Jun 29, 2008
So, as I stood there in the main street holding my ice cream cone, feeling trapped by the crowds and blaring music, I was privileged to witness a grand public display of raunchiness and vulgarity. I say privileged because it was a sort of revelation to me and I could hardly wait to go home, plug in my laptop, and blog some additional thoughts to my previous posting. I started to worry that anyone who had read "My Sexual Creed" could be mistaken to believe that I would be standing there on one of the parade floats myself. So I felt the need to clarify a few things.
This year's Gay Pride had extra cause for celebration in light of Norway's recent decision to allow same-sex marriage and adoption (though the latter may be found to be impractical since Norwegians almost without exception adopt from abroad and the countries they are adopting from set the rules of what kind of parents they're looking for). So as a couple of guys in white veils led the procession of mostly scantily-clad priders, I perhaps wished more than ever that the marriage laws would stay as we have known them. Still, I just didn't feel any more threatened by a couple of guys in veils than I did by Pamela Anderson's drunken-binge- white-string-bikini-on-the-beach-wedding to Tommy Lee. Putting it into perspective, I feel about equally disgusted by such "marriages," whether homosexual or heterosexual. But I don't feel like all is lost because I know that for every such couple, there are many more (heterosexual and homosexual) who would take their marriage vows with the solemnity that they deserve.
I think that those of us who believe in and uphold traditional marriage are only as threatened as we feel. Gay marriage is such an emotionally-charged issue that we tend to put more urgent issues on the back burner. The gay pride display that I found myself a spectator of was disgusting and degrading. It was an in-your-face glorification of raunchiness, vulgarity, promiscuity, and general lack of integrity in matters of love and marriage. And yet there was nothing there of a permissive lifestyle that I haven't already seen heterosexuals promote on a daily basis in the media or in person. Gay marriage isn't tearing down the traditional family. We've done that already and now they're just joining in the destruction. That permissive lifestyle, gay or straight, is what we need to fear the most, in my opinion.
So today is the day in California and I've read that some members are planning to wear rainbow ribbons to church. I think that every member has the right to decide for themselves what is right or wrong and I don't judge them for protesting. I know that many have experienced the pain of conflict in their lives due to homosexuality much more than I have and I sympathize with them greatly. That being said, if I lived in California, I would not wear a rainbow ribbon to church today. Personally, I would feel that by doing so I would be accepting and/or promoting the permissive lifestyle that I abhor. I know that the rainbow flag carries a different meaning for others, but for me it has come to symbolize in-your-face raunchiness and partying more than focusing on human and civil rights for homosexuals. I think that there are many like myself, who want to see gays have those human and civil rights (with the possible exception of marriage in the traditional sense), but feel turned off by all the loose vulgarity.
There was, however, one thing about the parade that was my consolation for witnessing the whole affair and that was the procession of people carrying signs, their mouths covered and splattered with symbolic blood, each bearing a sign with the name of a country where homosexuality is illegal and the penalty for being gay. The countries were spread across the world and the penalties ranged from floggings and beatings to jail time, to death by hanging or stoning. We live in a world of contrasts and I'm gratefully relieved that I live in a society that, despite its flaws, would rather let two men with veils walk down the street than string them up by their necks in the town square.
Jun 25, 2008
Some of you have perhaps been following the heated discussion going on at MormonMatters regarding the Church's letter to California members encouraging them to donate of their "means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman." You can read the letter here:
Or you can follow the discussion here: http://mormonmatters.org/2008/06/21/news-flash-lds-church-will-be-actively-opposing-gay-marriage-in-california-this-november/
In this posting, I intend to state my personal opinion about this issue. Forgive me if I repeat some of my comments from MormonMatters, but I feel that I summed up my feelings pretty well there.
I realize that I'm going to be part of a minority here and that some conservative members are going to find my beliefs to be radical, perhaps even bordering on heretical. Nevertheless, I have given this issue a lot of thought, have swayed in both directions many times, and have even come to perhaps peace of mind in the matter. At least somewhat, for the issue at hand is so complex and emotional that I think it's impossible to claim that I or anyone else has come to any ultimate conclusions. We simply don't know enough.
The Church has the prerogative to fight against gay marriage if it sees fit to do so and which it has. I don't think that any of us have been naive enough to think that the Church had any other official stance than it has expressed thus far and I defend its right to campaign on behalf of causes it supports. Personally, I'm not thrilled by the fact that marriage is on its way to being redefined. I appreciate the fact that the Church wants to see marriage stay as it is in most places today. However, the release of this letter gives me a bad feeling for a few reasons:
a) Gay marriage is arguably a moral issue, but it certainly walks a fine line with political and the Church is officially neutral.
b) I see huge irony in the fact that Mormons are trying to convince the government that the definition of marriage should stay as it is when our predecessors tried to convince the government of the exact opposite (i.e. polygamy), which makes us look like big hypocrites in the eyes of many.
c) Gay marriage is coming to a place near you whether you like it or you don't. I think this battle is already lost and I would personally rather see members give of their "means and time" to more urgent and needy causes such as the homeless, AIDS orphans in Africa, or political prisoners (hopefully that would include the people who are executed on a regular basis for being gay in places like Iran).
d) This letter is going to cause a lot of pain to a lot of people, particularly those fellow members who are gay and trying to deal with something they can't change. It's also a big setback for the upcoming meeting between Church leaders and the group Affirmation, which was long overdue. I no longer have much hope for a better relationship between the two sides, which is so unfortunate for members like myself who feel strongly pulled in both directions to some degree.
e) I wonder whether we tend to exaggerate what's really at stake here. Are those of us in heterosexual marriages really going to suffer if gay marriage is legalized? I'm not a fortuneteller so I'm not sure whether we will or won't. Why do we feel so threatened? Personally, I feel more threatened by things like divorce, infidelity, promiscuity, porn, just to name a few. If anything, gays will just be allowed to join in the misery that many of us already know as marriage. (Not a description of my own marriage! :) My guess is that we'll get over the shock of it and go back to doing what we were doing before.
f) The admonition that is contained in the letter doesn't sit with me well because of the Danzig incident. Danzig accused the Church of telling him to violate his conscience by doing what its now telling California members to do, which the Church denied. So whether you think Danzig was right or wrong in how he handled the situation, his original accusation does now at least gain some credibility.
Whether homosexuality is a sin or not, whether the Church is right in fighting same-sex marriage or not, whether the status of marriage is really in trouble or not, all this is sort of irrelevant to me. We can all draw our own conclusions and have our opinions. However, what bothers me is that it’s so easy for some of us to trivilalize being homosexual. Sure, even if someone is born 100% gay, they don’t “have” to live the gay lifestyle. OK, but have you all really, I mean REALLY thought about what that entails? We heterosexual members are so quick to dismiss it as “sin” or simply a matter of “choice” or even just plain willpower. Even if it’s both, just think of what the life of a celibate homosexual entails. It’s not quite fair to compare it to heterosexual singles, who also are to remain chaste, because they can at least date, kiss, hold hands, have a non-sexual relationship. What can homosexuals do? Would it be acceptable for a gay couple having a non-sexual relationship to hold hands on BYU campus? Of course not. I mean think about it. They can’t do all the non-sexual acts of affection and of course they can’t masturbate because that’s wrong too, so what do they do? Basically they live the life of a priest or a nun, complete celibacy, which is certainly by no means impossible, but the Church is always quick to point out that we don’t believe in that celibate lifestyle anyways. We are a Church about love and marriage. I’m not saying that the Church should just come out and allow gay marriage. I honestly don’t know what my opinion is on this anymore. But each of us can only listen to our own consciences and what the Spirit is telling each of us. And this is where I have my personal dilemma. I really and truly feel for those who are gay, especially gay and Mormon, and find themselves in the middle of this war. It must be disheartening to see members trivilialize their struggles and throw the blame back at them constantly. Some of our fellow brothers and sisters have committed suicide over this and I think we owe them at least the thought of why that is so.
It was suggested by someone taking part in the MormonMatters discussion that, "(I)f someone doesn’t believe the church’s teachings on this, I don’t understand why they even bother staying in the church." I disagree with this and I'll tell you why.
If I left the Church, I would maybe find myself regretting it years down the road when changes occur, as they always seem to do. I can’t say I know that they will happen, but I see a pattern when it comes to the Church and moral/political controversies. Just to name a few:
Birth control: Went from being regarded as something downright evil by the Church, to something generally accepted and left up to the individual. In previous times, couples who limited the number of children they had were sinning by denying spirit children entrance into mortality. Now it’s a personal choice.
Women: It used to be that women were pretty much told to stay at home and made to feel selfish for working outside the home. Now almost all LDS women that I know work outside the home and Church leaders have greatly softened their stance. It’s now accepted that most are dependent on a double income.
Blacks and the Priesthood: I know that many like to say it’s not the same thing as the homosexuality issue because you have no choice in being born black, but if we go by what certain Church leaders said in earlier times, blacks did indeed choose being born into the “cursed” race because of something they did (or didn’t do) in the pre-existence. On top of that, someone like George Romney in 1964 could have left the Church feeling guilty, since the apostles who opposed the Civil Rights movement were supposedly speaking on behalf of the Lord and backing up their stance with teachings from previous prophets. Today, people who took Romney’s stance appear to have been right. So either the Church leadership later saw that they were wrong, or maybe God actually does regard blacks as second-class citizens. Who would now argue with George Romney’s 1964 stance, despite the fact that the GA’s were vehemently opposed to it then? It’s just too early to know what the future holds. We may be all surprised one way or the other.
So why would I leave the Church over this issue? I’m not saying that I’m right because I know I could be totally wrong. The feeling in my heart may be failing me in this one, but it’s hard not to see a pattern when we look at Church history. I see no reason why the Church doesn't have room for a person like me when I'm not proclaiming my views as Gospel truth, but rather my personal opinion. I'm sure it's not the first time you've heard the opinion of a member that sounded really "off-the-wall."
So call this my sexual manifesto, creed if you will. For me, it's the only way to make peace with my faith and my conscience. I may be right or I may be wrong. Lucky for me, the only thing at stake is my pride.
Jun 23, 2008
This got me thinking about something I've never been quite sure about. How do we Mormons really feel about the cross? It's one of those things that we don't really discuss very often, but over the years I've heard everything from respect to disdain for the symbol of Christianity. Some reasons that I've heard for our shunning of the cross is that:
a) It's more of a Catholic or Protestant symbol and we are neither
b) The cross represents some terrible crimes that have been committed in the name of Christianity, such as the Crusades, and we don't want to be associated with that
c) The cross has become nothing but a fashion statement for most
d) We want to focus on the Resurrection and not so much the Crucifixion
Non-LDS Christians are often quick to notice the complete lack of crosses in LDS chapels and materials. When they ask me about it, I usually give them the speech citing reason d), about how we don't use the cross because we prefer to focus on Christ's resurrection and the fact that we believe that He lives, instead of focusing on his death. I don't feel like I'm lying when I give them the speech, but I have wondered about other possible reasons. I will summarize a story that I remember reading once, which illustrated how some Mormons feel about the cross. A non-LDS Christian woman entered the home of an LDS family. The non-LDS woman was wearing a cross, and somehow the subject came up. When asked why they did not use the cross, the LDS woman said that she could explain it this way: "If one of your loved ones was killed in a car accident, would you wear a car around your neck to remember them?"
I find that the lack of crosses in the LDS religion makes it hard for other Christians to identify with us. While I understand our need to differentiate ourselves from other Christians because of our unique doctrine of the Restored Gospel, I sometimes fear that our missing crosses make it more difficult for skeptical non-LDS Christians, many of whom are already highly suspicious of Mormons, to even call us Christians (much like how many can ask how Jehovah's Witnesses can call themselves Christians when they don't celebrate Christmas). And yet at the same time, Mormons are often lamenting over the fact that other Christians don't consider us to be Christians. It's easy to understand their skepticism, when we have seemingly rejected the most fundamental symbol of Christianity.
Personally, I accept the reasoning that we choose to focus on the fact that Christ lives. But at the same time, remembering and honouring the Crucifixion is a vital element in giving His life the significance that it deserves. If we focus only on the Resurrection, the Atonement seems to lose some of its meaning -- at least for me. I've visited many Catholic and Protestant churches and cathedrals throughout my travels and have always been impressed by all the paintings, statues and icons depicting Christ on the cross. I find them to be very moving, as they capture a special spirit that I haven't felt anywhere else. I love Mormon art of the Saviour, but I find traditional crucifixes to be something utterly unique. I remember being in Münich, Germany and visiting a small store which sold Catholic art, crucifixes and statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. I remember thinking how beautiful they were and that I would proudly display them in my own home, except for the fact that other Mormons would find it so strange.
So aside from when I'm at church, I will continue to wear my cross whenever I feel like it. Most probably won't even notice but if they do, they will either:
a) Assume that I'm just trying to be fashionable
b) Assume I'm just another deluded religious fanatic
c) Not give a crap
Ironically, I think the only ones who would notice would be fellow Mormons.
So what do you all think? Are we Mormons cross at the cross?
Jun 16, 2008
So, all the news and warnings we hear regarding climate change are a real downer. It's frightening and depressing, to put it quite bluntly. After watching something like "An Inconvenient Truth," you can either come away from it feeling motivated and determined to save our beloved planet, or feeling like it's all hopeless so you may as well just continue to enjoy your SUV and long, hot showers, since giving them up would only be a drop in the bucket.
The main problem I see is that those with the means to make the biggest difference -- enough that we could perhaps see a change for the better -- are generally the world's most prosperous nations where the negative effects of climate change are either not really negative at all (such as longer, warmer summers in the north) or virtually non-existent. The US has seen more frequent and powerful hurricanes, but the average North American or European is probably not seeing or feeling climate change to the extent that people in southeast Asia or the Pacific islands are now noticing. Where I live, the biggest "crisis" has been not enough snow to go skiing in the winter. Ouch.
So what connection does climate change have to Mormonism, if any? Most of the Mormons I know aren't the most environmentally-conscious people. Most are either ignorant and/or apathetic about things like the environment or animal rights. So I guess that makes the average Mormon not much different from the rest of society in that regard. Tree-hugging vegetarians are stereotypically left-wing Liberals, while Mormons are stereotypically (though accurately) overwhelmingly right-wing Conservatives. I will take the liberty of lumping in most (but not all) Christians in that category.
So besides differing political persuasions, is there another reason why Mormons aren't more active in environmental and/or animal causes? When you think about it, who of all people should care more about both those things than Mormons? We believe that God created Mother Earth for our benefit, along with all the animals and resources that came along with her, and that we've been instructed to be wise stewards of these gifts. We are also perhaps one of the few religions that even believe that plants and animals, all living things, have a spirit just as we human beings do. So we should be treating all these things with care and respect, right? Or does this belief give us an excuse to exploit Mother Nature, satisfying our conscience by knowing that all the plants and animals that we do away with are going on to a better place in the Hereafter?
While I was watching Al Gore's film, these thoughts came to mind because I suddenly remembered something that I heard in sacrament meeting a few months back. One of the stake high councilmen, whom I always enjoy listening to, said something that made me think. Now, I don't wish to puts words into his mouth, or to accuse this brother of justifying maltreatment of the environment, but I did sort of interpret his words to possibly give the impression that it's all irrelevant. He was talking about how we hear so much negativity in the world today. (Very true.) That it's easy to become discouraged or frightened by all the bad news out there (Also very true.) He mentioned climate change, and how all the predictions are bleak and scary. (True once again.) But it didn't matter, he said, because when the Lord is watching out for us and as long as we remain faithful, He will take care of us. (OK, I believe that, and yet is he trying to imply that these worldly concerns really don't matter??) It made me think a lot about how our faith can affect our actions, at least where the environment is concerned, if we are willing and able to just put our complete trust in the Lord. Then that old saying came to mind, "The Lord helps them who help themselves."
We could say that if Antarctica is gone in 30 years from now, it'll be OK because The Second Coming could be before then. Or we could say that environmental disaster has been predicted in the scriptures and it's a sign of the times, so there's nothing we can really do about it except to not worry and trust in the Lord. Both of these statements could be true, but does putting our complete trust in the Lord make Mother Earth's bleak future irrelevant?
How ironic it is that we, who are of faith, often have to look to atheists or unbelievers to set an ethical example. Those who believe that they have to make the most of this one and only life they've been given, so that their children and grandchildren will be able to have an enjoyable earthly stay, even while they themselves are no more.
Jun 12, 2008
The Church is growing rapidly in many places in the world, so obviously not everyone is struggling with the same issues that I am. Critics would argue that the Church is preying on the poor and uneducated, who don't know any better when they think that they have found "The Truth." But I believe that even the poor and uneducated have been given a conscience and common sense like the rest of us (though small details may vary according to circumstances), so that they, too, have to sometimes make intellectual sacrifices in order to accept the Gospel. Still, I feel torn because I feel that some of the finest, most Christlike people will never be able to accept the Gospel because they feel that the true Gospel of Christ would never require anyone to break moral laws (i.e. polygamy) or discriminate on the basis of race (i.e. Priesthood Ban), just to name a couple of examples. So why would they want to accept or spread the word about such a religion?
I'm not sure why God made some doctrines, new and old, so difficult. I'm not even sure that it's really all from God. And I'm not sure where to even point the finger of blame: God? General Authorities? Individual prophets? Ourselves? However, I know that my faith has made me a better person and that's why I stay in the Church. It saddens me to see some very good and moral people unable to accept The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because certain aspects of it go against basic truths of decency that they uphold in their lives. But I understand it because I know how hard it is to see beyond things that have happened in our past as a Church. I don't like hearing excuses, so I guess I feel ashamed to offer them. It can make being a missionary very, very difficult.
Sometimes it feels like Mission Impossible.
Jun 6, 2008
I'm currently reading "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light" by Brian Koloddiejchuk. It's a collection of her private letters, including her long and intense struggle against spiritual darkness and emptiness, which the world never could have imagined. If you're not familiar with it, I encourage you to check it out. I've only just started it, but her story just humbles me to the point that I can barely look at myself in the mirror, as I knew it would. I have my days where I feel like I'm living in a spiritual desert, but I'm not sweating away my days in poverty, tending to the sick and dying in a place like Calcutta. It definitely puts things into perspective.
Back in the days when I wanted to become a Mormon nun, I was definitely more pious and conservative than I am now. I was probably more concerned about rules and following them, than about the reasons behind them. I've always had that dissident streak within me and I did ask questions, but I was more content with the belief that if I just did everything I was told to do, then I couldn't go wrong. I'm not that trusting anymore, which either means I'm not so naive or that I've let pride get the better of me.
One of the reasons that I found a nun's life so appealing (and in a way still do) was that I felt that a person who takes that route and is able to dedicate their life completelely (Mother Teresa being the best example I can think of) to a cause that Christ would undoubtedly approve of, would be guaranteed a one-way first class ticket to Heaven. Basically, a huge sacrifice resulting in an even bigger reward. Mother Teresa gave up a happy and comfortable life with a family that she loved in order to travel abroad by boat at age 18 to become a missionary, and then a nun, to places that she probably knew very little about, all the well knowing that she would probably never see her family again. Indeed, she never saw her mother or sister again. Those were the days before plane travel, web cams, and Skype, which makes it all the more mind-blowing to me.
When you read about someone like Mother Teresa, you start to question the value of your own life -- or at least what you do with it. Sure, we can do good deeds on a daily basis. But is it enough? Is the Lord satisfied with our input into making this world a better place? Mother Teresa obeyed the call that she felt she was given, to literally sacrifice her life for the absolute bottom of society's pit and all the while feeling like God had abandoned or rejected her, which shows the strength of her faith on an even deeper level. Why doesn't God call us to make that kind of sacrifice? Or maybe he does and we're just ignoring it? That's something that I've always wondered and it's perhaps the main reason for my wanting to become a nun. After all, who has done more to help the hungry, thirsty, sick, and lonely than Mother Teresa besides Christ himself? She has set the ultimate example for Christlike love, compassion, charity and all at the same time enduring to the end while feeling she had so little to go on. For that reason, I think she will always be the person that I admire most.
In conclusion, I hope that Mother Teresa did get that one-way first class ticket to Heaven. But if any of us Mormons find her to be waiting outside the Pearly Gates without a ticket while we're on our way through, I for one would feel compelled to give her mine.