Thursday, December 10, 2015

You Do Not Have To Be Good



02 January 2015 - Nebraska
life in the driver’s seat

When I hit the road and began my journey eastward, just days into 2015, I didn’t really grasp the significance of the shift I was making. I knew that I was going from partnered to single, west to east, urban to rural, from known to unknown- but I underestimated how much my well-established mental framework would be challenged.

Where I grew up, the sixth grade marked the start of middle school. At the beginning of each day, we would go to our “homeroom,” which was assigned according to last name. It was where announcements were made, attendance was taken, and where we did occasional activities. One morning, our homeroom teacher was upset about a pair of kid-scissors that were never turned in the previous day. You know the kind— the shitty ones with plastic casing in various colors that hurt your hand to use and would sometimes work better if you switched to your non-dominant hand— those scissors. She was sure one of us had stolen them.

I always did my best to be inconspicuous in middle school. I didn’t like attention. I didn’t really have friends and preferred to stay quiet and out of the way- focusing instead on being a good student whom teachers appreciated. So naturally, I did not anticipate that I would be suspected of stealing the missing scissors. But when our homeroom advisor threatened to punish the class indefinitely until the thief came forward, a boy I hardly knew pointed is finger right at me. And, within seconds, the whole class believed him.

The teacher watched as the boy took my backpack and emptied all its contents onto the table. Kids nearby went through my things while the whole class glared at me. Of course I wasn’t guilty— I was a good kid. But I was sure made to feel like I was bad. The teacher didn’t intervene or discredit the accusation. Instead, she asked that I turn them in to her if I didn’t want everyone to pay for my crime. I hated it. I felt like scum. It was humiliating.

From a young age, I remember feeling like I needed to prove that I wasn’t bad. The reality was I was the only one that needed to be convinced of this because, despite that sixth-grade incident, the people in my life would have never thought of me as “bad.” But then, they didn’t know the secret that I was trying desperately to repress and, the fact was, those same people spoke of homosexuals only in terms which clearly indicated that gay people were bad people.

In my young mind, the logic followed that if I wasn’t bad, I couldn’t possibly be gay. And so, my mental framework was built around this intense need to prove that I wasn’t bad. If I succeeded, not only would people never suspect me, I could also go on denying it to myself, indefinitely.

I ’ m   n o t   b a d.

I ’ m   n o t   b a d.

I ’ m   n o t   b a d.

As hard as I tried, however, I never could succeed in convincing myself of this. Instead, all I had managed to do was to give control of my life over to other people’s definition of good, and there are few things more awful than watching the world pass by from the passenger seat of your own life.

Coming out and embracing my humanity was extremely empowering, but it should surprise no one that it did not fix this misguided obsession with being good. Gay or not, most of us are obsessed with meeting other people’s expectations of the ideal. We buy into the same symbols of success, status and power. We accept images of the ideal body, the ideal home, the ideal family, the ideal life. I think, perhaps, that it is our attempt to mask whatever bit of bad we discern within ourselves. I don’t know why it took physically removing myself from the life I was living to see it, but as I took refuge in this small corner of rural Maryland, I realized this whole framework was flawed.

1 May 2015 - a goose in the pasture out back
It was spring and I had been watching and admiring two geese who decided to make the farm their home for a couple months. The pair of them would hang out in and around the pond during the day, and every evening around sunset, they’d take flight, squawking as they circled around the farm before tucking themselves in for the night in the pastures behind the house.  Naturally, the title of the poem caught my attention. I didn’t need to very far, however, before I experienced this epiphany. The period at the end of the first line instantly shattered my old framework in one profound moment.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

You do not have to be good. I felt those words sink deep into my being the moment they entered my consciousness. It was so simple. All that effort I put into trying to convince myself that I wasn’t bad was wasted energy, like trying to still water with my hands. I would certainly never believe it, not entirely, and even after doing all I could to be the picture-perfect walking definition of good, there would always be others who would paint me a thief.

4 May 2015 - The happy couple in the pond

I’ve realized that no matter how hard we try to achieve the ideal, we will always fall short. The abs on the cover of the magazine will always be tighter. The grass on the other side of the fence will always be greener. We will only find peace within ourselves when we are comfortable being the person we are, in this very moment- the good and the bad, the light and the dark, the sweet and the sour.



My drive east took me three days. Empowering as it is to take back the wheel that guides my life, I couldn’t have possibly made it safely to my destination without stopping and resting. Being the sole driver forced me to be okay with where I was on my journey— even if that place was Nebraska in the middle of winter. If we intend to be happy and at peace, we must learn to appreciate and find beauty in where we are today, even when our ultimate goal is further along the path toward improvement and growth.

Y o u   d o   n o t   h a v e   t o   b e   g o o d.

Y o u   d o   n o t   h a v e   t o   b e   g o o d.

Y o u   d o   n o t   h a v e   t o   b e   g o o d.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

How Long Will it Hurt? - Forgiving the Unforgivable

A little boy went running down the halls toward his parent’s room, his father trailing behind him. He burst through the door and found his mother crying in a fetal position on the bed. The boy’s father swept him into his arms and closed the door before carrying the child with him to the bench swing on the back patio. She didn’t like crying in front of people, and today— she needed to cry.

“Why is mommy crying?” the boy asked, concerned.

“Because she is sad,” his father replied.

“Why is she sad?” the boy continued.

“Because she misses grandpa, son,” he explained.

The boy thought for a moment, “cause she can’t see him any more?”

“That’s right.”

He scrunched his face and looked down for a moment before he looked back up at his father and asked,

“How long will it hurt?”

The man took a long draw of breath, looking up at the stars. Then, he turned toward the boy and answered,

“always, always.”

- - - - -

I lead a generally happy life. Do not misunderstand, however, I’ve never been one of those naturally peppy, all-smiles-all-the-time sort of people. It has taken considerable work for me to learn how to take responsibility for my own happiness and to actively create a life in which I find meaning and purpose and beauty. And yet, no matter how hard I try or how much space I put between me and my past, I can’t seem to entirely escape the pain there.

Recently, I was reminded of this when my old faith tradition, the LDS Church, issued a new policy regarding LGBT people and their children. Even years after being done with the church, the news hurt in a way I was unprepared for. Not only was it a sharp reminder of the rejection and abandonment by my faith community, it showed blatant disregard for the pain that I and so many others have endured at the hands of the Church.

I’ve been trying hard to forgive the institution because I don’t want to feel victimized my entire life— I don't think it is productive and I think it gives the offender power over me. It has proven difficult to do, however, when pain is still being inflicted. As I’ve thought about this dilemma, I’ve determined that I cannot wait for the pain to go away if I am serious about forgiveness. I can’t wait because I’ve realized that the answer to the question, “how long will it hurt” is “always, always.”

But how?

LGBT people in general, and LDS LGBT people specifically (I know- so many capital letters!), eventually find themselves orphaned in many ways. Most LGBT people are raised by heterosexual cisgender parents. They don’t grow up with a model by which to learn about queer relationships, queer love, or queer households. Their parents face real limitations when asked about things like sex, dating, or what it is like to be a sexual minority. LDS individuals must also face the fact that there is no place or plan for them in their theology or their religious community. In the most extreme cases, although not entirely uncommon, they are actually cut off by family and friends. 

The result is that LGBT people must search for a new adopted family of sorts. One made up of people who do share their experiences and who do have a place for them. We flock to places that are safe for us to be who we are- where we can walk down any street and take the hand of our beloved without hesitation. It provides protection and belonging and affirmation of our equal capacity and desire to love and be loved. And although this can provide a sense of security in which we can build happy lives, many still suffer with feelings of abandonment, much like adopted children often do, even the happiest of homes. The hurt stays with us, always.

A few years ago, I connected with Bobby* on Facebook. We had lots of mutual friends because he too was a gay former-mormon. Eventually, I met him in person when I was visiting New York, where he lived. We met again recently as he was driving though Maryland. Inevitably, we chatted about our common history.

A photo I took looking up at the
bell tower in 2009
He was at BYU the same time that I was. In fact, he and I both worked in the library and were in the same room many times, though we wouldn’t officially meet for years. He told me the story about the circumstances in which he came to terms with the reality that he was gay, and I told him mine. It was a day in January when he sat in the shadow of the bell tower on campus and sobbed as he grappled with his reality. How many times had I passed that very spot? Yet he endured that pain just as I had endured mine while at BYU— in complete and utter isolation.

From Maryland, he continued his trip and stopped by BYU on his way through Utah. He sent a picture of the exact spot he sat in that day in January. He also sent a picture of the 2015 version of the front help-desk guy at the library- where I sat those years ago. I asked how it felt for him to be there now, curious to see whether it was similar to feelings I’ve experienced when I've gone back. Sure enough, it felt the same as it had for me- a strange mix of nostalgia followed by growing anxiety and the slightly frantic desire to get out.

Another from 2009 of a bench just
a few feet from where Bobby sat
It made me angry again. And it made me hurt again. How could our church, one we devoted our lives to, make us endure that soul-wrenching pain in isolation? Countless people were processing this deeply painful reality, all the while feeling as if they were the only ones. We had no one to talk to. We had legitimate reason to fear being rejected by everyone in our world, and even being kicked out of school. We felt absolutely alone and absolutely hopeless even while we literally occupied the same spaces. Shouldn’t our faith community have been our safe place?

We were there during prop 8. We listened to the talks that insisted there was no such thing as gay people- only people with “same-sex attraction.” We grew up in denial of our own reality because we thought we could concur it. It wasn’t a part of our identity- it was simply an attraction, and therefore we could change it. After all, why would God do that to anyone? No reason to talk to anyone about it. After all, it was icky and perverse. We didn’t want people to be disgusted with us and we didn’t want to be shunned or punished— besides, we could overcome it, and it would soon be a non-issue. No problem. We weren't those creeps that people didn’t want their children around— we were return missionaries and BYU students. We were card-carrying believers!

But it was a problem. It was a problem we dealt with practically every day of our lives. It was our normal- our reality. We didn’t know any other way to live. But you can only live in denial for so long. You can only rationalize and pretend for so long. You can only churn those thoughts around so many times in your head. Eventually, you run out of strength, of spirit, and of the emotional ability to go on. And, when that day inevitably comes, your world comes crashing down.

My cousin was recently taken to the hospital. She had an infection from an abscessed tooth. It went bad quickly and required emergency surgery. The thing about these sort of infections, is that they have often been festering for a long period of time. And even though you may not realize it, your body has been constantly pouring resources into fighting it. It isn't until the body can't fight any longer that things get obviously bad. And it isn’t until the infection has been cleared that your renewed energy makes you realize how much of a daily toll the infection had been taking on your body. This is what it is like to grow up gay in Mormonism.

Once you accept yourself and come out of emergency surgery- you are shocked at how much energy you have to devote to other things… to being happy. Life feels worth living for the first time in years because you aren’t constantly battling this hidden festering infection day after tired day. This isn’t just a subtle difference. I remember waking up and feeling something distinctly different. It was hope- something that had eventually faded completely over the years. Immediately, I became aware that all those years of misery were entirely unnecessary. I also learned of many others like me who never make it successfully out of surgery. The infection took them and it was all due to neglect.

We didn’t need to feel so alone all those years. We didn’t need to let the infection fester until it became an emergency. Unlike an abscess, we know in our core who we are. We become aware of our sexuality without anyone’s help or instruction. But the Church made us feel ashamed for who we were. It instructed us and encouraged us to deny it- to make it undetectable. It continues to ensure that queer kids suffer in silence and isolation, even while countless others around them are fighting the same. exact. life-threatening. battle. It is unforgivable. The Church does not deserve forgiveness.

I, however, do deserve it. I deserve the healing that comes when I am able to forgive.

It is said that you cannot have one without the other. You cannot know light if you do not know darkness. You cannot know what softness is if you have never felt hardness. And you cannot know joy without knowing sorrow. Yin and Yang. The price of our high level of self-awareness and creative capacity is the knowledge of our own mortality and eventual destruction. These all come gift-wrapped in the same package.

I will not and cannot forgive the church for those who don’t make it out of the emergency surgery that the neglect and abuse ultimately requires. It is not my responsibility and it is not required for my own healing. But, I can and must forgive the church for the pain it causes in my own life, even while it continues relentlessly to inflict more.

I’m learning that packaged together with the years of intense agony, self-hatred, and painful isolation were years of equally intense joy, self-love, and deep meaningful connection that I have only just begun to experience. The pain can become a part of my healing as I recognize that the equally strong capacity for joy is buried along side it, deep within my being. This is the silver lining that I can and must draw upon for the strength to forgive, because the reality of life is, sometimes the pain never really goes away.


How long will it hurt?

Always, always.


…and thats okay.

Stars shine more brightly when shrouded in the darkest of nights.










*name changed for privacy

They Will Never Break You

I, like many, was surprised how the LDS Church's new policy regarding LGBT people and their children affected me and my family, despite having left Mormonism years ago. I wrote about it on social media over the course of the week, but wanted to give those thoughts a place here:

The deep pain of betrayal by your own community never really fully goes away. It is a level of rejection that is hard to forget, especially with occasional reminders that you are still an outcast. It always seems that just as I feel like I've finally triumphed over those deep-seeded feelings of rejection, the knife is rotated just enough to remind me it was never removed.

I can handle it. I am strong enough to defend my dignity and humanity and I have developed armor to protect the self-worth I've fought hard for since leaving that abusive environment. But, I fear for the ones who aren't capable or who aren't strong enough or who do not have a voice. Know that you are precious, worthy, and good. Do not let the ignorance of others put out your light. You have so much to offer the world.

When I was a kid I remember other kids catching ladybugs, prying open their vibrant red cover, and pulling off their wings so they wouldn't fly away. I never understood why anyone would do such a thing to a beautiful, harmless ladybug.

As I grew older, I learned that we encounter these people in our lives as well. They seek to remove our wings, sometimes in an attempt for control or to exert authority over us. Other times it is simply for their own pleasure. And some do it because our ability to fly is threatening to them... it challenges them. They may even succeed in clipping our wings.

But they cannot destroy the heart. They cannot keep us from joy. They cannot take our power. We can be whole again. We can fill our lives with beauty and light. And we can still fly to the highest of heights.

from Normal Song by Perfume Genius:


No memory, no matter how sad
And no violence, no matter how bad
Can darken the heart, or tear it apart

Take my hand, w
hen you are scared
And I will pray, if you go back out there

Comfort the man, h
elp him understand
That no floating sheet, no matter how haunting
And no secret, no matter how nasty
Can poison your voice, or keep you from joy.

The last thing I want to share this weekend is a poem written to my younger, former self- and to all those LGBT LDS youth who are suffering in silence, just as I and countless others did before them. To those who feel they must seek to justify this policy and insist that it is for the good of the children or that it is out of respect for LGBT people, think of the message these leaders continue to send to the kids sitting next to you in church who, unbeknownst to you, are gay or transgender.

No one in my whole world growing up ever said anything in defense of gay people. And as I was groomed to become the perfect Mormon boy, singing “follow the prophet,” “I hope they call me on a mission,” and “I love to see the temple,” I also became increasingly aware that I would likely be rejected by everyone in my world if ever they found out the truth.

It is shameful that these kids continue to be treated as collateral damage. That the epidemic of suicide and homelessness among LDS LGBT youth is so easily disregarded. It is a crime. To defend it is to be an accomplice. I hurt for your youth, perhaps even your own child.


They will never break you

God’s love is stronger than their ignorance,
But still their words cut deep,
They pierce your precious soul,
And stain your beautiful innocence.

Know you are not broken,
That they will never break you.
God’s love is bigger than their silly fears,
And they will all be gone soon.

The love you feel is real.
The love you feel is stronger.
Let it in and give it out,
You are not the monster.

Please take heart and please be strong
The road to find your worth is long.

But oh, the joy, the joy, the joy-
And they will never break you.
They will never break you.
No, they will never break you.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ink- the beginning

It hurt more than I thought it would. It was bearable enough though. After a few seconds of pain he would let up, gifting an immediate moment of relief before he’d continue again. I felt so out of place in that room- surrounded by people and images that years of conditioning taught me to judge so harshly. Topless women, bleeding hearts, demons and gods— Tattoos, they said, defiled the body. 



As a child, I remember Sunday School teachers asking, “would you spray graffiti on the walls of God’s temple?”



“No!” I’d answer confidently. Of course I wouldn’t. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have sprayed graffiti on so much as the side of a dumpster, never mind a sacred building. 



“Well,” the teacher would explain, “God says your body is a temple. So if you’d never spray graffiti on God’s house, you must also never put graffiti on your body.”



Some parents at church would even frown upon those temporary tattoos that tempt all children, calling out from the 25 cent vending machines which were often situated beside innocuous bubble-gum dispensers. I remember scrubbing a conspicuous one off before church on more than one occasion, lest anyone get upset that I was meddling with the dangerous gateway-tat.




Perhaps they were right. After all, here I was decades later, the day after Christmas no less, feeling the piercing needles inject black ink into my virgin skin. I closed my eyes, because it felt safe, and I considered again this narrative I had so quickly adopted as a child. In truth, many of the walls in those temples were painted by artists who imagined landscapes and told stories with colorful murals both simple and complex. It was art. And so was this. I even designed it myself.



The story I had been told was meant to keep me safe, but it also taught me to see the world through a particular lens. Ink on bodies was graffiti, not art. It conjured images of delinquency and sin and ugliness and it shaped my attitude toward tattoos and the people who sported them. I realized, perhaps too old to proudly admit, that continuing to live by that script was infantile- like being a full-grown adult caged in a child’s playpen.



Somewhere along the way, in the recent years that led up to my lying face down on that tattoo parlor table, I realized that I had been living in a cage constructed out of hundreds of scripts like this one, written by the anonymous hands of countless strangers who lived before me. The moment I was born into these narratives, they became my own and and began to shape my reality. As children, we don’t have the tools to filter the information being fed to us. By the time we do acquire them, if we acquire them at all, we have already accepted the framework that threatens to cage us forever from any other possible reality.



The tattoo was to remind myself to let go of all the assumptions and paradigms that I had adopted over the years and which created the illusion of truth in my life. To give myself to the wild and unpredictable wind and, like a dandelion, trust it to take me to new heights and fertile ground. To reconnect with that inner child who refuses to grow up, remaining unspoiled by the creeds of men and gods, and re-discover the universe through those young and simultaneously wise, ancient eyes.



“Away we go” became a part of my being that day in that dusty corner of Salt Lake City. It seems that somehow, writing in ink what was merely an idea was an act of creation that would bring forth my new reality. Coincidentally, a few days later, the wind picked up. And a few days after that, I loaded everything I owned into my car and began my 3-day, 2,000 mile drive across the country to more fertile ground. I didn’t know then just how significant those words would become in my life. But then, I suppose you can never be sure what lies ahead, when you give yourself to the whims of the wind.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Waking Up


I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but there was a moment sometime in May when the universe seemed to align and something clicked within me. Here, on this isolated piece of beautiful farmland, I’ve spent countless hours alone. I sometimes go weeks without hardly talking to another soul. I’ve been listening to podcasts and stories and reading books and writing almost every day as I sip my morning coffee. I’ve listened to the sounds of the forest and the fields as they change-  from season to season, day to night, and from dry to wet. The earth is so alive, and I have felt myself come alive with it.

Solitude is an interesting thing. It is perceived to be one of the worst kinds of punishment, as in solitary confinement, and yet it is also spoken of as the gate to enlightenment. Monks and various religious figures speak of time in the wilderness, cut off from the world, with a sense of reverence and awe. We typically busy ourselves every waking hour almost so as not to have to be alone with ourselves. Perhaps it is because we know deep down that if we were to be still and allow our senses to be directed inward, we’d enter into a state of desperate loneliness as we became increasingly aware that we have become estranged from our true self- the one that exists underneath all the noise. But, I believe that if we embrace that silence and face ourselves- we can unlock something incredible within us and that loneliness would be eradicated forever.

From the moment we are born, we begin learning from the world around us, adopting the various creeds of men. Children believe their parents to be Gods- all knowing, all-powerful. Perfect. As we grow and become adults we realize that it is an absurd assumption, but children don’t know any better. Their parents are the light, the way, and the truth. They brought them life. The life-experience of these adults seems a lifetime in the eyes of a child who cannot even properly comprehend the length of a lifetime. As children, we simply accept the world we are born into as “the way things are.” We inherit a narrative the moment we breathe our first breath and have no reason to think that it could possibly be wrong- it simply, is.

Everything that I’ve believed about myself, about life, and about the world was an illusion constructed by generations of men before me. It wasn’t until enough of these narratives failed me and I found myself on stage without a script that I realized that I had no idea who I really was underneath all that scaffolding or what it was that I actually wanted out of life. It wasn’t just the religious narrative that didn’t seem to be quite right. It was every part of the world I found myself in. What it meant to be successful or beautiful or educated or wealthy or happy. My view of love and relationships. How political and economic systems function and operate. In an instant, none of it made any sense.

The only thing that made sense, in fact, was that I was alive. And so was the tiny red mite running across the sidewalk. And so was the bird flying playfully in the breeze. And the grass. And the bee. And that somehow, all of this was connected- That I was a part of the earth and the earth was part of me. And that we were all experiencing what it meant to live right then in that one profound and joyful moment. Nothing else mattered. We were what it was to alive- and it was beautiful, and wondrous, and exciting.

It was the beginning of several months of contemplation and study which helped me start to unlearn the things I had previously accepted without protest- things the world at large simply accepts. What I learned in the process was so much more simple and simultaneously more profound than the things I had once believed before.


My experience over these last months has confirmed these words over and over, and I'm no Einstein, but I think it goes further than this. I think that a more complete idea would be to say, “we shall require a substantially new manner of being if mankind is to live.” Though they effect how we see and experience the world,  we are not our thoughts. And the concept of survival is bleak- it could just as well mean keeping the machines on which pump our hearts and fill our lungs with air, but offer no substance to our existence. We require a whole new way of being if we are to really grasp and appreciate what it is to live.


Over these past quiet months, I’ve found myself struggling to know how to face the world again and take my place on it’s stage. What part will I play? I’ve been expanding ideas and developing exciting plans, but found that they always seemed out of reach. I imagined obstacles which prevented me from bringing these ideas to life. The main one being money. 

I decided that I wanted to help facilitate the shift into this new way of being, but I was approaching that goal with the same capitalist start-up business mindset that we have accepted as the way, the truth and the light. Thinking of it this way was a serious impediment to the creativity required to imagine a new reality.

So, I have a new plan. I am simply going to start doing it. I will not be waiting for money. I will not put it off until I have a perfect business model. I am not even going to do it in order to make a living. I am going to do it because it makes me feel alive and because it sparks passion within me and because I believe in it and because it feels authentic.

My plan is to launch my new website at the start of 2016. Everything I create will be housed in that central location, including my blog. But I’m going to commit to working on this project daily and I am not going to wait to start putting that work out. In January, visitors will be redirected to www.awaywego.life for my hard-launch and much of this content will be repopulated there. In the meantime, consider yourselves beta users.

I’d love feedback on what things resonate with you, why they resonate with you, what I do well, and what I should work on. I’m excited to embark on this new endeavor and hope that it is something that brings value to the lives of my readers. Thank you to those who have reached out and urged me to keep writing.

-Jonathan

Friday, May 8, 2015

Beware the Demons in the Church Pews


Recently, I found a little gem mentioned almost in passing in the introduction of The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the idea she expresses. I’ve been expanding it over the course of the past few days and thought it worthwhile to share. It’s about the trajectory of life’s path, asserting the notion that that it isn’t so much a linear one as it is a spiral.
I took this photo of a spiral staircase at
BYU in the building built on the site where
electroshock therapy was used on gay students.
So rather than thinking of life as an obstacle course with a new challenge at different points along a linear trail- this circular path alludes to the re-visitation of specific points along our journey. As we gain elevation and reach a higher plane, we inevitably circle around to some of our most persistent "demons," each time battling them anew at some deeper level before being rewarded with another gain in elevation. As frustrating as it is, I have found this to be consistent with my experience.



Ironically, I have found religion to be the mother of my life's most menacing demon. Believers and church-goers may find it hard not to roll their eyes at this pronouncement and declare it just another ridiculous notion by a God-hating atheist. Rest assured that I am no God-hater, nor am I an atheist. Though I am not religious, I was raised in the tradition of Christianity and know it quite well. Enough to know that, in fact, there is precedent for this very idea embedded right in the sacred texts believers clutch to so tightly.

In the bible, for example, it is well documented that Jesus condemned the Pharisees who were the leaders of the most numerous and influential religious sect of his day. They taught the law of Moses and required strict adherence to it, which in-turn became the justification for neglecting, marginalizing, or punishing certain groups of people. To those people, religion was their tormentor. The religious leaders despised Jesus because he broke these laws in order to serve those which religion turned away. Jesus exclaimed,
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”
-Matthew 23:13
Right there in the New Testament, Jesus, the object of the Christian world’s worship, declares that the biggest, most influential, law-of-moses-abiding religion of his day was a stumbling-block to the salvation of men. Clearly, Jesus himself knew religion could produce demons capable of cutting souls off from the Christian prize of salvation.

My brand of religion was Mormonism and so I also know about the fact that in the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Alma explains how
"the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes... and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure… And there began to be great contentions among the people of the church… and the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.”
-Alma 4
Again, this revered Book of Mormon prophet witnesses to the fact that religion can become a "great stumbling-block" in our lives. The LDS Church has been criticized for building a 1.5 billion dollar mall and erecting expensive tithe-paying-member-only temples, even in the backyard of some of the most impoverished peoples of the world. It has all but declared war against the rights of LGBT people and the dignity of their love, relationships, and families and its newest crusade is state-sanctioned discrimination against those who don’t abide by its beliefs in the name of so-called “religious liberty.” Oh yes, there is no doubt religion is capable of being a stumbling block in the lives of believers and non-believers alike. But while these do plenty damage in the world, they are nothing compared to the demons bred within the very walls of its influence and introduced into the impressionable minds of the pure in heart who sit in those pews if they are not vigilant. This is the most sinister kind of demon which often goes unnoticed as it works its damage within the hearts and minds of its victims. I want to introduce you to one.

My most damaging, most persistent demon is the one that tells me I am unworthy of love. I’ve named him Metus. He is my greatest stumbling-block. My battle with him is the pivotal struggle of my life, one that threatens to crush my creative potential as a spiritual being. And just when I think I’ve won and rise to a new height in my life’s journey, I circle back at each new level and meet those same dark eyes, always more menacing than the time before.

I met Metus in church. I was told he was simply there to encourage me to follow God’s will and, as a youth, I wanted nothing more than to show God how committed I was to following Him. Metus seemed to be popular enough. He was embraced by the other believers, and I had no reason to be suspicious of him. He was dressed quite well, had a caring face, and deep dark eyes which seemed to be able to peer into my very soul. He made sure I stepped in-line and followed the prescribed path. By the time I began to realize how dangerous he was, my ears had already grown accustom to his familiar and frequent whisperings. I knew them so well, I could finish his sentences.

At the US Supreme Court on  April 28th- the day
oral arguments were presented for/against marriage equality.
Scripture was cited by most of the opposition in the crowd.
When I began to recognize that I wasn’t like the other boys, and rather, found myself liking the other boys- I immediately buried the thought. I had no intention of giving any credence to it, let alone of telling anyone. I knew what God thought of gay people- I learned about it in church. Besides, I was a good Mormon kid who could never be anything so bad as a homosexual. I was sure that this little problem would go away on its own as long as it never saw the light of day, but nothing could be buried so deep as to evade Metus’s piercing gaze. He would never allow me to forget it. “If only they knew,” he’d say.

I continued to walk the church-approved path, but not without the constant whisper of Metus’s voice in my ear, “I know what you are hiding, and so does God. You’re an imposter.”

It wasn’t long before Metus had managed to convinced me that God couldn’t possibly bless me or help me, let alone love me. He convinced me that while people might say positive affirming things to me, it was only because they didn’t know the truth. “If only they knew,” he’d say.

There was a certain truth to Metus’s words. Coming out did change how my community and society viewed and treated me. My love was illegitimate. My relationships, counterfeit. My life- less valued. The very community that taught me about God and his love was united in striping away my ability to marry the person I love and to live a life of dignity. They named me an enemy to “God’s Plan” and insisted I, and those like me, would bring on the destruction of the family and perhaps even the end of the world.

Fortunately, probably due almost entirely to the most basic animal instinct to survive, I chose authenticity above acceptance and I won that first major battle with Metus. I immediately felt the excitement and liberation of that win. I felt myself “leveling up” as I climbed higher on the spiral staircase of my life. I felt more alive and confident than ever as I left the world of black and white and embraced life in full-color. It wasn’t long, however, before I heard that faint familiar whispering and I knew who’s eyes I’d meet just around the bend, and my heart sank.

My demon was not defeated. All I had managed to do was exclaim, “I don’t care what they think of me!” A small act of defiance, to be sure. Once I recognized that I did not meet religion's conditions for love, I left it once and for all and I found people who loved the person I became after embracing this part of me that I had despised for so long. I started a business and began turning my dreams into a reality. Metus was probably laughing as he watched me climb, sure that he would crush me and that the fall would be so much the more painful from this new height.

The problem was that though I found others who loved me for me, I hadn't really learned to love me for me. I found myself growing weary of those who praised me with words of affirmation. Words like talented, creative, intelligent, hard-working. Words like, "I love you." It was as if people were talking about someone else entirely, like they had mistaken me for someone else. It didn’t matter who said them to me or how often, that familiar whisper would say, “if they only knew...”

I felt as though I was trying with all my might to be all those things people said I was,  but that I was constantly on the brink of failure. “Then they will finally see the fraud you really are,” Metus would say, “You can't fool people forever.”

Another one from the rally.
My brain was so wired to believe that there was something fundamentally unlovable about me- something that was an inherent part of my being which was simultaneously unacceptable to God, family, and society. While I had rejected the idea that being gay was evil or sinful… Metus was still there in my ear, whispering the same damaging patterns of thought in every area of life. My career, my relationships, my self-image… it was too much for me to handle.

In January, I packed what I could into my car, got rid of most everything else, said goodbye to everyone who loved me, and drove 2,000 miles to a farm in rural Maryland, sleeping at stranger’s houses along my way. This withdrawal from life as I knew it may sound drastic, but Metus is a powerful demon and beating him requires equally powerful actions.

I write 3 pages every morning. They
are filled with my thoughts, fears,
questions, and hopes for the future.
It hasn’t been easy, but I have found the solitude here to be very therapeutic. The withdrawal has allowed me to begin attaining an overview of my life and move to higher ground. It is both painful and exhilarating as I attempt to find the most authentic person inside my being and then try and love that person. I’m not there yet- but I am hopeful.

There are still moments, when I am find myself exhausted, that I experience anger toward my old religion for introducing me to this terrible demon. I wonder how anyone could be so cruel as to unleash such a monster upon a kid. But what was done cannot be changed and I’m getting better at managing that anger. The better I come to understand love, the more I realize the incredible power it has against all the negativity, both within myself and in the world. Love is the key to defeating this demon.

Metus has been a stumbling block in my growth and potential for much too long. He has instilled in me a deep sense of shame. Shame is that intense, unshakable feeling that there is some piece of me, perhaps a piece that I have yet to discover, that makes me fundamentally unworthy of love and belonging. Perhaps you have felt it too. Shame breeds fear which expresses itself in my life in many harmful ways. For example, it often causes me to push people away or sabotage my creative ideas. It is the singular most destructive force in my life. It is for this reason I named him Metus— in Latin, his name means fear. It is also why love is the antidote.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear…”

I will not allow fear to continue its dominion over me. All that wasted potential would be too great a loss. And so, beginning with myself, I must learn to love. This is the reason I have sought solitude here. I hope to undo the damage that shame has wrought in my life and to start living a life based on love rather than fear.

Let this be a cautionary tale. Be weary of the demons in the church pews. They have a long history of hiding there. Love yourself for exactly the person you are— your flaws as well as your talents— and know that you are worthy of love and that you belong. The longer you believe otherwise, the harder it is to find it again. Love is the only key with the ability to unlock the infinite potential within. Once that potential is unlocked, you will change the fucking world.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Down the Rabbit Hole


“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.
'I don't much care where -' said Alice.
'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.
'- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,' Alice added as an explanation.
'Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, 'if you only walk long enough.”
-Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 
Life often seems to me like a lone adventure through a maze of forks and crossroads. There are periods of consistency when there are no major decisions to be made and there are also spans of road we share with a fellow traveller(s). As a child, most our choices are made on our behalf by our parents and we accompany them on the roads they choose to travel. It isn’t until we start walking on our own that we begin to discover the difficulty of choosing for ourselves the paths we take and come to know how lonely, tiresome, or unremarkable some of the roads ahead can be. It is no wonder why so many gravitate toward religion. Not only does it mark for you many of the paths to take, it provides you with traveling companions who are also committed to following that same path.

I followed the roadmap I was given for many years, but ultimately I found it to be infantilizing. As long as I followed it, I would forever be a passenger in my own life, unable, or else unwilling, to walk-- too afraid to explore beyond the marked path and wander from the security of the group. So one day, I threw out the road map and fell behind the herd and found myself alone.

Since then, I’ve often felt like Alice in Wonderland. Life without a roadmap might as well be Wonderland- it is just as full of possibility, mystery, and adventure. In such a new world, I sometimes wish someone might tell me which path to take, though I haven’t the slightest idea where I am headed. I just hope to get SOMEWHERE. I’d like to believe I’ll know where it is I’m going once I arrive. I think it is more of a feeling I seek rather than a physical place or combination of achievements or possessions.

Making choices on your own is difficult and the fear of choosing wrongly or of making a mistake always threatens to render you immobile. I’ve had to learn to trust myself to recognize when I have travelled down a bad or dangerous road, and then to make corrections (or backtrack) when I’ve made a mistake. But I’ve also realized that sometimes we can’t know the consequences of our choices until long after they are made. I will need to learn to be okay with mistakes because one day, I will look back and realize that, long ago, I should have chosen a different road. In that moment, I will need to pause, accept it as my reality, and then make my next move forward.

Lately, I have found myself stuck at a fork in the road. Almost two years ago I quit my full-time job to start my business- Reelboy Productions. I have been passionate about video/filmmaking since high school and studied it in college, but it got real when I turned down a promotion at the company I worked for and subsequently quit to follow that passion. This path has been both more difficult and more rewarding than I anticipated. It allowed me to work on things I cared about and use my abilities for causes I believed in— work that touched hearts and minds.

My emotional attachment to the work I was doing, however, led me into a pattern of doing severely discounted work that left me exhausted and defeated. One of the motivations for moving to Maryland was to leave that pattern. Now that I am here, however, I’ve struggled to decide what the best way forward will be with such a limited pool of connections in such isolating circumstances. The work I am doing for my one client on this side of the country hasn’t felt fulfilling in the same way previous work did. I think I’ve determined to find a video production position within a larger company in a large urban center (D.C., New York, etc) and put Reelboy on the back burner for awhile.

Wandering around Dupont Circle in D.C.
Committing to this path, however, has proven difficult. I have found myself standing at the fork looking up at the choices, hesitating to begin walking because I know that whichever path I choose, I will need to commit to following it for some time. To where am I traveling? I guess I’ll tell you when I get there. Life without a road map makes for a long journey, but I’m okay with that. Life isn’t a contest or a race. When I finally arrive at that elusive SOMEWHERE, I will at least be comforted to know that I lived, and that my life was mine.

The Cheshire Cat assured Alice she was sure to get there on the condition that she walked long enough. I guess I better get started.

Monday, March 23, 2015

"I don't pray."

Six of us sat around the dinner table in a farmhouse in the middle of rural Maryland. Across from me sat the married couple. They are service missionaries and occasionally wear black name tags that read "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." To my right sat the cowboy from Utah who has probably spent more time with sheep than with people and is rarely spotted without a cattleman's hat atop his head. The remaining three of us have been on this farm longer than the others, but not by much, and despite the fact that we were all from different decades, we came out of the closet in the same one.

From the amazing movie August: Osage County
We found ourselves in that moment of awkward silence before dinner when everyone looks at the food in front of them with hungry eyes, but everyone is waiting for someone else to begin eating. All six of us knew exactly why the thick, uncomfortable silence had come over the table. Each of us around that table share a common cultural heritage-- we are Mormon. So we were all acutely aware that our religious tradition included a prayer before dinner. Those of us who were gay, however, had since left our religion. Like the bastard offspring of the Chacma baboon*, we were the unwanted children of a despotic father. Religion had abandoned us and so we, in turn, abandoned religion.

Cooking is a hobby of mine
We take turns making dinner for our little group of farm residents. This was my night to cook and so I broke the silence.

"I don't pray," I said, "but if one of you would like to give a prayer, you are welcome to."

I supposed I could have said, "let's eat!", but I didn't. I wanted the missionary couple to feel comfortable. One of them gave a familiar prayer- exactly like the countless dinner prayers from my past.

"...thank you for the good company and for the many blessings we enjoy. Bless this food, that it might nourish our bodies and give us the strength we need..."

And even though the prayer was unextraordinary, I found myself uncomfortable. I found myself uncomfortable not because of the prayer, but with what I had said.

"I don't pray."

Saying those words felt oddly similar to the feeling you get when you tell a lie. I was perplexed by this feeling because it wasn't a lie- I don't pray. Not anymore, anyway. As a child I was taught, both in church and by my parents, how to pray. I said countless prayers throughout my life. I know it as well as I know anything:

Step 1: Address God - "Dear Heavenly Father..."
Step 2: Thank God- "Thank you for..."
Step 3: Ask God- "Please bless/help..."
Step 4: Close in Christ's name- "...in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."

The truth is, I never really connected with prayer. I did it out of obligation. It was the duty of a good follower of Christ to pray- it was expected. I was taught that not praying would create breeding grounds wherein all sorts of problems could fester-- and so I prayed. I prayed even though I felt as if my words never made it past the ceiling. I prayed even though I found no comfort or solace in it. I prayed even though my experience with prayer actually left me feeling more alone. God was the only one I could talk to about being gay- I had no one else. But God never talked back.

Silence.

The silence left me feeling completely abandoned-- worthless. As if I were so revolting even my own creator wanted nothing to do with me. And so, upon becoming estranged from my religion, I stopped praying.

Why then, I wondered, did I feel dishonest when I stated that I don't pray?

I thought a lot about this question for several days because I knew I'd be facing the same dinner-table situation again and I wanted to be able to navigate it in a way that felt honest and authentic. A few nights ago, it was my turn to make dinner again. This time, there was no awkward silence. I had no lingering feeling of uneasiness. It was actually a very wonderful night full of very meaningful conversation-- and it all started with the sharing of my findings with everyone at the table. Here is what I said:


If there is some intelligent force in the cosmos,
some deity or God in the heavens, 
and we are each the product of that being’s creation--
Then every last one of us holds within our very existence,
a unique clue which might help us in our quest to catch a glimpse of the mystery of God.

Our intricate thoughts, our wildest dreams, our fervent prayers--
Our heartfelt songs, our quietest meditations, our desperate cries--
Every expression of what it means to be; To exist--
Each are a window in the veil between us and the great unknown.

If the purpose of prayer is to pay homage, invoke power, 
or to otherwise communicate through that veil to our presumed creator— 
Than these other authentic human expressions really aren’t so different from prayer.

At dinner, it feels a little odd for me to simply say, “I don’t pray” and leave it at that.
Because I do peer through other metaphorical windows into the metaphysical world--
And I still consider myself a spiritual being.

So— if it is okay by everyone else, on my night to cook, I would like to
share a short poem, a lyric, or some other piece of art in leu of a prayer.
And this was mine tonight.

---

They didn't mind one bit.

-----------------------------------
* Dominant Chacma baboons will sometimes kill his mate's offspring if they are not his.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Be F*cking Brave

Earlier in the week, during a phone call with my mother about how things are going for me in this new life, she commented that she admired my bravery— that I took risks. This comment got me thinking a lot about bravery. It isn’t that I hadn’t been called "brave" before. After going through the coming out process and being vocal about it, I had many people suggest that I was brave. But I’ve never, never-ever, thought myself to be brave. Cautious feels more like a more correct description to me. So when my own mother made this remark, I was taken a little aback by it.

A few days later, I came across this on my Facebook feed:


When I read this meme, I began to understand why I might not identify with being “brave,” even when others suggest that I am. What is broken in the world that we equate living an authentic, fulfilling life with “being brave?” Bravery is, by definition,  "the quality that enables someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening.” Why should it be dangerous or frightening to live a life of integrity and value? Shouldn’t it be more dangerous and frightening to live a life that isn’t our own, pretending to be a person we really aren’t? (Anyone watch Orphan Black? haha)

But then I remember what it was like when I was in the closet. I was so desperate to be “normal.” I spent so much energy trying to fight against myself and reject who I was-- to be someone else. It was exhausting. It sucked the life out of me. Still, I was almost 25 years old before the agony of living that life grew greater than the fear of accepting myself for who I was. Once I did accept myself, however, it became almost immediately clear that the only way to live was authentically.

Perhaps those that think it brave to be your true authentic self haven’t had their own “coming out” yet. I don’t mean coming out as gay, I just mean coming out and living their true identity— whatever that looks like— in spite of fear of rejection. But as someone who has “come out” and who knows that there is no substitution for a life of authenticity, the greater fear now is the possibility of not being able to sort out and free myself from the parts of my identity that are due to cultural conditioning and shallow social constructs.

So while my actions may appear to be brave to some people, in reality they are only the result of my fear of not living a completely authentic life.

Something I've begun to do lately is read poetry. I plan on sharing some of my favorite discoveries on this blog at some point. And while I am no poet, I enjoy the challenging process and made an attempt at it. Do your best to withhold judgment:

Do not think me brave.
That I scoff at danger,
and chase the rush of thrills.

These eyes are alien to me.
They search endlessly
for some invisible unknown.

Perhaps it is in the ever-expanding heavens.
Or in the deep blue of the roaring oceans,
full of mystery, and of hidden titillating worlds.

But it ne’er be in the morning still of the lake.
Nor on the white frozen plains, hard like glass,
bound to echo the longing gaze of hungry eyes.

No. I cannot be still, not now.
Contentedness is to forever be a stranger—
A fate most terrifying.

Therefore, do not think me brave.
It is only all that I can bear.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Underneath This Skin There’s a Human

When I was 12 years old, my family moved to another city. Many would agree that Middle school is awkward enough all by itself, without throwing in a move to a different school half way through seventh grade. Up until then it proved to be the worst year of my short life. The new house was only 30 minutes away from the Orange County neighborhood where I grew up, but for a twelve year old, it might as well have been the other side of the planet.

Moving in the middle of the school year, as opposed to the beginning, prevented me from going to the school that most the other kids in my neighborhood attended. It was a “magnet school,” which is just a fancy way of describing a public school where the kid’s parents are present enough to actually arrange for their kid to be driven to and from school (there are no busses). They always have an air of selectivity and “elite-ness” about them and so these schools cap out at the beginning of the year.

As a transfer student to the district, there was no room to accommodate me which meant that I had to be bussed 30 minutes to an inner-city school called “Auburndale.” It was known to the kids in the suburbs as “Auburn-jail” because of the metal bars adorning the perimeter, the stereotypes about the student body, and the school’s sub-par acedemic reputation.

Camping with the family when I was in middle school.
I have to admit the curriculum at “Auburnjail" was a breeze. Many days felt like a repeat for me with very little new or challenging material. But it was difficult in other ways. As a kid, I never felt like I fit in— even before the move. Being the awkward transfer kid in the middle of the year in an unfamiliar school, however, was a whole new level of awful because everyone knew I was the new kid. At lunch, on my first day, I stood in line for my greasy pizza and fries— this was before the days of smartphones and iPods and lines were always longer when you were alone. Worse was the realization that I would need to navigate the unfamiliar lunch benches and find a place to sit where no one would notice me.

I walked down the line of tables with my eyes set on the ones at the end where few people sat. As I walked, however, a boy called to me as I walked by and so I stopped. He had just taken a bite of pizza and it was difficult to understand what exactly he had said to me, but I stopped anyway and stood there while he wiped his greasy mouth with a napkin, turned around, and stuffed it into my untouched pizza. I was humiliated. He and his friends laughed and I walked on to the end table throwing my lunch in the trash along the way. I wanted to run away and cry, but I knew I couldn’t. Real men don’t hurt. Or cry. It would only make things worse for me.

My mother can attest, however, (and I feel awful about putting her through it), that those tears flowed freely every night before bed. I’d cry myself to sleep every night for weeks until I grew a skin thick enough to endure the pain in the way men are supposed to endure it. Skin is meant to protect us from harm. It is our armor. It is the wall of protection which guards our bodies from being invaded by some evil outside force. And so one day, after I had built walls thick enough, I stopped crying. And I wouldn’t shed another tear for twelve years.

---

Being gay isn’t everything that I am. It isn’t the one defining characteristic. But it is a very large part of why I am the person that I am. I learned from a young age to guard myself. I couldn’t let other’s see too deeply into me for fear they would discover the thing inside that I was desperately trying to eradicate. I was sure that being found out would destroy me. I knew my only choice was to take that secret to the grave.

Set up on a blind date at BYU by friends
When I was at BYU, I remember consciously observing the mannerisms and speech patterns of other guys. I made a concerted effort to mimic the things I observed and keep my own natural behaviors that might seem less “manly" in check. I would force myself to make efforts to date girls despite the fact that it felt unnatural to try and show physical interest. And while I longed for that closeness with another boy, it was forbidden, and I would not allow it. I built layer upon layer of protection around me and it began affecting me more and more negatively. You see, while the layers protected me from outside harm… the sheer size of these walls left me isolated and unable to connect deeply with people. Friends who knew me then can attest to the fact that I used to flinch at physical touch.

Camping in Moab my Junior year at BYU-2009
The eventual collapse of those walls nearly crushed me. And when they did finally come tumbling down, the tears came rushing back. It was like I was 12 years old again, crying in my bed. I was 24. I remember once, driving back to Utah after visiting my family in California, I was sobbing so hard I had to pull the car over. It hurt like hell, don’t get me wrong, but it also felt human. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I felt like a living breathing human being instead of the walking shell of a person I had come to be. At least I was feeling something.

---

I wish I could say that after accepting my sexual orientation, it has become easier to let people in and see me for who I am. But I think I wrestle with the same insecurities I’ve always had. I fear how others might respond to what they see in me. Whether it is a seventh-grade bully that labeled me a loser,  or a college friend who might discover I was gay, or even a lover who will ultimately see all of my flaws; I have difficulty letting people in. It has taken me some time to figure out why this pattern repeats itself throughout my life in every stage, but writing this post has given me a lead.

From a young age, I felt fundamentally flawed… I was different. I perceived that difference as weakness— one which threatened to invalidate me in the eyes of everyone I knew and loved. Being “different” is something we all relate to. Some differences, like skin color, are impossible to hide. But I could hide my “flaw,” and hiding it was a better alternative than being perceived as different. I could “act straight.” I could control my actions, dismiss my feelings and rationalize my thoughts. I could pass as another member of the heterosexual majority.  And so, I became a master people-pleaser— believing that, perhaps, if I tried hard enough to be what other’s wanted me to be, this feeling of utter deficiency would leave me.

What I didn’t realize was, not only did I forfeit to others the power to define whether I was a failure or success, but I positioned myself in such a way that I could never actually believe I was a success even if others expressed it. It was an unquenchable thirst for validation. I immediately dismissed any praise by accepting the lie that if they knew my secret, they would never say such validating things. And although I have learned to accept myself as a gay man, I have yet to learn to accept my flaws. I still feel invalidated by them. I build walls around me to keep people from seeing them.

---

I need to learn to accept myself along with my flaws and my weaknesses. I must stop sharpening my flaws into barbs which I wear as punishment. When I can learn to be more kind to myself and see myself as a success, even with my shortcomings, I think I could start to deconstruct those walls for good and open the doors at last. Perhaps then, I could finally let people in instead of running every time they get too close. I want to connect deeply and genuinely with the people I meet and love. Writing helps me to be vulnerable. It helps me reveal the human under this skin. And while it may open me up to criticism, and although people might be offended occasionally by what I write, and even though my words are often insufficient or awkward, I am tired of wearing such a thick skin.

I don’t want to live a life behind walls I've self-constructed based on the fear that everyone outside is potentially that seventh grade bully. I don’t want to give power to others to define my worth or value. I’m tired of feeling ashamed of the human underneath this skin. It is too heavy a burden.


“A man's shortcomings are taken from his epoch; his virtues and greatness belong to himself.” 
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 



“Accept yourself: flaws, quirks, talents, secret thoughts, all of it, and experience true liberation.”
-Amy Leigh Mercree 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Church Without God - The Excommunication of John Dehlin


Since leaving Mormonism in 2010, and subsequently resigning my membership in 2012, I have kept watch and remained interested in the progressive Mormon movement within the religion of my youth. It has been a grassroots movement led by intellectuals, historians, feminists, LGBT-allies, and those that yearn for greater equality and diversity. They are believers in “big-tent” Mormonism and want their church to be a refuge for all that are weary, despised, rejected, and disenfranchised rather than a church that welcomes only the few “elect” who step in line and embrace the status quo. One may wonder why I have continued to engage in the dialog after leaving my faith. For those that are curious, I have two reasons:

I. After coming out, I've felt obligated to do what I can to stop the damage
I know from first-hand experience what it is like for a gay kid to grow up in the LDS Church. I know the damage it causes. I know the agony of sleepless nights. I know the hopelessness and the isolation. I know how it feels to be a shell of a person. I know what it means to hate yourself. I know the deafening silence of unanswered prayers. I know the emptiness and the feeling of total worthlessness accompanied by the realization that God has abandoned you. 

I’ve sat in church and felt the cutting pain inflicted by words, sharp as knives, hurled from the pulpit. I watched and listened to trusted leaders and fellow believers call my love “counterfeit” and unite to strip it of dignity and kick it to the gutter. I know what it is like to believe that if people ever found out, they could never love me. I've faced the paralyzing possibility of losing everyone and everything that matters to me. I've read the damning words of men I believed spoke for God. I know how it feels when the only solace left to be found, that last glimmer of hope, rests in the promise of death.

The magnitude of the agony the LDS Church inflicts upon individuals and families in this regard is beyond words. It is spiritual abuse. I feel an obligation to support those in my old church who raise up their voices in defense of those still in the grips of that special kind of hell. To be silent would be akin to refusing to help my younger broken self as he stumbled further into the grips of needless suffering. As an "ex-mormon" however, I am an outsider-- not to be trusted by those on the inside. There is little I can do other than to share my story.
II. I have historically expected more from the community I loved
I still want to believe that the people who once embraced me as family— the ones who sat with me in church, who raised and taught me to be good and decent, who sacrificed and served, and who strive to do what is right—  I still want to believe that they stand for what is good and true. I want to believe that if only they saw the whole picture, they would stop singing “all is well,” and instead, with heavy hearts and deep concern, rise up and not only challenge themselves to do more and be better, but to demand a revolution in their Church which would align their actions with the words they claim to believe and fundamentally change the way they interacted with people who are different from them.  
Sadly, however, I am losing faith in my old community. While I still know there are many good people in that community, they seem to be no match for the heavy hand of the institution. See, in order for good people to be of any use, their courage to do what is right must be greater than their fear of the consequences. Or as Edmund Burke put it, "all that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing." But the cost is high. The risk is to become ostracized and marginalized, to be accused of being an agitator, an apostate, to be categorized as one of little faith-- corrupted by the whims of the world, to be devalued and shunned, and yes, even to be thrown out of the only community you have known and loved.
Me as a Mormon missionary in Korea
The decision to excommunicate John Dehlin is incredibly revealing. The Mormon Church has reacted defensively to justify the decision, and in doing so has exposed its dirty laundry for all to see. It has revealed that it values orthodoxy above integrity of conscience and strict obedience over spirituality. Despite reports of other noted motivations, the LDS Church cites the following justifications for the decision:
  • Disputing the nature of our Heavenly Father and the divinity of Jesus Christ. 
  • Statements that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are fraudulent and works of fiction.
  • Statements and teachings that reject The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as being the true Church with power and authority from God.
Read those again and I’ll offer commentary on each:

  • Any honest truth-seeker would question the nature of God. If you believe you are an honest truth-seeker and you think know for certain the nature of God, I challenge you. Even Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, had an evolving view God. It is evident in his multiple, differing accounts of his “first vision,” and in the confusing text of the Book of Mormon which sometimes speaks as if God & Christ are one in the same. Even mainstream Christianity owes its current view of God to a meeting where religious minds came together to debate and settle on one idea for the sake of unity. Do we honestly believe that mortal modern-day men are so wise as to understand God to such a degree that the book is closed on the nature of this source of infinite knowledge and power, having no beginning or end? If so, try to explain to an ant colony what you are and why you are building a home next to it and report back to me on how much the ants comprehend you. I expect we could liken the understanding men have of God to the understanding ants have of us.
  • The Mormon Church itself has admitted to the fact that the Book of Abraham is no translation. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone and fragments of the original documents in 1966 have proven this. The debate is over, and this is why the Church had to say something acknowledging the evidence. In fact, all of Joseph Smith's supposed “translations” that have any record of ever actually existing have been proven either to be false translations or forged “ancient” records (unbeknownst to Joseph Smith). There is absolutely no evidence that the “gold plates” ever actually existed (if you think otherwise, again- I challenge you), and therefore we can’t compare the “translation” that is the Book of Mormon to any real record because no record exists. However, given what we know about the other “translations", and given the many reasons that suggest the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction, is it really such a stretch to think that, maybe, the Book of Mormon may not be historical? More importantly, does it matter? Doesn't that debate miss the mark completely anyway? Does one have to believe the whole earth was flooded or that it was literally created in 6 days or that we all descended from Adam and Eve to find value in the bible? To seek a relationship with God? Must we reject evolution in order for the bible to maintain status as scripture? Why must we need to believe a text is literal or historical in order for it to have value? Didn’t Christ himself teach in allegories? Can lessons not be learned from fictional narratives? I'll tell you the problem the Mormon Church has with this. They outline it in the next bullet point- it is their claim to one-true-churchdome and they will not let that go.
  • So on this last point, excuse my language but, enough with the “one-true-church” bullshit already. The Mormon Church has become completely disconnected with reality. It has failed to unite human life with divine life. Instead, it has taken all that is good and disfigured it into a mass of burdens, rules and obligations. It has chosen self-imposed isolation and insists on playing the victim while at the same time extinguishing the light in any real truth-seeking soul and hurling whole groups of people into the margins. Exactly the kind of thing Christ himself lashed out against. It is exclusionary and uninviting. It values the expensive white facade of its buildings and the nice conservative dress and hairstyles of its people over facilitating the divine potential of every human being, regardless of what walk of life they come from or what stage of life they are in. Is this really what “the spirit of Christ” is all about? I don’t recall and teachings about how finding the "one true" religious organization is essential in order to follow the charge to love God and love your neighbor. I do recall, however, a lot of teachings about serving the very type of people whom those religious organizations despised and rejected, insisting they were "above" mingling with for them for fear it would tarnish their image. Isn't this the core of the message?
Mormon Leadership, unanimously sustained as "Prophets, Seers, and Revelators"
by themselves and the members
In all these reasons the Church has cited I fail to see how any of it measures whether or not John Dehlin is living a life that is acceptable to God. Instead I see a list of things why he is not acceptable to the Church. John Dehlin and others like him are the ones that who have bothered to even notice the marginalized and rejected, the lost and the heavy-hearted. While Church leaders sit on their mighty red thrones of self-appointed power and authority ignoring the damage that they are doing, people like John have seen the pain and felt the need for compassion and change. Something in their heart tells them they cannot be silent. Something tells them a great injustice is being done and their conscience will not allow them to ignore it. The Mormon Church has decided to throw out people like John. It is something it has a history of doing. Soon, the only people in its pews will be what Father Alexander Schmemann, an influential Orthodox Christian priest, called “secularists":
"A 'secularist' is usually a very religious man, attached to his church, regular in attending services, generous in his contributions, acknowledging the necessity of prayer, etc. He will have his marriage `solemnized' in church, his home blessed, his obligations fulfilled, all this in perfect good faith. But all this will not in the least alter the plain fact that his understanding of all these spheres: marriage, family, home, profession, leisure and ultimately his religious `obligations' themselves, will be derived not from the creed he confesses in church, not from the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Glorification of Christ, the Son of God become Son of Man, but from the 'philosophies of life', i.e. ideas and convictions having nothing to do with that creed, if not directly opposed to it."

I no longer care to ever be a part of the Mormon Church again. I have no desire to be somewhere I am not wanted or valued. I have enough self-respect to demand the same dignity that every human being deserves and to have a voice. The leadership has certainly made it clear that it doesn’t want gay people- and that's fine.

They don't want feminists. They don't want intellectuals. They don't want questioners or movers and shakers. They don't want anyone that might challenge it. Challenge it to be better and do more. And that's fine too.

Art by Sergio Albiac
But who will be left sitting in those pews, after these have all left? And is such a place worthy of housing all the beauty and diversity and complexity of the living, breathing, thinking creations made of the stars?


And despite it being my old home and family, and despite the fact that I expect more from a church I once called mine, I don't think it is worthy. And it's a shame, but it's fine. If it is "their” church, it is a church without God, and they can have it. And I'll find the intellectuals and the feminists, the outcasts and the other, the movers and the shakers, and the people that demand us to be better and to do more, and we will create a world worthy of beings made of the stars.

About Me

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I'm a filmmaker a blogger and hundreds of other things. Life is full of possibilities, twists, and turns and I don't pretend to know exactly where the road will lead. However, I do intend to share the journey.