Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sheep and Goats

Our lesson today in Priesthood was on the Second Coming, and we were given assignments to read a small section of the lesson aloud and make comment. My section was about the Judgement, and included this scripture, which I'm sure I've heard a hundred times before:

Matthew 25:31-40
 
31- When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32- And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33- And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34- Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35- For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36- Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37- Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38- When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39- Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40- And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

The scripture goes on to say that the 'wicked' did not do these things, and will therefore be cast out.

What struck me this time around is the way the Lord defined those who were righteous and those who were wicked - the sheep and the goats. Righteousness was not defined by Church attendance, keeping the Word of Wisdom, putting on a great Road Show, wearing a white shirt to Church, or serving in a particular calling. The only criteria for righteousness seemed to be how we served our fellow man. How we loved and cared for those around us. That was it. Likewise, wickedness was defined as a selfish absence of service, caring, or love.  The other commandments truly pale in importance compared to this crowning principle of love and service. This was one of those profound moments of realization for me.

And then my thoughts turned to the way many of us MoHos are treated. So many of us hunger and thirst for acceptance (see my last post), love, dignity, caring, and equality. So many of us are sick of being persecuted and being imprisoned in closets of anonymity. So many of us are naked and exposed to hate, ridicule, insults and the injustice of our society. How sad it will be  - how truly sad - when the parent who casts out his own child simply because he is gay finds out he is actually a goat, and not a sheep after all.  How sad, indeed, to discover that you have altogether missed the very essence of Christianity.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Acceptance

This is a concept that's been on my mind. Its been part of conversations, thoughts, and even dreams as of late. So here are a few of my thoughts on the the subject - this may ramble a bit..

Acceptance is one of the most basic human needs, and in fact, I would say it is near the top of the list. I watched two little kids at Church today, and even from the youngest age we want acceptance. Example: One of the kids draws a little picture, and they want the other one to like it and think its cool. They display it and explain it and may even embellish it on the spot if they think some part of it isn't being appreciated. They want to fit in. They want to be accepted. I guess acceptance is where a sense of security and self-confidence begin. To a large degree, then, we measure ourselves by gauging the responses of acceptance (or rejection) we receive from others. Our expectation is acceptance - its what we're counting on. This kind of acceptance could be called 'social acceptance', and the need for it is a key motivator of human behavior. Think of all the people who go on diets, have plastic surgery, or spend a fortune on clothes; all so they will be "cooler". Hipper. Prettier. More accepted.

Then there is the concept of self-acceptance. The concept of understanding who and what you are, your talents, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, looks, limitations, etc.; and in spite of this, still liking yourself for being YOU. Being OK with it. Comfortable with it. Not stressed out about it. In general, we human beings are pretty hard on ourselves, and I think a lot of us have a difficult time with self-acceptance. We're always wanting to be more perfect, more talented, more - whatever than what we currently are. Its OK to have a desire to improve and grow, of course, but there's a healthy approach to that. Its easy to start putting conditional criteria on our self-acceptance. "I'll be happy when I lose 20 pounds." Maybe what we're really saying is that we can't accept ourselves as we currently are. Or that we're afraid others won't accept us as we are.

And last is the concept of Divine acceptance. The concept that God is OK with us and what we're doing. That we're worthy of God's love. His blessings. His Spirit. His salvation. Many of us spend a lot of time worrying about Divine acceptance. Measuring up, so to speak, to all the commandments and requrements we hear about and read about and 'fulfilling' our various callings in the Kingdom.

My observation is that we MoHos are quite frequently caught at the intersection of these three types of acceptance, with negative consequences:

  1. Being gay is still not TRULY socially acceptable. Maybe socially tolerated best describes it. Its definitely better than it used to be, but we have a long way to go before gay people are treated like everyone else. Its still fraught with dangers, prejudice, stigmas and stereotypes. Witness the recent bullying issues in schools if you have any doubts. And the social acceptance of gays in the Church is about 20 years behind the rest of society, to say nothing of the ostracism and alienation from our families (including our Church family) that many of us suffer as a result of our homosexuality.
  2. Then we have the issues of self-acceptance. We have many MoHos who suffer in quiet desperation for years (I was one of them), trying in vain to pray away something that's simply a part of them. Endless self-loathing. Coutless dollars spent on therapies and programs. Shame. Guilt. Depression. Anxiety. And for many if not most, where does it all lead? Nowhere!
  3. And finally we have acceptance issues with God. We simply feel like we can't be loved, especially by Him. And how can we "measure up" if we don't feel attracted to the opposite sex? How can we feel worthy? If we don't have an Eternal Marriage, then we have utterly failed, right? That's the goal, the prize - the ultimate fulfillment of life's purpose, right? Its easy to feel like a failure if that's not where we're headed.

So in my mind I'm thinking this intersection combines to create a crisis of acceptance for many of us. This failure on three levels of acceptance sets us up for depression, anxiety, heartbreak, conflict, and in the worst cases, suicide. We wind up in a situation where the basic human need for acceptance is stunted or absent from our lives, and it has profound effects on us and on those around us.

I don't have all the answers to this dilema. So many of the answers would be personal and customized to the individual situation. In general, I think God is more accepting of us and our situations than we ever give Him credit for. He knows out hearts. His love is unconditional and greater than we can possibly imagine. What I believe we can do as individuals is to be accepting and supportive of each other in this community. To bear one another's burdens. To listen. To serve. To empathize. Support. Sustain. Encourage. And most importantly, to love unconditionally. We must accept ourselves and each other - just as we are. For some of us, that may be the only real acceptance we experience.