Sunday, June 29, 2014

I'm a Gay Mormon

Three people recently came out publicly over these past two days one on Facebook, the other two on Youtube.  Knowing how hard this is myself, I wanted to share their experiences in their own words.

The first is from a friend of mine who just came out on Facebook.

Something about life that I like, is that I can be myself, and I can express myself in my CJ kinda way. Everyone knows, that CJ is weird, and CJ will always be weird. I love my life, I love my friends, I am so blessed with my talents (one of being a talented musician, and conductor, since the very young age), one who loves working with animals, and educating every customer on proper pet care and nutrition, I am one that enjoys to cook, and bake (and I have loved this since I ever looked to cook and bake). I love the outdoors, and mother nature, and being able to smell the clean fresh rain on a nice rainy day. I am grateful for the many friends that I continue to make, and that I have made. I CJ, am Mormon, and I am gay.

My name is Derek and I'm a Gay Mormon:

And I'm a Gay Mormon:

For LGBTQIA people, coming out can be one of the hardest and most transformative experiences.  Not only is it a way to be more authentic with yourself and to others.  It is also, in my opinion, a way to express the trust and love a person has for God.  Making vulnerable a part of yourself that you have tried to keep hidden for so long can bring a plethora of emotions and uncertainties.  I applaud these three for sharing their stories with all of us.  I know with their words the world has become a kinder, more sincere, and better place.  Thank you CJ, Derek, and Bryan!

Thank you for having love to show,
allowing my soul to grow.
I'll be your friend if you don't have any,
you are not a gift to one,
but a gift for many
(Author unknown)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Recognizing the Other's Reality

It seems the Mormon bloggernacle and social media have exploded over the past few weeks.  This explosion has sent shock-waves through newsstands and onto the dinner tables of many LDS and non-LDS homes.  The subsequent chaos has been a debate between two sides both claiming to be right and with many  people saying incredibly hurtful and insensitive things.  The amount of vitriol and ill will has left me depressed in my heart and soul, as well as sick to my stomach.

The purpose of this post is not to take a side in this debate but to relate something that I have come to understand as I have interacted with many different people both outside and inside the church.  What I have learned is the importance of realizing and recognizing the "Other's Reality."

Who is this "Other."  The Other in this context is someone who disagrees with a certain group over a certain subject.  The Other can also be someone who looks different, acts different, or may identify differently than the group with which the Other also interacts.  These people are portrayed as the Other of the group in order to subsequently discredit and shame the Other, as a way to defend the beliefs of the group, whether they be right or wrong, in which it is felt that the Other does not belong.

In my Priesthood Class this past Sunday we had a lesson about "Encouraging someone to do good vs. Respecting Agency."  Both of these topics are scripturally supported but in some contexts seem to be complete opposites.  The following discussion in my class made me realize something in regards to how we all should treat those who may disagree with us or may be seen as the Other by a group or society.

The way these interactions should be done is through recognizing another person's reality.  A person's reality is their unique experience in this life that no one else has.  It is a place where a person's beliefs and worldview are built  and I believe it is something that can be traced back to the pre-existence.  Every person has their own reality.  A person's reality may be influenced by the shared experiences of a group's reality making it much easier to join that group than other people.  Most humans seek to belong in a group, it offers protection and stability.  A person's reality can be shaped and molded by those around them but ultimately only one other person has walked by our side through it all, our savior Jesus Christ Himself.  Which is how only He can be the true and righteous judge through the atonement.  He alone with us has seen and experienced our reality and knows how our lives are shaped along with our ideas, beliefs, and passions.

So how do we respect someone's agency but also seek to help them choose what we believe to be right.  It all comes down to "Mourn with those who mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort."  Instead of preaching to someone, judging them based on our own realities, telling people how righteous we are are, and many other things Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing.  We are not only commanded, we also covenant with our Heavenly Father to comfort and uplift everyone we meet.  This can only be done if the two sides can sit down together and talk without any preconceived notions about the person on the other end of their words.  No judgement, just the understanding of the worth and value of the person on the other side of you and how important their personal journey is.  The Holy Ghost will take care of the rest.

A friend of mine told me a story about his mission that illustrated this point.  He said he noticed that the missionaries who were so focused on baptism and getting people to immediately say they believed in the church usually got frustrated and were met with little success.  However, those who went out in the spirit of service, and that didn't see people as just another number to check off their list were happier and much more successful.

This friend of mine told me that by doing this he allowed himself to not only teach the investigators but to taught by them as well, both sides benefited as both grew together in the gospel.  This can also and must also be done with other members of the church.  There is a reason why the church has a deplorable activity rate among it's members, it's not because of the gospel of Christ, it's because of judgement and ostracism felt by those that are different.  These differences could be in their opinions and beliefs, to skin color, to sexual orientation.

So before you place judgement on someone else, even if what they are professing to believe seems far-fetched to you.  Realize that their beliefs and convictions are usually not based on whims but have resulted in many years of pondering, studying, and prayer. Before you say something think about the precious soul on the other end and how your words will either build them up or tear them down.

All people are generally good and honest and are seeking to come back to God at the end of this life.  There is already too much heartache in the world without us adding more to it even if we feel it is done with our best intentions.  Love should always come first from our mouths, filled with the humble understanding that we do not know everything, not even a fraction of a fraction of God's infinite wisdom or what God has in store for his children.

God works in the hearts of people both inside and outside of the church.  Truth can be found almost anywhere where people's hearts are open to the whispering of the spirit.  But always remember that God will never reveal something to us that we are not willing to receive.  This is true for both sides of an argument.  So on that note, why don't we all step back, take a deep breath, and realize we are all Sons and Daughters of God, we all believe in the church, we just may have different ideas and different convictions when it comes to certain points and that is ok.  In fact most of the Doctrine and Covenants came about because of questions asked by both men and women.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf one of my favorite apostles stated in a 2012 world-wide LDS leadership training:

"If we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the spirit.  Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things...
How often  has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know, but couldn't get past the massive, iron  gate of what we thought we already knew?"

Brothers and Sisters I implore each and every one of you to unlock and open wide that Iron Gate of our minds and hearts.  Even if things that other people say may lead you to question your previous beliefs.  That's ok, not only can we potentially learn something new that God wants us to know, but we can also grow in our own faith.  Doubts can be constructive in helping us know the will of God as we grow closer to Him in our journeys.  I personally have faced a lot of doubt in my life, but through many nights of prayer and study I personally grew in my testimony of the gospel, the priesthood, and the restoration. I love it so much and I know that my faith would have never been as strong today if my beliefs weren't challenged, reevaluated, and then strengthened by the people I've interacted with and the ideas that I have considered.

Three Articles of faith help illustrate this point.
9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

In closing, I hope we all come to realize that there are still many things that God will yet reveal to each and everyone of us as well as the church as a whole. We are all given the opportunity and privilege to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.  Finally, I know that as we strive to be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous we will have the strength and courage to seek after those things that are virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy in all times, in all places, amongst all people.  By doing this, The Church of Jesus Christ will be strengthened, all people will feel welcomed into the fold of God, and we will all move forward in the glorious work of building Zion.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Face of God

                                                Come with me
                                   Where chains will never bind you
All your grief
At last, at last behind you
Lord in Heaven
Look down on him in mercy.

Forgive me all my trespasses
And take me to your glory.

Take my hand
I'll lead you to salvation
Take my love
For love is everlasting
And remember
The truth that once was spoken
To love another person
Is to see the face of God.
"Les Miserables"

These are a couple of lyrics from the Epilogue from the play Les Miserables.  In the story a man was sentenced to many years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread in order to feed those who starved.  The punishment far outweighed the crime and Justice chased him for the rest of his life with no mercy.  Desperate and alone, filled with bitterness and hatred for the unjust nature of the system that sought to forever oppress him.  He found himself in a monastery one day and the person who was the head of the monastery gave him a place to sleep and a meal to eat.  

That night he grabbed all he could of value from the monastery and ran off with it into the night.  Apprehended on the road by officers of the peace he was brought back to the monastery, beaten and on the cusp of being sentenced to many more years of hard labor.  The head of the monastery seeing this man broken on the ground, the objects of his crime strewn next to him, had compassion on him.  He lifted the man up and told the officers that he had given the man the silver and gold and in fact in the man's haste to leave had forgotten the best and most precious he had.  

The head of the Monastery could have fulfilled justice by allowing the man to be arrested and his riches brought back to the monastery.  He would have been justified in doing this and most people would probably have agreed with the verdict.  Instead what is glimpsed is this man's example of Christ like love toward a total stranger, who stole from him after he showed him kindness.  He gave him the best he had and encouraged him to not let this act of kindness end with him.  This man who once was in depths of despair and one of the least on earth was given a second chance, and not only that but a way that provided him the ability to accomplish good works for others.

This man changed the life of a young girl by fulfilling a promise to a desperate mother on her death bed.  He saved the lives of others and touched the poor and needy.  He taught by example what it meant to live a life of Christ like service to others.

As the man died in the same monastery where he was given a second chance the mother who he kept his promise to was the one to first meet him, and the man who led the monastery all those years ago was waiting to welcome him into his rest.

This beautiful story, that I left vague on purpose, can probably be played out thousands of times across human history in many different religions and cultural traditions.  It represents the power of Charity and it's ability to affect the lives of many from a single act.  As I pondered this, I realized that the history of the world is filled with stories of people who are trodden down and oppressed. Stories of people who try their best and ultimately to not accomplish their goals. There is certainly never enough love in the world.

I am humbled to be standing on the shoulders of giants both famous and nameless who have worked so hard so that my life today can be better than the trials they had to endure.  What sets these people apart.  They represented the best of humanity because of the love they had for those around them.

The head of the monastery became an example of Christ as he gave the man all he had and refused to condemn him.  Even if you don't believe in Christ all people can recognize the power that comes from love and service.

We ourselves can be examples of Christ.  We become examples as we serve others and love those around us unconditionally.  Not only can they see Christ in our lives, we will also be able to "See the face of God" in their countenances.  Christ truly did suffer and die for us.  He paid the ultimate price in order for us to receive the ultimate gift, which is the foundation of love and service that will continue with us into the eternities.  "To love another person is to see the face of God," and in this I feel is life Celestial.

Thank you everyone who marched in the Pride Parades these past few days.  Not only do you bring me hope and joy.  I know you all touched the lives of thousands as you proclaimed Christ's love for all.  I am grateful to be among so much amazing saints of God.