Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Invite this so Called Chaos

In my last post I wrote about recent feelings of detachment from Jesus. That is not to say that I am without spirituality. I would consider myself a very spiritual person, and though I am jaded with organized Religions, I still practice religion (small r) in my own way.

As a Mormon I remember hearing others say similar things about their spirituality and not being able to wrap my head around it. How can you be spiritual outside of Religion? For those who wonder, I thought I'd explain how it works for me. This is what I wish someone had shared with me:

Spiritual Experiences

When I think about spiritual experiences I think about two types of experiences--inspiration and euphoric feelings. I used to be afraid that if I left the Church I would loose both, but actually I have these experiences just as often as before. I still have moments of inspiration when I write, draw, sleep, reflect, and make decisions. And quite frankly, these "personal revelations" are taking me down a great path, because everything is really working out for me. My art is going in a new direction I am excited about. I have a great husband and a stable life. I am happy.

I also experience a holy sensation comparable to the "burning in the bosom" I used to experience as a Mormon. I say comparable because it is different. It is calmer, less fraught with desperation, and it is less fleeting. I would describe these spiritual experiences now as more of a peaceful, satisfying assurance that things are good and that there is beauty in the world--it's a better feeling than before, and I experience it when I am surrounded by beauty in nature, architecture, or even my own thoughts.


Mormons call them ordinances, but everyone else calls them sacraments--these are rites of passage, rituals that advance you from one stage to another. On my mission I knew there was a possibility I would leave the Church, and I wondered how I could replace these rites. I thought I might have to create elaborate ceremonies on my own to satisfy my need for ritual. Not so.

I think the biggest sacrament a gay man goes through is the process of coming out. Though it is different for everybody, it is a rite of passage, and for me it changed everything. It opened doors. It made me a better, more honest person. It was like baptism, washing away old habits and renewing me with a new life and community.

Marriage was also a holy sacrament for me, as it is also in Religion. We made our marriage ceremony unique to us, loaded with personal symbols that made the day sacred and significant. The wedding was definitely a rite that changed me forever. And looking forward I see other rites of passage in the future that will shape me--graduating grad school, buying our first home, having a child. And I also see traditions that provide that sense of ritual I need--vacations with friends, holidays with family, anniversaries with Michael.


I still have beliefs, though they are different than what I believed as a Mormon. I believe in eternal life, though I believe it is less physical than most Latter-day Saints believe. I believe life has meaning and purpose. I believe it's okay to not know things. I believe it's okay for people to believe in different things, both being right and neither being wrong.

Beyond simple beliefs, there are principles that guide my life--a creed, if you will. It's too complicated to describe here completely, but I'll tell you how it came about. The way I see it Christianity has organized the Universe into two categories: good and evil. I didn't like that dichotomy, though, and so I decided to organize the world differently. I created two different categories to explain the Universe (neither being good or evil--more like yin and yang). I believe peace comes in balancing these too forces. But enough of that--it's too hard to explain here, I just want to demonstrate that I still have "doctrine" in my life. I don't view my "doctrine" as some sort of capital T ultimate truth, rather it is just the way that I look at the world--a way that works for me.


Just because I don't feel like Jesus is active in my life right now doesn't mean I don't believe in the Divine. I will say that I don't believe in the God of Mormonism--a tangible man of glorified flesh who lives in a tangible place with a wife (wives?). There are too many problems with the idea of a corporeal God, and it's just not how I have experience her. That's right. Her. When I was in the Caribbean last year, I felt very strongly that there was some sort of awesome power at work in nature. The sea and the weather and the geography and the birds and the turtles and all of nature there just seemed so powerful and so in sync. It just felt like God, but at the same time, it was so obviously feminine. It wasn't subtle at all. Creation and life and nature is very female. I don't believe that God is literally a woman--like I said, I don't believe in a corporeal God, but I do believe that the Divine is as much woman as it is man, if not more so.

Really I just use the word God to describe that awesome, inexplicable power behind this world. There is something incredible about the way the world works, and rather than try to explain it, I'd rather just have a reverent awe for the mystery of it. I don't need to know how it all comes together, I just need to respect the fact that it does.


It is that reverent awe that is worship, and frankly I think I worship more now than I did as a Mormon. For some reason, Mormons don't do worship very well. Maybe it is because they don't allow for mystery and instead seek to explain everything. Whatever the reason, they seem to prefer meetings to worship services. I find myself expressing awe and celebrating mystery and the divine more now, which is funny because I have a much less concrete Deity to worship. I guess that's what makes it easier, though, when God is everywhere, so is worship.

So I guess if I were to address my former Religious self wondering how to be religious after Religion, this what I would say: Yes, you can still be spiritual if you leave your Church. In fact, you can be more spiritual. So stop saying "I know this Church is true" and start embracing mystery. Amazing things happen when you let go of the need to know.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Stand All Amazed

Today I walked by a beautiful Church a few blocks away from our home. The doors were open, and the service had just started. I could hear singing, and see the light streaming though exquisite stained glass windows. Near the door was a welcome sign that said all were welcome with a little rainbow flag in the corner telling me that they really meant all. My husband and I could have sat down at the pews and others would have looked at us and smiled as we worshiped Christ holding hands with each other. A small part of me wanted to join just because we can, but as a whole, I still feel on the outside of Christianity despite the rainbow symbols in almost every Church doorway here. The problem is my experiences with Mormonism ruined Jesus for me, and it makes me so mad. When I was younger, my view of Jesus was simple, and it was easy to love him. I mean, if you set aside questions about the historical figure or how literally his divinity should be interpreted, and just look at his life story for the simple merits of the story, the idea of Jesus should resonate with gay men more than the heroes and gods of other myths.

Here is a man who comes out of an established religion and criticizes its obsession with rules, questions its authority, and advocates a higher more spiritual way of worshiping. He preaches compassion, mercy, and forgiveness towards groups that are disadvantaged. He encourages tender characteristics like kindness, love, gentleness, and humility, and he encourages nurturing activities like healing, community service, and comforting the afflicted. He surrounds himself with men, and (courtesy of the Catholic Church) he is devoid of the rampant heterosexuality commonly associated with the central heroes of other myths. He promises his followers comfort, peace, and eternal life. He is persecuted by the predominant religion of the region, and he associates with people largely considered social, political, and even sexual deviants. He is betrayed to the authority and is tried for crimes he isn’t guilty of, and then he is killed despite his innocence. If ever there was a figure to champion the distressed, the downtrodden, the misunderstood, or the persecuted minority, it is Jesus Christ. And as a deity he is portrayed in graceful linens, with a hero’s abs (courtesy of gay Catholic artists), and typically with unusually good hair. His followers worship him often with elaborate, beautiful clothing/settings/props, and almost always with theatrical drama. I should love his life, his story, and his followers—his is the ultimate gay man’s myth/hero/deity! More significantly, he was someone I could relate to.

But unfortunately when I think of Jesus now, my mind turns to the role he played in my faith when I was in college and trying to come out of the closet in the midst of a social war. At BYU during my last experiences in Mormonism, Jesus was used as weapon against my new identity and my future. He became the lawgiver, not the lawbreaker—one who enforces the nit picky rules of pamphlets instead of seeing past them. Now I think of him as perfection and as the perfectionist demanding my perfection. I see him as Greg Olsen portrays him, made of wax in sickly yellow light looking over Jerusalem with sad condemnation. If he offers comfort, guidance, or support, it is patronizing and hollow, disregarding what I feel or want for what I am "supposed" to feel or want. I think of him as judge, looking sternly from his picture frame over the shoulder of the Bishop who asks invasive questions and decides whether or not I should be allowed to attend classes. I think of him as the head of the Church, the voice behind Thomas S. Monson and the creeds of men—the rallying call behind Proposition 8. I think of him as being perfectly obedient, never questioning authority. I think of him as a heterosexual married man, not because there are tender stories of romance, but because he is the perfect priesthood holder. He is a patriarch, the man in charge who keeps his wife (wives?) quietly stowed away and hidden from the public. I think of him as he is portrayed in eternity, not with beautiful hair and heroic abs but as the mirror image of a more distant sci-fi, Zeus-like father, white and old and alien, with light so bright you can’t even look at him and with the great expansive, unreachable cosmos behind him.

I realize that portrayal of Jesus is not what every Mormon knows, and I’m glad. You may think of him as the way I first described him, or perhaps in a different way entirely but a way that still resonates with you, and that’s great. But unfortunately for me, I am stuck on this Jesus who isn’t very Jesus-like, and it makes me mad. With that view of Jesus, is it any wonder that I am looking elsewhere for inspiration? Is it any wonder than when I seek the divine in nature I see it in a goddess? Can you blame me when I want the majesty of a god and I turn to Apollo? Or for goodness sake when I need spiritual inspiration and have to find it in Aang the airbender, a children’s cartoon character? Some day, when I am ready, I would like to reread the gospels and try to see Jesus without all the projected baggage from my Mormon past, and maybe then I can love him the way I want to love him if not the way I once loved him. Until then I will pass the open doors of inclusive Churches and still feel detached from the Christ they worship.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Your Words are the Only Words

Before and shortly after Proposition 8 passed, facebook was my own personal hell because of the awful things my friends at BYU and elsewhere said about the Proposition, about homosexuality, and about marriage. My newsfeed was a charged minefield, so this week when the Proposition was overturned, I braced myself for the onslaught of negative comments, statuses, and notes. It never came.

There was only one note a friend posted that was an unreasonably negative reaction, and it was from someone I don't know very well who lived in a ward I served in California on my mission. I have since removed him as a facebook contact. Nothing else clogged my newsfeed. There were occasional rebuttals to wall posts celebrating the decision, but nothing like the slew of hatred splattered across the Internet before and after the November 2008 election.

At first I wondered if maybe my friends who oppose gay marriage blocked me from their statuses and notes because I am married and they didn't want to offend me. I appreciate the consideration if that's the case, but I don't think people really think their statuses through that carefully. Perhaps my marriage has actually helped to change their mind on Proposition 8--but I shouldn't flatter myself.

I don't think the trend is just on my facebook wall (did anyone else notice a difference?). Rachel Maddow commented last night on the silence from politicians on the right who she expected to react in outrage. The Huffington Post reported an analysis of twitter updates in the wake of Judge Walker's ruling and found that only 17% of related tweets were negative, the remaining 83% supported or celebrated the decision. Here's the twitter breakdown:
So why aren't the conservative majority of Americans or even Californians mourning their loss? I believe it is because they never had anything to lose. Gay people are the only ones who ever had anything at stake in the Prop 8 battle. If Prop 8 proponents had lost in 2008, they would have lost nothing--nothing would have changed for them, but because it passed, gay people suffered great losses. Now that the tables are being reversed (though not yet permanently), gay people are recovering their losses, and the proponents still lose nothing. Nothing will change for them. And that's why there is no outrage.

In any event, I am glad that facebook is a pleasant place for me this week when I didn't think it would be.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Baby, It's Fact

Judge Walker's verdict is a fascinating and fairly clear read, and is certainly worth reading. It will be quoted in history books, though I think it is actually Judge Brown's verdicts that will be the most effective when all three gay marriage trials make it to the Supreme Court. What makes Judge Walker's verdict so interesting to me is how heavily he relies on the evidence and testimony of trial, almost all of which was provided by those in favor of gay marriage.

At issue is really whether or not gay marriages are marriages, because both parties agree that the right to marry is a fundamental right. Proponents of proposition 8 contend that the potential to procreate is intrinsic to the definition of marriage, which automatically excludes as a class same sex couples. But after tracing the history of marriage as a legal term, Judge Walker demonstrates that the potential to procreate has never been a requirement for marriage in the United States.
"The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household ... Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouse's obligations to each other and to their dependents ... Same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. FF48. Marriage under law is a union of equals." (pg. 113 of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger)
Using this definition of the right to marry, equal protection and due process in the constitution guarantee our right to choose a spouse regardless of gender. We can only hope that the SCOTUS will uphold the right to marry as the right to choose a spouse, but I think Judge Walker provides a compelling case given the evidence and testimony submitted in trial and given legal precedent.