17 August 2011

PE: Back to God

I went to Vegas over the weekend to see my family and go to my cousin's farewell. I was only there for like 30 hours, but it was really good to see my mom and sister who drove up as well as other extended family members.

I was talking with my mom, sister, aunt and uncle about various church related things. I didn't bring it up... they started talking about experiences they've had in church and how it has been hard sometimes because they don't agree on certain things. My aunt is a pretty strong feminist, so she has issues with the fact that men can marry multiple women in the temple and women can only marry one and other similar doctrines. She has also been mistreated to the extreme by church members. Anyway, I asked why she still goes. Not out of accusation, out of honest curiosity. I wanted to find out why she continues to go even though she has some big questions and problems with certain doctrines/policies.

Anyway, that sparked an interesting conversation. My uncle said if he were in my shoes, staying would be insane. My aunt and mom talked about reasons why they go even though they disagree at times. Later, though, I was talking with just my mom and sister and my mom gave me really good advice.

After explaining my situation and how it is difficult to think about God without attaching the church (the organization in which I learned of God) and how the church uproots negativity, pain and mistrust, she said to let the church go for awhile. I am letting my experience with the church destroy my relationship with God. She said I should just focus on my relationship with God right now through prayer and meditation and leave the religion thing out of it until I am spiritually healthy again. I think she is right.

Here is what I feel like I have done: Growing up, I had a void. It was a void I refused to fill and no substitute worked. That hole was my orientation, and it was a large one. I tried to fill it with church, with staying busy, with prayer, with service, fasting, trying to date women... but that hole just got deeper until I could not feel emotion, I could not feel love, I could not believe I was loved, and my spirit broke. No substitute would do. Then, I had an experience that taught me that God did not want me to look for a substitute because there was none. I learned that living authentically and accepting love into my soul by coming to terms with and embracing my orientation was the only way to fill that deep void that threatened my life. Once I accepted the real thing, life became so sweet.

But I had work to do. How will I reconcile my faith and my sexuality? According to churches and religions, I could not keep both. In the beginning, I was hopeful that I could find a way... but after awhile, I had another void in me. God. I was trying to fill it with religion. I was so determined to force religion to embrace my orientation that I got sidetracked. But religion never did agree with my sexuality. It was God that taught me that to embrace it, NOT religion. Now I realize that a church does not own or dictate my relationship with God and that it is God who I need to look to for comfort and guidance, not religion.

So, I have decided to fill this new void with the real thing. God. I am going to focus on my relationship with deity. It is a new thing for me because in the past, I used church to cultivate that relationship. Church is what forced me to think about God, read about him, etc. But right now, my spirit is still wounded by my experience. The church is just salt on the wound at this point. I hope that once that void is full and my relationship with God is strong, the wounds will heal and I can perhaps approach the idea of religion again.

I have been using blame as a way to discharge pain and discomfort, and it hasn't worked. God claims to comfort and heal. I'm going back to God.

11 August 2011

THT: Keeping a Safe Distance.

There are a lot of people that wonder why anyone who has been hurt or offended by religion bother with it anymore. I ask myself that question all the time.

Tonight I was Skyping with my boyfriend. We talked about religion mostly. It is often the topic of discussion. We can talk for hours about it. Anyway, at one point I asked him if he thought I spent too much time and energy thinking about God/religion. Of course he said no and that he loves that I am so thoughtful about it, but it made me wonder why I spend the time that I do on it.

In our conversation, I feel like I came to some sort of conclusion. I am inclined to believe. It is just in me. I feel a pull towards the spiritual... towards deity. However, I've put all my faith and trust in spiritual things before, and I got burned. After years of service, time, energy, and emotional, spiritual, and mental investment, I was burned bad... scarred even. My soul cannot forget that pain... but my spirit is just as inclined to believe.

So, this brings us to my situation. I want to believe, but I'm afraid to. Most children won't go near the oven after getting burned by it. But as we grow, we realize that there is a proper way to touch the oven. You can open it and find a feast without getting burned. I guess I'm just trying to figure out how to do that. Find the fulfillment in belief without getting hurt again.

For now though, it seems I am keeping a safe distance.

08 August 2011

THT: Next Time, I'll Stand Up

Last night I was thinking of the many times I sat in church during particularly abusive comments and kept my eyes fixated on something away from the speaker and my mouth shut. I sat in countless meetings while people around me blamed me, my friends, and the LGBT community at large for destroying families, bringing destruction upon the nation, and lying about not choosing our orientation. I sat while I was condemned, pitied, accused, excluded, and feared by those who have known me for years.

Of course, they didn't know they were talking about me. And I was too much of a coward I guess to stand up and say something. Even if I took a broad "we shouldn't judge" approach, people would suspect... and then what would they say about my family? I feel like I was ready to handle the personal repercussions, but I didn't want to throw my family to the dogs. My family is already a topic of gossip... no need to add a gay son into the mix.

But next time, I am standing up. What will I say? I suppose I'd say something like this:

My name is Jonathan Adamson. I grew up in this ward. Many of you taught me as a child. I am friends with many of your children. I have grown up in your neighborhoods under your watch. I have looked to you for guidance and love. I learned about God and about my relationship with him through you. You know me and the kind of person that I am. What you could never have guessed is that I grew up hating myself and believing that God had no love for me because deep down, I knew I was gay, though I would not accept it for many painful years.

I advanced in the priesthood, served a mission, I went to BYU, and still I was cursed. Enough lessons at church had taught me that much- it was a curse... a dirty, evil, abominable thing that held no place in the sight of God. When the prayers and service and counseling and fasting and bargaining with God failed to cure me, I came to the conclusion that based on what I heard about gays in church, it would be better to die than to be gay. It is impossible to convey the extent of the agony I felt over this issue, and still you believe I have chosen this.

Today I am happy to report that my life is full of joy. Happiness I never imagined I could experience. I found it because I finally embraced my whole self and allowed myself to love and to be loved. But your misinformed words continue to he heard by children like me. Chances are there is at least one other gay man or woman in this room and at least five in this ward. I can bare testimony to you, with no sense of fear or shame or guilt, that God loves his gay children and that the love they feel, while it may not be inline with your gender preference, is real and is good and that your fear and judgment is causing good faithful youth to grow up denying themselves that love. And when love is gone, hate sets in- and hate smothers the life and light out of the eyes of these children of God. Love is unconditional and equal. EQUAL. I am an equal in the eyes of God.

Of course, it probably would never come out like that. I'd probably get emotional and loose my train of thought and any eloquence that I might be able to muster in a normal setting would be destroyed by my fear of judgement. But, I'd stand up. I'd speak. I wouldn't sit quietly like a coward while fire burned my insides.... but I may have lost my chance. I hardly go home... and my words wouldn't have the same effect upon strangers in a random ward.

THT: Reasons I'm a Mormon

I decided to write this post after I was chastised by an Anonymous person who left a comment on the previous post.

I'm a Mormon because:

Mormonism is in my blood- I am of Mormon heritage. The legacy of my ancestors has been passed down through generations. Family traditions and values have come from my Mormon ancestors and they have gone back as far as the beginnings of this church.

My beliefs are founded in Mormonism- I cannot think of God or religion without first approaching it through the lens of a Mormon. This is the eye through which I grew up learning about spiritual things. Beliefs in God, the afterlife, Christ, the family, etc... they all all rooted in Mormonism. Today I am more open to the idea that there may be other information or other belief systems that make sense to me, but I still first look at spiritual matters through Mormon eyes before I seek to add understanding from other sources. It isn't a conscious thing... it is just the way my spiritual mind works.

I am a product of Mormon culture- 92% of my life has been spent deep within Mormon culture. I went to church weekly. I did boy scouts. I served a mission. My family and extended family are all Mormon. I pray in the Mormon tradition. I know the practices and special lingo in Mormonism. Taking away that Mormon background would change who I am because it is so deeply ingrained into my being.

Technically, I'm a member- The church still reports me on their records of membership. I am a baptized, priesthood holding, endowed member of the church.

Good job at being exclusionary though, Anonymous. You truly are a great Mormon.

06 August 2011

THT: More Like Men Than We Think

Today I was thinking about the leaders of the church. For most my life, I believed that they were pretty much infallible. I mean, we talked about them being men, but we didn't really believe it. Why do I say that? Because no one would dare disagree with a prophet. It is heresy! So even though it is written in our doctrine that they are imperfect men, our culture overlooks it and basically maintains the idea that their word is God. That culture is perpetuated by the leaders who continue to teach that their word is scripture, etc.

Shortly before and after coming to terms with being gay, I realized the folly in believing these men to be practically perfect and that I probably should have taken more notice of the actual doctrine that says that they are indeed, just men. I accepted that they could be inspired and that at times they could speak words that would be approved of by God, but that at others they simply spoke from their own human experience and therefore would come from a place of ignorance.

Today, however, the thing I struggle with is the idea that these men are so far behind the curve on the whole gay issue. I mean, if they were even slightly inspired by God, shouldn't they be towards the beginning of the curve? These are educated men who hold positions of power... power they claim has been given to them by God. They claim to speak for God. In my opinion, any person who claims such things and who has such a mass following of people who are making decisions directly based on what that person says would do well to be damn sure they are speaking truth. I mean, what advantage do we have over anyone else by listening to these men if they cannot come to the realization that gay relationships are not unnatural... that they are not harmful? Even in the midst of study after study and professionals offering their findings that show clearly that being gay is a natural occurrence and that it is in no way perverse these supposedly inspired leaders refuse to apologize and recognize that changes should be made.

At what point do these men become just like every other man who is set in his ways, closed to new ideas, stubborn to the bone? And if this described the leadership of the church, how are they even open to inspiration from God? Why is it that the world is the force that needs to pressure the leaders to change? These questions make is so hard for me to maintain faith in the idea that these men are in anyway more qualified to teach me how best to lead my life than my own mind is. Other questions are, why have our prophets been chosen from such a small group of people? Interconnected through family and other personal relationships? Why does the position of a prophet always seem to be an advancement or promotion? Why do these men all have long histories of leadership in the church starting as bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, seventies, etc. when in the past, God has chosen people who were slow of speech, uneducated, unworthy, of little power or influence, of all shapes, sizes and areas of residency? Why does God's choice of prophets all of a sudden seem so calculated and businesslike?

I don't know guys and girls... these are the questions that constantly go through my mind. They are the result of a person who is trying hard to find reasons to continue believing. For so long I didn't ask questions. But because of the things I have experienced in large part because of this faith and my sexuality, I must ask. Is there something I am missing? Have I been blinded in one way or another or are my eyes finally opening for the first time?

THT: The Role of Gender

I might have briefly alluded to this thought in this post, but I was thinking about it again and thought I'd write. God is supposed to be all-powerful, all-knowing, etc, etc. Basically he can do anything and knows everything without any dependence on any other being or intelligence or whatever else there may be. I don't think that that goes against what Mormons believe... or any Christian.

BUT, then Mormonism teaches us that godhood can only be attained if you are sealed to a wife. Meaning, to be God, He must be dependent on another being and therefore, he really isn't all powerful. This kind of contradictory doctrine confuses me... A couple other things to note is that in the Adam and Eve story, God makes an observation and says that it isn't good for mankind to be alone... so, is this only a mortal need we have as humans to be in physical company with someone? I suppose if you were God (or a god) and shared some crazy connection with all intelligence and life and light, you would never really be alone because you have constant access to every kind of intelligence in the universe. Also, we as Mormons and Christians in general believe we are created in the image of God... yet as males and females and everyone in between, we have very different anatomy. Can we both be made in the image of God?

Well the Church places emphasis on the importance of gender... prophets have declared, "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." This is one reason gays don't have a place in the plan... because it would seem they are going against their god-given gender and the roles that apply to it. But this importance that is placed on gender doesn't seem to mix well with other doctrine and when I think deeply about it, it really doesn't make sense to me that gender would be that important to God.

What would make sense to me is a genderless God. Not male or female... simply God. Think of all the problems that clears up right away! All these discussions about whether there is a heavenly mother or why all the power figures in Christianity are male, etc, etc. We invented a male God to fit our male-dominated culture. I think it is a nice idea that God has a spouse and they live in some great mansion together with a large picket fence, but that is us trying to make sense of God's world through our own human experience. If we really believe that God is who we say, he doesn't really need to have someone to say goodnight to. He is connected to EVERYTHING. Maybe gender was simply something God created as the means to an end. In any case, I don't agree that gender is all the modern church makes it out to be. If it was so very important why are there so many who don't exactly fit nicely into the categories male and female? Why are there people born with ambiguous genitalia... or both kinds of genitalia?

Lastly, being gay does not mean I want to be a girl. Nor does it mean that I am looking for a guy that seems like a girl. I am very aware of and accept my maleness. As a gay male, I am attracted to other gay MALES. I am not rejecting my gender or anyone else's. So in that sense, yes, gender is important to my sexuality... but I don't know that it is important to my eternal soul. What is important is love... and I can only experience the deepest feelings of love with other males.... so what? Is love not of God?

05 August 2011

THT: Have I Become too Cynical?

In general I don't feel like a bitter or angry person. I feel like I am pretty fair in my opinions on church and my experiences. I defend Mormonism on the points I believe are worth defending. But I also do not excuse the church or its leaders for real harm that has been done. Perhaps, on this blog, I tend to be more critical because of the subject of the blog... being gay and Mormon. Maybe if there were more things to praise the church for when it comes to this topic, it would be different.

My beliefs have definitely developed and changed over the last year. To some... it may seem like I've abandoned everything I once believed. That isn't true. It was actually before I came to terms with being gay that I was probably most critical of the idea that God existed. I was in so much pain and I had begged him for help for so long, I just couldn't see that there was such a being since He didn't seem to notice my pain.

After coming to terms with being gay and being okay with that, all of a sudden life was pumped into me and I attributed it to God. God finally reached out. Things were better. I no longer punished myself with the idea that God rejected me or didn't want me to be happy. I finally felt that God loved me. So at that point, I kind of forgave all the years of hurt, of repression, or guilt, of self-hate that was instilled in me through my religion. I concluded that it was my fault for not being open to the idea that God loved me the way I was... a total homo. That if I had just given God a chance to give that answer, he would have.

Hanging onto Mormonism also allowed me to set boundaries and differentiate myself from "those gays" that we grow up hearing about. The sex maniacs who party and do drugs. I was a different kind of gay... one with morals! I felt that I was some new class of gay and hanging onto Mormonism is what made me, well... better really.

But then I met people. Really good people. Some of them had gone down different paths than I had... paths that I didn't really care to travel. But as I got to know them it all made sense. There was no way I could sit there and judge someone for the choices they made because I had not experienced their life. And despite everything we might conclude about a person from a list of choices they make, these people were honestly good people trying to navigate their lives the best they could.

I began having experiences similar to the ones I had on my mission. Those being experiences that taught me that there were wonderful, happy, productive people living good lives despite the fact that they didn't believe in Mormonism.

Then I would go to church or I would talk to lds friends (both gay and straight) and they would speak against these people I had met. Things would continue to be said in church by leaders that would cause fear and even hatred when it came to the "gay problem." I would be reminded of the years of hurt and self-hate. There seemed to be so much intolerance and judgement. And yes, perhaps the problem really is rooted in misunderstanding... and so i tried to share my perspective with patience and love. But it still continues. There are so many people going through real pain because of things leaders of the church have said or taught. At what point does my defense of the church and the leaders start excusing them from the pain they cause so many? At what point do need to stand up and say, "this is wrong and I do not support it and cannot support leaders who continue to teach false ideas about gay people." And then at what point must you come to the conclusion that if the men leading a church are among the last to realize and accept that being gay is not an issue of choice and that we are gay because God created us this way, maybe it isn't true?

But then so what? Why not move on? Well... I guess I see it like this. People in the pre-civil rights era didn't have a thought occur to them that maybe their treatment of other human being was wrong and then just move on with life quietly. Someone had to speak up. Someone had to point out the inconsistencies and the injustice. Someone had to wake people from their sleep so they could open their eyes for what was going on around them.

Honestly I feel like the church could be true. It could be true if there was a revolution within. I love the Mormon Stories podcasts and I love that there are so many people that are so much more open to new ideas and information and to differences. The level of openness and honesty and transparency is SO comforting. I feel like the church COULD be a TRUE church. I don't know how much I believe in "the one true church" idea anymore. Christ never set up a church... and the basis of his message was love... unconditional love. In fact he criticized the leaders of religion, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and spent his time amongst the outcast, the sinners, the poor, the people "good society" isn't thought to be made up of. But if a church could actually embody the message of Christ, then I feel it would be a true church.

So now back to my criticism of the church. I do it because I am holding my leaders accountable for their actions (or non-actions). I spent two years of my life teaching people and converting people to this religion, and the rest of it telling people how great it was. I feel I have somewhat of an obligation to speak up when I believe that leaders are leading people in a harmful direction... and I wouldn't know that except that I myself lived it. I still speak up in the church's defense when someone says something untrue or misguided about it, so can I not do the same in the opposite situation? Am I cynical?

04 August 2011

PE: A Year in Review... It really does get better

A year ago right now I was finalizing suicide plans. This week last year I was saying goodbye to my family for what I believed to be the last time. I was at my lowest. The only thought in the world that brought me any kind of peace at all was death. I had been suicidal for most of the year, but had never begun making preparations until August. Those nights were agonizing and the hours of darkness they brought seemed to last much longer than the hours of daylight.

I would have never imagined that my life would be what it is today. I couldn't imagine it. I couldn't possibly believe that their would ever be happiness for me in this life. I would never have thought that my mouth would ever form the shape of a genuine smile again. Oh how wrong I was, and how happy I am that I did not take my life before it even had a chance to begin!

I have experienced so much joy in the last year. So many firsts! First kiss that sent electrifying currents through my body. First official relationship. First time I felt the desire to hold another person's hand. To think I almost gave up before I was able to experience love!

A year ago I could count one one hand the number of people who knew I was concerned I might be gay. Today, my family, extended family, friends, coworkers, home ward bishop and stake president... basically everyone knows. I am in a committed relationship. I've met amazing people from all walks of life and have made lots of new friends. I am so lucky! And I would have laughed at the person who would have said that those three words would come out of my mouth last year.

It really has gotten better. Life is sweet again... even after i forgot the taste of it... when life was full of death and despair and darkness. My world was, in a sense, resurrected. It was made alive again after it had grown dead and cold. I look forward and welcome the future. I have dreams again. Love exists again. Life is so worth living.