Thursday, January 26, 2012

Prayer (Hymn 140)

In ancient days, the Jews generally regarded the psalms to be "lesser scripture," but scripture nonetheless. I think this is how I feel sometimes about our hymns. I sometimes learn profound things from them, as much as I sometimes do studying the scriptures. And so, as you can tell from my title, I've chosen to base my remarks tonight around a hymn rather than a scripture passage. The hymn is one you probably know, but which has really sunk into my mind lately. It's number 140: "Did You Think to Pray?"

The first verse says:

Ere you left your room this morning, Did you think to pray?
In the name of Christ, our Savior, Did you sue for loving favor As a shield today?

The first line is the least profound of the entire hymn, but there is still more to it than initially meets the eye. At first, it seems to merely suggest the duty of prayer--that prayer is something we are required to do with regularity. But then comes the second line, which unlocks the true intent of the first. The first line isn't there to rebuke us if we didn't pray, but to encourage us. It's not about guilt-tripping, but rather gladly inviting us to reap the rich benefits of prayer. The real sadness in not praying to begin the day is not that you didn't fulfill an obligation, but rather that you didn't reap an important blessing of heavenly protection. You hurt yourself far more than you could ever hurt God if you don't pray.

One thing I especially love about this hymn, is that it never asks, "Did you think to say your prayers?" Rather, it specifically enjoins PRAYING, which altogether a different matter than merely "saying prayers." This is one of the most important distinctions I've learned in my life. "Saying prayers" means to go through the motions and say prayer-like words addressed to God. Often repetitious. Praying, on the other hand, is a divine 2-way conversation. Prayer often transcends the pattern we learned in primary of addressing--thanking--asking--closing. That is a nice paradigm to teach children with, but eventually we must move beyond it. In fact, perhaps the most important part of effective prayer is LISTENING. Eventually, prayers start including basic conversation about how your day was and discussing the things in your life with the Creator. I've loved learning to stop praying FOR things (whether that means merely "thanking FOR" or "asking FOR") and rather praying ABOUT them instead. After all, our gratitude gains more meaning if we discuss WHY we are grateful for each blessing. And our petitions are improved when we first consult the Lord to see if we are even praying for the right thing in the first place! Just remember, when you pray, that He is listening and often willing to respond. Let Him. (That said, I have to add a brief reminder: God's voice, typically via the Spirit, coming in response strongly when you pray is a thing that waxes and wanes. Sometimes you'll feel it, other times you won't and that is NOT necessarily indicative of your worthiness! Don't condemn yourself just because He is sometimes silent. In fact, I've already written a whole post on that subject previously, called "Forsaken.")

Anyway, the next verse of the hymn goes:

When your heart was filled with anger, Did you think to pray?
Did you plead for grace, my brother, That you might forgive another Who had crossed your way?

Okay, I've sung this verse my entire life in countless sacrament services. But never until today did the full depth of it register with me. This is a profound message that could actually bring about World Peace if everybody followed its advice. We all will be angered by the actions of others at one time or another. And when that anger comes, this song recognizes our need for GRACE. At first it seems that the grace is needed to forgive us of the anger. That's probably true; we SHOULD pray for/about that. But the grace is for so much more than that. Grace transforms us into better people. As the song here suggests, we plead for the grace so that we can be filled with a more forgiving spirit. I've had some important prayers lately like this: asking God to help me become better. I have to put forth my efforts to improve, of course, but the grace steps in and enables the changes and allows me to make changes I couldn't on my own. We're currently working together on targeting selfishness. Still a work in progress, but I've felt the grace in action today.  (By the way, in my post a few days ago I promised a follow-up to my earlier post on Grace. That is still in the works and coming soon.)

Here's a challenge for you: You will feel hurt or angry some day soon. Maybe someone is making gay jokes again. Or mocking your religious beliefs. Maybe they've done something dishonest. Maybe they dropped something heavy on your head--by accident or intention! I don't know why you are going to have bad feelings for another person, but you will. When that moment comes, PRAY. Remember that Christ taught in the sermon on the mount that you should "pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). This is great advice. I learned a while back that you can't sincerely pray for someone while hating them. To actually face your God and ask for good things for an individual basically grows love in your heart. You will immediately begin reconciling yourself with your enemies by praying for them sincerely, and for their happiness. But don't just pray for them; as the song recommends, pray for YOURSELF to become a better person through grace, for that will truly be even more key to resolving the dispute.

Okay, final verse:

When sore trials came upon you, Did you think to pray?
When your soul was full of sorrow, Balm of Gilead did you borrow At the gates of day?

While the first verse mentioned praying at specific times, such as when we rise, these latter two aren't as time-bound. The best time to pray about a trial is when it hits. You don't need to wait until that evening! Isn't that great? God's status is always set to "available." As with anger, sore trials are also just a guaranteed part of life. And hopefully they drive us pray. Don't foolishly try to face trials without God's grace! Balm of Gilead was ancient medicine. It was an aromatic plant that helped heal wounds and grew abundantly in Gilead. It was probably one of the most important medical discoveries of ancient times, as it was able to not only speed healing, but also kept infection at bay. Our wounds, both physical and spiritual, can be dressed with healing salve that is abundant and available for us through prayer.
I'll end this post with the hymn's straightforward but profound chorus, which speaks for itself:

Oh, how praying rests the weary! Prayer will change the night to day.
So, when life gets dark and dreary, Don't forget to pray.

My best,


Monday, January 23, 2012

Cogs in Zion (Moses 7:18)

I've been pondering a lot lately on the 2 fundamental contradictory desires that we as human beings experience relative to our social lives: On the one hand, we strive to fit in; nobody likes to be alone and we yearn for companionship of others and finding common ground. On the other hand, we desire to be unique; nobody wants to think that they are just a cookie-cutter clone of everyone else. And so we face these two dueling desires: the desire to be different vs. the desire to fit in with everyone else. The gospel and the world both make this dichotomy reconcilable, though in vastly different ways.

Let's talk first about the world's approach. The world's predominate philosophies and views have shifted significantly throughout time, but today's prevailing preoccupation with the modern secular humanist view over-emphasizes the individuality desire. Huge stock is placed in "being yourself" and telling each individual that their own needs are most important, far outweighing that of the collective. In fact, the modern superhero portrayed in film and art is viewed in a much more tragic light than yesteryear, given their unfortunate obligation to serve other. Take the popular song "Superman" by Five for Fighting as an example. In this song, Superman, who in the 1950's television show was very happy in fulfilling his role to society, now laments the tragedy it is that he has to focus so much on others instead of his own needs. He sings, "it's not easy to be me," despite the fact that he can fly, jump over buildings, stop bullets, see through walls, and shoot both heat and freezing rays from his eyes. And this song resonates with us because as a society we respect those who serve others, but don't envy them because we've been raised in a culture which emphasizes personal desire and advancement as the primary route to happiness. The idea that giving up our own desires to serve others is vastly foreign, and accompanied in films by a noble but tragic sense of respect for those poor individuals who have to sacrifice individuality in any measure.

By the world's standard in the 21st century, we fulfill the desire to "fit in" specifically by over-accentuating the individuality. Another friend of mine with SSA recently lamented to me that a gay activist he knows seems to adamantly insist that if a same-sex attracted individual isn't openly gay and living the "gay lifestyle," then that individual is actually committing a moral mistake and cannot be fully happy because he is "denying who he is." Thus, to be accepted by the mainstream philosophical bunch of our day, we have to over-indulge on the other desire. It is by trying to be absolutely unique that others can accept us, and if they think we aren't actually trying out hardest to be "ourselves" as they see us, they actually don't accept us! This seems to make sense to them as a reconciliation of the two desires.

Now let me present an alternative to the common views of the world today. Obviously not everyone ascribes to the secular humanist path, and that became evident to me through another contemporary song, "Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes. The first verse of this profound song instantly throws the fundamental pillars of secular humanism to the wind. It goes:

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique,
A snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see.
And now, after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.

Pretty profound stuff, eh? The first two lines paint the secular view we are so surrounded by: an abundant emphasis on our differences that make us unique like snowflakes. But the author then ponders and rejects this philosophy by saying that instead of a snowflake, he'd rather be a cog. That is an incredibly bold statement, because the very word "cog" in this secular world has developed a bit of a negative connotation. That people who allow themselves to be "cogs" are those who give in to the pressures of an over-bearing society and adopt authoritarian fascism. Nobody wants to be merely a cog when you can be a snowflake! And yet, which of the two is more lasting? The snowflake will be gone when the sun comes out. The cog will endure. The cog puts others first and learns that he is part of something greater than himself. And yet being a cog doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our individuality either! Indeed, each cog is separate and necessary for the machine to function properly: it is the very fact that each cog is different and fulfills a different space in the machine that allows it to operate.

The world will tell you to "be yourself;" I would say "be true to yourself" and God encourages you to become a better self. The world will tell you "you are fine just the way you are." That one's tricky, because in some ways it is true. But it also implies that you should STAY just they way you are, when we can all strive for improvement. God wants us ultimately to be better than the way we are, and offers the help we need to achieve that goal. The world tells us that if we sacrifice some desires to conform with the Church, we are actually in the wrong. "Conform" is word that has unfortunately gotten an even worse rap than "cog" even though it isn't always bad--it can actually represent a very noble choice. When we recognize something better for not only ourselves in the long-run, but especially for the sake of others both present and future, and sacrifice our own will to conform to that ideal, we are doing something remarkably good. And this means we will sometimes have to fight against the individuality desire that the world tells us to let loose without bounds. Some conformity may be required of us, but we should welcome it. And why not? After all, God cares about saving His people all together, not just as isolated individuals. That's why the Church exists. He wants the collective individual cogs to come together, and when they do, they form what He calls Zion. As we read in Moses 7:18,

"And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them."

That, my friends, is an ideal worth a little conformity. And remember, being a cog doesn't mean sacrificing individuality. Indeed, the Lord relies upon the fact that we will each have different strengths to offer as individuals in order for the machine to run properly. That we may all strive to be worthwhile cogs in the great machinery of Zion, and not merely fleeting snowflakes that will melt away tomorrow is my prayer.

My best,


P.S. Church today was amazing. I spoke in Church, actually, and largely adapted my earlier (and so-far favorite) post "Grace and Gasoline" into a talk. I felt really guided in how I delivered it and then afterwards had a fantastic conversation with my bishop about Grace. Our discussion gave me lots to chew on and I imagine I might write a follow-up/sequel post to that earlier post on grace not too long from now. :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Have a Dream (Romans 1:16)

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
(January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968)

49 years ago this year Martin Luther King, Jr. told the world about the dream he had, that his "four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Today we honor the memory of a man who had incredible insight and helped bring about miracles of equality for his race. I cannot think of a better way to honor him than to take a little time to fight for many of the same principles that he espoused: namely, the idea of love for those who are different, especially as one who has faced a bit of persecution for being who he is.

I've mentioned before the great irony of being a faithful latter-day saint experiencing same-sex attraction: you tend to feel persecution sometimes on two fronts. Indeed, there are reasons why this blog is anonymous, and the foremost reason is because I know there are individuals in my life who simply wouldn't speak to me anymore if they knew. I'm dead serious. It is sad that even within the Church there are still those who cannot accept us as regular human beings. Paranoia still rules many thoughts. Some misconceptions I've heard honestly perpetuated among some Church members within the last month (I'm not making these up!):

*Those who have thought homosexual thoughts ever in their lives cannot receive the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.
*Same-sex attraction comes about purely as the result of sin, or not living as fully righteously as you could have. It means the person has neglected their soul enough to let it be warped into such an unnatural state.
*Same-sex attraction is merely a choice, and those who have made that choice need to repent and stop trying to be different for the sake of attention.
*Those who are same-gender attracted cannot take the sacrament. (Some even think they shouldn't be allowed to come to Church, lest they corrupt the youth).

I have a dream that one day I could be open about my SSA and be judged not by who I find attractive, but by the content of my character. The statements above bring me to a topic I have come to feel very strongly about as I've gotten to know others who experience what I do. That topic is Shame. When people say statements like those above, it perpetuates depression and shame among those who are SSA. These misconceptions succeed in making the individual feel that they are condemned and responsible for inclinations beyond their choosing. This negates agency and seems to predestine the individual. Sounds a lot like Satan's plan to me...

That said, I must add that on the whole I am actually very optimistic about where the majority of Church members are on this issue. I think most do not hold the views expressed above and are extremely loving not only of those like me who stay in the Church while experiencing same-sex attraction, but also of those who choose to leave and pursue a homosexual partner. This is wonderful, because Christ simply commanded us to love everyone. I can state that I believe homosexual acts to be a sin we must avoid, and thus choose to avoid it myself, without hating those who make a different choice. But I hope that others respect my choice as well. And here I confront the other major front of the battle: the false rhetoric and hate speech of those in the LGBT community who condemn me for choosing to live an active latter-day saint lifestyle, and I fear there is much less progress on this front.

Many have called the gay rights movement the "new civil rights" movement of our day. There are many things I both agree and disagree with in that comparison, but even some within the gay community don't want full equality granted to everyone. To some of them, I am considered a traitor who undermines everything they are or believe in. That has never been my intent. I have tried never to take an anti-homosexual stance on this blog; rather, I have merely tried to affirm my own approach to the issue and declare that my set of values and choices in light of my attractions are just as valid and meaningful as those of anyone else. I don't wish to offend, but I also don't wish to be misunderstood, and I certainly won't stand being marginalized. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth;" (Romans 1:16). If I won't let members of the Church cause me to feel shame for my attractions, then I am most certainly not about to let anybody make me feel shame for the gospel.

I think what people don't realize is that I stay in the Church not because of cultural pressure, but because I know that it is true. I didn't always. But I have been blessed with a deep and abiding testimony of the truth with many strong spiritual witnesses of its validity. I find great happiness in it, and a deep sense of identity. I speak with God in prayer every morning and night, and He comforts me. I wouldn't trade that joy for anything. But there are those who say I must, or else I'm worthy of the discrimination that they themselves fight so hard against. I've been accused of not being a real person, of not being truly gay/SSA, and many other claims just as erroneous, if not more so, than those listed above coming from the other direction. On this front I'm told that I'm just a brainwashed drone without the courage to stand up for the sexual experiences that would supposedly make me happier. Above all, it seems that many tend to resent me for saying that staying righteous is possible. They have to disagree because it didn't work for them, so they have to tell themselves it cannot work for anyone. So they focus huge amounts of energy, and often large sums of money on attacking the Church, and especially gay Mormons who choose to stick with the Church. And the biggest lie they perpetuate is that they've "never seen it work before;" that eventually we all fall down. (SO FALSE! I know online literally hundreds of the faithful who've stuck with it and many are now older and even retired, and very happy.) And so on this front I am judged to be a coward and/or a liar. Well, I have a dream that one day I can be judged not for my religious beliefs and convictions, but for the content of my character.

If I have spoken boldly to two audiences, it's because I feel very strongly about my subject. But I repeat that I bear no ill will for either party I've addressed. I also fully recognize that just as not all Church members espouse the silly claims I listed, neither do all gays and lesbians hold deep prejudices against me. But even to those who do, I offer love.

Let's return to the civil rights comparison. I served my mission in a place where racism was still all too common. I became a very passionate advocate for racial equality and an adversary to the dragon of racism on my mission. When I got home, I watched a movie I had missed while I was out called Hairspray. Many of you have probably seen it. I knew before it began that it was a chipper musical starring John Travolta as a large woman, but I had no idea that the major theme of the film was racism. I've mentioned in previous posts how embarrassed I am about the fact that I cry easily in movies. Well, Hairspray really took the cake. Keep in mind I had been home for maybe 2 weeks when I watched it, and so I was in that emotionally unstable RM stage to begin with. So when the film ended up being about an issue that had grown to be so important to me on my mission...well, let's just say... I bawled. Like a baby. I still love that movie, and it still makes me cry. And yes, I feel silly crying during Hairspray. Anyway, in the middle, there is a song sung by Queen Latifah called "I Know Where I've Been." Some of the lyrics describe well the struggle of the cause I'm speaking about. Here's an excerpt:

There's a cry
In the distance
It's a voice
That comes from deep within
There's a cry
Asking why
I pray the answer's up ahead
Yeah, 'Cause I know where I've been

There's a road
We've been travelin'
Lost so many on the way
But the riches
Will be plenty
Worth the price
The price we had to pay

There's a dream
In the future
There's a struggle
That we have yet to win
And there's pride
In my heart
'Cause I know
Where I'm going
Yes I do!
And I know where I've been

I don't care if some tell me I chose my attractions and need to repent to gain salvation. I know otherwise. I don't care if some tell me I'm a liar. I know otherwise. I don't care if some tell me I'm not really happy. I know otherwise. I don't care if some tell me that I'm not a real person. I certainly know otherwise! I know where I've been. And, as the song says, there is a long road and many have been lost along the way. But there is a dream of winning the struggle. "And there's pride in my heart, 'Cause I know where I'm going." I have no shame of the gospel, nor of being attracted to men. That said, there is one more topic I've got to address: my anonymity.

Some of you who have asked me how I can honestly proclaim a message that there is no need for shame in SSA when I write an anonymous blog, hiding behind my pseudonym. That question does not offend me, because it is actually a very valid concern. Honestly, there are some fantastic strong members of the Church out there who are very public and have even written wonderful books. (If you don't know who Ty Mansfield is, search him RIGHT NOW). There is a strong need for public faces to our special cross-section demographic of the LGBT community with the faithful LDS community. A part of me would love to be one of those faces. I think it would genuinely surprise a lot of people, but also give a lot of hope to see that a very normal, but also very lucky and successful guy like me experiences same-sex attraction. I think it could turn heads and do a lot of good to help heal some of those lingering fallacious public perceptions of this problem.

But I can't. It isn't a matter of shame. It is primarily because there are people very close and very important to me who unfortunately perhaps ascribe to some of those misconceptions and aren't ready yet. I don't hold that against them. I love them dearly and trust that in time they will be able to alter their views. Above all, there can be lots of complications and prejudice faced when people "come out" so to speak. I've not told anyone yet who I didn't feel spiritually prompted to. I've talked a lot with the Lord on this subject and trust that if/when He ever wants/needs me to be more public that He'll let me know. Maybe that won't ever be. I don't know. I'll trust Him. But for now I hope that you can understand that there are many complicated reasons why I simply cannot forfeit my anonymity right now, and the Lord has told me that's the right course for me. I would also caution AGAINST coming out public if the reason is merely to create drama or draw attention (we all feel that way sometimes! don't give in!). Be sure to be prayerful, and you can be sure that the Lord will let you know the correct course for you. Keeping a family relation in tact may be more important in your life right now than being able to help change public perceptions of SSA.

I have a dream that one day we will conquer the prejudices from all sides that make this subject so unfortunately taboo that it requires anonymity in the first place. I would remind you what I've said in another post: that we won't win the battle against hate/ignorance with hate and ignorance! THE ANSWER IS LOVE! As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

My best,


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cheer up! It's a TRIAL, not a bad thing! (1 Peter 1:6-7)

I have had some fantastic interactions online regarding my SSA with other faithful saints as we try to help each other out and remain strong. There are fantastic blogs out there, and wonderful support groups like NorthStar. I highly applaud the efforts of my fellow soldiers on this battlefield.

That said, I have one major piece of advice to the online LDS SSA community: cheer up! A lot of the discussion is so forlorn, over-dramatic, etc. Now, I've done some of that here on this blog, for sure. And it does certainly have its place. The fact is, we are a community of generally dramatic personalities trying to figure out confusing and seemingly counter-intuitive emotions. There will be some tears and confusion. We also tend to be a bunch who are more prone to depression than the general population. But that last point may be all the reason more why I think we all need to resolve to be a little more upbeat in what we post and say.

About a month ago I put up a post exploring the first chapter of James verse by verse. Among the insights I found in that chapter, I found James' positive approach to trials refreshing and encouraging. Another general epistle from the New Testament reaffirms the same message. In 1 Peter 1:6-7 we read:

6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.

We hear the word "trial" about ten times in Church each week. Trials carry this connotation of exceeding depression. How many times have you heard someone say, "I've been facing some really hard trials lately." I'm not trying to belittle or demean those experiences. Human suffering--physical, emotional, spiritual--is very real. But the modern depressed approach to trials is a stark contrast with that of the ancient saints like James and Peter. They seemed to look at trials like the best thing in the world! Peter is practically ecstatic to tell us that his trials are SO MUCH COOLER than gold while likening them unto gold in the process. He doesn't deny the "heaviness" our diverse temptations can bring with them, but tells us to "greatly rejoice" anyway.

For this reason I've tried to be careful on my blog not to ever say "I struggle with same-sex attraction." Because, frankly, it hasn't beat me. My testimony is thriving, not struggling! Now, there are those of you out there who can very legitimately say that you struggle with this. When you fall into temptation and get trapped in addictive patterns, at that point struggle becomes a very accurate word. But you know what, if you are reading this right now, you probably want to turn things around. And if that is truly your desire and you are willing to do what it takes to turn things around, I believe you'll get out of it! And once you're out of it, I invite you to join me with those who thrive rather than struggle.(Ha! I paused after writing this paragraph to watch tonight's CES devotional with Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Presidency of the 70, and he totally affirmed everything I just said! They haven't put the text online yet, but he told the story of a young man who made mistakes with his girlfriend, but repented and learned that "the Spirit replaces the anguish of sin with optimism.")

What is a trial anyway? It seems to me that a trial is any experience that can either build or destroy our faith. God lets us have them for the purpose that they will build our faith, but we can allow them to destroy it if we approach it the wrong way. There are lots of trials that we obviously classify as trials: death of a loved one, loss of a job, natural disasters, etc. But there are other trials perhaps less obvious. For example, what about the trial of wealth? Some people can use wealth to bless the world and in the process learn what it is to be Christlike, and thus build their faith. Others become so obsessed with the world, still trying to get their camels through the eye of the needle, as Christ put it. Yet, how many of you would ever say, "Oh, that unfortunate guy struggles with a real wealth problem." That's just silly! So what does this teach us? That we don't always have to assign a negative connotation to our trials! I experience same gender attraction, but I don't struggle with it, or suffer from it. It simply is. I don't act on it, and yet I'm not "denying who I am" either. To act against the privilege I have of knowing I'm a child of God--that would truly be denying who I am.

So, in a spirit of being positive and uplifting, I finish this post with a list of 10 great things about being a "gay Mormon." Some of these are serious, some are rather tongue-in-cheek for your entertainment pleasure. Enjoy. And I hope this goes without saying, but don't take this post too seriously. Take it with rejoicing. ;)

1. I'm a great dresser (most days).

2. I've been taught amazing empathy and sympathy for others like me, and those who have other unique trials I may not understand.

3. I've gotten to meet some AMAZING people who have lifted me up and made me better in this online community.

4. I'm able to have really fun dates with girls, without too much of the awkwardness I've seen sabotage guys who have the burden of attraction for the girls they're asking out on their mind.

5. I can give my homies legit advice before a date on how they look (unfortunately, the vast majority don't know about this resource).

6. I have this anonymous blog. Which kinda makes me feel like Batman. :)

7. I get to silently chuckle inside when my oblivious roommates say silly homophobic things.

8. I have better taste in cologne than you do. Really.

9. I am continually humbled and made to rely on the Lord, which has greatly improved my relationship with Him.

10. I never have to deny who I am.

So, that's my optimistic post for the day. :) I'm sure you'll still see me put up some of those confused and somber ones, but I hope I never forget to occasionally add something more light-hearted in.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Souvenirs from Hell and the Altar of Sacrifice (Matthew 5:29-30)

A couple "announcements" before I begin this post:

* Since pretty much the very beginning of this I've been on Twitter. Last week I created a Facebook for Obadiah as well. Some of the other blogs have done this as well by creating a page you can "like" on Facebook. I've decided to try a different approach as an experiment: I actually just created a regular profile for Obadiah. In other words, it's a regular account that instead of "liking" you can add as a friend. I want to connect with other people whether or not they are Mormon and whether or not they experience same-sex attraction. If you friend me, I'll accept (unless you are clearly a spam-bot). However, if you are trying to drag a bunch of negative content that is highly anti-Mormon or demeaning to homosexuals, I will unfriend you. So, as I say regarding posting comments here on the blog, "play nice." :)
If you want to "friend" me, here's the link to my profile: 

* Second, I've done a lot of interacting online and blogging over the Christmas break. A new semester starts tomorrow, so I can't promise I'll be online as much. The good news is that I'm taking a pretty laid-back semester compared to previous ones, so I will still have time to keep this us as well. After all, I STARTED this blog amidst the craziness of final projects and exams for a much crazier and difficult semester than this next one will be. I just want to thank all of you who have read up to this point and for your support! I have been truly touched by all the amazing people out there who have sent such encouragement to me. :)

Anyway, on to today's thoughts...

One month ago I wrote a post called "Looking to Lust" which commented on some verses about lusting from the Sermon on the Mount. I explored the 3 Nephi version of those verses and commented that these few verses show some of the biggest differences between the two versions of the Sermon on the Mount. Today I'd like to focus on two verses in this part of the sermon that the Matthew account includes but which the 3 Nephi version doesn't--kind of like the opposite of what I did last time! Here's two verses that occur in the Matthew version but not in 3 Nephi. They also are among those rare but important fragments of the Sermon on the Mount to make into both Mark and Luke as well. You're probably very familiar with them:

29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
30 And if they right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

These are kind of unusual verses. Chew on them for a little bit while I go on a slight [relevant] tangent. In my last post I mentioned a touching verse from Isaiah chapter 56 about our sacrifices being accepted by the Lord. You may recall how much that verse meant to me when I read it the first time in relation to same-sex attraction and the choices I've made to stay chaste despite a desire to be with another man, and the happiness that decision has brought me. It was so reassuring to me to read that the Lord had accepted my sacrifice. Then, yesterday morning I had a very special experience. The time had come for me to journey back to Provo, but before I left I was able to have an experience unique up to this point in my life: to receive a priesthood blessing of counsel and comfort specifically addressing my same-gender attraction. Because nobody has ever known about it before until the last month of my life, I've never been able to seek any such blessing in the past. But yesterday before I left my parent's home, I was able to receive a blessing from my father. My father is a fantastic and spiritual man. He has shown nothing but absolute love for me in the past week he's known about my SSA, despite the fact that I can tell it was more difficult news for him to hear than he wanted me to see. I think it is hard mainly because it is difficult for him to comprehend and because he loves me and wants me to be happy. I'm also almost certain that he hasn't read my blog (he knows about it, but I think he's still wrapping his mind around everything), and in fact my mom told me as much. That's perfectly fine. It also makes the blessing he gave me all the more amazing. You see, despite the fact that he had not read my most recent post, the first thing he told me in the blessing he gave was those same words which had touched me so deeply: that the Lord had accepted my sacrifice. He continued to speak, by the inspiration of the spirit, a very personal and meaningful blessing that touched pretty much exclusively on the most pressing questions and worries I've had as of late. I could tell that the blessing was NOT influenced by any biases or misunderstandings about SSA that my father may or may not have. It was almost like, for 2-3 minutes my father understood everything I was going through. Honestly, this is probably due to the fact that the Savior does understand how I feel and what I go through and can inspire worthy, in-tune priesthood holders to speak appropriate words of comfort according to that understanding.

Anyway, the beginning of that blessing caused me to reflect even more on the idea of sacrifice and laying certain desires, habits, worldly goods, etc. on the figurative altar of sacrifice. I pondered this thought continually for most of the drive back to Provo. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis, from his masterpiece work The Great Divorce. In the introduction to the book he says:

"There is no heaven with a little of hell in it--no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our pockets. If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather."

Profound words, eh? This, I truly believe, is what is meant by the verses I quoted from the Sermon on the Mount: that whatever we are asked to give up to gain heaven, no matter how much we love that thing, it is worth the price we will pay. I watched a new movie last week called "Dolphin Tale." I hope you've heard of it, and that you don't think it's a silly kid's movie like the title may suggest. It's actually a great film starring Harry Connick, Jr. and Morgan Freeman based on a true story, about the plight of several individuals who lose limbs as well as a dolphin who loses its tale. Each must adjust to the difficult life of being without an appendage they've largely taken for granted their entire lives. Have you ever known someone missing a limb? So have I. They'll likely tell you that although they have happy lives, they probably wouldn't willingly choose to give up a limb. I share this to give perspective to the verses from Matthew. What if God asked you to give up your arm? Note that the word "offend" in the verses would be better rendered "cause you to stumble." In other words, if there is anything that stands between us and heaven, we must be willing to give it up--even if we love it. I really like my right eye (despite the fact that is slightly more near-sighted than my left one). I also really like my right hand. I don't want to give up either one! What are other things I really like? Well, I like mountains; I like music; I like chocolate. The list could go on and on. If God asked me to never see mountains again or to never hear music, am I ready to give those up? If God asked me to give up chocolate??? (eek!) I think I am ready to honestly give those things up if God asked me too.

In my last post, I spoke of sacrificing the possibility of living in a life-long relationship with a man. I've made that decision, and, as I've said, I am very happy with it. Then I had an interesting thought: What if God asked me to give up my attractions to men? The answer may seem obvious: of course! Take it away! Get rid of it once and for all! But actually, my initial reaction was a resistance to that very thought. I think 2 months ago I absolutely would have responded that "obvious" way. However, now as I've begun the process of accepting my body's natural patterns of attraction and coming to peace with them, I've been learning to love that side of myself, despite my plans to marry a woman. After all, the Lord doesn't want me to hate myself, especially for something that isn't even a sin. I deeply believe that part of the human experience is the struggle between two dichotomous desires: the desire to fit in and be accepted, and the desire to be unique and different. My same-gender attraction for many years was, in my mind, the antagonist of the first desire. Lately, it has instead become the friend of the second desire. I like that this experience makes me different! I'm learning to appreciate attraction rather than despise myself for it, for I know full well where I stand and I never let my thoughts go into forbidden territory or "look to lust" as the post I mentioned earlier discussed. And since it isn't a sin, it isn't really a "souvenir from hell" is it?

Well, maybe. Note that C.S. Lewis mentions not only the evil "hell," but also the neutral "earth" as being something we can't hold onto if we want heaven. And what is hell really? Hell isn't necessarily something evil. We sometimes describe it as a separation from God. This earth life therefore can be considered a form of hell in and of itself, but not an evil one--for it is a hell we willingly chose temporarily because we WANTED heaven permanently. Seen in this light, our arms and eyes--both pieces of a less-than-perfected body--could very well be considered souvenirs from hell if keeping them would keep us out of heaven. There is nothing inherently evil about my eye or my hand. But if I must leave them behind, then I will do so. Likewise, there is nothing inherently wrong with my same-gender attraction. But accepting that it is okay to experience those attractions cannot mean that I cling to them so tightly that I'd rather keep them than accept heaven.

Like I said before, there was a time that giving up my attractions to men would be incredibly desirable. For many of you it still is. Oddly enough, in God's infinite (but not always understood by mortals) wisdom, he has asked us to be willing to put anything required on the altar of sacrifice, but sometimes doesn't want us to sacrifice the things that for whatever reason he wants us to keep. In short, some of you may see your SSA as an arm that you'd LOVE to cast off, but have no ability to do so. Well, apparently God hasn't asked you to make that sacrifice. He might not in this life. In that case, you might have to keep the offending arm. But you will need to offer your trust to Him. You'll need to lay hurt feelings for your trial on the altar of sacrifice, for our ignorance of God's higher ways should never convince us to grasp tightly to hellish souvenirs of unfaithfulness or bitterness for God.

I know this has been a rather confusing post. I don't expect any reader to completely understand my thoughts or feelings here. But I hope it has at least stimulated thought. Do you have any souvenirs from hell or earth that you simply can't let go of? Casting off an arm is a hard thing to do, but God will help you place it on the altar of sacrifice.

My best,