Saturday, November 20, 2010

Higher Love

I wondered recently how God's love differs from the love we experience as mere mortals. Surely His love has an intensity we cannot even imagine. A love so great "that He gave His only begotten Son.." and delivered him up to be scourged for the sins of all mankind - and not just this earth - all mankind everywhere. According to the Pearl of Great Price, the size of  "everywhere" means that if you numbered the grains of sand in millions of earths like this it would only be a beginning to the creations of God. Countless trillions times trillions of worlds, and I may be far off the mark in my estimation. Bottom line - we cannot even comprehend that kind of "everywhere" right now. Its too huge. And so is the scope of the Atonement. Its too huge to imagine.

Love is so important that the first two (and greatest) commandments have to do with love. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." I think that shows where God ranks love in the scheme of things. I think it also shows how deep God's love really is. He asks us to love Him with all our 'heart, mind and soul', so that must mean He also loves us with all His 'heart, mind and soul'. I don't think we can comprehend how strong that love is. And it is far beyond the romantic love so much of humanity is consumed in pursuing, and on which we sometimes waste and corrupt our lives. This is a "Higher Love" - something different and far more transcendant and pure. An Eternal kind of love.

Elder Uchtdorf gave a talk on love recently, and I'd like to quote part of his address:
Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk


Since “God is love,” the closer we approach Him, the more profoundly we experience love....However, seeking God with all our hearts implies much more than simply offering a prayer or pronouncing a few words inviting God into our lives. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” We can make a great production of saying that we know God. We can proclaim publicly that we love Him. Nevertheless, if we don’t obey Him, all is in vain, for “he that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

We increase our love for our Heavenly Father and demonstrate that love by aligning our thoughts and actions with God’s word. His pure love directs and encourages us to become more pure and holy. It inspires us to walk in righteousness—not out of fear or obligation but out of an earnest desire to become even more like Him because we love Him. By doing so, we can become “born again … [and] cleansed by blood, even the blood of [the] Only Begotten; that [we] might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory.”

Heavenly Father’s love for His children is the core message of the plan of happiness, which plan is made active through the Atonement of Jesus Christ—the greatest expression of love the world has ever known.

How clearly the Savior spoke when He said that every other commandment hangs upon the principle of love. If we do not neglect the great laws—if we truly learn to love our Heavenly Father and our fellowman with all our heart, soul, and mind—all else will fall into place. Love is the guiding light that illuminates the disciple’s path and fills our daily walk with life, meaning, and wonder. Love is the measure of our faith, the inspiration for our obedience, and the true altitude of our discipleship. Love is the way of the disciple.

A few important points he made that struck me -


First, we cannot separate God and love. To experience Higher Love, we must draw closer to God. I have a problem with this sometimes. I think at times I'm reluctant to get close to God. Maybe its because of my own feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness, but there are times when I hold back rather than fully embrace.

Second, obedience is a measure of our love for God. When we truly love Him then we will be motivated to obey His commandments out of LOVE. This is in stark contrast to obedience out of fear or obligation or social circumstance. It gives us a yardstick by which to measure the maturity of our love. I'm afraid I have a long way to go in this regard.

Last is the thought that everything else falls into place when we get this first - and most important - principle right. Maybe I focus too much on the 'peripheral' things, and not what's really at the core of it all. Am I letting myself get distracted by things that really don't matter a lot in the long run? I think many times I do.

So I have a lot to think about here. A lot to pray about. Perhaps this is a time to get back to basics and focus on what matters most. Love.



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Touch

I got the new version of the Ensign today that includes all the conference talks. I always look for ward to this. But this time it struck me how much I enjoy actually HAVING it, not necessarily just reading it - I'm talking about the tactile feeling of a magazine. Its something you can touch and experience in such a human way. The smooth feeling of the cover, the smell of the ink, the rustling sound of the paper as you turn the pages.  There are multiple dimensions to it. You can bend it, roll it up or dog-ear a corner if you like. Or take a pen and underline something special to you. In a way its malleable - you can do what you want with it to make it truly yours.

In this hyper-electronic age its more and more common for us to read words on a computer monitor. There are advantages to that, of course (this is a Blog, for goodness sake!) , but there's also something missing in that experience. Its the touching. Humans need touch - we love it! Its an essential part of our nature. Its so important that if an infant is deprived of touch for very long it will develop serious emotional, developmental, and social problems. Its unhealthy not to be touched.

But in our society we're depriving ourselves of the opportunity to touch and interact in the most basic of human ways. Everything is becoming virtual, electronic, drive through, swipe a card, click send. I can't talk to a fellow blogger and pat him on the shoulder or give him a hug. I can't look him in the eyes or pick up the subtle body language that would occur in a face-to-face exchange. I can't smell his clothes or hear his voice or appreciate the way he smiles. Its a sterile exchange, and leaves me wanting. We're losing touch...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Y Mountain

Today I was deeply saddened to learn of another of our gay brothers who took his own life in an act of deperation caused by conflict with family and Church. This has been happening for years, but has seldom been discussed openly by communities and members of the Church.  National attention has recently been brought to bear on the horrific suicide rates of gay youth and young adults, and there is beginning to be an ourpouring of sympathy, pleas for tolerance, and calls for an end to gay bashing and bullying. This is long, long overdue!! There is also an ever growing series of  "It Gets Better" videos circulating on the web - many taped by celebrities or other notables - trying to get the message out to young people that they are loved, they are OK, and their life is precious (see link below).

This subject is an especially emotional one for me, and is something I haven't often discusssed in the past. But I feel prompted to tell my story of how close I came to becoming one of the fallen...

Soon after I returned from my mission I decided I should leave home and attend BYU, which was far, far away in the West. I had broken up with my girlfriend (yes, I did try dating but was horrible at it - wonder why?) and decided there was really no one else around that interested me. Many of my friends were heading off to the Y, and I thought it sounded like a sensible thing to follow along. So I did. I left with no money, no job, no place to stay, and had not even been accepted at the school. Plus my parents completely disapproved - but that did not stop me. Once in Provo I settled in, found a nice place to stay, found a fantastic job, and applied for the fall semester. Later that summer I was accepted, and was also awarded a Dean's Scholarship. I was thrilled! Things were looking up.

And things did go well - for a while. But deep inside me the homosexual attractions that I had supressed for so long were beginning to well up and ooze out. I had been in deep denial about this part of myself since I was - well, very young. I was first attracted to men when I was exposed to pornography at about the age of 7 or 8, and continued to indulge in male porn through my teenage years; but I did not recognize it for what it was. I thought I was just curious about my body and the process of changing into a man. I also had completely suppressed the memories of my childhood molestation by an older boy, which had happened when I was 8 or 9. Anyway, now I was away from home, on my own, and for the first time there began to be a crack in the iron dam I had built around my sexuality.

Late in the spring semester, it happened. I started to look at other men when I was in the shower with them at the gym or at work. I started looking for porn, pictures of nude men anywhere and everywhere I could find them. I was obsessed. I became filled with guilt and anguish over this, and could not reconcile it. Why was I doing this? What did this mean? How could I think like that?? Then one day - out of nowhere - I remembered being molested as a child! That part of my life I had supressed so completely now came back vividly to my memory along with a tidal wave of guilt! In horror, the thought came to me that I had not been worthy to go on my mission. I also thought about looking at all that male porn and I was faced with a new thought - I might actually be a homosexual. How could I be!? I felt desperate, conflicted, and anguished! I thought my life was over! I thought I would be excommunicated! In this desperation and confusion I went to my Bishop in tears and poured out my heart to him. And then something happened that almost killed me. My Bishop looked at me and said  "I knew you had a problem with "that" from the minute I laid eyes on you". I went numb. I went cold. I knew at that moment he had a problem dealing with homosexuality. He sent me home comfortless. I got home and threw myself on the bed and sobbed for hours. I felt like I was falling into utter blackness. In our next meeting I again poured out my soul to him and told him of my fears. To my surprise he told me we did not need to meet any more. He told me when we passed in the halls at Church I was to give him a "thumbs up" if things were OK. There was no counseling. No effort to help me or comfort me. This man either did not want to help me or did not know how to help me. I think at this time I had some sort of breakdown, and my life kind of fell apart. I didn't finish my classes that semester at school and I lost my scholarship. I dropped out of school. I was a wreck. My parents were furious at me, and I had no friends to turn to and no where else to go. In this darkness the self-loathing I had been experiencing took a deadly turn.

At the time I came out to this Bishop there was no positive message for homosexuals in the Church. The book of the day was 'The Miracle of Forgiveness', and its famous chapter on the Crime Against Nature was fodder for my battered self esteem, negative ego, and pathological self-loathing. I was an abomination. I was a fag. I was a leper. I was unnatural and unholy. And I had no one to turn to. So in this desperate state I made a decision to end the pain I was in. End it now, before I disgraced my family and became a hiss and a by-word. Even in this state I wanted to conceal the truth of my life, so I decided I would make my suicide look like an accident. It was still early enough in the spring that the weather was cold - especially up in the mountains, and I decided that I would hike up to the highest elevations and allow myself to freeze to death. It would be easy to make it look accidental. I had seen accounts on TV of hikers getting lost in the mountains and freezing to death. You just get exhausted, fall asleep, and never wake up. That was my plan.

Two days later I announced to a room mate that I "just might climb up Y Mountain that afternoon". I guess I wanted someone to know where to look for my body when I turned up missing. I took everything out of my wallet except my drivers license, a library card, and a couple of other useless items and put the rest in a spare wallet I kept in the dresser. I wanted just enough information on me so they could identify my remains, yet have the contents of my wallet seem "normal" - excluding anything of monetary value. Don't ask me why I was concerned about money at the time. Then I donned a very light windbreaker which might seem adequate for a cool spring day, but which would be completely inadequate in the freezing nighttime mountain air. Thus prepared, I set off on foot for Y Mountain.

I don't really remember what I was thinking about as started that journey. I guess my mind was numb at that point. I was a zombie on a mission of self destruction. Somewhere along the way, however, the Lord intervened in my behalf.  I cannot say why, but I know I was being rescued. I can only describe what happened next as a vision that opened up in my mind. It was as clear as any photograph. I saw my parents, and they were greiving in a way I had never seen before - wracked with uncontrollable anguish. Their pain was extreme, and it broke my heart to see it. In a moment I realized what they were greiving over -  it was ME! This was what the result would be if I continued up Y Mountain. This was the hurt and anguish I was about to cause! The power of that image stopped me in my tracks as if I had been slapped awake. I realized that I was indeed loved, and deeply so. I realized that even though my parents could not possibly understand what I was going through, they DID love me! And they loved me unconditionally. I knew that absolutely.

And so I turned back. I turned back. I could not continue with my suicidal plans. I knew, somehow, it would get better. And for me it did get better. Not quickly, not without more trials and anguish, but it did get better. I hope telling this story might somehow help another who is struggling and in pain. IT WILL GET BETTER! I can testify to that. You are a beloved Son or Daughter of God. Your life is precious beyond measure. Believe that, and believe in yourself.


Please support the It Gets Better project:

http://www.itgetsbetterproject.com/      

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Freudian Slips

After posting about my Bishop last week it got me thinking about experiences with Bishops - good and bad - over the years. In general I've had good Bishops. My first Bishop was an amazing young man who sacrificed seemingly everything to get us a Chapel to meet in. This is back in the day you had to earn most of the construction money locally. He drove 1600 miles to SLC in his broken-down Plymouth station wagon to petition the Brethren about a building, and I think he did that about six times! Such devotion! He was great with the youth, too. Really participated.

Another favorite Bishop had like 10 kids and was really dynamic, and I remember his wife being just as dynamic as he was. He was the Bishop four separate times I think - almost like a permanent calling. Cool guy. He's now a Patriarch.

Most of the others have been average men, average Bishops - nothing to write home about. A couple were negative experiences (saving that for another post).

The last three Bishops, however, have been the most exceptional of all. All three of them have become dear friends. The first is now my Stake President, and we have had business dealings together. I'm very close to his family, and we hang out together whenever we can.  The second is the Bishop I came out to a few years ago, and we reamin close. His kids work on my mini-farm and we get together every Christmas. Probably the most patient man I have ever met in my life. Then there's the current Bishop who I described previously. He's without a doubt the most open minded and fun-loving of the lot. Just delightful to be around. I can be very frank with him about how I'm feeling, on any subject, and he does not get embarrased (this is handy when you're trying to help a porn addict). We use "dude-speak" with each other, and even have silly names for each other. I call him 'Homie", and he usually calls me 'MoHomie"! Yea, this is my Bish!!

So one day I call up the Bish and he happens to be driving in the car with his family. I say enthusiastically, "Hey, dude! What you up to?" and his reply back was, "Hey there HOMO!" Yep, the old Freudian slip! Not 'Homie', not 'MoHomie', it was the dreaded 'HOMO!' I knew he knew it instantly, and he stammered and choked a second and then said, "I mean Homie, Homie!!" Well, I just had to start laughing! And laughing!! And I couldn't stop laughing! It was so funny and his reaction was so - maybe futile is the only word. He just called me a HOMO in front of his whole family! It was priceless.

Now I fully believe we need to have a sense of humor in this life in order to make it through with any semblence of sanity. And I think you can find humor in just about anything. I think God himself must have a great sense of humor to put up with all of us, but that's another subject. Anyway, I try to laugh at myself as often as I can, and hopefully surround myself with friends who can laugh along with me. If one of them is the Bish, then that's a real bonus. Life is so much better when we laugh!