Tuesday, September 27

Preparing for General Conference - Oct 2011

Life has totally run me under the last few days. I woke up on Saturday and someone asked me, "Mormon Guy, is it fast Sunday tomorrow?" Fast Sunday at the end of September??? Why would they ask? There must be something happening next week. Wait. The first weekend in October. General Conference. General Conference is next week!?! Oh, and "No, Fast Sunday is usually the week after when it moves in this stake."

Now it's four days away, and I'm scrambling to compose the questions I need answered - to find the theme of my preparation. Conference is awe-inspiring in how personal it always feels... how personally the talks apply to my life. It often feels as if each person is speaking directly to me, out of the millions watching, and answering my questions given to God in the weeks preceding.

I guess the biggest question I'll be asking this time around is, "What next?" A year ago I asked for help touching people's lives through this blog and this message... reaching the people who needed to hear the message... and (Gay) Mormon Guy went viral just days after Conference, with the huge interest generated by President Packer's talk. In April, with the recent influx of tons of new readers from CJane and other sources, I asked for direction in framing what I write - who should my audience be? And the answer came as I remembered the individuals... the guys and girls who, like me, live each day in the moment and just need someone who cares and understands.

I feel like maybe I need to do something more... and that's the basis of my question. I date and it never goes anywhere... either I get shot down, or I can tell that some girls are definitely interested... but I don't reflect the passion. I'm not sure which way to go with (G)MG, and then I have a major professional choice that is looming in the not-too-distant future.

So that's my question. Or sum of questions. What next? What more should I be doing? How can I better help others, share the gospel, and accomplish my purpose in life? And since every Conference I've always heard the answers to my questions, I'm convinced the trend will live on.

Monday, September 19

Being Rescued

Every time I hear the story of the Martin and Willie handcart companies, I see in my mind's eye the people shivering in the cold, wanting to survive, having given everything they have, hoping against all odds that they can finally arrive in Zion. They've watched their brothers and sisters and friends die along the trail, and they've finally reached the point where they have no more strength, no more hope, nothing left to give.

And I'm there with them.

I've been there, in the place between spiritual life and death, watching as people fall around me, and wondering if I'll have the strength to live another day, or if I'll just give up. I've been the person who prayed for God's strength and felt it pushing me on one more day... not transporting me to Zion, but helping me move to the next day or even the next hour. And I, somehow, was rescued by the hand of God from the storm. But once you've felt the suffering, you can never forget it. It's different from anything else in the world, in a way... And I don't think that anyone who hasn't been called to pass through this way of life could ever understand the feelings and lessons learned from it.

Today, there isn't a physical storm raging in life. There is no snow or blizzard or darkening clouds. But, among my friends and neighbors, there are hundreds, thousands of men and women who are holding on to life in the gospel. Men and women who have given everything they have, who wonder if help will ever come, who turn to God and simply cry for relief of their pain and the strength to live one more day. And, as a saint, I have a responsibility to look, to search, and to never stop looking until I find them and bring them safely home. President Brigham Young told the Saints when he heard about the handcart companies struggling 300 miles away that their salvation rested upon their application of the Gospel in the realities of life - whether or not they were willing to give their lives in the service of their brethren, immediately... and I believe the same applies today. My brothers and sisters are searching, hoping to find hope and peace and faith, and the proof of my faith will come as I show my love for them... and my willingness to sacrifice on their behalf. I was rescued once, twice, countless times by the hand of God... now it's my turn to be His hand and help others along the way.

Sunday, September 11

Elder Oaks speaks on politics, tolerance, morality, and prophesies the future at a CES Fireside. Wow.

CES firesides are usually pretty tame when it comes to doctrine. Don’t take girls out to the movies on a first date, don’t hang out at the expense of dating, choose a job and career and do your best. Sometimes the firesides focus on developing personal values and instilling a desire to be better. But tonight’s was different. Way different.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks is a retired lawyer who was considered as a US Supreme Court Justice, served as a member of the Utah Supreme Court, worked as president of BYU, and has done a bunch of other stuff in the field of law. Usually he’s chosen as the apostle to teach difficult doctrines clearly – to give the unpopular talks about pornography or other issues. But tonight, instead of toning his words to speak to an audience unfamiliar with his field’s nuances, he spoke in his own language… and in a talk that could have been completely written about homosexuality and the Church, prophesied that we would need to be fluent in the law, and our rights, to survive. I’m going to write in my own thoughts along with some of my notes on the talk.

The fireside began with his wife – Kristin Oaks – who shared insights that seemed really applicable to my life. She doesn’t live with same-sex attraction, but facing single life and the isolation and heartbreak that comes with it is similar in both cases. 

Among the powerful things that I heard in her talk (some she said; others are personal applications I wrote in my notes):

Worry less about marriage than becoming a follower of Christ. This one is huge – I used to be obsessed with the fact that I wasn’t married, even after I had “paid my dues” with a mission and everything else I thought I needed to do. In reality, marriage is just part of the equation. Much more important is following Christ – and then, when marriage is in the plan (in this life or the next), the Lord will make it happen.

We are surrounded by perils on every side; it’s not enough to just get out alive, we need to help others along the way. This one hit me hard, because, for most of my life, I was focused on myself and my own problems – I wanted to understand the issue of same-sex attraction, and the thought of helping others never even occurred to me. When it finally did, and I began writing here, like the story of the woman in Japan, I’ve had powerful urges to just disappear and go on with my own life… but, like her, I’ve also felt the need to do what I can to make a difference.

If you can’t bear the challenges of life today, with your trials, happily, then you won’t be able to bear it when greater blessings, greater trials, and greater responsibilities come. This one is a truth I learned only recently – in the last few years. I thought that, in order to be happy, I would need the Lord to either heal me or answer my prayers. In reality, the Gospel has the power to bring happiness no matter what is happening in my life… and if I haven’t learned to use that power today, I won’t know how to use it tomorrow. It takes a lot of effort, a lot more effort than I imagined when I was younger, for the gospel to actually work and bring happiness, at least in my case. But it’s definitely worth it.

All men and women, gay, straight, married, or single, should remain active in the Church. The plan of salvation is in force for everyone… and we did not fight a war in Heaven to be single or unhappy eternally. We did not sign up for only part of the plan; we signed up for all of it. And by staying active in the Church, we avail ourselves of all the blessings of the gospel. They will come. I totally agree.

Then Elder Oaks began speaking. He prefaced his talk with a short story of a survey done of adults 20 years ago. Most believed that moral behavior was universal – that right and wrong had black and white absolutes that applied to everyone equally without respect to religion or background – the way most of us see murder or violence today. Today, that same study given to college seniors had the opposite effect. 75% of them believed that right and wrong, good and evil, were relative… most college seniors believe that there are no absolutes. (And from my own experience, many, many people now believe that even sexual morality is relative. Tons of people who I’d normally think were sound and solid members of the Church think that the law of chastity shouldn’t apply to men or women with same-gender attraction. I know that people rationalize away laws for themselves… but when did this become such a huge problem that people leave the Church over it?)

His talk was on tolerance and truth, where tolerance is something different from what the world normally equates. Tolerance in the gospel is a virtue when it is tolerance of people, or of beliefs… but not of actions. Essentially, it’s a match to what the Savior taught – tolerate sinners, lift them, teach them, and give them as much time as they need to repent, but make it clear that you don’t approve of or tolerate sin. As He kindly and firmly said to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee… now go, and sin no more.” (Tolerance of people who don’t live the gospel is simply loving them and giving them the dignity and respect afforded to all of God’s children. At the same time, the gospel requires standing by the truth in all times and in all places – and making the distinction clear between right and wrong, okay and sin, as an institution.)

During his talk, he mentioned three absolute truths.

1)      All are brothers and sisters under God, taught within their various religions to love and do good to one another. All of us need to learn to respect the God-given dignity that is in all men – to love and respect their spirits and their divine potential. (We should all love each other – love being the virtue wherein we are willing to do anything to help others come closer to Christ)
2)      Living with differences is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we must do. We are in the world, but not of the world… and that means that sometimes we have to assert ourselves. We need to challenge laws that malign our ability to practice religion, and contend to support religious freedom. (We should protect our own freedom to believe and worship God, but also be a part of the world and situate those laws in terms that communicate with others)
3)      Tolerance for others and their beliefs does not jeopardize our support for truth and right actions. We aren’t required to respect or tolerate wrong behavior. We deplore murder, violence, thievery, and everything else that God has ordained as sin.

When we are evaluating our own lives, we should not be tolerant of ourselves. We shouldn’t hide behind “tolerance” when we know that we know better. It’s the same when we teach our children – we should only teach the truth, and never let someone teach them false doctrine. In situations with others, we share truth according to the situation – you don’t call out a stranger on using profanity at home, but you do when it’s around you.

And then he spoke about being involved in the public square. When believers of Jesus Christ take their beliefs into the public square, they must be extremely selective. They shouldn’t legislate worship practices, even indirectly, but believers can and must seek laws that allow religious expression… and should also choose action-oriented laws that appeal to moral, ethical, and broad bases that are a part of society at large – not just unique to their own individual religion or dogma. When believers seek to promote their positions, their methods should be tolerant of the opinions of others... Love your neighbors, do good to those that despitefully use you, and don’t add to the chaos of turbulent and unsavory remarks... we need to frame our arguments in a way that adds to the discussion in a democratic society. Believers should not be deferred by the claim that they are “legislating morality”. Morality has always been and will always be a central part of legislation – whether based on the moral code of believers or the moral code of nonbelievers. Believers should always be sensitive to the views and needs of the minority.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought this talk had Proposition 8 written all over it. But that wasn’t all. At the end of the talk, he referred to the parable of the watchman on the tower, in the Doctrine and Covenants (the one where the Lord tells us that prophets foretell the future), and said, “As an apostle of the Lord, I am the watchman in the parable… and I have just spoken to you on a subject that was directed to me by the Spirit.” That’s about as clear as it gets to me… the political world is going to get rough. The Constitution is going to hang by a thread. We’re going to be in the minority (not a new thing for me). And we, I, whoever was listening tonight, is going to have to take the reins to support God and His plans when that time arrives.

Thursday, September 8

Eternal Life

Trials are black lines on white canvas. They find meaning only when filled with colors and light. And when they have filled their purpose, they disappear, forever hidden beneath the life they helped create.

I sat gazing at the temple a few days ago... just looking up into the dark September sky, my heart full and my mind at ease. Some of you may have noticed that I changed the heading on (Gay) Mormon Guy... because, at least right now in my life, being attracted to guys doesn't make my life extra rough anymore. Most days, it doesn't cross my mind... and when it does, in the form of a guy (or a girl with whom I can't seem to connect), life goes on as planned. Planned partly by me, and mostly by Him. I don't feel the loneliness that I used to. God Himself, and Christ, are with me. They fill my needs, and I can turn to Them more readily than a Siamese twin... because They know my thoughts, my heart, my hopes, my dreams... and He has felt and experienced it all.

Tonight, I'm eternally grateful for a God who loved me enough to outline my life with dark, black lines - lines that seemingly had no meaning - and then to give me the tools to color in the blessings of eternity. All the pain, the anguish, the suffering, the sorrow, the guilt, the work, the stress, the heartache... it's really worth it, and happiness will come - not just in eternity, but in this life. I wish everyone could have that experience... and feel the way I feel tonight.

Tuesday, September 6

"To Thine Own Self Be True..." but Who Am I?

A few years ago I realized that I didn't really know who I was... and found myself face-to-face with a question that every Mormon (and most others) faces at some point in life: Who am I?

This wasn't some cute little exercise in existential goalmaking, a short list of the qualities I wanted to assume to become the eventual perfect spouse, or a transcript of the gifts outlined in my Patriarchal blessing... and there wasn't anything pleasant about the process. The conflict took root out of pain and fear and distress, spent years slowly smoldering in the back of my soul, and finally burst out in flames, pitting me between myself... and myself. (I probably could have used less metaphoric flowery language, but that's what came out) 

As you can probably guess, at the core of my distress were two seemingly contradictory sets of core beliefs. The first belief was the now brightly burning flame: "I'm gay, Mormon, unmarried, and having trouble with my social life. I've been on a mission, paid my dues, done everything right, and I'm not happy. And other people tell me I'll never be happy or fulfilled unless I embrace myself for who I am - gay - and give up hope that one day God will 'free me from my trials,' because He won't."

The second belief didn't burn or ask for attention the same way, but it was still there: "I am a child of God, and He has sent me here - to these circumstances, these problems - with the ability to keep the commandments and succeed in returning to Him. If I keep the commandments and strive to follow the Lord, He will take care of me... and I'll be happy and blessed - here in this life, and for eternity."

For a while I lived a double life. I did everything I could in my Church callings, but then found myself fantasizing about guys late at night. It tore me apart when I thought about it, so I tried not to think. I rationalized that I could be extra-righteous in other areas to make up for it. And none of the interventions I tried seemed to work anyway.

And then, one night in prayer, I realized that I had to choose between the two. The smoldering embers had burst into a fire, and I needed to either put it out, or give it room in my heart to change me forever. Am I a son of God, who is willing to do anything He asks me to - anything at all, no matter what the cost? Or do I choose to disbelieve the promptings the Spirit has given me for years and years and years - and rationalize that God will suspend the commandments in my case?

This was the turning point - the point where men turn their backs on God and the Church, the point where other men turn their backs on their families... the point where I could turn away from my faith, or turn to God, away from my own desires and demands. That night I put everything on the altar of sacrifice, and told the Lord I would do anything He asked.

For me, the first hard thing to do was to talk with my bishop. I have pride issues, and Satan convinced me that talking with him would mark me in his eyes, destroy my reputation, hurt my ability to serve others. But none of that happened. I went to him, honestly explained everything, and asked for his help... and he listened, and helped me to be healed. And thus began the process of reclaiming my life and who I was.

Reclaiming who I was wasn't that easy. Over years, beliefs, needs, and addictions had taken root in my heart, and I had to cut them out to begin to be healed. And, perhaps most difficult, I had to believe each day that when I cut out part of my heart, God would make me whole. I had to believe that leaving myself vulnerable, with unmet needs, would give God the room to come more fully into my life.

And, somehow, He did. As I turned to Him and found peace in the little things of the gospel, withdrawal and depression, pain and isolation, ostracism and fear and tears slowly gave way to a new set of beliefs - not only am I a child of God, but each day I can come closer to Him. With Him, I can overcome any trial. And as I come closer to Him, I feel what He feels - joy, fulfillment, peace, hope, faith, love. Today, the gospel, and all its blessings, is true for me.

I'll probably have other beliefs that will compete in my heart for space as life continues - beliefs about who I am, constructions from the world or society that tell me who I should be. But hopefully, in the future, I'll have the foresight to be true to who I really am and pull them out as soon as they begin to strangle the tree of life that is slowly growing in my heart. And, someday... that tree will bear fruit... and I'll be the man God sees deep inside me - perfected, purified, and at peace - in His presence once more.

Sunday, September 4

A Spark.

A Spark.

Is it fake? A fantasy? A surrealization of what cannot be? Or is it real, and miracles do happen?

My heart is light, my eyes are bright, I woke up smiling while I slept last night. Can it be, that a girl can be the focus of my mind?

I see her lips, the way she laughs, the passion shining in her eyes; her voice surrounds me as it echoes in the dark.

And this morning, I give thanks, whether true or just a glance, to God on high... for He has let me feel a spark.

Mormon Guy

Thursday, September 1

Too Busy For a Wife?

I was talking with a group of guys earlier this week and the conversation turned to wives, girlfriends, and football. It all seemed like banter until one guy said, "You know what the problem is, Mormon Guy? You're too busy for a wife. And you don't need one." He went on to outline the reasons why I was too busy, and then detailed all the external factors that stood in the way of girls who might be interested - the things that made it obvious to onlookers that I was somehow self-sufficient and had no room for romantic female companionship.

I'd discount his comment as a trite and light-hearted way to poke fun at my unmarried state and the rest of my life, but I think he was only partly joking. And I've heard it a few times before... and hearing things always makes me wonder how I should be applying them in my life.

The scriptures say that men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will and choice. I date, even when I have no desire to. I talk with girls and try to find more people to add to the dating pool. I improve my list of talents so that someday I'll match the subconscious list of Prince Charming for whichever princess really becomes the recipient of true love's kiss. And while I'm waiting, I am trying to move forward in life. I'm not waiting for life to begin or insisting that God grant my desires before I begin to make a contribution to society; as I make that contribution, I know that He will bless me and make me into a better man.

But there is a difference between engaging my priorities on work... and working on my priorities towards engagement... especially for me. With a normal guy, love could catch him by surprise - sort of as a side effect of the rest of life, sometimes in spite of not dating or actively searching for a wife. But in my case that won't happen... at least I don't think so. I don't think that the Lord is going to just someday make me fall in love with a girl at first sight and we'll live happily ever after. No... I usually have to work for my blessings, and then the miracle comes... in such a way that I know I really had nothing to do with it, and was probably going in the wrong direction, but it comes. And the miracles in my life come when I am anxiously engaged in doing the right things - not just good things, but the right things. The things that God wants me to do.

So yeah. I think I need to spend more of my effort dating. That thought makes me cringe. But maybe I can convince myself that I love dating by telling myself some of the good things about it.

I love dating because it enables me to change people's lives. I've been an impact for good through dating... and I love dating because it changes me into a better man. I love dating because I learn about people and how to meet their needs. Because I get to do fun stuff with others and make friends. I love dating because I sometimes can set up past girlfriends with current colleagues... and see them hit it off... or make contacts for business or involvement in the community. I love dating because when I date, and get home, I feel like I've accomplished something important in my life... and God promises me that it will work out - not just generally, but in my own personal life. It will work out for me. I love dating because it teaches me to be a better missionary... it helps me see and understand the trials people are facing and develop the tools to help them. And I love dating because it gives me a chance to bear my testimony... to share the gospel with someone and see their eyes light up as they gain a new insight on the truth.

I love dating. At least I'm trying. And hopefully my friends were wrong... and I have plenty of room in my life for dating, and a wife.