30 January 2011

Random Sunday Thoughts

Today at church the theme was meekness and humility. Not particularly popular virtues in today’s self-obsessed society. But I’m glad I went. It has been an extremely demanding couple of weeks and I really needed the spiritual refreshment.

This past week the twins told me they missed being in elementary school. So comparatively carefree and innocent, they said. Not much homework, little responsibility, not nearly as many demands as in middle school. It was a bit of a shock to hear my own kids reminisce about the good old days! They’re not even teenagers yet. But we had a good conversation about stages of life, and escalating responsibilities, and the freedoms and privileges that maturity bestows, if one is wise enough to manage them.

I told them the story of King Henry V (the Shakespeare version) as he walked through his camp the night before the battle at Agincourt, ruminating about who had the better life, a farmer or a king. And when I explained his logic to the twins, they agreed with him that in many ways, the farmer had it better. I told them of one of my favorite scriptures, Ecclesiastes 1:18, “In much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” That didn’t go over very well! Until I explained what it meant, then they understood.

This is a fascinating stage of life. My kids are just starting to be old enough to have these more serious conversations, and actually comprehend a more mature perspective on such questions. It’s delightful, really. And a nice contrast from last weekend, when we had their friends here for another sleepover, so the house was buzzing with noise and energy and shouts and kitchen cupboard doors banging and food foraging and video games and trips to the pool and all that stuff. It was all great fun, of course. Especially the early morning trip to our favorite beachfront donut shop, then we drove back down the coast, savoring the sea breezes, the view of the waves, the sunshine. With four sugared-up tweens in the car, it was quite a ride.

This morning as I listened and pondered meekness and humility, I was struck by something I heard earlier in the week. Or was reminded of, rather. With the rise of Correlation that’s taken over the LDS Church in the last 40 years or so, more and more the focus has been on obedience obedience obedience as “the first law of heaven.” Lots of encouragement to do things for no other reason than the leaders say so. Fake it till you make it. Don’t stray from the approved lesson materials. Don’t talk about “the mysteries.” Stick to the pre-packaged, pre-approved, nice vanilla flavors that Salt Lake sends out. This will be familiar to every active Mormon.

But wait a minute. The LDS Church sees itself as the modern restoration of part of the House of Israel, doesn’t it? Each person with a patriarchal blessing is told their “lineage” and it’s usually Ephraim, one of the ancient Twelve Tribes. Mormons think of themselves literally as another part of modern-day Israel.

Does anybody remember what the word “Israel” means? It means “struggle with God.” Yeah, that’s right. “Struggle.” Not “obey.” Not “stick to the manual.” Not “don’t discuss the mysteries.” Abraham’s grandson Jacob was renamed Israel because he “struggled”—wrestled, even fought—with an angel of the Lord, and he won.

So it strikes me as supremely ironic that the corporation which asserts that it’s today’s earthly vehicle for gathering the House of Israel should have morphed into a culture so antithetical to the origin of the name. I’ve always taken comfort from the fact that earthly covenants are not made with the organization but directly with God Himself. So I’m sure He will forgive me if I indulge in some of the same struggling, questioning, wrestling even, that Jacob did. After all, Jacob was rewarded for it. And as a parent, I know I am proud of my kids when they ask questions, try to reason things out, demand answers, struggle to understand new things, don’t take pat answers as sufficient, but ask why, what next, what if. How else will they grow? How else will any of us grow?

Seeing that I am straying close to ponderous philosophizing again, I will now veer back toward lighter stuff.

Dinner with a good friend Friday night, his first time with Korean food, which he loved. It won’t be the last time we go there, I’m sure.

We are out of bread again. This means I get the pleasure of waking up real early tomorrow morning and walking to the local bakery for something fresh and warm right out of the oven. It’s less than a buck more than a similar loaf of wheat bread at the grocery store, and it’s made on site just hours before, not in some factory hundreds of miles away two weeks ago and then frozen for shipment. Plus I like supporting local businesses. And the bread from this place is awesome. We had cooler weather, clouds and even a brief downpour this afternoon; hope it’s back to sunshine tomorrow morning. I like morning walks like that, they’re one of the little pleasures that make life great.

The last of the Christmas stuff is finally put away. I love Christmas but I don’t like Christmas decorations in February. And the house looks a lot cleaner. Well, at least till the kids come back. It’s remarkable the places I find kids’ dirty athletic socks sometimes.

I am grateful for washing machines. Imagine if we had to wash all our clothes by hand with a washboard.

The kids love my homemade chicken noodle soup with chicken stock I make from the remains of a roast chicken from the store. I made a particularly good batch today and then proceeded to spill most of it all over the floor. I’m glad I’ve learned to laugh at myself.

And I’m grateful for talented friends, one of whom appears in the video below playing the postlude from church today. I’ve played this piece myself and it’s riotous fun, like a roller coaster. A joyful and fitting end to a wonderful service.

16 January 2011

No, I Don't Know

Well, everybody gets writer's block once in a while. And there hasn't been much to write about lately. Work, time with kids, work. Real exciting.

Church was really nice today. Dr. King's birthday tomorrow was mentioned and I pondered his example of speaking out, his heroism in trying to correct great injustices, change hearts and minds. He is and should be an inspiration to all of us who are trying to do the same. It was good to take the sacrament and really focus on what it means, too. I have friends whose faith or lack of it is all over the map, but for me, nothing in life or the universe makes sense without God or the Savior or the atonement. Which is one of the reasons that as I write this I'm listening to "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." Sung by the Mack Wilberg era BYU Men's Chorus, of course. ;-) Seriously, it's the best rendition I've ever heard. If I ever do end up in an angel choir, I want it to sound like that.

Kids are not here this weekend, so this evening I took a long walk through the neighborhood, enjoying the evening air, the moon in the east part of the sky and the sunset in the west. As I walked, I read Apronkid's latest post and it really got me thinking. Not specifically about the post, but about how I look at life and the future, what I want, where I want to go and be.

Everybody who's even semi-active in the LDS Church ends up having at least some vague notion of how they imagine the eternities to be, and often it's much like the simplistic organization chart presented in Sunday School. No surprise there. But when I look at the scriptural basis for that picture, I realize how little is actually said about it. A handful of verses in one section of one book. Yet speculation and extrapolation has created a vast body of popular folk beliefs about what all the kingdoms are going to be like, who will be where, what everybody will be doing, etc., etc.

Coming out as a gay Mormon forces you to fracture a lot of stereotypes in your own mind, to say nothing of how it threatens the complacency of others. And one of mine that's fractured is that neatly organized clearly defined picture of the eternities. I've realized that I have virtually no clue how it all works, how it's organized, or anything. With a few historically prominent exceptions easily guessed at, I have no idea how to predict where anybody I know will end up. When I look at pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, ponder the mind-boggling distances in the universe, look at the amount of time that goes into the birth of a star or a planet like ours, it makes me laugh to hear anyone say they know anything about the ultimate destiny of any other person, let alone all of humanity. The hubris!

Now, in the performance-focused Mormon culture where "knowing with every fiber of your being" is the minimally acceptable standard for public statements of faith, admitting such a lack of knowledge is just not done. And a few years ago I wouldn't have done it. I would have clung to The Org Chart of Eternity like a barnacle.

But not anymore. And the bigger difference is this. It no longer bothers me one tiny bit that I don't know. My mom passed away 3 1/2 years ago. Where is she now? I have no idea. I have no doubt that she's somewhere, and I'd like to think that sometimes she's close and checks on me. But I don't know for sure. And that's okay. How do the eternities work? The "many mansions" scripture talks about? I have no idea, and I don't think anybody else really does either. And that's okay.

This is why I say that since coming out, I think my Christian faith and commitment have grown stronger. I no longer have the luxury of drifting along on the Mormon cultural current, content and complacent because I know my appearance makes everyone else think I'm Orthodox Boy. Any honest Mormon will know what I'm talking about and should confess that they've done that too. But now I've broken ranks on a serious issue that LDS theology is not equipped for, and it's no use keeping up appearances anymore. I've had to actually take complete and full responsibility for what I believe, what I have faith in, what I do and don't know. And what I don't know is a lot.

I love Einstein's statement: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." So true, so true. And so it doesn't bother me that I can't explain or even confidently predict anything about the future where we're all gonna end up eventually. The world and the universe are so vast and beautiful that I can only conceive of them as gifts and creations of a loving God and a Savior who taught the best way to have happy lives here and hereafter.

So many Mormons are so guilt-ridden with feelings of inadequate performance of duty threatening their exaltation later on that I think they lose the ability to savor and enjoy the delights of this life while they're here. Well, that's not me. In Thornton Wilder's play "Our Town" there's a very poignant scene where the spirit of a young mother, who's just died in childbirth, says goodbye to the town she grew up in and loved. I don't recall exact words, but it was a touching expression of how beautiful the world is, how miraculous life is, how every breath of every day is a glorious gift, and how much she was going to miss all that. I've been blessed with a wonderful life so far and, God willing, I have a lot more left to enjoy. And I plan to do just that.

Years ago, my dad told me his thoughts on this. "When I go for my final judgment," he said, "I'm going to tell the Savior I did my best with what I had. And if that's not good enough, well, so be it. But I will have done my best." I think that's a very healthy approach and I plan to do the same. And until then, live well, love life and my family and friends, never stop learning, savor the mysterious, enjoy each moment as much as possible.

And I'm very much enjoying that Colin Firth just won the Golden Globe for his performance in The King's Speech. If you could have seen that movie but haven't yet, you deserve to be hit with a nasty spell by Draco Malfoy.

05 January 2011

An Apology

Dear Family:

I owe you an apology.

Over the last year or so I have thrown a serious wrench into your expectations and your image of who and what I am. This has been new territory for all of us.

I have had more lead time than you for study, thought, wrestling, debating, and all of that as I've come to terms with being gay and how my life should proceed from here on. It hasn't been my whole life, since for most of my life I was absolutely convinced this was something I must try to kill off and ignore. It's only been in the last couple of years that I've accepted it and planned the rest of life with it in mind. You haven't had quite that long, I know.

And I know it's not fair of me to expect that such a conservative LDS family as ours will be able to change thoughts or opinions on this issue overnight. You all will need time, just as I needed time. So for now, please don't worry about what I said before as far as how I would want a significant other in my life to be treated by the rest of you; there's no such person right now and I don't know when there will be. I never planned to force the issue when it was purely theoretical anyway. Events may play out such that by the time I find him, you all may find your perspectives have actually changed. I think my friend JGW's comment on the prior post is a good one: theory is one thing, but real life experience may prove to be quite different. I hope so.

Meantime, I promise to be more patient. I apologize if I acted badly the other day. I was not prepared for what you said and did not respond in the best way. I recognize that you are all trying to live according to what you believe is right, and I know I must respect that.

I do have one favor to ask. Please, please, please don't refuse to read or listen or learn any more about this topic. The apostle Paul said "prove all things"; that is, investigate, learn, test everything. No exceptions! Please, please, please take his advice, especially about this issue which is now proving to be so crucial to our family unity. Would you at least be willing to talk to a couple of my friends who have been in your exact position? I truly think it would help you feel better.

If there's one thing I learned as I watched Mom battle her illness and slowly slip away from us, it's that the testing and the challenges of life never stop until the very last breath. We really are temporary actors in a play that started long before we stepped onto the stage and which will go on long after we leave. We must each do our best in the role we're given. I know that my coming out has been a challenge for the rest of you and probably will continue to be. But please, please, please don't refuse to learn and investigate and listen to those who've been through this experience.

Growth and change is really hard sometimes. Believe me, I know. I know you are worried, concerned, even fearful of challenges to your beliefs. But remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said: "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. Do the thing you think you cannot do."


02 January 2011

Where Do I Go From Here?

A wonderful time over the last week with family and friends, despite a three day snowstorm--the three days we were there, of course. Naturally it cleared up the morning we left, and once I got out of the blizzard I felt a lot better. Now back to civilized weather, safe and sound.

On the way home I found a book on the shelf at parents' home, called "So You Want To Raise A Boy?" by the inimitable Cleon Skousen (first published in 1962, and again in 1995). It contains the following:

"18. Aren't some people born homosexuals?

This is so rare that whenever a case occurs it is considered a medical phenomenon. In practically all cases, homosexuality is cultivated [emphasis in original]. Individuals who get into abnormal sex habits during early youth can develop them into such a fixed pattern that they soon think these deviations are perfectly normal. When homosexuals are arrested, they try to excuse their conduct by saying "I guess I'm just made this way." [end of quote]

While visiting there I also learned the following, which I will relate strictly on the facts without editorializing.

Everyone in my family of origin has read this blog and knows of my statements early last year about giving them roughly a year or so to adjust to my coming out, that after that time, I would expect any significant other or partner of mine to be treated the same as any boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse of any of my siblings, and that we would be a package deal.

I was informed that I could do what I wanted with my own life and no one in the family would try to interfere. I was also asked to respect the feelings of everyone else in the family by never mentioning any such personal relationships with any of them, and by not bringing any significant other or partner to any family gatherings. Doing so would make everyone "extremely uncomfortable". If I chose to do so anyway, any display of affection such as holding hands or a kiss would be unacceptable.

Such relationships are abnormal, I was told, and make everyone in the family "feel icky." Normal is a male/female monogamous marriage and sexual relations, nothing else.

I asked the reasons for this feeling. None was given, and I was told none was needed because feelings are feelings and should be respected as such. Had anyone read the materials I offered from www.ldsfamilyfellowship.org written by members of extended families of other gay LDS men and women, material I thought would be particularly relevant to my own family given the same frame of reference, in order to promote understanding and communication? No, the material had not been read; it appeared to take an apologetic stance and the family was not interested in that perspective.

I was told that this request to "respect others' feelings" was not in fact an effort to push me back into the closet and did not represent any homophobia. I pointed out that everyone else in the family was allowed to freely discuss the central personal relationship of their life and have their significant other or spouse welcomed by the family, but I was not, and apparently I must be silent as regards that part of my life if I wished to maintain harmonious relationships with other family members. I said that I simply wanted to be treated like everyone else, and asked why it was fair to single me out for treatment given to no one else in the family. It was acknowledged that this was not fair, but "life is not fair." The family did not wish to see, discuss or be reminded of an abnormal relationship.

I love my family and this conversation made me very sad. And now I have some thinking to do.