Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reality and Dreams

"Man uses his ideas for the defense of his existence, to frighten away reality."
-Ernest Becker

Prepare for rambling that may or may not make sense.

I came across this quote tonight, and it sent me thinking. One reason, I think, that the potential purposelessness of existence is so potent in my mind is because I was raised to believe that I had all the answers to the problem of living. I knew why I was here. I knew where I came from. I knew where I was going after I died. And so to question all of that leaves me staring at the terrifying emptiness of reality without the power of those ideas to mitigate the impact.

I also came across a poem tonight that I wrote in my junior year of high school.

Reality and Dreams

Majestic, tall, and grand they stand,
The mountains of my dreams,
Leaving realness, all that's bland
And all that simple seems

And in their stead, when I awake
Within my soul I see
That I can more than realness make
And more than realness be

Yet I shall never walk their slopes
While in this life I dwell,
For they are merely visions, hopes
As passions rise and swell.

Juxtaposed eternally, reality and dreams
One condemned to nothingness, one simply what it seems.

After thinking about the quote and the poem, I have some questions. Do our ideas about life really stand as a barrier between our consciousness and the recognition of reality as it truly is? I think the answer to that one is yes, because our ideas, however close to reality they may be, are ultimately our own constructions. Another question: if the juxtaposition of reality and dreams illuminates both the nothingness of dreams and the failure of life to live up to what we would like it to be, then would our purposes be served better by the elimination of dreams and expectations? Sometimes I think yes, and sometimes I think no.

I think yes because desire is the root of pain. The more I dream, the less satisfied I am with what is. But on the other hand, when I awake from dreams, "within my soul I see/ That I can more than realness make/ And more than realness be." Dreams often inspire me and give my interactions with reality a deeper meaning--because it feels as if my daily living is moving towards something.

But what if the something is a lie? What if there are no destinations to be reached? What if dreams never really come true because dreams are accompanied by emotions that never actualize and hopes for things that are impossible: namely a hope for the cessation of the struggle with the nothing at the heart of existence. When we achieve our dreams, there's an edge of disappointment because the nothing is still there. The most euphoric events of life are tempered by the fact that we still have to use the toilet. Our finiteness is manifest in each of our encounters with our own feces. That's perhaps one of the reasons we do everything we can to separate ourselves from the process--with porcelain thrones filled with water.

The human is such a paradoxical being. We understand our lives through symbols. We take a jumble of sounds, call it a name, and give it to ourselves to represent the narrative we make of who we are. We understand our world via words and ideas. And ideas can't be soiled by dirt. And idea can't break a bone. And we are ideas. "Josh DeFriez" is an idea. But also a body. A body that has to consume and expel and breathe. A body that gets sick. A body that dies. Ideas don't exist in the real world. They're dreams we make up to explain the world around us. And so it is that the human is both reality and dreams.

Maybe that's why Jesus resonates with me so much. He was the God that was human. Muslims I talked to as a missionary always had such a problem with the fact that Jesus was God but had a body. How on earth could God belittle himself to the level that he, too, had to pee? Maybe that's why I love him. Because he embodies the idea that God encompasses both of my realities--the one in my dreams and the one on the toilet. He is there for both my encounter with the infinity of the stars and the finiteness of my sickness and death.

And in Jesus there are two triumphs. The triumph of reality over dreams in the crucifixion, and the triumph of dreams over reality in the resurrection. It's fascinating. The ideas of sin and death are tied up with our corporal being, while eternal life and salvation are tied to our dreams. We utilize the ideas of salvation and eternal life to mitigate our interaction with our finiteness. And in Christ, both sides win.

This teaches us, I think, something deeply important about living. We cannot escape reality. And we cannot escape our need to escape reality. Humans are deeply complex and paradoxical, and so, perhaps, is the God that made them.

And so I think in order find meaning in life we have to recognize the intertwined nature of meaning and meaninglessness. The two, I think, are constructed of each other. Joy and despair, euphoria and feces, destruction and creation: each is made up of the other. Our dreams are constructed from our reality. We construct our reality from our dreams. Each plays an integral role in our lives, but neither makes up the whole of it.

And I think being and nonbeing are made of each other too. Each of us must reconcile ourselves to meaninglessness in order to find meaning because the one enables the other. In order to truly be as we ought, we must reconcile ourselves to the nothingness at the core of being. I find it a potent symbol that in order to ascend to heaven Jesus did just this--embraced both being and nothingness, embraced both reality and dreams. Perhaps he is only able to say "I am that I am" because he has wholly embraced exactly what it is to cease from being.

Despair is Kindness

I wrote this poem the other day while thinking about my personal experiences with despair.

Despair is Kindness

Last Thursday,
Despair knocked on the door of my heart
Once again.
Usually, I lock the door
And leave him outside in the cold.
He keeps knocking, and I sit at the door,
Staring at the clock
Wondering how long it will be before he gives up
And leaves me to myself.

But last Thursday, I gave up.

Instead of turning the lock,
I opened the door and welcomed Despair into my heart.
When the door opened, he smiled.
I let him in,
And we shared a meal--
Despair, and I.
And I was shocked at his gentleness
And I learned something I never expected to know--
That when you let him in
And when you be with him, you realize
Despair is Kindness.

I've been reflecting on despair a lot lately, and I've realized that the kindest people are those that, instead of rejecting despair, allow it to enter their hearts and recognize it as a fundamental part of themselves. Despair makes me bitter and angry when I reject it. But when I accept and embrace it, I become more gentle, kind, and loving.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Questions about Revelation

In this article, Dr. Millet gives us five questions to ask to make sure that personal revelation is in line with doctrine. I have some questions about his questions just meant to provoke thought. His questions are in bold, and my questions are beneath them.

      1.  Is the person claiming the revelation acting within the bounds of his or her respective stewardship?
a.       Was Abinadi acting within the bounds of his priesthood stewardship when he criticized the priests of Noah? Did he possess the correct priesthood position to do such, or was he acting upon revelation?
b.      How about the prophet Amos, who said that “the Lord God will do nothing save he reveal his words to his servants, the prophets”? Did Amos fit within the priesthood hierarchy, or was he criticizing it from without? Is priesthood authority and stewardship necessary to be considered a prophet?
c.       And Lehi? Was he at the head of the priesthood in Jerusalem, or was he criticizing people from without his priesthood stewardship? Doesn’t the Book of Mormon say that there were many other prophets, too, who condemned the people at that time? If the church were ever to be in apostasy today, would God be able to reveal it to those who only have the stewardship, or would he reveal it to those outside of the structure? (look into Denver Snuffer.)
      2.       Is the person receiving the revelation worthy to receive such?
a.       Who judges whether or not someone is worthy? Is anyone ever actually “worthy” before God? 
b.   Have prophets ever done things we now consider to make people unworthy? Did they still receive revelation?
      3.       Is the communication in harmony with the standard works and teachings of the prophets?
a.       Are the standard works and teachings of the prophets as a whole in harmony with each other? Are there any contradictions or discrepancies? What do those teach us about the nature of revelation?
      4.       Does the revelation edify or instruct?
a.       Can untruth edify? Can lies instruct? “Artists use lies to tell the truth…”—V for Vendetta. Is there a difference between revelation and art? 
b.   Do different things edify different people?
      5.       Does the communication build a person’s faith and strengthen commitment?
a.       Is a person’s faith or commitment truly in the right thing? If not, then wouldn't a true revelation alter a person’s faith or commitment? 

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Yesterday a friend published a poem to his blog about apostasy that was really interesting to me and made me think quite a bit. After a lot of thought, I wrote and responded with the following poem. Just so that the first stanza makes more sense, in his poem he talks about how behind every "rebellion" there is a "barb of poisonous pride."

The Apostate

On Calvary, on Calvary
That carpenter from Gallilee,
Condemned to die for apostasy,
Whipped and bruised for blasphemy--
His rebellion was a heresy
That arose from "pride," so poisonously
On Calvary, on Calvary

And this was his apostasy--
He taught men to have charity,
That all descended from deity,
That all would have immortality
That every soul had divinity
That love would conquer misery
If only everyone could see
That all were alike, eternally

And in the Garden of Gethsemene
He became at one with you and me
And took on himself our slavery
So we could evermore be free
To cease from judging carelessly
With that vicious word, "apostasy"

And as he hung there on the tree
He forgave them of their blasphemy
As he was murdered guiltlessly
He plead to God that they would be
Forgiven of this travesty
Pure and guiltless, just as he

On Calvary, on Calvary
The holy man from Galilee
Condemned to die for apostasy
Whipped and bruised for blasphemy
And for the highest form of heresy--
To say all were alike to deity
And that all would partake of eternity
That all, forevermore, would be
Forever whole, forever free
To cease from finding apostasy
Instead, to live with charity
And so he hung there, guiltlessly
Condemned to die for apostasy
On Calvary, On Calvary

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Books and Being

            I find so much more solace in books than in people. Novels can be read, known, and thoroughly understood. Their beauty is constant. My favorite lines of Dickens, Shakespeare, or Dostoyevsky stay neatly in their places, and when I’m craving them, they can be easily revisited. But people change. Someone can be a messenger from the gods for a moment, and their very presence can communicate to you that somehow behind the empty facades of living there is a deeper, grander meaning, and that the answer to “the question” is a resolute “to be.” For an instant, the eyes of a lover can witness that it is nobler of the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune than to find quietus in the cold peace of a bare bodkin. But people change. And in the next instant, the messiah of your loneliness transforms in to the very fardels they had once helped you escape.
            Maybe that’s why God speaks to us through books. The Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Ghita—they’re all written. God says he never changes, and so when he talks we try to preserve what he said in written form, where it can help to save us from the heart-ache and thousand natural shocks of which flesh is the heir. But can I really trust the books to be my window into to the heart of God? Or are all books, including “revelation,” simply a picture image of the heart of the author at the time of writing? Books mean so much to me because they are the recording of the momentary thoughts and feelings of living, breathing people. They are what I wish people could be—still in their magnificence, and constant in their availability to be understood.
            And of the greatest tragedies is that I, too, live so distant from the ideal that I preach. Even now, I am constantly changing. My march onward to the undiscovered country is a process of continual discovery—not only of the landscape around me, but of the heart that beats within. These words that I write may very well sit here undisturbed for a century, but I, their writer, have written them only in a moment of my transformation from what I was to what I am becoming. Our books are only moments in the metamorphosis of our souls.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Thoughts on the Disorderliness of Lives

I originally posted this on the No More Strangers blog, but thought I'd repost it here, too.

Thoughts on the Disorderliness of Lives
In Mormonism, we are raised in a world of order. It’s beautiful. Everything has a place. Monday night is Family Home Evening. Tuesday night is mutual. Saturday is the day we get ready for Sunday. And Sunday morning we go to church, where everything happens as expected. Week after week, families sit on the same rows in the chapel as they listen to familiar voices talk about things they’ve been learning since Primary.
And the progression of life has its order, too. First you go to Nursery. When you’re old enough, you go to Primary. At the age of twelve, girls go to Young Women’s, and boys get the Priesthood and go to Young Men’s. Every two years, you go to a higher level: Teachers and Priests, Miamaids and Laurels. When they’re nineteen, boys go on missions (I guess that one’s changed a bit). And then when they get home, they date, and quickly get married in the temple for eternity to start their own family of order and begin the process anew. Variations from this progression are seen as curiosities, oddities, and, more often, mistakes.
Relationships, too, are orderly. The father is the defender and provider of the family. The mother is its nurturer. Children are to obey their parents. And the Mormon identity defines one’s relationship with friends, co-workers, and others. Our vocabulary betrays our image of the world, a world divided into members, inactive members, non-members, and ex-Mormons.

There’s a degree of beauty in order. It mediates our interaction with the chaos, and sometimes emptiness, that is reality and self. But every now and again, the chaos makes its way into our own lives, and its collision with our order is the birth of crisis.

As LGBT Mormons, we can sometimes feel like small pieces of chaos raised in a world of orderliness. We’re raised in a world where men and women are supposed to fall in love with each other, often by men and women who are in love. Our surroundings are perfectly manufactured to produce something we are not. From the beginning, we learn about marriage and its eternal implications. When little boys and girls hold hands, everyone thinks it’s cute. And when you get old enough, friends and siblings will start asking you, often excitedly, who you have a “crush” on, and who you find attractive.

For me at least, I had every expectation of fitting into the order around me. Before I went into sixth grade, I wrote in my journal that in the next year, I would “probably start liking girls.” It was almost exciting, until my life was touched by that chaos that, by now, so many of us are so familiar with.

I’ve always struggled in expressing the complete ambiguity of the gay Mormon experience. You know there’s something different about you, but you often can’t quit put your finger on it. For many of us, we are raised with no concept of what it is to be “gay,” and so we don’t quite have an adequate term to describe what’s happening inside. What is that feeling I feel for that guy that sits next to me in my third hour class? How does it differ from my feelings for my best friends? What is the feeling I feel for the girl I’ve been friends with four five years? I know I like her. But what kind of like is it? There has to be something different between the feeling I feel for her, and the feeling I feel for him. But what is it? When did it start? What does it mean?

And so, with the chaos arising from the realization of a self that is somehow outside the only order you’ve ever known, crisis is born.

And how could I not fit into the order created and ordained by God? Why would he do that to me? Is he really even there? Does any of this even matter? The chaos of being gay and Mormon prompts not just one crisis, but a series of crises of self and faith that silently perpetuate themselves as we continue to walk through the order set up for us.

Order can be beautiful. But it needs to be created and sustained with an understanding of the disorderliness of our lives.

And all lives are disorderly. At first, the LGBT Mormon may feel that they are a piece of chaos that doesn’t fit within the order, but over time, it becomes clear that this is not the case. We are not chaos. Life is simply disorderly.

The life of the girl who loved Young Women’s and grew up dreaming of a returned missionary that would take her to the temple, and then fell in love someone different is disorderly. The life of the couple who were married in the temple and months later discovered that marriage wasn’t the bliss they were expecting is disorderly. The life of the man who was just called to be a Bishop and now has no answers for the boy in his office crying to him and telling him he doesn’t want to be gay is also disorderly.

Disorderliness isn’t unique to the LGBT Mormon experience. It’s an inherent part of life. And it’s beautiful. The disorderliness of a forest is a part of its beauty. And the disorderliness of the stars is what makes them intriguing. And the disorderliness of our lives is part of what makes are continued steps in the forward direction worth taking.

 And really, the orderliness of Mormonism is, I think, an illusion. Mormonism has its history, its evolution, its politics, its problems, its complexities, and its disorderliness.  Often the degree of its paradox can be incredibly frustrating. I think, though, that only ever being frustrated by complexity and disorderliness is perhaps missing the beauty in the ordeal.

Maybe that’s one reason that I continue my interaction with the church—because at the depths of it, I’m not a piece of chaos colliding with order. I’m simply another branch sprouting from the tree. My life is as disorderly and messed up as the source from which I sprang. And the tree and its branches may be pretty gnarled and twisted at times, but it’s still beautiful. And I can continue to relate to it, because it, like me, is not free from the disorderliness of the reality we face. And Mormonism and I can continue to walk together in our collision with forces we don’t completely understand.

But there’s a point I really want to make still. It’s the entire purpose of me writing this small exploration of homosexuality and Mormonism, of order and disorder. And that is that each of us are endowed with the power to make explanations. Humans are, at their root, story tellers. We look up into the night’s sky of chaotic light, tell stories, and call them constellations. We look back at the disorderliness of our memories, tell a story, and call it “self.” We participate in the creative process by building the framework of our interaction with reality. And the building blocks of that framework are the broken pieces of chaos we find around us. We take chaos, and we transform it into meaning by our explanations and narratives.
If we really have that power, then are we not responsible for the stories we tell?
So what story do you tell yourselves and others? How do you manage the disorderliness of your own life? Is it the story of an evil church that ruined your life? Is it the story of a God that created you with a problem you simply have to endure? Is it a story of betrayal? Of love? Of hardship? Of chaos?

And to the Mormon community as a whole, I would ask this question: are our stories helping people or hurting? Is our explanation increasing happiness, or decreasing it? If LGBT people do not feel that they fit into our narrative, then what can we change to be more inclusive and make them feel welcome?