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: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003320193724 

* 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,



  1. Obadiah, this is what you were trying to tell me on North Star, wasn't it? This is a concept that is hard for me to accept right now. I have a long ways to go. You are so strong. I don't understand why I don't have more faith right now. Probably too much doubt and fear. I'll work on it. I wish I had a friend like you in real life (not that our cyber relationship isn't real, but you know what I mean).

  2. So many souvenirs from earth and hell that I have yet to cast off: my tendency to not allow my body the rest it needs, video games, my tendency to fantasy, many lies about myself and others, my distrust of God...

    I'll speak to Tyler's comment as well as to myself. Faith is something that grows bit by bit. I know that my faith is weak and that I'm still learning to trust God and His love. Each day, I can try to allow Him into my life more and more and then He can start to direct my life. One of my biggest things I need to sacrifice is my attempts to have total control over my life.

  3. Obadiah,

    I re-read this post in an attempt to understand it better. It's still hard for me to understand how you have been able to make peace with yourself. This idea has been growing on me. I've been trying to see how I can "appreciate attraction instead of despise myself for it." I am perfectly willing to sacrifice having a relationship with a man, as you have. I am perfectly fine with being chaste and all that. I am willing to love myself for who I am. But where does that leave me? It seems like I must either fight it, or accept it. And if I accept it, what does that mean for the future? Would I be accepting the fact that I must remain single for my whole life? If I try to diminish my attractions through various means, isn't that the same as fighting it? Or can I diminish them and accept them at the same time?

    Are you still going to try and diminish your attractions? Is that the same as fighting it? Do you believe in your current state that you are sufficiently attracted to women that you will get married some day?

    Sorry for a hundred questions, I know you're busy with school work. On a side note, for what it's worth, I had a great day at church.

  4. Tyler,

    Peace doesn't come all at once. It waxes and wanes and increases with time gradually. I think that you can accept it while also trying to change. Don't hate yourself for it in the mean time. Some people have successfully changed it, but not all people have. Be willing to accept the possibility that even if same-gender feelings diminish, you may carry them, even in a small degree, your entire life. So yes, I think you CAN accept and fight it at the same time, oddly enough. But I think accepting is more important. If anything, try fighting against the SSA less, and fighting to increase opposite-gender attraction MORE. In my current state, I believe I could find a woman I could be married to. I dated one a few months ago, but things fell apart. But I have hope now that things could work out in the future. Accepting attractions to men does NOT mean accepting a life of being single.

    Hope that all makes sense.

    Have a great day!



Please feel free to comment or leave questions. Just be aware that I moderate all comments before posting. I won't post things that are offensive. I will post controversial comments and questions so long as they aren't mean-spirited. I'd love to hear your comments and answer questions; just play nice! :)