For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

- Mosiah 3:19

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Forgiveness and the Bishop

Things yet again become terribly confusing. Yesterday, I met with my therapist and broke down, confusion seems to reign in my mind. The "damn it" principle is alive and well. But as I continue to practice surrender, things certainly don't become less confusing, they simply become more manageable. I've been sober now for 35 days. I want to pride myself on that, taking credit for that, but the reality is I know it's a gift from God. I thank Him for that gift.

 I've met someone, as we continue to see each other he wants to do more, but I am coming to prize my sobriety more and more. I like how I feel sexually sober. I used to tie sobriety to a commitment to honor covenants of God. This coupling caused me such distress and was terribly difficult for me to undo. But I have, or am practicing undoing, as it has enabled my sobriety.

 Well the above is simply an update...I went to church this past Sunday and while the topic was about priesthood in the home (I'll leave aside the numerous critiques of that), the sermon being preached in my head was of forgiveness. My sponsor told me that forgiveness is "letting go of the hope of a better past." I sat in the pew with such a distressed heart, not because of the weighty matters about me and my place in the church, but rather because of my un-Christlike behavior.

For whatever reason, though not quoted in any talk, the scripture, "pray for those that despitefully use you" came to mind. I sat and realized, that while I've been deeply hurt by the words of my Bishop, while there may be singular instances of certain things said, there were also consistent things said over the course of my counsel with him that were deeply painful. I sat there in the pew contemplating the words of my sponsor and felt a stirring inside of me amid the deep heaviness. I looked at my Bishop recognizing his imperfections (whatever they may be) all the while struggling to fully owning mine.

Yet, I was still not ready to act upon the spiritual stirrings. All I was reminded was of the pain caused by his words over the period of our counsel, my frame started to shake, tears of pain welled up in my eyes, and an intense fear overcame me. I put my head down to hopefully not be noticed after the service. He approached me, and in my feeble attempt to be civil, I coldly acknowledged him. I left church feeling more heavy from that interaction.

While I am not offended, I am deeply hurt. I contemplated why there was such pain, my therapist reminded me that John Bradshaw explained in Healing the Shame that Binds You, "Sexuality is the core of human selfhood. Our sex is not something we have or do; it is is who we are. It's the first thing we notice about each other. Sexuality is a basic fact in all created things...Our sexual energy (libido) is our unique incarnation of the life force itself. To have our sex drive shame is to be shame to the core." It is this that happened repeatedly in the interactions with my Bishop. While he may not be cognizant of it, it nonetheless occurred, and seeing him reminds me of that deep shaming.

My therapists affirmed that that type of shaming occurs often with gay members counseling with Priesthood leaders. He explained to me that is why I have such fear. Regardless of the fear, I knew the Christian thing to do was to ask for forgiveness for my cold reception and resistance to my Bishops attempts at friendship and fellowship. So despite how painful it was, I sent him an email to ask for forgiveness for my coldness, it was awkwardly worded. It is civil, it is Christian, and while I may still have trouble accepting his friendship for fear of more shaming, I will practice letting go. I will even practice letting go of my Bishop owning the consequences of his actions.

Doing so will enable my sobriety, and so I practice.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Priori headaches...

So I've been sober for a month now and it feels good. My sponsor tells me that the the good thing about sobriety is you get your feelings back; the bad part of sobriety is that you get your feelings back. While it has been only a month, I am coming to sense the truth in this. But as my therapist says part of this is that my system is being drained of the addictive elements and I'm coming back down and connecting with myself - acting out with my compulsive sexual behavior is merely a way for me to disconnect from myself and my emotions.

And believe me there's a lot I do not want to connect with, most of it dealing with the implications of long-term activity in the church and what that means in facing the seemingly irresolvable question of homosexuality in the church. But despite that, I've been sober and I thank God for that!

There's lot for sure. But I've been able to process some tensions that exist around this question. I think at the moment the biggest question that I face when I come to think about me being gay and Mormon is how do I navigate and create a space for myself and others like me in the current doctrinal framework, without having to deny part of my identity (as is the implication of not using the labels "gay," or the addage of "just don't act on it"), without having to keep my life a secret, without having to abide by the heterosexual injunctions of the church culture, and so forth.

It seems to me that there are several facets to this: there is a view of the gospel tied to a heterosexual normative view that has been passed down (and changed) by white males for the last several hundred years. But this view is largely the work of mortals (imperfect) and constructed to ensure they maintain their privilege and power. Further this perspective is not largely questioned by many people, because there is seeming congruence when this heterosexual view of world is laid over the gospel (and Father's perspective). It seems to me, that this practice is not questioned because of the seemingly congruence, thus we have practices where non-white culture (and practices) are viewed with great discomfort in the church (these include dress, language, perspectives, etc). Though diversity is celebrated, it is done so in very controlled ways, where culture is defined as merely dress, food, and other superficial things that can be easily abandoned when "serious" work of the church needs to happen, therefore, the colorful attire is put off, the language changes, and the white shirts appear, the short cropped hair appears, and efforts to look like a white Mormon family become priority. But more important, what they also adopt are the gender roles and norms of the white Mormon family. This practice is largely unquestioned and it is at some level considered change via the atonement and therefore considered proximity to Christ and therefore faithful.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is the wrong logic. Perhaps, God's way of viewing is different from ours and He is asking us to be highly critical of our own worldly practices and importune His courts to enable and empower our understanding of the workings of heaven, rather than assuming that the way we have been taught is God's way. I'm not sure if this makes sense.

But the point I'm trying to make is that perhaps the hetersexual lens and its attendant privilege in the church may be a hindrance in gaining further light and knowledge on the matter of homosexuality. Perhaps God thinks of this quite different, but because we are not ready to question the institutions of heterosexuality and its practice in how we structure and think about ourselves and the doctrine that we are not ready for this light and knowledge.

Perhaps not. Perhaps all God is asking us to do is continue to be critical and to rise above the frameworks of organizing and understanding the world that we've been given in mortality. Perhaps doing so will enable us to understand the place of the homosexual in the church. This does not mean we discount any of the profound spiritual experiences that have been communicated truth to us, rather it simply means that perhaps we could expand out thinking.

Anyhow, this is the thought (however incomplete) that's been noodling in my head.

I've developed a very good friendship with a guy (I'll call him Andrew). Andrew is a grad student in feminist studies, we've been having some great intense conversations about the nature of queer-ness, it has been enlightening. But I think what is most comforting about this friendship is that for the first time I do not feel like I have to hid any part of myself. He is indigenous, I am indigenous. He is a radical political thinker, I am a radical political thinker. He was religious, I'm trying to be religious. He is queer, I'm queer. There is something about that combination of characteristics that makes me feel so comfortable. I do not have to explain why I'm gay, I don't have to explain my political positions, I don't have to explain why a person of color experiences the world differently than white people. These are all just givens, I don't have to hold back part of that, nor do I have to be careful with what I say. It's understood. Anyhow, Andrew has been a great help in helping me feel comfortable talking about my sexuality and is OK with my struggle with the Church. Having him as a friend has helped me feel accepted, he accepts all of me.

Often times in the church, even before I "came out" I knew a part of me, the indigenous, radical, would always make many church members uncomfortable and question the veracity of my faith - and they have. Some years ago I was called into the Stake President's office because of my mobilizing around Indigenous water rights, which affected the white Mormon ranchers among others. He chastised me and told me that I would "think" my way out of the church with what I was doing and threatened to take my temple recommend from me. From that experience, I struggled to make sense. I took my covenants seriously about not speaking evil of the Lord's anointed. So it was then that I realized that there are parts of me that I could never fully share with others in the church because it would bring them discomfort and therefore lead to questions of my faith.

Being with Andrew, I do not feel that way. Also Andrew has been helpful in pointing out all the guys who are apparently 'checking me out." This is interesting, flattering, but also confusing. We were at a thrift store this weekend and a guy across the rack was eyeing me - I didn't know what to do, but eventually left without doing anything. Andrew understood.

So this gets to the other things that have been on my mind, as I dilate on frustration. I went to a fireside on homosexuality and the church this weekend - the speaker was great, though there were a lot of unanswered questions. Despite that, I think the approach taken by the speaker was inclusive and critical of the larger heteronormative institutions at work in the church. I appreciated that.

This then gets to my frustration with members of the church in how they react to this issue. 1) The married people are at the head of this trying to figure out what is best for the homosexual. (This is crazy, much like white people getting together to discuss what the best way for black people to be happy and included in society, without having black people at the meetings or allowed to speak). 2) These come in two varieties: a) the liberal mormons who, when they approach me, assume that I've not thought deeply about options when the come with their supposed enlightened thinking of "I'm an active Mormon and would have no problem with you finding a partner and being happy." Responding to that supposed "enlightened" response could take pages upon pages. The second variety b) are the uber active Mormons who simply say "just don't act on it" as their enlightened phrase, as if though that never occured to me. Yet again, there is much that can be said with that "enlightened" view that they have not even considered. But that will be for another time.

At the moment, I write as a way to distract me from my dissertation. I don't know much, this I know. But what I do know is that for whatever reason God is not ready to give us further light and knowledge, but that does not mean He does not want us to puzzle it out in our minds.

I will continue to do so and try to refrain from acting out as the puzzling produces much anxiety in me. I surrender to God and hope I remain sober today!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Increasing Revelatory Capacity

It is with great hesitation, but admitted humble expression that I take note of the profound truths embedded in the fleshy tablets of my heart.

Last night, I talked with God. I told Him that I am gay, to which I received a confirmation that that was indeed the case, I asked for clarification on the meaning of "gender" in the Family Proclamation. To which there was an absence of feeling. After which I asked if Elder Oaks' and Elder Holland's explanation that one should not refer to themselves as "gay" in the sense of a noun (with its connotation suggesting that there are gay people) - as opposed to using it as an adjective (which implies gay is a changeable condition). In this, I received a mixed response, simply that while these are prophets, seers and revelators, there are things they do not understand. To which I asked then, "how do I refer to myself?" "Who am I?" "Is my eternal gender really heterosexual?" To these questions, I received silence, and emptiness of feeling.

At this point I was completely frustrated and then proceeded to ask, "then what questions should I ask? What are the right questions to ask?" Again, there was silence. In frustration I threw up my arms and went to bed. I could not sleep, about an hour later, a question was gently laid on my mind, "How do I do thy will?"

While all of these questions certainly would clarify much, apparently for me, the greatest question of my soul happens to be, "Lord, how do I do thy will?"

As I've thought about this, perhaps this is what Elder Maxwell referred to as the need for the knees of the mind to bend before God. I recognize that there are several things about being gay and in the church:

1. God doesn't mind if I refer to myself as gay (rather He affirms that I am).

2. That for whatever reason He is withholding further light and knowledge on this issue.

3. That God knows me better than I know myself, He even knows the deeper and yearning questions of my soul.

This is both comforting and disconcerting. Comforting because I am coming to know that God is certainly involved and fully aware the layered and textured complexity of this issue, but at the moment simply requires a willingness to yield to His will. But this does not mean that I simply step away from continuing to interrogating the informal institutions surrounding the church. By institutions, I mean the formal and informal rules that structure interactions. Thus these institutions are inherently biased and unfortunately overshadow one's interpretation of eternal principles.

Disconcerting because it affirms that God does speak to Prophets and that His word is eternal. Thus priesthood power is real, despite the imperfect bearers of it. This is disconcerting because it requires that I mute my critiques and interrogation of statements of Church leaders on this issue (no matter how naive their understanding is). The point is to search for the eternal principles they wrap in their limited understanding of the world and this issue.

I've been sober for nearly a month. Expressing anger at God has allowed me to gain access to Him again, further, in a paradoxical turn of events, expressing anger to God has simultaneously melted away my anger towards Him and prioritized the questions of my soul.

I, at the moment, stand intellectually amazed at the movements and stirrings of Heaven. While I know God still knows that I feel my future is uncertain, He is simply asking me to follow Him today - to surrender my will to His today.

I think I can do that.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Losing is Pregnant with Chance...

Things have progressed. I'm not clear where they are going, but they are moving with some consistency. The outcome of this movement is I now simply blurt out to people that "I'm more OK today than I was yesterday." I am losing my anger, losing myself, losing me. While this scares me to no end, "losing is" as poet Derrick Brown notes, "pregnant with chance," that is, for me losing myself, losing my dreams, losing my desires can yield eternal rewards, only with the aide of Heaven. Yet, I must lose myself in the vision of God, I must lose myself in the vision of eternity, I must lose myself in Christ. Thus, consistent losing can yield something far better than I can even imagine.

I went on a date Friday night, I met the guy on OkCupid. It was a nice evening. We met for dinner and had a conversation getting to know each other, afterward we went to poetry event. There some poets I've come to admire like Derrick Brown and others who read their poetry. It was there in that cathartic ambiance that it struck me, through the moving words of Derrick Brown and others that being connected and grounded with who I really am is essential for healthy living.

This realization was coupled with an experience I've had of being able to express my anger to God. The first of that anger came several weeks ago, I left church early, as it agitated all the beggarly elements of my soul, but it also presented to me all the things that are empirically found wanting in the church (the informal institutions laced with racism, with sexism, with a conflation of capitalism and spirituality, with homophobia, classism, and general ethnocentrism), but that is something I've come to deal with, yet, I left angry, yet again. I was not sure why.

Certainly I could say it's because I don't understand, or any number of things related to this struggle. While driving back to my apartment I started to pray, "God, Father [tears started to form and fall from my cheeks] I can't do it." At this point, the anger started swelling, I tried to mute that anger in my conversation with God, "Father, please help me, I don't know what to do...damn it (sorry Father)'s just that (damn it), I don't know, I don't know. Why am I this way? Why must I forsake these most natural of desires? Why Lord? Damn it. Damn it. Fuck! Sorry Father." At this point more tears and a scream to let out the anger, and then in a raised voice, "Fuck you God. Fuck you!" At this point I ended my prayer. There was something cathartic, something releasing. I know God understands my anger, He understands why I am angry and can articulate that anger better than I can. He is ever patient waiting for me to understand my anger so I can let it go. Such mercy, such love.

Since then, I've found maintaining sobriety an easier task and more desireable, it's easier to maintain physical intimacy aside from a brief hug, as I sort out my relationship with God.

And so, like Adam, I know I am naked, I know what God is asking of me, and I know He will continue to loving encourage a truthful response, even if that response does not lead to a commitment to His church. Knowing that gives me great comfort.

I am under no illusion that by choosing faith that I will get married, that the pain of the choice I make will dissipate, nor that people will understand (their understanding ends when they mis-perceive "healing" and proximity to the Savior as expressions of faith (the bearing of testimony), service, or activity in church - none of these are reliable indicators of genuine faith. I recognize that choosing faith now is to a very large degree choosing pain the rest of my life, with Christ enabling my capacity to bear that pain each and every day I live. It is this that God knows. It is this that I know, and it is this that my priesthood leaders and other members of the church can't seem to wrap their heads around. Enduring that daily pain with Christ will yield happiness, but that happiness is not cheap, and it's a form of happiness that few understand or can imagine.

And so I assess whether my hiding place from God is sufficient. I don't know. But I do know that God loves me, and that He will continue to love me regardless of my choice. I know He is infinitely patient and merciful. And I know He understands my anger, and the ineffability of the choice before me.

And I thank God for that!