Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Nature of God

Many people, at many times, have believed in many gods. This is the God that I believe in. 

I believe that God is the Creator of all things in the earth, and on the earth, and all things throughout the universe, the universe itself, and all things beyond it. I don't believe that God created everything out of nothing (ex nihilo); instead, I believe that God created all things from existing materials. In this sense, "create" and "organize" can be said to be synonymous. 

The universe is a big place, bigger than anyone could have imagined, more intricate and beautiful. Instead of trying to limit the power of God to a stubbornly literal understanding of the story of the Creation in the book of Genesis, I see the advance of scientific knowledge as evidence of God's greatness. 

I believe God has all power, limited by his Nature alone. According to my understanding, God can do anything and everything it is possible to do; however, there are many things that God will not do. For example, God will never lie, because to lie would be contrary to his Nature as a God of Truth. Similarly, it is impossible for God to commit sin, not because God is incapable but because to do so would be contrary to his nature. In a sense, sin is an indication of our own powerlessness. All virtue and power are God's. 

The old question, "Can God create something too heavy for God to lift?" implying that if he cannot, he must not be omnipotent, is a non sequitur brought on by linguistic gymnastics. Being unable to lift something is a lack of power, not an indication of such. 

I believe that time has no hold on God; and the passage of time is a symptom of our own fallen and mortal state. Imagining what it must be like to live outside of time is quite possibly impossible, which is why when we speak of God, he seems so limited by our own understanding of that concept. 

I believe God knows all things, including all of our secret thoughts. He has all knowledge and all truth. All things past, present, and future are continually before him. Without omnipotence, no being could be perfect. More, because God is a Creator, I believe God capable of adding truth, of thinking new things, which become a part of his vast understanding. I also believe that god is the epitome of Wisdom. 

Through his Spirit, I believe God is in all places. Once when asked about how God could command the seas, the wind, the earth, the sun, and all things in creation, I suggested that it is the same way in which we, as spirits inhabiting mortal forms, command our own bodies.

I believe God is sacred and holy. Looking these words up, I find such definitions as "worthy of veneration", "set apart", "devoted", "consecrated", and "blessed". I believe God is a god of Truth. I believe God is perfect; both meaning without blemish, and complete in himself. I believe that God is a god of Freedom. I believe that God is Faithful and unwavering. Hope, Harmony, Law... any trait that is good and praiseworthy in human beings, I ascribe to God. 

I believe God is Just. Because God is just, I believe every action has a consequence equal in nature and severity to itself. I also believe that everyone will eventually get what they deserve. 

I also believe that God is Love. How God implemented His Plan of Salvation, whereby he is both Just and Merciful, is an amazing and wonderfully powerful discussion which will take many blog posts. I know that God loves each and every one of us, not just as his creations but as His Children; that is why we call him our Heavenly Father.

I know that God loves me more than I can comprehend. 

I believe in God my Heavenly Father, and in his son my Savior Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. People have accused Mormons of being polytheist; this, while technically accurate, is not true in spirit. We believe that God is a separate being than Jesus, and both are different from the Holy Ghost. However, we worship only one God. It's a little complicated and difficult to describe. The way we usually say it is that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are separate people, but one in purpose and action. 

I don't claim to have a full or complete understanding of God. 1st Corinthians 13:2 "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I also am known." 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Culture of Silence

When I was in the closet, one of the most frustrating parts of my experience was the silence. In many ways, the silence is still one of the hardest things I deal with. I'm the kind of guy that likes to talk things out. I want to tell everyone things, and I want to be open, and want to share my life with people. Not being able to tell my loved ones about my romantic experiences and heartbreaks, my worries and triumphs, is a constant nagging sore. Periodically I scratch the sore and try talking, but that usually ends with a shouting match, so to keep the peace we guard our precious culture of silence. 

What is the culture of silence? Well, this is how I see it. We grow up in a society that expects allot, and that's a good thing; it gives us something to strive for. So we aspire for the perfect family, where everyone goes on a mission and everyone is baptized on the day they turn eight and everyone follows all the gospel principles, such as family night every Monday and family prayer and scripture study, such as attending church every Sunday, such as always obeying the law of chastity and never drinking alcohol or smoking, such as never lying and writing in our journals every night and having food storage for a year, and marrying the right person right after the mission and finishing college and having a dozen beautiful babies who all grow up to be perfect, and never getting divorced, and, and, and...

Real life is much messier than the perfect dream, the perfect path we set for ourselves, and so, ironically, we set ourselves up to fail. This is where the culture of silence comes in. We feel ashamed of our failures, and so we try, very hard, to not let anyone know about them. We want everyone to believe that we have accomplished the dream, that we are living the perfect life. I mean, everyone else has the perfect life as well, right? That's what Zion means, right? 

We know, cognitively, that nobody is perfect, that we are to forgive the faults of others. Yet at the same time, we hold our whole community and ourselves to this impossible standard. But Ryan, you may say, what do you mean, shouldn't we be striving for perfection? Are you saying we should just quit? Of course not. But in striving for perfection, we should also remember the words of the Savior: "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God" (KGB, Mark 10:8) If even the Savior, who did no sin and was perfect in every way possible for a *mortal to be, still would not accept the appellation good, why are we so eager to claim it?

Certainly we are worthwhile, even precious souls, and definitely we often do many good things. But everyone sins. And trying to cover our sins is also a sin. 

This is a fairly natural social occurrence. I'm going to go off on a tangent here and talk about groups, and then relate them to the culture of silence. 

People congregate into groups, which provide a sense of belonging, companionship, efficiency, power, and safety. However, groups are formed of individuals, and individuals are different from each other in a multitude of ways. All of these differences can keep the group from functioning as a unit, so individuals make sacrifices to conform. Groups are unthinking, selfish memes. But they are important to people. Groups offer incentives for people to keep up the meme, and detriments for those who do not conform. Groups are protected by the people that form them. People will lie, cheat, steal, kill, and lay down their lives for the groups they care most about. And they will feel justified in doing so. 

Relationships are not bad things. In fact, almost all spiritual and moral law seems to be largely based on relationships. But groups and relationships are not the same. Relationships are between real people, but groups are about something both larger and less real. 

A friend of mine knows of a guy who is held up as a paragon in a certain ex-gay group. He is married and apparently faithful. However, he has sex with men on the side. My friend was incensed at such blatant manipulation... here was a supposedly successful representative for this group. Doing everything he pretended not to do, and then standing up and telling everyone how the group had changed his life. 

However, this didn't surprise me one bit. He was protecting the group, because the group protected him, and allowed him to do what he wanted. And the group protected him because a meme of the group was successful rehabilitation, so admitting failure would hurt the group. The group wasn't so concerned with actual success as the story of success, because groups are lies that we tell ourselves. So the group was silent about the transgressions of this member.

Now another tangent about truth and chastity. Their is a scripture about putting on the whole armor of God. A couple specific details have always tickled my interest; Acts 17:11 places truth around the waste. Now when I think of truth, I might think of a sword that cuts through lies, or a shield. But the truth is specifically connected to the belt (i.e. loin area) several times in the scriptures. Why is that?

I think one of the reasons may be that truth, when is comes to virtues, is a sort of chastity belt. When you are truthful in your relationships, all kinds of relationship problems become virtually impossible. Cheating, adultery, etc. are incredibly hard to commit without lying. Incredibly. Pornography is almost always a solitary, furtive activity. The first step in sexual addiction recovering is admitting you have a problem; in essence, you stop lying to yourself. 

When we are silent about our problems, we do not receive the help we need. A young, struggling couple is not served in any way by trying to hide their "shameful" poverty from the ward; a young man struggling with pornography only perpetuates the problem with his silence; lack of political diversity expressed in our conversations leads to polarization; a young woman who hates her body and secretly cuts herself cannot receive help until her self-hurt is revealed. 

I am not in any way suggesting that we should complain about things all the time, or that everyone needs to know. Both of those options are also harmful for various reasons. But I am suggesting that, when people have problems that are shameful and difficult for them, they should have some way, some non-secretive but still-private way, of talking about these things. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

On the Cliffs of Insanity

Okay, today I want to talk a little bit about some recent experiences I've had with rock climbing. So about a week ago I went with my brother and sister and a couple of their friends up Provo canyon. Let me just preface this by saying that I'm a terrible rock climber, but my brother and sister both do this all the time. They have their own equipment and everything.

So we get up their and I get started up the rock and right away the adrenaline is flooding my system, and not in a good way. I'm terrified. Worse, this is the first time for the girl who's belaying me, and I do NOT trust her. So I grip the rock as hard as I can with sweaty fingers and tennis shows with no grip. I'm slipping quite a bit, I can't go up or down, and extremely frustrated, stuck and tired on a vertical cliff face, and I start yelling at my brother for not letting me borrow his climbing shoes. Needless to say, it was a rather humiliating experience for all involved.

So I get down, and I don't want to try again, but they persuade me to do so. I go barefoot this time, even though everyone is telling me how painful barefoot is. And you know what? It's so much easier than with shoes. Despite what people said, my feet are already hardened because I rarely wear shoes around the house. Their are challenging (for me) ledges, and once I had to rely on the rope to keep me up. But this time it was my youngest sister belaying me, and although she has to way half of what I do, I trust her. I make it to the top, and feel awesome.

To end that trip, I belay for my sister. I'm also horrible at this, so I get people trying to tell me how to do it right, and this makes me convinced that I'm going to drop my sister, so I try doing everything with my own strength alone. Completely exhausting, but I'm terrified I'm going to kill her.

Fastforward to yesterday, when we took another trip up the canyon. I wasn't sure I wanted to come, but I did it anyways. We had to repel down... the first few seconds of repelling, where you have to put your faith into that skinny little rope, is nerve wracking. But I do it.

I rock climb barefoot again, and when it's my turn to belay, I take a couple extra minutes to get some coaching and learn how to do it right. this makes a world of difference, and I'm soon belaying two different friends with confidence.

A buddy of mine wanted to bring his dog in. The dog was not happy about this and fought and was nervous the whole time. We had to lower her (the dog) on a rope, and bring her back out on a rope. He had to hold her and we basically had to hoist them out. We all told him it was a bad idea, but he wouldn't listen.

So we repelled out of the spot--this time it was a little easier, though still the first leap made me nervous-- and then we hiked out. Much better experience than the first time.

What do we get out of this? I love the scripture that says you can liken everything to the gospel. For me, exercises like this always bring different principles of life to mind.

First, what you do affects the lives of everyone around you. Sometimes you freak out and things get messy. that's just being human, that's okay. But getting a little extra help in the beginning can keep that from happening.

Trust is essential.

Trying to do everything by yourself can get you into allot of trouble.

Sometimes doing what everyone tells you is painful is still better than the easier way.

Sometimes people do stupid things even when everyone tells them not to. Allow others to make mistakes and try to help them so that those mistakes are not harmful.

Allow others to rely on you, and rely on other people. We are all in this together. True story.

Sometimes, that first leap of faith is terrifying. But if you don't do it, you'll regret it.

Actually, whatever I write, I feel like you guys will be able to find what you need. I don't like spelling things out. Just look at your experiences and think what they teach you about life. Also, hope everything goes well for you.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Faith and Miracles

In Response to "God is Hiding", by Jon Adams

Something that's always troubled me a bit, growing up, is the lack of modern-day miracles. I consider myself an adamant, if somewhat unorthodox Mormon. In fact, I base a large part of my unorthodoxy on personal inspiration and a faith in modern revelation.

One conclusion I might come to is that people in general are less faith-filled than previous generations. We have records from previous eras of mass-conversions as well as miracles, well-documented and concrete. Why don't we have those anymore, either? It may be that modern, rational thought patterns, 'ask first and question more' philosophies are not very compatible with 'belief first and miracles later' system that faith seems to work on.

I remember growing up, our ward prayed and fasted for my little brother, who was in the hospital for 3rd degree burns covering most of his body. We prayed that he would live; we prayed that he would be able to walk. Today he runs around forming Ultimate Frisbee teams; most of his scarring barely noticeable unless he's wearing shorts or goes barefoot. Is this a miracle? Or just the miracle of modern science? What about the coincidence of parent’s prayers occurring right when something bad happens, but their kids come out okay? Parents pray over their children all the time, right? Or people being healed of Cancer, or being guided where to live through feelings... maybe we get miracles that can be explained by other phenomena because they are the kind we can believe in. After all, ask an 18th Century Rationalist if men could ever fly, and he would laugh at your absurdity.

We should never discount anything simply because we do not have a rational explanation for it. There are so many unanswered questions in science and religion, more mysteries than anyone could possibly comprehend... why should we discount something simply because we do not understand it? I feel that is a type of hiding in itself, hiding in our little box of rationality. We shouldn't trim outliers to make our data sets nice and tidy; we should try to figure out what those outliers are trying to tell us about the big picture.

I got off-topic. Sorry. Anyways, why are there not more miracles, similar to the Bible? Well, if we are to use the Bible as an example, we need to evaluate the time spans implicit within the stories. Remember, the Bible purports to cover at least 5,000 years worth of history (scholars differ on exact chronology). If we look at the percentage of time with miracles verses the time without miracles, we see very long gaps without obvious divine intervention followed by short, intense sessions of Godly might. I don't know why, but it does seem to be a pattern that continues on today. In LDS doctrine we teach about the Apostasy cycle, about periods of belief and stagnation. Now, most members would say we are in the Last Dispensation and are therefore immune to apostasy on a church-wide scale. I'm not so sure about that, but to continue on...

Saying "yes, we still have miracles" when they are usually small in scale, or "it's our own fault, because miracles are based on belief and we don't believe as strongly as people used to"... I don't think either of those answers the real question.

Your last sentence caught my eye: "Shouldn't that be the test--not whether we believe in god, but whether we follow him?"

I think that's the rub of it. You know, most people don't experience miracles. Allot of people have faith-building experiences for their various religions, but the full-blown miracle stuff seems reserved for special occasions. Why?

What is the test? Is it even a test at all? Is it that we believe in God? Manifestly not, as you pointed out. If so, humankind would be more damned than all the sons of perdition. What about following God? That's a little more complicated.

In Mormon theology, as you know, we believe in a pre-earth life, where we all lived in God's presence. There was a huge battle, and Satan and those who followed him were cast out of heaven. The rest of us, those who followed God, got the opportunity to come to earth.

Wait a minute, why are we being sent to earth to show that we follow God, if we already fought a huge war about that Very issue? For that matter, why is it that we don't remember any of this? Why do we have a Veil placed over our memories and other senses? Why, if we were these cosmically powerful beings before coming to earth, are reduced to such a pitiful state, subject to disease and starvation and all manner of terrible things? For that matter, why would we have fought for the right to experience all of it?

The point is, I don't think the test is whether we believe in God, or even whether or not we will follow Him. I think we've demonstrated both of those facets already. Faith is powerful, it's an important part of the Gospel, but it's only one of several virtues. It's not even the most important. Thomas, who walked with Jesus, heard from his own mouth the gospel, watched countless miracles... even Thomas didn't believe until he saw for himself. And he was one of the Apostles chosen by Christ. One who reportedly stayed faithful up to his own martyrdom.

The point is not so much belief, or even faith, but creating an environment where both belief and faith are necessary. An environment where doubt thrives, where doubt is the norm. I think the real test is 'doing the right thing, regardless of consequences.' That means not being sure of what the consequences will be, in the end.  That means an atheist has just as much chance at getting into Heaven, based on his actions, as a believer.

That means that sometimes people will do everything right and still have bad things happen to them. That means bad people will prosper. That means that yes, God could show us his existence through fairly constant, major miracles (we don't need a ton... maybe a couple a decade would be nice, right?) and that might even help people to have allot more faith in him, both that he exists and that he is a benevolent being... but that would, in effect, take away our agency, because Of Course we're going to do what an Almighty God says when we've got tons of faith in him and we are sure of being rewarded for our efforts.

One thing that helps me to have faith is to contrast those fairly different viewpoints. Regular Christians, when asked, "Why does God let bad things happen?" they have to say, "I don't know, but I have faith that through Christ everything will be made better." Mormons, if they understand the doctrine, can give a slightly better answer. "I don't know, but I think it will make me a better person, I feel like I've learned allot and will continue to learn allot, and I have faith that through Christ everything will be made better." It makes a difference if you feel you chose to put your hands in the flames, verses being forced to put your hands in the flames. Maybe that's just slightly more sophisticated theology, or maybe having greater understanding, a greater basis for faith, helps you to feel better about things. Either way, though, the core of the answer is the same. "I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it will turn out alright."

On a more personal level, let me tell you how coming out and accepting my gay self has helped me to gain faith. When I first decided to come out, the only examples for positive, long-term gay relationships were found in sitcoms, and even then they often had terrible endings. I had to have faith that, if I were to come out, it would even be possible to form a long-term commitment with someone of the same gender. I had to believe that same-gender relationships were more than lust, as I had been taught. As I have met gay people, I have met more and more same-gender couples that help me to affirm this belief, and I continue to have faith that one day I will find a special someone of my own.

On another, far more difficult level, I had to have faith that my family would still love me after coming out. In this I've failed pretty badly, and yet they still do love me. I still have to have faith, because I still Do believe in the LDS Church, in Jesus, in Apostles and in Revelation. I believe that eventually something will change, and gay people will be able to receive all of the blessings of the gospel, similar to their straight friends and families. Being gay has helped me to jump off the cliff of certainty. And I don't know, but I'm pretty sure things will turn out alright. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Cure for Rejection

Something that has been bothering me lately, is the NEED of men like me to feel loved, wanted... to feel beautiful. I've been trying to figure out why we are so obsessed with "hotness". It's seams shallow, and yet it's almost sad, this eager desire to be desired.

I think it's because, more than most people, we understand and fear rejection. First, our society has been rejecting us for several centuries at least. The religions of our families and friends often place us in the lowest regions of hell. Coming out, we often fear (and rightly so) that our friends will abandon us. We lose in a very real sense the possibility of a "normal" nuclear family with a mommy and a daddy. Complicate that with strain on family ties, sometimes to the breaking point. And those are just the obvious things.

What about the years of denying a core part of yourself? Of feeling at a very young age that their is something wrong with you, and nothing you can do can fix it? Of reviling and denigrating and even loathing yourself? Is it any wonder we are prone to depression, under such self-imposed hatred? Self-rejection can be just as harmful as societal rejection, I think.

Or how about the inescapable fact that most of the people you want to flirt with will never be able to find you attractive? But you can't. Think how wearing that is, to regularly get over people who weren't even capable of falling in love with you. If you're a straight person who fell in love with a gay person, you know what I'm talking about.

So, we know rejection, and that's why we're so adamant about acceptance. We feel awful and shallow for wanting beauty in ourselves and others, because we've never felt admired or handsome.

I've had so many friends express this to me. I've felt it myself. I wish I knew what to say to make that awful feeling of shallowness, of unworthiness and ugliness go away for you.

I feel bad when I say I'm not attracted to you, because I see you accepting it. You "know" you're ugly. Well, guess what, I know I'm ugly, too. On a 10 point scale, I give myself a solid 6, maybe a 7 on my good days. that might sound pretty good, until you realize most young adults are around a 7 anyways. That's not the point. I can still have confidence in my appearance, attractiveness, etc. I don't need to rely on other people to make me beautiful, because I know I am beautiful. Not because I measure up to some ideal of beauty, or because I'm constantly being hit on. You straight guys being hit on by gay guys, take it as a compliment. I wish I got hit on, even if it was by girls. It's flattering.

All growing up, their was one particular teaching of the Gospel that I hated. I didn't like it, and still have trouble with it sometimes. It's this idea that in order to love others, you have to love yourself. See, growing up, I didn't love myself, I hated myself. I still loved others, immensely. In fact, part of the reason I stayed in the closet for so long, long after coming to believe their was no way for me to change or be happy... a big part of the reason was because I didn't want to hurt my family. In fact, that's probably one of the things I most regret about this experience. They're not being fair to me, because, really, I have done nothing to them, but still it hurts that I might in some way cause them pain.

Anyways, loving yourself to love others. This is true, but not in the ways you think it is. It's not that people who hate themselves are incapable of love. But when you hate yourself, when you are so focused inward on what you do wrong, you have very little time to look outward, to help others with what they need. Without feeling whole yourself, how can you reach out to help others?

I'm not saying that people who are hurting should try to fix themselves first, so that they can love others. In fact, I'm trying to say the opposite. In fact, let me put it in big, bold letters.


Not shallow, I will love you because of what you give me, love. No, I'm suggesting that you go ahead and love everyone around you as fully and completely as you can. If that means you fall in love with straight people, go ahead. That doesn't mean you should shower them with gifts of romantic affection. It means you do everything you can to make them happy. Obviously they won't be happy with you, so find what else makes them happy. Don't get creepy on them, lol, but allow yourself to express those feelings, more than just longing furtive glances. Love your opposite-gender friends as no other straight people can, because they let romance color their feelings.

When you allow yourself to love others, when you realize that the kind of love that takes you outside yourself is good, and right, no matter who it's directed at...

When you allow yourself to love others, you will love yourself, and that will allow you to love others even More, and then you can love and forgive yourself even More, and then realize that God loves you, no matter what anyone else says, and then love others More.

It becomes a positive feedback cycle. A much better cycle than the other kind where you hate yourself because you love the wrong people so you don't let yourself love them which makes you hurt so you hate yourself more... see what I mean?

So, let yourself love others, please. God loves you, even if you don't love yourself, even if you don't think you are worthy of love.

I love you, too. Be safe.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Leaning on the Lord

So, we were in Institute today, discussing Isaiah, Jesus, and the Atonement. I love institute, by the way, it's such a fun experience. Even the not-so-fun experiences are good.

Anyway, we started talking about personal purity and personal righteousness, specifically enduring to the end. We discussed the nature of enduring to the end... that it doesn't mean merely gritting your teeth and pushing through. It means accepting all that the Lord places before you.

Too often we get into the rut of feeling we must do everything. We have to be the best student, worker, father, mother, son, daughter, sibling, spouse, friend, we have to be the best in our callings, clean the house, write your journal, food storage, family prayer and scripture study... an endless list of dos and don'ts. And all of those things are important, it's important for us to strive our best, it's important for us to try to keep every commandment; to be perfectly obedient. It's also never going to happen.

We are human. We stumble, we fail, we fall. That doesn't make perfection any less of a worthy goal, but it does put it out of our reach. We will always fall short. Because of our fallen state, we are incapable of doing our best.

How can I know I've done everything I can? I asked myself this often on my mission. For some reason it seemed to me I could never do enough, say enough, preach enough, keep enough rules, meet enough goals to attain that one, great, truly worthy goal of bringing souls unto Christ. The problem was that I was trying to do the work.

To me, Enduring to the End isn't about suffering through pain, or doing all you can. Pain hurts, and doing all I can... I will never feel as if I have achieved that. The great part is, I don't have to.

To me, Enduring to the End is about orientation- an orientation towards Christ. It is about realizing that God knew we would make mistakes and provided a way out for us. It is about realizing that our salvation is not dependent on what we can do, but what Jesus did for us.

Enduring to the End isn't about getting up when you've fallen, or walking instead of running forward. It's about moving in the right direction... it's about being pointed in the right direction.

What the Atonement means to me is that, even when I can't forgive myself, God has forgiven me. The saving grace of Jesus means to me that when I am week, he is strong. It means that I CAN forgive myself, and others. I can forgive others for the hurtful, terrible things they say to me. I can forgive them for hurting my loved ones, even, although that is more difficult. I can forgive myself for causing harm, and I can forgive others for the same. Because of the Atonement of Jesus the Christ, I can reach out to others.

Because it's not really me doing it. Anything I've ever said helpful to another human being has come from a higher source. "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me," not because I am strong, but because He is. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. Next to that, what are we? What can we ever do to compare to that?

Jesus broke the bands of death. What bands have I ever broken by myself? That is how I Endure to the End, not by relying on myself, but by focusing on Him. I make mistakes, but He never did, and He can fix the mistakes I have made.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jesus Loved You Enough to Die for You

Their is a lot of bile floating around, hurt feelings, accusations... if you listen, you can easily drown in it. Their are things about the church that are troubling, and that is as it should be. Doubts, human error, cruelty, these things also exist among us. They have even affected our history and they continue to affect our attitudes today. We are also human, and we have made a human culture around the gospel of Christ. These things are to be expected... avoided, but expected.

These problems help us to grow. However, they are not your problems, I think.

I told you why I liked you, because to me you seemed to need a reason to like yourself. I can tell you I like you because you are kind, desirable physically and mentally, but I don't think that this will help you. You will say it's not true, that I'm seeing what I want to see, or worse, that my liking you comes out of a base sensuality unbefitting a follower of Christ, and you will wonder again if their is anything worthy inside of you to be loved.

I can tell you, I have felt the same for such a long time. I have grown weary of it. It plagued me on my mission, in my dating endeavors, haunting me like a crocodile just under still water; a gargantuan creature I always tip-toed around, careful not to wake. I was certain that if I woke that awful beast, it would consume all my friends and family, but I also knew that even if I grew black-plumed wings, I would never be able to out-fly it's grasp on me. It held my soul, because the crocodile was me.

I want so much for you to know that God loves you for who you are. I want you to see you--the real you. The you that Christ knows, that I am confident you are, that you feel you will never measure up to. When you do good, I don't want you to feel it is to erase some terrible flaw. Even if you have a fatal flaw, mending that weakness is the office of Jesus. Yours is to accept what He has done with all of your might, mind and strength.

I don't want you or anyone to leave the Church. In fact, it is my sincere desire that all people, old and young, free and bound, from every nation, kindred... gay or straight, nonsexual, reprobate, the pure and the unpure... everyone, everywhere could receive the Gospel.

I see myself as a sort of missionary for those who are in danger of leaving the Church over this issue. Not because I am better than anyone, although I am certainly in danger of thinking so every once in a while. I can feel my own frailty, I know that man, all men, are as nothing. I wonder if I could really help anyone, and yet watching others struggle with those same issues I have faced, that I continue to face, I cannot help wanting to 'fix' things.

A friend of mine reminded me this morning that I can't. People have to fix their own problems, ask for their own advice. But I can write, and I can listen, and I can try to be a good example. What else can I do?

What could I do or say to help you? If I ask you to accept your own feelings--to let go--will you feel I am tempting you to give in to your basest desires? Will you see that I want you to be happy and have a fulfilling relationship with whomever you ultimately decide to spend your eternities with?

Then how else can I get you to realize that you are a worthwhile human being, a spiritual child of a Heavenly Father who loves you just as He made you? If you cannot accept yourself, how can I help you to see that Jesus loved you enough to die for you? To feel all your pain and suffering; to know you in a way that no other person can?

I really want to know. I have too many friends who hate themselves. Gay friends, straight friends, it doesn't matter. And I just wish I knew what else I could say. I love you. You are worth loving. Stop focusing on what others think about you, and go love them! Love them like Jesus loves them.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Today in sacrament I arrived a couple minutes before the meeting started to find that we needed a ward chorister. My bishop anxiously gestured me to the front, I had a whispered conversation with the pianist, and then we started. Leading the music for that first song, I felt completely lost. All I could do was grin at the congregation, trying to correct myself constantly so I could stay on time with the organ. One member was kind enough to show me how to lead from the back. By watching him, I was able to calm my frantic movements and figure out what I was supposed to be doing.

I have another friend who has told me that he feels like life is unfair, because you think you are taking one test, and half-way through it you are given a new blank sheet of paper and told to get started on a completely different test. And you don't even know what the second test is about. In such situations, it's nice to have someone from the back who shows you quietly what to do. It's important to smile even when you feel like you are failing miserably. And, halfway through the test, you might find your rhythm, and discover you knew the answers all along.

Today in church we talked about two issues that always seem to be paired in peoples minds: Homosexuality, and sustaining your leaders. This is a very important issue for me and others in my situation. It often leads to very uncomfortable, often emotionally turbulent moments where we sit, wondering if we should speak, feeling isolated.

How do I deal with it? It's difficult sometimes. If anyone reads this, I'd like to know what you think before saying anything more.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Today I got up and bore my testimony in church. That might not sound like a big deal to some of you, but I am so grateful that I am still allowed to bear my testimony. I know not everyone gets that opportunity. I'm so grateful for the gospel in my life. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world, the Only Begotten of our Heavenly Father, and my personal Savior.

I realize that some might think it pretentious or foolish to believe these things or to say that I know they are true. Personal beliefs are often touchy subjects, have led to wars, and still lead to vicious rhetoric and perfidious insult. I realize that people much smarter and wiser than I believe I am wrong, on both sides. I understand if you call my faith "willing blindness", if you believe that their is no hope of a different understanding, if you think you know enough. I know that their is very persuasive, even logical evidence against my beliefs.

But I felt the Holy Ghost today. I wish everyone could feel the Spirit the way I felt.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why I Stay

So, a while ago in church I was listening to a wonderful young woman give a talk about why she believes, and that brought up the question for me: Why do I believe?

And it got me thinking, why do I believe? I’m still working on that. But, in thinking about that, I ended up writing about why I stay.

I've wanted for years not to believe, not to, as we say in the Church, have a testimony of the Gospel. I thought that if I could somehow prove it all wrong to myself, I could justify my sins. I could justify my selfishness because, after all, it would have been a foolish belief, a dream. But I knew it was true, and that thought filled me with the greatest dread and despair.

See, when you are gay and believing, you know that you are destined to a lesser state. A man is judged by his desires after all, to do good or evil. I have strived all my life to do good, to make up for my evil desires--my mom once told me I have an overdeveloped sense of guilt--but the Gospel doesn't work that way. I've tried and tried to get rid of them, these feelings which make me more sensitive, more loving.

If you are gay and believing, you have several options: you can marry some poor soul of the opposite sex, you can remain celibate for the rest of your life, you can give in to your feelings, or you can give up on everything. On life itself. Not one of those choices can lead to Celestial Glory, not even the first, because the first is predicated on the principle of Zion: Be ye therefore one, even as I and my Father who art in Heaven are one.

It seems impossible, and so the very real desire is there to find some other path, some means or way to Heaven. Some way to fulfill the great commandments: to love thy God with all thy heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love they neighbor as thyself. Some way to end the conundrum, the confusion, the suffering.

I have never been able to live without religion. Disbelieving in God has never been an option for me—it would be like denying the wetness of water, or the heat of fire. So when I was a teenager, I looked for hope in, what to me, seemed a good answer: that all faiths led to the same place. I studied various religions (to this day the understanding and wisdom of other sincerely held belief systems enriches my life) but I ultimately had to conclude that it was wrong. All truth is good, but only one church has the Fullness of the Gospel. So, I dedicated myself to the Church again with a will.

I served an honorable full-time mission. Then I came back, and after several months of blissful naivety, I fell back into hold destructive habits. I knew why of course.

I saw bishop after bishop in ward after singles ward. I took classes, went to addiction recovery groups and therapy, but I made no real progress. I started to feel as if the real problem was not being addressed. Yes, I had addictions, but why were we not addressing the nature of them? Why weren't we talking about how they were gay?

I was gay?

I hated myself. I searched for answers, felt at peace with a paper I read from a psychologist at BYU (Understanding Unwanted Same Sex Attraction, Jeffrey R. Robinson). According to him, being homosexuality wasn't a direction, an orientation, it was a memory. But memories could be erased, forgotten, or at least blurred.

So I tried harder. I took care of my body, attended institute, and gave up those things which were spiritually damaging to me, read scriptures, prayed... and then slipped again. Over and over I repeated the cycle. I began to feel like I was the most callous spirit in the world.

Worse, I started to feel as if I didn't want to change. I felt guilty and prayed for the desire to want to change, but of course God will not force us to do anything, so I kept at it. Obviously, if I really wanted to change God would change me. Why didn’t He change me?

I became a Mormon zombie for a couple of years; someone who goes to church, but not much else. Someone technically active, but on autopilot. I went because I didn't want to disappoint my family. To them, I was still the perfect son, the upright older brother, maybe struggling with some things (I never really kept it a secret from my family, although the exact nature of my addictions I kept private), but ultimately, a righteous man. They were, and are still, the most important people in my life.

I prayed for answers, for guidance, for strength. I hated myself and pitied and guilt-tripped myself, quite un-assisted, because I absolutely knew that one day I was gonna go off the deep end, run away to New York and live the 'gay lifestyle' for several years, maybe become an artist, before finally dying alone in the gutter somewhere because ultimately the only people who really cared were the ones I had abandoned. How could I think otherwise?

Why do I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the Kingdom of God restored on the earth in preparation for the Second Coming? Why do I believe so deeply in Prophets and revelators? Why do I hold fast?

Because I know it’s true. I’ve ranted and raged, I’ve taken steps back, steps away. I’ve wanted for it to not be true, but I have never been able to adequately convince myself otherwise. And yes, faith is a choice, and there is a lot to take on faith in the church. So what?

I stay because I love God, and because I know that He loves me. I stay because when I felt lost and alone, having alienated my family and moved to a new country, He was the only one I could talk to, the only one who truly understood me. I stay because I know the Gospel is true... not the hedge we Mormons have made around it, to help ourselves 'be good people', but the bare essentials, the Good News of Christ. I stay because even after all the bitterness and the doubts I hear from others, about Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon or the current leaders, the Apostles and Prophets... I still know it's true. I remember the Spirit when I was baptized, when I received my Patriarchal Blessing, when I got my mission call, when I entered the temple, what I felt in countless family home evenings, countless missionary discussions and personal scripture studies, in the half dozen Bishops offices, in General Conference.... so many times, so many ways. Why would I give all that up just because I received new light and truth, light and truth that, perhaps, at first glance, seems to contradict what I already received?

It's all true. The same Spirit that tells me I am gay, that after years of fighting managed to convince me that God was okay with that, why would I reject all of the other things the Spirit has taught me?

I know why, I understand, I can empathize with those who feel like there is no place for them in church. I worry that I myself will not have the fortitude to stay. But, I still remember why I am here, and that helps.

Does that help? I hope it does.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Power of Admitting I Don't Know

I often have this terrible curse, maybe you share it with me? that I believe I know everything, sometimes. I sometimes feel I already have the answers; all I need to do is live them.

Honest doubt is a great blessing.

I knew I liked guys for a long time, long before telling anyone, but I just knew that it came from sin. I knew that nobody had ever felt what I was feeling, and I knew I could overcome it. I was absolutely certain that God would change me, or that these feelings were a phase. Fast forward to the present, when I was coming out, I knew that the only thing for me was to leave the Church, abandon a way of life and relationships to which I had dedicated a vital portion of myself. I was certain that if I was ever going to find a meaningful relationship I would have to abandon everything else I held most dear.

I thought the answer was simple, and in a way it was, but it wasn’t the answer I thought. My answer was… that I don’t know. Really, I don’t. One of the greatest comforts to me as I struggle to come out is the deep-seated realization that I did not know anything. I did not know that the LDS Church was true, I did not know if I was gay, bisexual, whatever, and I did not know what the gay community is truly like.

In the middle of this tearing, shredding sensation, when I was ripped apart inside with my family and my desire on opposite sides of the gapping chasm that was my own soul, when I was trying to figure out what to base my life on, I had to let go. I had to let go of the certainties, the polar opposites, and just take each day as it came.

Why do we cling so hard to our small truths and miss the big picture so often? Could it be pride, whispering that we already know enough to judge the world? Or, like me, could it be fear? Certainty, claims of absolute knowledge, are comforting. They build us shelters against the world, little houses that we can peek out of occasionally and retreat to when confronted by something foreign and threatening.

Stepping out of that little house that you’ve built for yourself can be frightening, but also extraordinarily exhilarating.

Now, I’m not espousing a philosophy of militant and critical unbelief. We need our beliefs, just like we need a real house to shelter us from cold and storm. What I am suggesting, what helped me, is just a willingness to let go, to understand that we don’t understand everything, a willingness to try to understand.

People are fond of unconditional statements. I use them all the time. 'God does not exist', or 'I know the Church is true', or even 'the world is round'. My favorite is, 'If it’s on the internet it must be true'. Not one of those statements can be proven without personal experience. Such absolute certainty, such denial of fallibility, just leads us to fall, confronts us with our own insecurity, and in the end leaves us blind.

No one knows everything-- another unconditional statement. But I certainly don't, and I have the feeling that you probably don't either. That's okay. And how do we know that that small little bit that we don't know won’t change everything that we do know? It happens every day.

So when you are wrestling with doubts, consider yourself lucky. A lot of people, atheists, Mormons, Hindus, Christians, communists, Democrats, Republicans, Dallas cowboy fans-- a lot of people, regardless of their personal creed, are positive that they see the world the way it is. We sustain our beliefs with self-serving biases and edited or censored memories, psychological fact. When we honestly doubt what we know is true, when we take deep breath and remove the blinders, maybe we'll catch a glimpse of a greater, more encompassing truth than anything we could have imagined.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Okay, so, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, I feel in my heart that certain things are true. For example, I believe in modern day revelation, in listening to the counsel of living prophets and Apostles. I believe in the Book of Mormon and the Bible as the word of God. I believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and through Him I can be saved from my sins if I repent, or turn, unto Him.

At the same time, I am gay, I know it, and I have finally come to a point in my life where I can accept that. I don't suffer from any terrible malady except the misfortune to love unconventionally. And, in the way that we say things in the Church, I have a testimony of that, too.

So I come to a quandary, something that I knew would happen eventually in the future, but today I was faced with it on a more personal, direct level. It came in response to Elder Boyd K. Packer's talk during the Centennial Seminary Fireside, I think.

Now of course, we gay Mormons pay special attention to anything Elder Packer says, piecing it apart for references to our standing with the Church. In a very real way, he has become our prophet, the Apostle who represents us.

(I don't mean to include every gay Mormon in my statements of course. There are always exceptions to every blanket statement, but my point is that their has been a lot of discussion going on.)

I'm not like many who believe Elder Boyd K. Packer to be a homophobic old man, out of touch with reality. I think he has a very real grasp on reality, and that he aches in a very real way to bring comfort to us, comfort that he cannot give. All he can say is the official Church stance, and hope that that is enough.

Just so we are clear, I love being myself. I feel that being gay has blessed me with opportunities, abilities, talents- or rather that through the experience of being gay I have been blessed with these things- there is some kind of correlation going on- anyway, I accept myself, and I know that God loves me just the way I am.

So I have seen a couple of critical remarks about Elder Packer's statements, and I wanted to defend him in some way. I didn't feel that he was nearly as critical and homophobic as he could have been- scratch that, I felt that even if he thought what we are feeling is a sin (and their is no denying that he and the majority of the Church do feel that way), he has tried reaching out to us in the best way he knows how. It just hasn't been what we need.

So I felt like actually looking up the talk to see what he said... not the whole talk, just focus on the one issue that concerned me most. Most of what I heard concerned this statement:

We know that gender was set in the premortal world. “The spirit and the body are the soul of man.” This matter of gender is of great concern to the Brethren, as are all matters of morality.
A few of you may have felt or been told that you were born with troubling feelings and that you are not guilty if you act on those temptations. Doctrinally we know that if that were true your agency would have been erased, and that cannot happen. You always have a choice to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and live a morally pure and chaste life, one filled with virtue.

Now, I don't really see anything wrong with this statement if we look purely at what was said verses what we feel Elder Packer was implying. According to the Brethren, gender (which, it is implied, includes sexual orientation) was set in the premortal world. I don't have any problem with this, but of course I feel that gender is more complex than a mere male/female binary system. If it was so simple, all men and all women would be alike, and we are not so. This even plays out in our physical bodies, with some small percentage being born with both male and female sex organs. I don't have a problem with people who believe they are born the wrong sex either: sometimes people are born without legs, or with six fingers, or some such other phenomena. To me this is only to be expected in a mortal, imperfect world.

Maybe I'm wrong in feeling about gender this way, but if I am I am sure I will learn better eventually. The next part, about feelings that we have, is a little more complex, but I believe it essentially boils down to this: it doesn't apply to me. Why do I feel that way? Simple: "May have felt or been told you were born with troubling feelings". My feelings are many things, but they are not troubling. How I feel about my feelings is troubling, but that's a different matter. Also, I have no illusions that merely being born with an inclination to certain temptations allows me licence to sin. Sin is sin, no matter what circumstance. If such temptations did give a licence to sin, then agency would indeed not exist as we know it. Also, I find heartening the fact that even I, with my unconventional love, can aspire to follow the Holy Ghost and live the gospel, so that I can return to my Heavenly Father.

Now, I know that part of the reason so many were outraged is because they were concerned for the gay youth who heard those words, "and their delicate hearts were pierced as with many swords". Concern for others is a good reason for outrage, but until a church-wide change in culture happens, we will still suffer these tragic losses. Is that not why we write? To help those going through this cultural hell, who need help and have the courage to seek it. To say in the high places "You are okay, don't listen to them. You are a beloved child of God, no matter what they say," So that maybe, just maybe somebody who needs it can find some of the healing they are looking for.

So Elder Packer's words do not upset me, and looked in a certain way I believe they could be helpful. No, what was like a brick wall to my face was this quote from President Hinckley:

“People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves … gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have temptations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are.
“We want to help … strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties. But we cannot stand idle if they indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation. To permit such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families.”

So-called same-sex marriage. I know how the church feels about one of my deepest desires. But this brought home to me, reminded me forcibly that if the entire world were to pass laws sanctioning same-sex marriages, that would mean nothing to the Church, until and unless God commanded otherwise. It was that way with polygamy, it was that way with the priesthood, and it will be the same with this. Until God, through his prophets, gives the go-ahead, LDS gay marriages for all intents and purposes do not exist.

Even "upholding and defending" same-sex marriage, by this statement, is a cause for possible reprimand and even Church discipline, which means that talking about or supporting it could jeopardize my very real desire to attend the temple. But, with the way I feel, how can I not?

What do I do when I know that, eventually, I will have to choose between loving my fellow man and loving my God? That's what it feels like sometimes. I am told repeatedly in my Patriarchal Blessing to put the Kingdom of God (which I interpret as the Church) ahead of all other things.

Right now, I feel like I am doing what God wants me to. I'm out of the closet, I'm meeting other same-gender loving individuals, trying to be a good example, loving them for who they are, loving the Church, trying to do what is right. I have so many pressures and challenges, but I am happy, working and doing things I love with people who love me. I see the hurt so many have felt, and I want to help them.

But I saw that someday in the future I would have to choose. I have compared the choice to Adam and Eve, leaving the garden or staying in innocence. I've compared the choice to Nephi, who listened to the Spirit in all things, even when it was frightening or when it seemed wrong to do so. Can I have the faith like them, to step outside the bounds? Or should I instead wait patiently in the Church, hoping that someday I will get one of my fondest wishes, to have a family with a man I love... do I dare hope for a celestial relationship with a man? Because in all honesty, if such is not possible, it would be better, I think, to not love anyone, than to love someone so intensely and then lose them for eternity. Maybe, in that case, it would be better to never get married.

The Church is meant to be experienced in the family context. The oldest scriptures speak of the family of Adam, of Abraham and Isaac and Israel. The Book of Mormon speaks of Lehi's family.

Gay people are the only people in the church counselled to not get married- or rather, to wait to find the "right one". We are the only ones for whom eternal celibacy is encouraged. Others may hold out the hope for companionship, but not we. We are the exception to the rule, and we should not be.

So, I don't know. I guess I will just have to wait in faith.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Faith is in the Jump

What is faith? To some people, faith means a religion you affiliate with. For others, it describes intense feelings of belief. For many, it seems to be a willingness to ignore reality, to stay silent or ignore the blatantly obvious. Faith is like a mustard seed, a foundation, a dream, a tree, water.

For me, faith is an attitude, an action. It’s like cliff-jumping. First, you have to swim, paddle, whatever, to where the cliffs are. Sometimes this takes a while, and sometimes the journey is draining, and at the end you lie on top of the cliffs for a couple of minutes, catching your breath. Swimming there isn’t exercising faith, though. That’s just hard work and perseverance. After you’ve caught your breath, you stand at the edge of the cliff, contemplating the water below. It looks so far away. There is so much empty space.

Take a deep breath and jump.

In that moment, you are exercising faith. In the air you scream, cry, and laugh with delight, flying for breathless moments through the air before the shocking plunge into the water. Then you clamber up the cliffs again, muster a few moments of insane courage, and jump.

Faith is in the jump. Faith is seeing the water, taking that deep breath, and taking the plunge. Faith tells you to trust people, to start and keep relationships, to keep your eyes open. Faith isn’t blind belief or contradictory to truth. Faith has everything to do with truth, because belief in false things is dead. If there is no water at the bottom of the cliffs, no amount of believing will mend my broken bones.

Faith is in the jump. It’s not something you think or feel or remember. No matter how many times you have already stood on the edge of the cliff, how many times you’ve exercised you knowledge, in the end you must still gather your courage and jump.

Think about it: no matter how much your parents know the Church is true, no matter how much you believe the prophets, or your leaders, or even the Bible and the Book of Mormon, nothing less than a personal revelation, a relationship with your Heavenly Father, has the power to change your life. Nothing less than the Holy Ghost can cause your redemption.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Homosexuality and the Book of Mormon

I was born of amazingly goodly parents who taught me right from wrong, loved me, gave me rules and let me make my own choices; who encouraged me and helped me see reality; who aren’t perfect, but are well on their way there. They are considerate, caring, and faithful. My parents always try to do the right thing. It is not their fault that I am gay.

They taught me to love God with all my heart, to put my family first, to be responsible and work hard. I went to church every Sunday with them, and I learned about Jesus, the Atonement, about apostasy and prophets and apostles and the Restoration of the Gospel of Christ through Joseph Smith. If you are reading this and any of those words are unfamiliar to you, I’d invite you to look them up. They are incredibly important to me.

I’m writing this blog according to what the Book of Mormon says to me, a gay man trying to do what’s right. These are my opinions and should not be construed in any way as the Church’s official stance on homosexuality. But, we are told to apply the scriptures to our own lives. I discovered so much more hope for me than I had realized.

I learned that, even when we think our leaders are wrong, even when they are wrong, we should follow their advice. I learned that the heavens are not closed, and that God has a plan for His children. All of us, including His gay children, are a part of it. I learned that instead of just accepting things or rejecting them, we need to seek out answers for ourselves. I learned that sometimes when you try to do what is right, no one believes you, everyone hates you, and you become an outcast. I learned that sometimes doing what’s right looks wrong from the outside. I learned that God has made promises that He will always keep if we do our part. I learned that someday God will gather His people together again. And I learned all that in the first book of Nephi.

If you or a family member is struggling with homosexuality, I want you to consider what the Book of Mormon says about the issue. I know nothing is explicitly stated, but even that should tell you something. I’ve received answers that I didn’t think were possible.

I know I don’t know everything. I’m not perfect; I make huge mistakes just like everyone else. Is it possible to have faith that you don’t know? I know my views on homosexuality and the Church may be wrong. But I have faith that God will take care of us, if we trust in Him. I believe that I’ve received personal revelation, for myself, that the Church is true, and at the same time that homosexuality, that being gay, is not a sin. I might be wrong, but I have to trust in that Spirit that told me both of those things.

There is nothing wrong with you just because you are gay, or might be gay, or have a gay child. It is not a curse, it is not a sin, and it is not a punishment. However, it may be an opportunity, if you will let it be, for your faith to grow.