Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prone to Wander (JS-H 1:28-29)

I want to share with you tonight 2 of the most tender verses I've ever read. They are among my all-time favorites and actually come from Joseph Smith--History in the Pearl of Great Price. I'm not kidding when I say that in my scriptures these 2 verses of his history have more markings and annotations than his First Vision account in verses 15-20 do. That isn't because I don't treasure his First Vision! I simply find that these two verses deeply speak to me and help me not feel so bad about myself sometimes.

They are really long, but so meaningful with many lessons in them, so here goes:

28 During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year eighteen hundred and twenty-three--having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me--I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament.
29 In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one. 

So, I've been keeping this blog up, and actually facing my same-sex attraction head-on for the first time ever, for three months now. It has been incredibly therapeutic and I've been overwhelmed at the flood of positive response and connections I've made. But I've also learned some really crucial lessons in that time, and many of them are represented in those two verses above. Here are some key lessons I've learned my first three months:

1. Like Joseph, sometimes we are "persecuted by those who ought to have been [our] friends." Sometimes you will "out" yourself to someone, and they will not respond positively. (Go back and read my first "outing" experience here if you don't believe me!) Not everyone in the Church has learned to handle this topic very well yet. Many are getting better. But many still have a long way to go. I've had a lot more positive experiences since that first one and my closest "straight" friends, my bishop, my parents, and my brother all now know about me. Don't feel down when those who ought to be your friends persecute you. Just like you, they are still progressing on their own spiritual journeys and have lessons to learn.

2. Don't get offended if some try to "endeavor in a proper and affectionate manner to reclaim" you. This is related to the first lesson. Some will persecute you, which is a shame. Others may try to offer you advice, not even having the slightest clue what you are going through, ignorant of how counterproductive some of their advice could potentially be. The gut reaction is to get angry at them in that instant. Resist! Take a deep breath and remember that if they are persecuting you, they probably love you and their advice is a rather tender manifestation of their love for you. They want to help you. Of course, if they genuinely are giving you bad advice, you don't need to take it. But neither do you need to shun them. Be grateful that they care. Joseph didn't really encounter people like this, but wished he had, even though their advice to reclaim him from what was actually right would have been purely erroneous! It should simply serve as a positive contrast to those who persecute.

3. As human beings, we are, as the Hymn "Come Thou Fount" reminds us, truly "prone to wander." And truly did I feel that this week--that I am prone to leave the God I love. Joseph expresses this in the middle of verse 28. In fact, it's so good, I'm going to print it again. He says:

"I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins."

One great warning I've come to be aware of is to beware of who you mingle with. There are great support groups out there through Evergreen, NorthStar, LDS 12-step programs, etc. BUT, no matter how good the organization is as a whole, it is important to be cautious! Most of the people in these groups are well-meaning like you, but some are less pure in their intents. And even two well-meaning SSA LDS guys can soon find themselves in a heap of trouble if they don't exercise caution because the natural man in each one of us makes us particularly prone to wander! Furthermore, I've come to understand that just as important as cautiously avoiding poor company is surrounding yourself with good company that lifts you up. In the past few weeks I've come to see myself come very close to crossing forbidden lines when I was not cautious, but saw myself pulled up and recovered and spiritually fed by other guys, both SSA and OSA, who are stalwart and looking out for me. Those friendships have been so valuable to me!

4. To feel self-loathing is NATURAL, but it is also not good. It is really reassuring to me to know that Joseph Smith himself sometimes felt "condemned for [his] weaknesses and imperfections." I've discussed shame versus godly sorrow in other posts, but a slight review may be helpful here. Shame is an unnecessary feeling of condemnation for who you are that tears you down and tells you you are stuck. Godly sorrow generally focuses on what we've DONE instead, and then motivates us to change who we ARE for the better. Shame tries to perpetuate itself, while Godly Sorrow is always intended to be temporary. One of the worst tricks shame uses to get us to help if perpetuate, is to make us feel guilty about our feelings of shame! If we recognize that we are doing good and that the shame we feel is unfounded, we can get discouraged even further for feeling the shame at all! It seems to me the best way to fight that trap is to bear in mind that sometimes depressing feelings of shame are another natural man symptom that we are working on. It may not be entirely in your control to cast the shame out! It may require help--in fact it will almost certainly require help and healing from God. But don't tell yourself all is lost--other great men before you have felt similarly.

5. God is always willing to give that help and to manifest Himself to us when we ask. This was Joseph's beautiful solution. He prays for forgiveness (which Godly Sorrow will always prompt us to do anyway) and for a manifestation of God. He was hoping very specifically for another vision. That doesn't need to be your prayer though. A manifestation of God is simply a moving of His hand in your life, and that can come in many forms. If you think of the moments that have most strongly built your testimony, I think you'll recognize God's hand in those moments. Pray to Him, and I promise that in some way that will be clear and discernible to you, you will see Him manifest Himself. It may not come immediately; in fact, I've written before how sometimes our prayers seem hollow and unanswered and we are left to feel Forsaken. But in that same earlier post I also pointed out how God's temporary withdrawal can itself be the sign that He is there.

You've made mistakes. Don't beat yourself up. You're human. Trust God, and He will help you improve and get you through what you are going through.

My best,


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Straining at Gnats, Swallowing Camels (Matthew 23:24-28)

I'm going to be completely up front with you: I'm in a rather "soap-box-ish" mood right now as I write this post. But I'm going to try not to get TOO heated in bringing an important topic to the table.

Many of you, especially others of you in Provo, probably found yourselves scratching your heads this week over a viral story revolving around modesty and the BYU honor code. If not, let me tell you the now well-known Valentine's Day story of Brittany Molina, who that day was dressed like this:

She was handed a note by a stranger while she was studying on campus. Initially flattered to receive a secret Valentine, she unfolded it to learn that is was not a love note at all. Instead, it offered her the following rebuke: "You may want to consider that what you're wearing has a negative effect on men (and women) around you. Many people come to this university because they feel safe, morally as well as physically, here. They expect others to abide by the Honor Code that we all agreed on. Please consider your commitment to the Honor Code (which you agreed to) when dressing each day. Thank you."

Yeah, I know. I was confused too. Scroll up again. I couldn't quite see how her appearance would inspire unhealthy thoughts in men (but then again, I'm not the most qualified guy to judge that either). Anyway, clearly it seems like even if the young man was having issues with his thoughts because of what she was wearing, he went about things the wrong way. Definitely overreacted. At least she seems to have been a good sport about it and posted the picture, the story, and the note on Twitter herself, leading to its viral proliferation.

But anyway, while that story is at least to a degree amusing, the next one I have for you is not. With campus abuzz with Brittany's story, I became privy to another conversation about modesty that quickly turned into something quite different. A group of students was discussing how so many girls break the honor code by wearing immodest clothing. This led to a discussion of the evils in the world corrupting the morals we stand for, which led a discussion of how liberals are ruining the world. Ultimately, a conclusion was reached, half-jokingly, to "burn all the liberals, burn all the gays."

This isn't the first time I've heard such things said. And who hasn't heard the classic line of "stick all the gays on an island together" at least once or twice before? It usually doesn't bug me as much as it did this time, and I think the reason was because of their purported devotion to the honor code just a couple minutes before. I thought of the words of Christ when he rebuked the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:24-38, saying,

24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Now, this passage is a little harsh. It is, honestly, TOO harsh for this situation. I am certainly not here to condemn these students to the same degree Christ condemned the Pharisees. However, I think there are some important principles here that apply. Perhaps what bugged me the most is that they were so passionate about maintaining that a skirt that is an inch too short violates the honor code, but apparently don't think that hate speech does. This is what Christ referred to when he spoke of those who would "strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." They made very public displays out of expressing their utter abhorrence for the breaking of tiny technical parts of the law of Moses, but were at the same time violating much more important commands, especially as regards the deeper, principle levels of the law. And that's how I feel we must be acting when we very publicly condemn girls for a few inches of fabric, but disregard what Christ called one of the "Great Commandments," to love our neighbors as ourselves. If you are deficient in love for your fellow men, then I don't care how modestly you dress--you've become merely a whited sepulchre or a vessel clean only on the outside; you "outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy."

Now, let me be clear: I am in no way advocating the swallowing of gnats! There is certainly danger in people pointing to others swallowing camels and using it to justify their own gnat swallowing. By all means I support the principle of modesty and adherence to those outward parts of the BYU honor code. But without clean inner vessels, you aren't really remotely living any code of honor. There is no honor in making degrading comments about others who are different from you. In April Conference of 2006, Pres. Hinckley spoke about the evils of hate speech, specifically regarding race, though it seems his remarks can be equally applied to any hate speech made based on differences in orientation, religion, race, gender, or any other factor. He said:

"Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ...

"Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

"Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

"Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such."

Can it be any more clear than that? 
Now, that being said I must also add a caveat that I've seen the door swing in the other direction sometimes. I've sadly seen other same-sex attracted men get tangled up in deep sexual transgression while decrying a lack of tolerance in others. Don't let the gnats of others allow you to try justifying your camels! Will others judge you whether you are righteous or not? YES THEY WILL! But does their judging make your sins excusable? Absolutely not. And that applies to any sin and every person. 

My suggestion? Take further advice from Christ given on another occasion when he encouraged us to look for the beams in our own eyes before removing the mote (i.e. twig) in our neighbor's. Focus on discovering whatever gnats or camels you are swallowing and eliminate those rather than decrying the wretched evils of what your neighbor is doing. I mean, honestly, how likely are you to help your neighbor when you approach him in a spirit of self-righteousness and without love in your heart? Not very likely. Work on your own inner vessels, and let it begin with the great commandments: to love God, and to love your fellow beings. 

I hope I haven't sounded TOO bitter in this post. I honestly am sure that those students on the whole are great people and maybe just need a little guidance in a few things. So do I. Don't we all? 

My best,


Monday, February 13, 2012

God's Small Ministrations (Ether 3:18)

This is going to be a really short, but really happy post. First of all, I just want to thank you all for the overwhelming amount of sharing that has been done with my last post, "Grace and Godly Sorrow." In the one week since I wrote it, it has sky-rocketed to quickly overtake "Love thy Neighbor" as my most read post of all time! That was quite a surprise. Thank you all for the loving emails of support you've sent my way. I love you all so much!

So, as I said, this is going to be a really short and simple post. I ran across an absolutely touching verse yesterday in Ether 3:18, which says:

"And he [Christ] ministered unto him [the brother of Jared] even as he ministered unto the Nephites; and all this, that this man might know that he was God"

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like Moroni was struck with the same sense of awe as he wrote this verse that I am struck with while reading it. Moroni reflects back on the story from 3 Nephi, recorded by his father Mormon, and how the Savior there came and ministered personally to a large multitude of people. And now here He is again taking the time to minister, but this story takes place 2000+ years earlier on a mountain to a single individual. God loves the Brother of Jared enough to minister to him very personally here.

In reading this short but very sweet verse, I was reminded of the many times and ways that my Father has chosen to make Himself known to me throughout my life. Sometimes it is while I am at Church, among others--like the Nephites and Bountiful. Other times, it is a very personal one-on-one experience, even as the Brother of Jared had. But He DOES minister to us. Many times it is in the realization of tiny blessings that He can be found. Look carefully at your circumstances each day, and I'll bet you'll be surprised how present He is.

I know God lives. I know He loves me. I know He loves you. He wants to minister to you, but you must let Him, and often must first call upon Him. Let Him help you, and look for Him carefully each day.

My Best,


Monday, February 6, 2012

Grace and Godly Sorrow (Moroni 10:32-33)

In December I wrote a post called "Grace and Gasoline" that discussed the necessity of Grace for our salvation, comparing it to gasoline in a car. If you haven't read that post, you may want to go back and read it first. I suppose it isn't essential to understand this one, but I may draw back on things I said in that post and assume you know what I'm talking about. You've been warned.

Anyway, the subject of Grace has been on my mind a lot more the past few weeks, and I felt like it would be helpful to write another post on the subject. In my earlier post on Grace, I emphasized its importance and the fact that it is an enabling power. In this post, I'd like to discuss more specifically HOW it acts as that enabling power, including some specific ways I've seen Grace manifest in my own life and the divine role of Godly Sorrow in the process of sanctification, as opposed to its counterfeit, shame.

So, let's dig right into it, shall we? In that last post I proposed a rather in-depth analogy comparing Grace to gasoline, enabling us to move forward. It's a mighty nice thought, but do we see examples in the real world? I think even recognizing that Grace somehow plays a role along the way, we fail sometimes to grasp what that role is. I'm sure I still do in many ways. But I've recently come to see very clearly at least a little manifestation of Grace acting as the fuel which propelled me forward. I want to begin with a scripture from literally the closing verses of the Book of Mormon. In Moroni 10:32-33 we read:

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. 
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. 

And so, in these verses, among the very last words of Moroni before he sealed up the plates, we see God's great plan revealed: to make us perfect and holy. Note that Moroni doesn't neglect our part (in the analogy, if you remember, it is still up to us to drive the car). Thus, we must put forth our effort to deny ourselves of all ungodliness. In other words, our desire and action need to be there in order for all of this to work--God won't force us to improve if we don't desire it. But the gas is absolutely essential for the car to move forward when we push down on the peddle. Moroni here uses one of my favorite words to describe this perfection process: SANCTIFICATION. It is sad to me how few latter-day saints understand this concept. The word itself literally means "to make holy." It describes what Grace DOES. It is what life is all about: conversion. We are hopefully throughout out lives constantly in the process of being converted from raw, natural men and women, into divine beings. Sometimes we choose instead to be converted in the opposite direction. But with God's help we can choose godliness, thanks to Grace and the power of sanctification.

So, now let me humble myself a bit and share some of my own experiences with you and how I've seen grace manifest in my life. I've written on two previous occasions about a friend of mine I find especially attractive who I've code named "Methuselah" for the purposes of this blog. In the previous 2 posts I've written about him, I alluded to the concept of impure thoughts and how we can keep them at bay. Those are great posts of advice on how to help keep thoughts clean--at least our side of it. Those posts detail well how we put our foot on the gas and steer the car, as per the road trip analogy of Grace. But overcoming impure thoughts I had about "Methuselah" required more than my own effort. Today I want to tell you that Grace changed my heart, enabling me to overcome those thoughts.

When I confessed to my bishop about the thoughts I'd had, he gave me a beautiful analogy. He said that there's nothing wrong with a bird flying over our heads, and perhaps sometimes even landing there! But if we let him build a nest in our hair, that is entirely our fault. Sadly, in the case of "Methuselah" several months ago I had begun to let the bird build a nest. I allowed myself to conjure up some pretty awful fantasies involving the two of us in my head. Now, once again, my previous posts (which are linked to in the previous paragraph) detail the things I did personally to overcome those impure thoughts. If you are struggling with keeping your thoughts pure, please read the advice I offer there for "chasing the bird away" so to speak. But also keep reading this post, because I think the most important part of the equation is relying on Christ to help with the parts we can't do on our own. You see, at the time I genuinely enjoyed those fantasies. I DIDN'T WANT to forsake them. But, I DID recognize the deficiency in my desires. I was able to start putting forth the effort to change before I even entirely desired to, but above all I prayed to God to help my desires change. And at the time I left it at that and moved on and was able to gradually clean up my thoughts. And while I recognized the change in thoughts, I didn't realize along the way how much my desires had changed until this last week actually.

As I mentioned in previous posts, one of the ways I coped with my attraction to "Methuselah" and dispelled bad thoughts was by developing a healthy friendship with him. I've recently done some fun social things with him and have gotten to know him really quite well. This last week, reflecting on the fun friendship and spiritual ways I've gotten to know him also, I was suddenly reminded of the profane thoughts I had about him back in October. In that moment I experienced a huge wave of what the scriptures call "Godly Sorrow." There was no fondness for those thoughts. Only disgust. I honestly couldn't believe that I'd ever allowed my thoughts to go there. I felt sick to my stomach that I'd let such a pure and innocent person be the unwitting victim of such awful thoughts. I felt great sadness; like I'd hurt him very personally. I felt like I'd profaned something very sacred--and indeed I had. But then I was hit with the realization of how sacred that feeling of remorse was. I was reminded of my prayers to God that He would with His Grace help change my desires, something I was not able to accomplish on my own, despite my best efforts. I was able to do lots of other things to cut the thoughts off, but the desires had remained. But in the last few months, my efforts plus grace teamed up and I was transformed. In at least one dimension of my character, I experienced sanctification. Through God's Grace, my heart was changed. I no longer desire unchaste thoughts for "Methuselah" or anyone else now. In fact, the thought disgusts me now! I've been filled with a renewed sense of sacred regard for my fellow men. And I am so full of gratitude for it!

So, let me wrap this post up by commenting a bit more on that feeling of Godly Sorrow. It is very natural to feel sorrow for sin. In fact, this week it was a welcome tender mercy from God that helped me recognize His Grace: it was that sorrow that helped me realize how much cleaner I am as a person, and how far Grace has brought me. Now, I would warn you all to learn to discern between Godly Sorrow and its counterfeit, shame. I recently heard the difference between the two defined as follows: Godly Sorrow is embodied by sadness for sins we've committed, and always serves as a healthy motivator for change, or in some cases a reminder of the change we've made. Shame, on the other hand, is fueled by self-loathing. While Godly Sorrow says, "the things you've done are bad," shame says, "YOU are bad person." Shame undermines the person's self-worth and thus tries to serve to keep us stuck in sin. Shame discourages us and tells us that because we are sinners, why should we even try to change? Or why should we like ourselves? Shame is what can breed suicidal thoughts. Satan wants you to feel shame, and then will tell you it is Godly Sorrow, in order to try to make you believe that you DESERVE to feel such hateful things about yourself. DON'T LISTEN TO THOSE LIES! You are a soul of great worth. You deserve to feel loved by God, because He does love you! He loves you enough to have sent His Son to atone for you, so that you could experience the Grace and Sanctification that will make you more like Him. Along the way, you will naturally feel some Godly Sorrow for your imperfections, but I hope you don't ever let shame hold you too tightly or too long. As the beautiful hymn "I Stand All Amazed" puts it, sometimes recognizing God's atoning love for us can leave us "confused at the grace that so fully he proffers" us. Because I do not yet love perfectly as He does, I too am continually confused by that Grace. Oh it is wonderful, that He should care for me enough to die for me!

I hope this second post on Grace has been helpful. I'm sure it won't be my last on this subject. Thank you for reading. I love you all so much!

My best,