Monday, November 28, 2011

The Parable of the Spoons

One night, a man had a dream. He found himself in a room, completely sealed off from the outside world.  There were no doors or windows and no way to escape.  After several hours of walking around the room, a door appeared that he hadn't noticed before; on it was an inscription that read, "For the Damned."  The man hesitated, but seeing no other escape, he walked through the door.

On the other side of the door was a bright, well-lit and ornately decorated room, centered around a long, lavishly appointed banquet table. On the table were hearty meats, savory vegetables, exquisite delicacies, and mouthwatering desserts, elaborately prepared and presented for the table guests.  Several people were seated around the table, but none were eating.  As the man looked closer, he saw that each of the people were tied to their chairs, with one hand tied behind the seat back. The other hand was free, but it held a spoon too long to be of any use to its owner.  The man saw the people load their spoons and turn them back towards themselves, but there was no way for them to hold the spoon in such a way as to feed themselves.  He watched in horror as the people, pale and emaciated, starved to death in agony.

He ran from the banquet hall back into the room in which he originally found himself. On the other side of the room, he noticed another door, upon which he read, "For the Saved." He walked through the door and thought for a moment he'd walked through the first door again.  The room looked identical, with the same embellishments, decorations, and elaborately spread banquet table. The guests at the table were again tied to their chairs, with one free hand holding a spoon that was far too long for them to eat from.  However, the guests were happy and well-fed, each one laughing and talking jocularly with the others. As the man looked closer he noticed a critical difference between the rooms: while the inhabitants of the first had been unable to feed themselves with their spoons, the guests of the second realized that they instead could feed their neighbors with their spoons and be fed in kind.  In serving each other, the saved found life and happiness.

The man realized that Heaven and Hell offered the same circumstances; the difference laid in the way that people treated each other.

Taken from Hindu and Judaic allegories

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I love all holidays.  I like wearing green in March, I enjoy eating May Day cookies, the Provo 4th of July parade is the best, I love the Easter hymns and Christmas carols, I even like learning about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington on President's Day.  I am a holiday kind of guy.

And so it is with joy, anticipation, and gratitude that I welcome and commemorate Thanksgiving 2011 with a blog post.

Contrary to how I make it sound, I live an amazing life.  It has its ups and downs, but through it all, I have been blessed. Every tear shed was counted by a loving Heavenly Father who has sent His angels to be with me, both when I asked for them and when I've turned away.  I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

I am so grateful for a family who loves, supports, identifies with, and prays for me.  I have two amazing brothers that never let me forget to have fun and eat dessert first, and yet show incredible maturity and compassion when the situation calls for it.  I have a fun and loving older sister who is willing to listen to me vent, but also excitedly calls me whenever one of my adorable nieces or nephews does something cute.  I have three siblings-in-law who each have added a unique and invariably positive dynamic to the clan.  I have a father who has taught me frugality, service to others, and how to camp, throw a baseball, and replace a car's brakes.  And I have a mother who wakes up before me every morning to make sure I leave the house with a full lunchbox and a hot breakfast.  I have grandparents who have filled my life with treasured memories and who have encoded my gene pool with any number of characteristics that are mine if I choose to live up to them.  I have aunts, uncles, and cousins who show me by example how a person can succeed in spite of just about any circumstance, and be happier for it.

I have similarly been blessed with friends who lighten my load, whether it be by sharing a joke, playing music with me, offering a listening ear, or inviting me to the night's adventures.  There are also countless spiritual leaders and teachers who have offered a wealth of advice, insight, and empathy, no matter where I stand spiritually. And I'm blessed with professors, bosses, and study partners who provide training and education for a bright future.

I have a great car, a decent snowboard, and all the toys a guy could ever want.  I live in the electronic age, when uplifting messages, practical information, and social interaction are just a mouseclick away. I have a job, more money than I need, and a good start to an education.  I have talents and skills that have aided me and provided me with praise and a good self-image, while still encouraging me to constantly improve and refine them.  I am incredibly blessed.

And yet, even if I had none of those things, I suspect it wouldn't matter much, because I have been given something that has been given to everyone, regardless of their other blessings.  The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ suffered in the Garden and died on the Cross, and then rose again from the Tomb, for me.  He intimately knows me and is with me every step of the way.  He stretches out His scarred hand when I fail and begs me to return when I turn away.  He takes me under His shoulder when I am weak. And he rejoices and celebrates in my happiness.

He offers you and me His grace every day, grace that we can use to pick ourselves up when we fail, comfort our souls when we despair, and continually move forward in a path that will bring us the utmost happiness and joy.  He has offered us all He has and if we truly show gratitude for this gift, He will not let us down.

I bear unequivocal testimony, with every ounce of strength I have, that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. I will go to my grave telling of His love. No matter what happens, no matter what changes, Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose again for all of His brothers and sisters.  He loves us and will always be there, stretching out a scarred hand towards us.  He will never fail us.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Here's to your health, happiness, and bounty for one more year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Goals, and Seeking a Little Advice

I spent a long time Monday night writing a depressing post. The words kept sounding trivial and flighty, in spite of how seismic and strange the emotions motivating them were.  I tried for about an hour, never getting past two poorly written paragraphs, before I abandoned the pursuit in favor of some milk and cookies and an hour of car racing on XBOX. It was a temporary solution to a problem that felt too real to handle with a blog post.

I went to bed early that night. I was tired of dealing with the day and spent the last part of it counting down the minutes till I could go to bed late enough to avoid feeling like an old man. Before I laid down in bed, a said a quick, but earnest prayer.  I told Heavenly Father how I felt.  I told him how worried I was that I was always attracted to my friends.  I asked for some kind of solution, so that someday I could have a good, fulfilling "best-friendship" with someone I appreciated and who appreciated me, without me adding a hopefully-invisible element of being a attracted to him.

Evergreen International says that male homosexuality isn't driven by poor relationships with women; instead it's poor relationships with men that cause our alternate attractions.  Sometime, probably sometime early, we had some kind of experience that left us wanting for genuine and appropriate male bonding, and that desire became toxic as it grew.

Anyway, the next morning, I began thinking of why I felt like I did.  I was happy in that I had been making good choices and had lots of blessings, but I was forced to confront the reality (again) that faithful obedience doesn't mean that I won't still be attracted to men. I'd made those bargains before, that I'd stop looking at pornography, that I'd serve a mission, that I'd go to BYU, that I'd accept any calling He had in store, if He'd just make this attraction go away. But that's just not how it works.

At work, in my hours of alone time, I mused about what to do with the friendship in question. I knew the standard answers, like losing myself in service, magnifying a calling, and improving myself, but those solutions, while worthwhile uses of my time, seemed like they beat around the bush. What I really needed was a way to feel like I could have a healthy relationship with someone.

I decided to make a list of things that make me happy, either superficially or really deeply, and decided that I'd make goals to correspond with each of those happy-makers.  For example, I'm putting money into a savings account that's dedicated to repairing and customizing my car.  I've also gone through my bookshelf and made a pile of books I'll be reading over the next few months. I found some old piano music that I like, so I'm going to start playing again. If this all sounds familiar, it's probably because I've said it before. These are the things that make me happy and I want to give them more prevalence in my life.

The only goal I'm really struggling with is trying to find fulfilling relationships. I'm not really capable of them, at least with other guys, as it turns out. I've outlined my shortcomings, but just have no idea how to approach them. As I was muddling through my list of interpersonal weaknesses (and strengths too), a sentiment I read years ago popped into my head.

Erin Eldridge, author of Born That Way?, writes that in her quest to overcome her same-gender attractions, she was able to supplement her emotional needs and find solace in friendship and fulfilling relationship with the Lord. (Interesting sidebar: Sometime early in the book, she writes that she subconsciously mistrusted God because of his maleness, because of her bad experiences with men in the past, but eventually overcomes that fear. She writes, and I'm paraphrasing because I lost my copy, that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are perfected in their gender.  They are both male personages, but in their flawlessness, they have grown beyond the shortcomings and limitations mortal males have. Interesting insight.)

Does anyone have any experience/practical advice with cultivating such a close relationship with the Godhead? I'd love to hear some insight into the matter. Also, looking for book recommendations.

My life is a good one. I generally am happy, but there's always room for improvement. Seems like getting better at living is a more effective solution than griping into the ethereal blogosphere.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Salvation by Grace Means to Mormons

Linked below is a BYU-Provo devotional address given by Brad Wilcox, a faculty educator at the university and member of the Sunday School General Board.  To be honest, I don't tend to like Brad Wilcox's talks because to me, they sound more like a string of nice, faith-promoting, uplifting stories rather than well-developed discourses on a central theme.  This talk is what changed all that.  Find 30 minutes to spare and watch it.  In all honesty, it will change your life.

I watched this talk on Saturday night and it filled me with hope and confidence.  I am so grateful that Brother Wilcox acknowledges how hard it is to be a Latter-Day Saint and what pressure it can put on an individual.  In his address, he debunks lots of myths that I think most of us have regarding salvation by grace versus salvation through our works.  Watch the talk because I won't do it justice, but the biggest take-home message I received is that grace isn't something that I get rewarded with after I've done all I can do, but instead is a gift I've already received and a tool that I need to use as I'm trying to do all I can do.

He begins by using a story of a student of his worrying because she knows that she's not doing all that she can do, as it impeaches in 2 Nephi 25: 23, "...for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."  This student acknowledges that she likes certain sins and dislikes certain virtues and knows that she hasn't reached the minimum requirement of "after all we can do." She fears that grace won't play a part in her life because she hasn't cleared that bar.  Thank goodness Brother Wilcox gently corrects her misgivings about grace.

He expresses the sentiment beautifully when he likens it to a mother paying for her child's piano lessons.  The child's practice time neither pays back the mother for the money she spent nor does it pay for the lessons themselves, but instead shows that the child appreciates and would like to take full advantage of the paid-for piano lessons. Additionally, the child's imperfections at the piano keyboard do not disqualify him from being able to keep practicing or taking the lessons; instead the child can go back and correct his mistakes and continue to improve. The mother will always supply the lessons when the child is willing to play and improve.

Brother Wilcox quips a few quotables. My favorite goes, "Latter-Day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from, but what He has saved us for."  Another good one comes after he relates a story about a Protestant friend arguing that Mormons are trying to earn their way without grace: "We are not earning Heaven, but instead are learning Heaven."  His point here is that we will fail and fall short, but this life is a time to practice being heavenly, because ultimately, it will be our choice to decide if we want to live with our Heavenly Father for eternity.

This thought intrigues me as well.  He tells a story of a young man who, after a downward spiral, is coerced by his family to attend EFY.  He doesn't even make it through the first day before he demands to come home, uncomfortable and annoyed as he is by his religious surroundings.  Brother Wilcox says that this is what Heaven will be like for some of us.  Instead of Jesus standing at the entrance, forbidding or allowing people to enter, He will be standing at the exit, begging people who want to leave to change their minds and choose to stay and become heavenly. The decision is ours, whether or not to give up.

The ultimate, overall feeling of the talk is one of the Savior's love.  The timing of the talk is excellent as well, because it filled me with hope and faith that, even in my imperfection, the Savior's grace is there for us to partake of and use to improve ourselves.  It makes me feel incredibly grateful that I don't have a minimum bar to reach to acquire this grace, and yet inspires and motivates me to do better now that I know and understand how His grace works a little bit better.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Circling the Wagons

I just found out about the Circling the Wagons conference this last weekend and I'm sad I didn't know about it in time. I'm not really plugged in to the gay-and-Mormon blogosphere, which I generally think is a good thing. I follow a few people here and there, but generally, I like my solitude when it comes to gay men.  I don't have a very good track record of managing relationships with them.  However, I was feeling that isolation today when I realized I missed what could have been a good experience. 

Circling the Wagons is a large-scale conference held in Salt Lake City for gay and lesbian Latter-Day Saints and members of other faiths, or even for those reaching out to either the religious or the gay, or both. I'm sure there's a lot of agenda going on, probably a lot of agenda that might be damaging to my spirituality, but there was one speaker I'd have loved to hear: Bishop Kevin Kloosterman. 

Bishop Kloosterman spoke in the Sunday morning interfaith worship service on the subject of finding peace within.  He spoke on the homophobia in the world at large, calling it "an atrocity" that LGBTQ people of any faith had to deal with any manner of persecution. 

In a clarifying interview with Joanna Brooks, Bishop Kloosterman outlines his quest for knowledge about the whys and wherefores behind homosexuality, especially as it relates to members of the Church.  Having been a bishop for a few years, he felt prompted to learn more about the nature of the battle, even though he'd never encountered it in his life, either with himself, family members, friends, or even members of his ward. (That surprised me.  I honestly thought that every ward had at least one.)  In any case, this came to a boiling point for him recently when Salt Lake experienced three hate crimes directed at homosexuals in a short time.  The bishop explains that it was no longer time to be a Levite, so he started getting more active in the gay Mormon community.

He further clarifies his statements made at the conference, saying that he upholds the standard that the Church has planted regarding homosexuality.

"The way the Tribune reports it takes my words out of context. I was not criticizing the Church. In fact, I felt and feel like we needed to support the leadership of the Church in their movements forward with our gay brothers and sisters."

I appreciate that sentiment.  I admit that in times of weakness I think that the Church is outdated and that homosexuality within the membership will be to the 21st century what being black was to the 20th century.  However, at my core, I believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is revealed today to church leaders.  I also believe that things will work out in their own time and season, and while I'm not positive what form that they'll take, I still believe it.  So I appreciate that Bishop Kloosterman acknowledges both the struggle and the strides the leadership is taking towards spreading a gospel of love, while still upholding the standards of the Church. 

In any case, I don't regret not going to the conference too much, especially since this was the first Sunday in a very long time that I didn't leave my ward feeling hopeless.  It's good I stayed home, but I will definitely be Celestial-TiVoing Bishop Kloosterman's talk when I get to the other side.

Straight Crush

Rachel Platten, how would you like to become Rachel MP?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Some Semblance of Relief

After my admittedly embarrassing post on Thursday night, I was left to ponder what to do with myself. Every option seemed impossible, but as my brother is wont to say, "The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time."

I set a list of smaller goals that perhaps seemed more attainable than turning my life around and serving a mission in three months.  I decided that, to serve a mission, first I needed to grow more trust in the Lord's plan for me, and if I felt that He trusted me to live with another probably-handsome young man for two years, then I could do it.  I also decided that, first, to become mission-worthy, I need to become temple-worthy, so I spoke with my bishop about the prospect of getting my temple recommend and receiving my endowment, even if I decide not to serve, just so I could feel like I was doing more for my salvation than I currently am.  I also set out a bunch of fun new rules that I get to follow, like making sure to pray and read in the morning before I get to work, as well as some personal goals like swimming and jogging to keep all this a 10 and spending more time out of the house pursuing my favorite hobbies with friends and family.  Introspection is all well and good, but for the time being, I think the less time spent alone in my head the better.

Among so many other things, the advice my loving bishop had to offer was that I needed not fear disappointment in myself or others' disappointment in me if I honestly feel like a mission isn't a good choice.  That one is hard for me to wrap my head around, because all I see is disappointment whenever I tell my parents that I need to postpone my mission, but hopefully my new goals will help with that. He also reassured me of some of my more positive qualities, which I wasn't fishing for or necessarily inclined to listen to, but it was nice of him to say anyway.  And he seemed optimistic about my ability to either serve a mission or serve in the temple, which will help me feel optimistic as well.  Admittedly, I'm living off of borrowed light, but at least I'm living.

Perhaps the biggest piece of encouragement I received this week came from an unlikely source. I attended a funeral of one of our family friends yesterday and was overwhelmed with her family's faith and reassurance in the Atonement of Christ.  Her daughter, a girl I used to hang out with occasionally, shared a touching and optimistic letter her mother had written a year ago, which referenced Job 23:8-10.

Behold I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him.  On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: but he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.

My friend's mother had found this scripture while battling depression and struggling to understand why her righteous desires weren't being granted and wondering why the Lord's will was so different and difficult to follow.  As my friend read this letter, I saw myself standing in her mother's shoes.  I felt a little selfish thinking of myself at someone else's funeral, but at the same time, I saw this woman for so much more than the perfect parent, spouse, and church member that I initially thought she was.  She battled disease, depression, and disillusionment for her positive outlook; it did not come naturally to her.

I suppose that's how things generally go. To crib an idea from a friend, the Lord gives us those lonely Thursday nights and then awakes us on Friday morning with the perspective we need to move forward with a little more faith than we had the night before.  Perhaps I'll remember that next time I feel the world start to fall apart.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hanging by a Thread

(Full disclosure: there isn't going to be a moral or a spiritual thought or an epiphany at the end.  I'm fed up with all of that for the night, so I'm not going to do it.)

I am fully active in my ward.  I often get compliments based on the insightfulness of my lessons and comments in Sunday School and institute and I still get referenced in people's talks because of the aurora story I shared a few months ago in testimony meeting.  I told the story of my conversion at FHE the other night and my kind and loving bishop came up after and thanked me for my insights and contributions to the ward.  If all you saw of  me was on Sunday morning and Monday and Thursday night, you'd be convinced that I'm built on the rock and that I never wavered in my faith.

But there are nights, like tonight, when I should be at Institute but I can't bring myself to go.  There are whole days when I hover right on the brink of breakdown from alarm clock to bedtime.  I wonder what reward could possibly be worth all of this trouble and aggravation, and then I think about how much my life would still suck if I gave up and gave in now, what with all the family issues and alienation from my friends it would cause, to say nothing of the potential eternal ramifications such a decision would have.

The ward is no longer a happy place.  Sundays make me sick to my stomach for all the gossip about who's dating who and who just got married and who's having a baby in a few months, feeling like most of those outcomes are long shots for me. Seeing all those pretty girls who doll themselves up to attract a man, and feeling powerless to make anything happen there. Being the perennial wingman to the ward player, the eternal bromance guy to the lonely single kid, the inveterate "safe haven" for both guys and girls to unload on.  It gets tiresome and I'm sick of it.

To hell with it all.  I'm sick of being gay.  I'm over being different.  I'm tired of not being on a mission because I can't get my mind around the fact that I could be obedient while living with at least one probably handsome man for 24 long months.  I'm done being scared of getting outed again. I am so tired of constantly battling the temptation to look at porn again, to flirt with other guys, to do the things that I'd do if God weren't looking.  I'm disgusted with myself for thinking that I'd disobey if God weren't looking.  I'm revolted at the thoughts I have to chase from my mind. I'm tired of constantly reliving my mistakes and wishing I could travel through time.  I'm tired of reading my scriptures with a question in mind and then feeling abandoned when I close the book.  I'm exhausted every night, but can't fall asleep because I can't stop thinking about how much I hate my life sometimes.  I pray for the Spirit, then bitch because I feel like living a spirit-worthy life is too difficult.

I know there's more I could do.  I'm conscious of my blessings and I know that things could be worse.  I'm fully aware that my lack of faith is what is causing all of this insanity right now. I'm sure that if I were stronger and exhibited more self control, I wouldn't have so many issues and wrestling matches with obedience and faith.  But, I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam, and right now, I feel like I'm tied up and the noose is around my neck and I'm waiting for either the last-minute pardon or for the floor to fall out from under my feet.

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