Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Lord’s Way

Intro: This comes from a talk by Elder Uchtdorf called Providing in the Lord's Way from the Priesthood Session of the October 2011 General Conference. As I was rereading it, I was surprised at how much of the talk could be applied to my own situation. While I don't want to put words into Elder Uchtdorf's mouth, I believe in the invitation to liken the scriptures unto ourselves. Here is my edited version with omissions marked by . . .; and changes indicated by [brackets] .

There are many good people and organizations in the world that are trying to meet the pressing needs of [SSA Members]. We are grateful for this, but the Lord’s way of caring . . . is different from the world’s way. The Lord has said, “It must needs be done in mine own way.” He is not only interested in our immediate needs; He is also concerned about our eternal progression
Too often we notice [our own] needs . . ., hoping that someone from far away will magically appear to meet those needs. Perhaps we wait for experts with specialized knowledge to solve specific problems.

The Lord’s way is not to sit at the side of the stream and wait for the water to pass before we cross. It is to come together, roll up our sleeves, go to work, and build a bridge or a boat to cross the waters of our challenges. You men of Zion, you priesthood holders, are the ones who can lead out and bring relief to the Saints by applying the inspired principles of the [Gospel]! It is your mission to open your eyes, use your priesthood, and go to work in the Lord’s way.

The place to begin is to familiarize ourselves with what the Lord has already revealed. We should not assume that we know. We need to approach the subject with the humility of a child. Every generation must learn anew the doctrines that undergird the Lord’s way. . . Brethren, study the revealed principles and doctrines first. Read the handbooks; take advantage of the Internet website providentliving.org;

Once you have studied the doctrines and principles . . ., seek to apply what you have learned to the needs of those within your stewardship. What this means is that, in large measure, you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself. [Every individual, e]very family, every congregation, every area of the world is different. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. . . It is a self-help program where individuals are responsible for personal self-reliance. Our resources include personal prayer, our own God-given talents and abilities, the assets available to us through our own families and extended family members, various community resources, and of course the caring support of priesthood quorums and the Relief Society. This will lead us through the inspired pattern of self-reliance.

You’re going to have to chart a course that is consistent with the Lord’s doctrine and matches the circumstances of your [personal life]. To implement divine [gospel] principles, you need not look always to Salt Lake City. Instead you need to look into the handbooks, into your heart, and into heaven. Trust the Lord’s inspiration and follow His way.

In the end you must do in your area what disciples of Christ have done in every dispensation: counsel together, use all resources available, seek the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, ask the Lord for His confirmation, and then roll up your sleeves and go to work.

I give you a promise: if you will follow this pattern, you will receive specific guidance as to the who, what, when, and where of [living the gospel]. The temporal is intertwined with the spiritual. God has given us this mortal experience and the temporal challenges that attend it as a laboratory where we can grow into the beings Heavenly Father wants us to become.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Always Love You

It's no secret that I believe God speaks to me. I've experienced messages conveyed through many means. Dreams, conference talks, personal meetings with my Bishop, insight from me therapist, both gospel and secular scholarly talks and books, and even movies like Gladiator. But one of the most common and powerful ways God speaks to me is through music. Sometimes it's a melody or harmony that touches me. Often it's a word or phrase in the lyrics. Once in a while, I know that an entire song is speaking directly to me.

So, five years ago my wife introduced me to Ryanhood. They are a fun musical duo from Tuscon. We've been following them ever since. They released a new album today. We got an advanced copy a couple of weeks ago and since then I've been dying to share this song.

Ashley and I were lying in bed listening to the new album which we had just downloaded. We'd heard most of the songs at concerts, though it was nice to hear them polished for recording. There were a couple of fun new songs that were very much Ryanhood's style. Then we got to this song. I think both of us were expecting a cute, possibly sappy, little love song. It didn't take long before we both just stopped and looked at each other and started tearing up. At least I did. I was stunned.

Always Love You can be taken as a song about a man who is deeply in love regardless of whether or not he's loved in return. But I heard my Savior's voice. I heard my Heavenly Father talking about His love for me. I don't know if this song will be meaningful for anyone else, but that possibility is part of the reason I am posting it. The other reason is that I just need to testify of God's love for me. I know He cares deeply about me. He has a plan for me and wants me to be happy. I'm grateful for that knowledge.

You can listen or download at http://ryanhood.bandcamp.com/track/always-love-you?permalink

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Addendum

I need to amend my previous review of Voices of Hope. I still stand by what I said about the Introduction and the Plenary Chapters. They teach gospel truths plainly and clearly. I love that. I know I need those plain and precious truths more and more as I live in a society that is loosing its way at an alarming rate. As President Monson said:

"Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider. …

“The Savior of mankind described Himself as being in the world but not of the world. We also can be in the world but not of the world as we reject false concepts and false teachings and remain true to that which God has commanded.”


That being said, I think that the personal essays are even more powerful. I think part of my reluctance to read and discuss the personal essays is that one of them is mine. I'm not self-promoting. I also know many of the authors personally. I felt that I already knew their stories. However, I was humbled by reading their stories. I gained a new admiration and respect for the difficulty they've faced and the faith and strength they've exhibited in response. I also got to read the stories of men and women I don't know. Their stories of pain, courage, and the redeeming power of Jesus Christ stirred my heart and gave me hope.

I don't think I can fully convey how powerful and inspiring these personal stories have been in my life. They show me that my way of facing this issue is only one of many approaches. I feel uplifted and supported as I read the words of others who share similar experiences. There were so many moments where what I was reading could have been written by me. At the same time I was edified to read of the uniqueness of each author. All of our stories are different. What we share is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and a commitment to follow Him.

I want to express deep gratitude to those individuals who took the risk to share something so personal and sacred with the world. I'm sure there are many who will discount, deny, and disparage our offering. But I know that I'm not standing alone.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Voices of Hope by Ty Mansfield

So, this guy is my hero. :) I have lots of heroes. But Ty is definitely one of them. I absolutely love his courage in moving out of the victim role. He takes action for making a positive change in the world around him. I'm grateful to have the privilege of participating in his efforts.

Last week, I got my copies of Voices of Hope. I will say that I haven't read all of the personal essays yet. I have read the plenary chapters, and I am in love. I love the frank compassionate voice that comes through in all of the writing. I love the courage with which the authors teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I wish everyone I know would read this book. Individuals who experience SSA, my family, friends, priesthood leaders, everyone can benefit from the principles discussed and the love shared in this book.

I can say that for myself, a single reading is not going to be sufficient. There is so much truth and valuable insight packaged in there, that I will study and re-read. I recently read a scripture that struck me. In 2 Nephi 27:20 the Lord says "I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee."

I can truly say that the Lord has given me these words. I believe He would like to give them to you as well.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Francis Webster's Bigger Story

Last night on my hour long commute home from class in Pocatello, I listened to Wendy Ulrich's presentation at the 2007 FAIR Conference. You can listen to it here, or read it here. I highly recommend anything written by this amazing woman. I relate very much relate to many of her ideas and thoughts. She has helped me clarify many things regarding my belief and faith.

She recounted the words of Francis Webster, a pioneer in the Martin Handcart Company. As I heard her quote his words, I heard my own testimony of the experiences I've had in the Church in regards to my homosexuality. I hear so many people complain about the lack of understanding in the Church. I hear and read criticism of Church leaders. I hear about all the failures and all the things that "should" be better. I've modified his word to match my experience. The original text, as well as a good treatise on the quote and Francis Webster's life can be found here.

“I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistakes in handling homosexuality? Yes. Mistakes in Church policy and Church discipline? Probably. Mistake to support prop 8? Maybe. But I was affected by those choices and my wife was also. We sufered beyond anything you can imagine and many died not only spiritually but literally as well. Many lost families, friends, faith. Some lost hope. But I will never complain about that. I will never leave my faith, because I came through my experiences with the absolute knowledge that God lives for I became acquainted with him my our extremities.

I have risen from bed when I was so weak and weary from depression and hopelessness, that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead to tomorrow and I have said I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot endure this suffering. I have gone on to that day and when I reached it I found just enough strength to try for the next. I have looked many times to see who was keeping me alive and I saw and felt many people. I knew then that the Angels of God were there, both mortal and immortal.

Am I sorry that I chose to experience homosexual attractions within the context of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ? No. The price I have paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to experience homosexuality and the LDS Church in the time and culture where I did.”
Now, Wendy Ulrich points out that not all of the survivors of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies developed this perspective. Many may have only come to view this bigger story years later. Others never did. In her words:

Francis Webster did more that day than quiet a heated Sunday school class. He opened up a story. A story big enough to hold both leaders who make mistakes, and a God who can turn all things to our good. In fact he opened up story for all of us. A story that includes the possibility that we too may come to know God in our extremities. They find the hand of angels in our most difficult hours. They come to see the price we pay for mortality as a privilege, for it can open our blind eyes to see the face of God.

For instance, Webster’s story is one of many stories however, among the handcart pioneers. Some of those pioneers may not have felt the hand of angels or come to know God in a tangible way. Some of them may have simply finished the track, moved on with their lives. Some may have simply given up, some may have never made much sense out of what happened, and others may never have really questioned at all.

But for Francis Webster the bigger story was one of unseen angels, and acquaintance with God. For others the biggest story may be one of personal stamina, and extraordinary luck, for others the bigger story may be one of the power of friendship and human compassion. It may have taken 40 years for some to learn to see the hand of God in some redemptive way in that experience, or that clear vision may not come until the dawning of a much brighter day. But the stories we create of our experience, stories shaped by our past but invested with our creativity and hope. These are what in turn shape our future.

I hope all of us can seek for a bigger story in our own lives.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Bigger Story

Dear J----,

My name is Kevin. I'm a Mormon. I've read your posts quite regularly for a while now. I disagree with some of the opinions you've expressed. I'm comfortable with that disagreement, because I accept the fact that you and I have had very different life experiences. Due to that acceptance, I haven't felt any outrage or emotional reaction to your writings. Until now. I was very disappointed in recent article about Rich Wyler. As a man who has attended Wyler's Journey into Manhood weekend and served on staff twice, I found your remarks hurtful, belittling, and intolerant.

You usually write with an admirable professionalism, a sense of being fair and reasonable. I'm curious as to why you lost that perspective in this situation. It seems that you have a real hang-up with homosexuality and the doctrine of the LDS Church. I can relate to a feeling of dissonance regarding the issue. I have personal experience with feelings of sexual attraction to other men. At one point I identified myself as Gay. During that time, I had many negative feelings about the Church. I felt betrayed by the very God I had trusted so innocently. I wasn't able to reconcile my understanding of God with my personal experience. That time was the most painful, agonizing period in my life. I was suicidal.

In a moment of tender mercy, at the peak of my rebellion against God, I was given the opportunity to meet other men who had experienced many of the same feelings I had. They understood where I was coming from and accepted me as I was, sans facade, doubts and all. I was introduced to the writings of Wyler and Matheson which resonated strongly with me. For the first time in years, I felt a connection to my God. I began to learn about a story that was bigger than the one I had been telling myself. I was brought to look honestly and humbly at the lies which I had come to believe. Some were lies handed to me by well-intentioned, but misguided members of the church. Others were spoon fed to me by a blinded society groping in darkness. The most painful were lies I had created myself to dull the pain of a wounded conscience. But paradoxically, the journey inward led to a new understanding of what was outside of me. I saw a world that was big enough to encompass me and my often conflicting experience. I met a God who was big enough to perfectly love and nurture an imperfect me. I met a self who was no longer a victim, but an agent capable of mighty change. I met a Savior, who was powerful enough to provide just such a change.

But that is just me. My story is also big enough for people who don't have an experience like mine. My world is big enough to encompass people who resolve their inner conflicts differently. My God is big enough to love and save all of his children. My self is willing to accept others as they are and trust my Savior to heal others as He sees fit, and not necessarily just like he healed me.

Is your story big enough to include me?

Friday, April 1, 2011

General Conference Prep

This post is for anyone who has ever had a negative experience with General Conference-probably mostly for myself.

I generally struggle with Conference primarily because I "trifle with the words" that are spoken. I'm often listening just with my ears. Part of me is concerned with what someone I know might be thinking of a particular talk. Sometimes I'm thinking of who I think needs to hear this talk. Honestly, part of me is usually looking for any fault, anything I can construe as shame based or out of harmony with my own experiences. Sometimes I'm wondering what I would have felt if I had heard this talk three years ago when I was struggling with my testimony. All in all, I haven't really been listening properly. I haven't been listening with my heart. I haven't been listening to the Spirit.

It has been helpful for me in the past to read through part of a talk given by Elder Oaks at a CES fireside in May, 2005.

Last week I was talking with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve about comments we had received on our
April conference talks. My friend said someone told him, “I surely enjoyed your talk.” We agreed that this
isnot the kind of comment we like to receive. As my friend said, “I didn’t give that talk to be enjoyed. What
does he think I am, some kind of entertainer?” Another member of our quorum joined the conversation by
saying, “That reminds me of the story of a good minister. When a parishioner said, ‘I surely enjoyed
your sermon today,’ the minister replied, ‘In that case, you didn’t understand it.’”

You may remember that this April conference I spoke on pornography. No one told me they “enjoyed” that
talk—not one! In fact, there was nothing enjoyable in it even for me.

I speak of these recent conversations to teach the principle that a message given by a General Authority
at a general conference—a message prepared under the influence of the Spirit to further the work of the
Lord—is not given to be enjoyed. It is given to inspire, to edify, to challenge, or to correct. It is given to be
heard under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, with the intended result that the listener learns from
the talk and from the Spirit what he or she should do about it.

King Benjamin understood that principle and explained it. His great sermon that is recorded in the first few
chapters of the book of Mosiah begins with these words:

“My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall
speak unto you this day; . . . I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I
shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that
ye may understand” (Mosiah 2:9).

As this prophet-king taught, when we come to hear a servant of the Lord, we are not “to trifle with the words”
that he speaks. It is our duty to open our ears to hear and our hearts to understand. And what we should seek
to understand is what we should do about the message.

I feel sure that is what King Benjamin meant, because he said later in his great message, “And now, if you believe
all these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4:10).

. . . . . .

Now, brothers and sisters, if you are troubled about something we have just said, please listen very carefully to what I will say
now. Perhaps you are a young man feeling pressured by what I have said about the need to start a pattern of
dating that can lead to marriage, or a young woman troubled by what we have said about needing to get on
with your life.

If you feel you are a special case, so that the strong counsel I have given doesn’t apply to you, please don’t
write me a letter. Why would I make this request? I have learned that the kind of direct counsel I have
given results in a large number of letters from members who feel they are an exception, and they want me to
confirm that the things I have said just don’t apply to them in their special circumstance.

I will explain why I can’t offer much comfort in response to that kind of letter by telling you an experience I had
with another person who was troubled by a general rule.

I gave a talk in which I mentioned the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Afterward a man
came up to me in tears saying that what I had said showed there was no hope for him. “What do you
mean?” I asked him. He explained that he had been a machine gunner during
the Korean War. During a frontal assault his machine gun mowed down scores of enemy infantry. Their bodies
were piled so high in front of his gun that he and his men had to push them away in order to maintain their
field of fire. He had killed a hundred, he said, and now he must be going to hell because I had spoken of the
Lord’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”

The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I
have said. As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to
define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not
violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your
exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must
work that out individually between you and the Lord.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed
such a diverse group of Saints, he said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (in
John Taylor, “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, 339). In what I have
just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles
by governing yourself.

Brothers and sisters, it has been a thrill to be with you. I pray that the things that have been said this evening
will be carried into your hearts and understood by the power of the Holy Ghost with the same intent that they
have been uttered, which is to bless your lives, to give comfort to the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.


I know that as I go into this weekend, I need to focus on what the Lord is trying to teach me through the Holy Ghost. I need to focus on what I need to do differently as a result of the things that I will learn through the conference. I need to worry less about what someone else might think about a talk or how I might take offense at what is said. I hope to be able to hear what I need to to progress and improve. Perhaps someone else might benefit from some of the things that I have been thinking.