A Post About a Poem I Wrote. Yes.

I don’t really write poetry much, but sometimes when I have intense feelings about a paricular subject or subjects, I pick up a pen and stuff just comes out.  And every once in a while, I like what I read.

A few years ago, I was in an English class called “Modern American Literature”.  At the point that I wrote this poem, we were studying T.S. Eliot.  I love his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“.  There is a lot about this poem that I could talk about, but I won’t – at least not now.

His Poem (or series of poems, I suppose) “The Wasteland” is not one of my favorites.  My professor had us read it, but she said that we got all we needed (and all that we would probably be able to understand) from the title.  The poem is a jumbled mess full of craziness that doesn’t make much sense.  Eliot not only wrote a confusing poem, but included footnotes that are equally confusing.  Really, the title of the poem is all you need.

Anyway, I had a lot of thoughts running through my head while I was studying Eliot.  I thought a lot about his poetry and what it meant, politics (I was in a class where we discussed politics and government quite a lot), and homosexuality – but not really my homosexuality.  I was thinking more about others views of homosexuality, particularly in the church.  Most of all, though, I was thinking a lot about close mindedness and how much I don’t like that.  All of this added up to some built up emotions that exploded out in the form of a poem, somewhat similar to Eliot,  (not that I think I’m anywhere near par to Eliot, it is just a similar style to his).

So, I’m stretching myself by doing this.  I’m going to actually publish my poem online.  I have only showed it to a few people, and I haven’t received any kind of response.  Just a “hmmm….” and a “that’s interesting.”, and other similar comments. Some people have tried to get me to change some of the lines and wording, but I have put certain words in particular orders for a reason.  I have purposely combined words, avoided punctuation, and used run-on sentences.

I know it probably doesn’t make sense, and I don’t expect anyone to love it or to make sense of it.  If you find personal meaning in it, awesome.  If not, pass it off and forget it. I don’t plan to explain the meaning of each of the stanzas and lines (because they all have their own meaning) or to make confusing footnotes to this.  I do this in hopes that you can examine the poem and find what it means for you.

I’m really nervous about posting it because it is mine and I feel like it is a part of me, but I do want to share it.  So here it is.  WordPress won’t let me use the spacing I want, so I’ve added a (*) to create a space between the lines that should have spaces.

how dare you

say that i live in a bubble

sheltered life

*

i see wide open

*

my mind races with your thoughts

you and your

opinions

that are nothing more than a feeble

mind

attempting to know

understand

get itself

forcefully at what i am

*

i see wide open

*

that girl

that girl that is behind me

making absurd remarks

and wild hand motions

is the girl that is

narrowminded

they can deal with it

me

and my isms

they can deal with it

*

they’re all going to hell no they’re not they’re sinners don’t say that it’s true shut up

*

they don’t understand

no

i don’t but

*

i see wide open

My Name is Jeff, and I’m a Gay Mormon

I’m slowly letting myself come out more and more.  I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m gay and that I’m active in the LDS church.  I want people to understand me and my situation better.  I want those who experience same gender attraction to know they are not alone and that they are normal.  I want them to know that there are more options then “living a lie in the church” and “living the lifestyle”.

I want members of the church that have little or no experience with homosexuality other than what they see and hear on the news to be more understanding of something that tends to be taboo in Mormon culture.  I want all members of the church to be more understanding and loving of those who are different.  We all have things that we have to deal with, and some of those things are easy to hide.  Usually those things that are hidden are usually the things that can provide the greatest learning experiences.  Camille Fronk Olsen said at a Matis Fireside when someone asked her “Why is there this cookie cutter mentality in the Church?”  She replied, “It’s easy to focus on the outward appearance. Whatever the Ensign cover looks like, that’s how life should be! But really, the best articles in the Ensign are by ‘Name Withheld'”

So, I’m revealing something personal about myself.

My name is Jeff, and I’m a gay mormon.

Live and Let Live

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

– Joseph Smith

How do we treat those who hold different standards than we do?

I’ve thought about this a lot in my life, particularly since returning home from my mission.  Those who have served a mission will be able to relate to coming home and feeling like everyone in your family and circle of friends is going to hell.  I did.  One of the earliest things I remember after coming home was going to an “Office Party”, where my friends watched the newest episode of The Office (now one of my favorite TV shows).  The particular episode they were watching that week was Gay Witch Hunt (ironic, I know).  I couldn’t believe that my friends would actually enjoy watching something I had deemed to be so sinful.  And my family didn’t have family prayer every night?  What?  I was really frustrated.

That was 3 years ago, and things have changed a lot.  I’ve been put in situations where I have had to think about my standards and how I react when someone close to me is not living the they should.  I hope my friend L will forgive me for using her as an example of this.  I won’t go into great detail though.  L came to a point in her life where she was making some drastic changes and, in my opinion at that time, was being stupid.  She was no longer living many of the “gospel standards”, and it seemed she was doing so in a form of rebellion – doing this just to do so.  This was really hard for me.  I began to distance myself from her by avoiding her emails, texts, and phone calls.  She knew what was going on, but wanted to talk about it.  Finally, I emailed her and very bluntly told her that I no longer wanted to be around her.  This was very hard for her because everyone else had done the same thing, and now her best friend of 6 years was turning his back on her.  She had no other friends.

I had a strong internal battle going on in my mind.  Why did I feel the need to do this?  She wasn’t hurting me or bringing me down, was she?  No, she wasn’t.  I had to ask myself, in the most cliché way possible, “What would Jesus do?” .  He would love her and try to help her in any way he could.  This ate away at me, but I still didn’t feel comfortable being with her.  She wasn’t living the standards. Since then, our friendship has healed, I see her often, and we are still best friends.

I have since then learned some things about standards and how I believe we should treat those who are not living “the standards”.

I believe it is so important to realize that everyone is different.  Duh, I know.  But really…no one is the same.  We all have our own challenges, strengths, ways to bless people, etc.  God knows our hearts, and I will let him be the judge (at least, I try not to take that role, but it still happens).  That is why I will never tell someone how to live their life.  I don’t know what they are going through.  (I used to be kind of upset when those who struggle with SGA would give in and “live the lifestyle”, as we tend to say.  Now I have realized that some people will be happier “living the lifestyle” (I use that term loosely, by the way) than they would be in the church.  And if that is how they feel, then I am happy for them because they are happy.  That is the same thing with my friends L and K, that I mentioned in my last post.  They are happier out of the church then they are in the church).

Now to finally get to the point of all this rambling.  I have been learning that I need to hold people to their standards, and not my own or anybody else.  I of course believe that my morals and standards are the best, but that is only because they are best for me.  My standards aren’t for anyone but me.  I do believe that most people will be happy living the standards of the LDS church, but there are other ways to feel at peace with yourself too.  If anything, living the LDS standards will keep you safe and drama free. 🙂 Anyway, what I mean to say is this:  Hold people to their own standards.  I think that we ought to hold everyone to some kind of moral standard (that C.S. Lewis refers to as the Law of Human Nature) that includes things such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Past that, though, live and let live.  When a friend isn’t living the way I would, I try not to be so hasty to turn my back on them.  Rather, I try to help them live what they believe.  When a friend says “I’m okay with drinking, I just don’t want to get wasted”, I hold them to that standard.  I try to think of them and their pursuit of happiness, and if I feel like they might be doing something that goes against their personal moral code, I express concern and try to remind them of their goals.  Goals may change and I must change my assessment of their situation.

This is now how I try to interact with people.  I will respect any choice that doesn’t inhibit someone from living with their own basic rights, and I try to be sentimental of every situation.

The Three Interwoven Distinctions

I know this is a long post, and I apologize.  I have highlighted the parts that I feel really catch the essence of each section in red to give you the option of skimming through this to get the point of what I am trying to say.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and my beliefs in the past few years, particularly the last year and last few months.  I’ve learned that my beliefs are often challenged by those in the LDS church because they aren’t normal.  I want to share some of these beliefs here, and I hope those who read this will be understanding that this is what I believe.  If you disagree, that is fine and I expect it; in fact, feel free to express your disagreements here, but do so kindly.

This particular post will be about the way that I view the LDS church.

I have to divide the church into 3 distinct areas:  The Gospel, The Church, and The Culture.  The three, to me, are seperate, but almost inseparably interwoven into the others.  It is important to recognize these distinctions and what role they play in our lives in order to examine and refine our beliefs.

THE GOSPEL

The Gospel is what the church is all about.  The gospel is easily contained in Matthew 22: 37-39 and John 3:16

Matthew 22:

37 – Jesus saith unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 – This is the first and great commandment.

39 – And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

John 3:

16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might be saved.

To put it simply, we are to love God, and to love others.  We have to recognize that we are sinners and that we must rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ to be saved.  This sounds very simple and evangelical – and it is.  But isn’t this what Jesus Christ taught?  Is this not the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

This doesn’t discount the word of wisdom, the law of chastity, etc., and I’ll get to those in a minute.  This is the plain and simple message of Jesus Christ.  This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is what I love and believe whole-heartedly.  I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  I love it so much; more than anything really.  It is my life and my love.

THE CHURCH

The church, as I see it, is the structure that encloses the gospel.  The church is organized to help us follow the gospel.  Rules and standards are set forth to keep us on the straight and narrow path.  The church is what teaches us the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity.  It is the church that teaches us to do our home teaching, to go to church, and to pay our tithing.

This seperation of church and gospel does not discount the teachings of the church.  Just because these teachings are not necessarily the gospel, they are given to us by God.  They are here to help us live the gospel.

Unfortunately, we tend to get caught up in the rules and guidelines so much that we forget to actually live the gospel.  For example, we are to love our neighbors.  This is a lot easier to say than to do.  So, we are assigned families in which we are to visit each month and teach and help whenever they need it.  This is great and should be seen as an opportunity in which we can learn to become more like our Heavenly Father.  Unfortunately, we (me included) tend to see this is a chore.  We need to please the Elders Quorum President and make sure our numbers are up.  We get so caught up in following the rules and programs that we forget the actual reason these rules and programs were established.

I love the church too.  I believe the rules and programs are inspired by God to help us live the gospel and ultimately become like Him.  I also think it is more important in most cases to live by the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law.  We need to remember the real reason these programs and rules are in place and go with that reason and not the pressure we feel from our leaders to live these rules.  (Which, reminds me – I could go on for pages about bishops pushing young couples into marriage/missionaries pushing investigators into baptism before those being pushed are actually ready to make those commitments, but I will refrain.)

I agree with the programs and rules, but I think we tend to be too strict with them.  We need to realize in a realistic way what we can and can’t handle. I am sometimes tempted to break the word of wisdom, but I know I would rely on drugs and alcohol and I would ruin my life with it, so I am very strict about that.  There are things that are part of the church that I might be a little bit lax about because I feel like I am getting the full benefits of how I follow what is being taught.

In short, individual circumstances vary, and it is up to us to choose how we will follow the teachings of the church, keeping in mind the goals of the gospel. Along with that, we need to allow everyone the opportunity to follow the teachings of the church in whatever way they choose to do so (Article of Faith 11: We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may).  Last of all, I think it is important to not hold everyone to our own personal standards, but to hold them to their standards (another thing I could talk about for pages, and probably will sometime, but not now).

THE CULTURE

This is where I have issues with things.  This is what I don’t love.  I know that culture is so important.  It gives us a feeling of belonging and can reinforce teachings of the church and gospel.  I just hate how it can become the most important thing to some people.

I don’t like the way that people seemingly don’t think for themselves because everyone else is doing it (I could be wrong in saying that, but I know I have been caught in that trap).  I don’t like it when people follow blindly.  I don’t like it when people “bury” their tesimonies with every fiber of their being.  When I was an EFY counselor, we had to teach the kids that just because someone isn’t crying doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling the spirit because that thought is so much a part of our culture.

I hate the way that my friends K and L are thought of.  Both of them have left the church in the past few years, and people tend to think that because they have left they church they are liberal, anti-mormon, and unhappy.  These two might be a little bit more liberal than other people in Utah, but they are not what I would consider Liberal.  I would actually just consider them open-minded and understanding.  They are not anti-mormon, but are just not a part of the church.  They may not agree with everything that is taught in the church, but that doesn’t mean they hate it.  In fact, K and I are almost the exact same person as far as our beliefs go (politcally and religiously).  The big difference is that she just feels like the church is not for her, and I feel like it is for me.  And these two girls are genuinely happy.  And I know it.  They have their ups and downs, just like everyone else whether or not they are in the church.

I don’t like the way people try to “keep up with the Jones”.  Why do we try to hide everything under a mask so that we look perfect?  Perhaps it is because we are afraid we will be judged or misunderstood.  I think Dean Hughes said it best in his book The Cost of Winning* when he said:

I hear people say that we should avoid the “very appearance of evil.”  I suppose.  But I’d rather avoid the actual evil.  And above all, we need to avoid the  “appearance” of righteousness as we search for actual righteousness.

I’m sorry that this last section seems to be a place for me to vent my frustrations about Mormon (especially Utah) culture.  I don’t mean to do that.  As I mentioned, the culture attracts a lot of people to the church and it creates a bond that wouldn’t be there otherwise.  I just don’t like that the culture seems to be such a big part of our lives and that people don’t distinguish the culture from the church and the gospel.

*I highly recommend this book.  It is an easy, one day read that changed the way I viewed what I was focusing on and helped me to realize that I need to live the Gospel and not the culture.

THE CONCLUSION

The Gospel is true and I love it.  The church is here to help us live the gospel, and I believe that what it teaches is true.  The culture is an important part of the LDS religion, but we must focus on living the gospel.  Let’s not get caught up in appearing righteous when we should be worrying about actual righteousness.

Gravity

First, I’m sorry for posting a lot lately.  I want to blog on a regular basis, but I don’t want it to be overwhelming, so I’m trying to have a new post every few days.

I stumbled upon this video the other day and I love it.  It’s from So You Think You Can Dance.  Even though I am gay, I surprisingly haven’t gotten into this show too much.  Anyway, this dance is based on the pain and gravity of addiction.  I think everyone is addicted to at least one thing, and it can be anything.  Television, texting, the internet, gaming, pornography, sex, whatever.  When we depend on something (other than God) to make us feel better, I believe that is an addiction.  For example, using the internet may not be as detrimental as pornography, but it still can influence your interactions with other and put you into an unhealthy mindset.  I don’t need/want to get too far into this, but would rather show you the video that made me start thinking about this.  I think it is so beautiful in its portrayel of how addictions feel.

Loving God Enough

My mission president really loved to use logic to help people progress, and it worked pretty well.  I remember one time I had him come visit an investigator family that had stopped progressing.  They loved the Book of Mormon and read it regularly, but they were not getting anywhere.  It was so frustrating to me because I loved them so much.  The husband of the family (his name is GW – really, that is what his parents named him.  I don’t understand some things about white trash people) made his own alcohol and loved to drink it.  He really didn’t want to give that up.

As my mission president was talking to him, he began to use his logic to try to get GW to think.

Mission President: “GW, you know that alcohol is harmful to your body, right?”

GW: “Yeah, I do.  I know that God doesn’t want me to drink it, but I love it so much.”

MP: “So you are at odds here.  You love alcohol, but you also love God, and the two don’t go together.  You want to drink, and God doesn’t want you to, but you want to follow him because you love him, don’t you?”

GW: “Of course I do”

MP: “On a scale of one to ten, how important is it for you to do what God wants you to do? – 1 being not at all and 10 being more important than anything.”

GW:  “Probably a 9 or a 10”

MP:  “If God were to come to you and tell you to do something, would you do it?”

GW:  “Of course I would.”

MP:  “If God came to you and told you to stop drinking alcohol, would you stop?”

GW:  “Yeah, and I feel like he has, but I love it too much.”

MP:  “Do you think you love alcohol more than you love God?”

GW:  “I think I do.”

I remember when this conversation occured feeling so sad for GW.  How could someone love something so much that they would give up on God and salvation?  Could someone really love something more than they loved God?

I feel like I have a better understanding of what GW must have felt at that time.  Sometimes I feel that way too.  Do I love God enough to give up those things I am probably addicted to (if not addicted, I enjoy but I shouldn’t)?  Do I love God enough to never act on my homosexual tendencies?

Sometimes I feel like I do.  But sometimes I don’t know.