations have much to repent for. There should be much more insistence by senior church leadership that mistreatment and homophobia and prejudice and bigotry has no place in a Christian's life. Those senior leaders themselves should be humble enough to consider whether they are preaching their own received prejudices as doctrine, and whether just maybe God has something else in mind for His gay children. And their flocks should join them to stop conflating religious doctrine with civil law, to realize that gay marriage does not threaten "traditional" marriage and that mounting evidence from other countries confirms that.

Maybe if all that happened with more regularity and sincerity and less lip service, we wouldn't have the Todd Ransoms and Matthew Shepards of the world. Maybe we'd have less drug and alcohol abuse and STDs as part of the mythical "gay lifestyle" because young Todds and Matthews growing up wouldn't need such substitutes but could hope for happy stable marriages and homes just like straight people do, instead of lives of legal and social instability forced on them by those who prevent them from marrying and then criticize them for the behavioral consequences of not being allowed to marry. Beat them till they bleed, then beat them for bleeding.

I can't do everything, says the old saying, but I can do something. I'm not everyone, but I am one. I can reach out to "lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees," in the words of Isaiah. If more alleged Christian churches and people dropped the prejudice and fear and insularity and suspicion and tried just a little harder to catch future Todd Ransoms before they fall, we might be spared some further weeping. Jesus said whatever we do for or to each other, we are doing for or to Him. The time after Todd's death is a time for anger, and sadness, and wondering, and mourning. And after that, it's a time to ask what can we do better so that fewer precious children follow Todd. Each church and its leaders, each person, must look within themselves to answer, and will ultimately answer to God if they don't. They must keep asking and searching and trying to improve until we have a world where the only place every Todd Ransom goes is home without fear or worry to the one or ones he loves.

20 July 2010

No More Of This!

I am sad and angry this morning at the news that Todd Ransom has taken his own life. Another promising young man who apparently crumbled in the face of the homophobia and hopelessness that the Mormon Church seems unable to avoid forcing on its gay members.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The rhetoric from Salt Lake about love and acceptance is either not getting through to the rank and file or else it's a sham. I hear it but it doesn't match the reality. And the reality is that the LDS Church's inability to figure out this issue is costing lives. It pressures its gay members to sacrifice all hope of the happiness it urges everyone else to seek and devotes all its resources to. But not for God's gay children. For some reason the Church can't explain (they try, but it's insufficient guesswork), gay people must deny themselves all love, intimacy, and the greatest joys of human existence just because of who they are, not because of what they do, or else (in the Church's opinion) face severe eternal consequences. And if they are honest about who they are, they face social ostracism, exile, bigotry, hate, and worst of all, pity. Well-meaning but clueless straight Mormons chant a chorus of "love the sinner but hate the sin" and have no idea how patronizing they sound, with the result--as demonstrated by Todd--of increasing the hopelessness.

Sorry, that's not good enough. The low priority inconsistent messaging from church HQ continues to allow a culture of soft (and sometimes overt) bigotry to flourish as if it were God's will, with lives like Todd Ransom's as ongoing collateral damage. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. Surely the Savior weeps with Todd's family and friends today as He contemplates what drove Todd to such utter despair. Surely the "Saints" of the Mormon Church should hide their heads in shame that their church and their attitudes have produced yet another such tragedy. What will it take for the suicides to stop?

11 July 2010

Taithchwant

I have always been fascinated by paradox. Not the comparatively trite, maddeningly frustrating kind like Zeno's. But the larger ones of life, e.g. "by losing yourself, you find yourself," that sort of thing. There's so much of that all around, and in my own life too. A lawyer who prefers not to litigate, who thrives on the chaos of doing the deals but also craves quiet time to contemplate. A SoCA beach guy who dresses East Coast. A lover of Bach and Beethoven who also likes technopop and zydeco. I am the perfect embodiment of yin-yang, I guess. And I stopped trying to figure myself out a long time ago.

Consistent with that theme, I love traveling, but also love coming home and knowing there is a home to go to. That's why I haven't minded all the extended business travel of late, I think, yet I am also relieved to have it ending. Because it has been stressful and it's forced me to put some things in life on hold for quite a while. It'll be nice to settle back at home and know I don't have to race off to the airport again in two or three days.

The Welsh call it "taithchwant," the irresistible Celtic yearning for self-imposed wandering and exile, often in a search for spiritual fulfillment. The constant longing for other places, to leave home behind and venture far away, forever searching and exploring, one's heart always unfulfilled somehow, yet satisfied to some extent by the very fact of wandering and searching. Missing home while wandering, and then missing other places once having returned home. Never being fully satisfied in either place.

I have about as virulent a strain of this as can be imagined. I loved where I grew up and yet was delighted to serve a mission on the other side of the world; when I first arrived I thought I was practically on another planet, and I loved it. When I finished school I promptly left the United States again and lived abroad for some time, an ocean and more away from all friends and family. I loved them and yet felt an irresistible drive to leave them, to wander far away by myself in search of . . . well, I'm not sure. Knowledge, experience, growth, discovery. Answering the call of the taithchwant.

And now I find that I've done it again, only this time in a more figurative sense. Coming out set me on a journey that is totally foreign to everyone else in my family, and their reactions to it have led me further afield on my own than I ever imagined. They are all still there, and say they love me. I'm glad. I still love them too. And yet I can't resist the taithchwant, that urge to leave them once more and go exploring again in places far away. Not knowing where the journey will take me or when I'll come back. All I know is that I have to go.

It's another paradox that I thrive on the love and company of family and friends yet also feel this urge to go off exploring by myself, to seek places of solitude. This will be magnified starting tomorrow as I leave for one last trip and say goodbye to my children who will spend the rest of the summer with their mother. I won't see them again for many weeks. And with my travel schedule now winding down, I will for a while have more free time than I've had in a year and a half. And the house will be completely quiet. Filled with peace and melancholy. Inside of one week I will go from having these delightful children with me 24/7 on a schedule of frenetic activity to one of quiet solitude and release from some heavy professional demands. Time to wander if I want.

Perhaps it will be good for me to leave again. It'll be difficult to run across some small article they've left behind somewhere in the house, stare at it in the silence, feeling the poignancy of their absence from this tangible reminder that once not long before, they had been here, and now they're gone. To look at the hand-scrawled notes taped to the fridge door that say I love you Daddy, and know the little hands that wrote it are far away and I won't see them for a while. Perhaps it would be better if I left such reminders behind too, at least until the twins come back.

Taithchwant really sucks sometimes. I'm about to have a foretaste of what it'll be like when they grow up and leave home for good. And so I confront another paradox: the crusty lawyer's armor that hides a heart so soft that I risk losing all composure when I think of them growing up and leaving. Yet I know that's inevitable, that it's best for them, and that they too may feel that irresistible urge to wander. How can I try to hold them back from what I can't resist myself. Perhaps by then I will have found someone with whom I can wander through the rest of life, so that I won't have to do it alone anymore. So the paradox can finally be resolved.

I love T.S. Eliot's lines:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

09 July 2010

The Cathedral

Anybody who knows me or has read this blog for a little while knows how much I love big cathedrals. So one of the highlights of our recently concluded summer vacation was my time practicing on the organ at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. This was my second time playing there and it was even better than the first.

My focus on the kids and on enjoying our vacation time put me on blogging hiatus for the last little while, but I'll catch up soon with a summary and some of the best pics. Meanwhile, I wanted to share my experience at the cathedral with everyone. The video below is me playing Bach on the National Cathedral organ, and most of the pictures are mine as well. I hope this will give you a little taste of why I find such places so inspiring.

video