Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Your beliefs are not sacred. And neither are mine.


                The last two posts on the Millennial Mormons blog have sent me thinking. Obviously my mind first went to Chinese literature and political philosophy. In what follows, I’ve tried to outline what I find troubling in the attitudes of Blake Oakley and Samantha Shelley. A brief recap of what they said: Blake Oakley reemphasized the astounding fact that the Church’s doctrine has not changed in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, while Samantha Oakley wrote thatthe Church, and Jesus, still love gay people. It’s the last bit that draws my attention, and that’s the aspect I’d like to address.
                I left a comment on the post that was sadly censored, but I’ll repost it here:

“The problem is not that “the church” “hates” LGBT people. The problem is that the culture and system of thought we have created cause LGBT people to hate themselves.

There are a few important points in what I just said that will raise questions:

1) “The culture and system of thought we have created”

I’m sure your first reaction to that statement will be that this is the revealed word of the Lord. The problem with holding to that is that in order to believe that anything is revealed by God by prophets, you either have to believe that EVERYTHING every prophet has ever taught AS COMING FROM GOD is in fact truth revealed from God, or you have to have an alternative method by which to judge what is and is not revelation.

If you choose the former, then by necessity, you believe: that everything Brigham Young ever taught was the word of God (he taught that there wasn’t a single word he had uttered on the pulpit that wasn’t the will of God)–this includes blood atonement, that slavery is moral, and that black people are inherently inferior. I doubt you accept that as the word and will of God.

That leaves you to choose the second option–that there has to be some criterion external to revelation by which we gauge whether or not what the prophet says EVEN WHEN THEY SAY IT IS THE WILL OF GOD (because Brigham Young did). To believe this you must, by necessity, believe that there is something higher and more important than revelation.

To discover what that criterion is, ask yourself this: in 1852 Brigham Young testified that slavery was ordained of God; would you as a Latter-day Saint at that time be morally obligated to believe that, or morally obligated to stand against God’s prophet and make arguments against slavery? If so, by what criteria would you judge the morality of Brigham Young’s assertion?

What’s happening here is far more complicated than revelation. I posit that it is the process of cultural creation. We create the culture, call it revelation, and then marginalize people as a result. For more information on the evolution of church doctrine over time, see the book “This is My Doctrine,” available on Amazon.

2) What causes LGBT people to hate themselves?

If it was only one or two LGBT people experiencing self-hatred or loathing for their attractions to people of the same sex or gender dysmorphia, then we could call it a statistical fluke. Based on research from John Dehlin, the accounts of LGBT people, and my own experience as a gay man in the church, I can say with surety that it is far more than just a few. Every LGBT person I have ever met has experienced deep hatred of themselves, their situation, or their life at one point or another. Because of its common occurrence, we must assume that there is some external variable causing this phenomenon.

All evidence that I have received and my own personal experience points that it is the very culture and system of thought we call “the church” or “Mormonism” that causes this. It is the very doctrines of the church that create a world view under which LGBT people do not belong in the eternities–they must first be transformed into something they are not or have never been–in effect, to gain exaltation, they must die.

Your sentiments here are well-intentioned, but they fail to grasp the heart of the issue. And the heart of the issue is this: that our experience in life is created by the paradigm through which we approach it, that our paradigms are constructed, and that any paradigm we construct that marginalizes people, causes disproportionate numbers of youth to be on the streets (see the LGBT youth homelessness rate in Utah), causes disproportionate amounts of people to kill themselves (see the research on LGBT youth suicide in conservative communities, and especially Utah), fails to live up to the values of universal compassion that we espouse as the crowning value of our faith community.

Declarations of “this is the word of God” are not and never will be enough in the face of the realities of self-hatred, youth homelessness, and suicide that I argue are the result of the system of thought you present. And yes, sadly, that implicates anyone and everyone who is a part of furthering the cultural paradigm that causes these phenomena. Me, you, and each of us bear responsibility.

May we all be brave enough to rethink our deeply held beliefs, because in the final analysis, beliefs are not sacred. Human life is.”

And now for the Chinese literature.
Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman,” published in 1918, laid the foundation of China’s “New Culture Movement.” Suffering from paranoia, the purported author of the diary brings the reader with him on his slow descent into madness. First, he fears that the Zhao family’s dog is somehow angry at him. Then, out on the street, he notices how everyone is talking about him. They’re watching him. They’re whispering plots against him. “It’s as if they’re afraid of me,” he writes, “but also as if they want to hurt me.” What is it? What could they be planning? What were they going to do?
                They wanted to eat him. He realizes it in third entry—the people on the street, his neighbors, and even his older brother were all planning on eating him. This sends the madman on a
frightened journey towards the source of their cannibalistic designs. Looking for any precedence in history, he looks back through the Confucian classics. Confucianism had been the foundation of Chinese society for nearly two thousand years. As he reads through the books, the madman slowly realizes that the hidden meaning between “benevolence,” “way,” and “virtue” was “eat people,” “eat people,” “eat people.”
                In the final scenes of the book, the community and elder brother confront the madman. As he begins to promise them that they can change—that they don’t need to eat him or anyone else—that there is still hope for them, they call him “crazy” and lock him in his room. In the closing passages, written in the confinement of his room, the mandman realizes that it’s too late to save any of them. But the children—they haven’t been corrupted yet. And so his diary ends with a simple plea. “Save the children.”
                The most striking piece of Lu Xun’s short story is what’s left out. While it’s very clear that the community thinks he is mad, there is never any explanation of whether or not he was correct about the people’s cannibalism. This forces the reader to ask a question—the very question that propelled readers of “Diary of a Madman” to rise up against the Confucian culture of the past—was the madman insane because he was imagining the cannibalism? Or was it because he was insane enough to speak against it?
                This question is reminiscent of the works of political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Attending the trial of Nazi war criminal Albert Eichmann, Arendt was struck that he didn’t seem particularly evil. In fact, he was disappointingly normal. He didn’t personally make the abhorrent decisions—he only carried out orders given to him from above. And yet, his work was responsible for the death of millions of Jews. Reflecting on the trial, Arendt wrote a piece for the New Yorker in which she argued that Eichmann’s evil was not spectacular in its villainy, but in its banality. In the German philosophical tradition, banality represented simple thoughtlessness; a refusal to engage in the critical thinking necessary for true selfhood and true moral living. Eichmann simply carried out the orders someone gave to him, refusing to consider his individual actions as carrying moral weight.
                Likewise, Lu Xun’s madman notes that no one particular person was to blame for the cannibalism that threatened his life. Rather, it was the system of customs and traditions that shaped them. Lu Xun’s critique was that the Confucian moral system turned people against each other, causing the rich to metaphorically consume the poor, and even families to turn against one another. But because they held Confucianism as sacred, they were trapped up in the banality of evil. Eichmann was not particularly wicked. He could have been anyone’s father or grandfather. He was merely convinced of the sacredness of Nazism. He held his beliefs as sacred. And the result was the ultimate tragedy.
                I hesitate to use the example of Eichmann because the hyperbole of Nazism is not directly applicable to the conversation of LGBT issues and Mormonism. I do not mean to say that any of my further analysis bears any resemblance to that particular brand of pure evil; I bring it up to explain and emphasize the banal characteristic of evil.
Walking away from Arendt’s insight and Lu Xun’s madman, we are forced to ask ourselves a series of questions. Are beliefs sacred? Can what we believe be a source of harm to other people? Are values we hold up, like “charity,” “obedience,” and “traditional family,” really just masks for “eat people,” “eat people,” “eat people”? I argue that these questions are essential for anyone who takes morality seriously. And I argue that your beliefs are not sacred. And neither are mine.

                I’ve got to qualify this. Belief is a complex process driven by sacred personal experiences, family connections, and deep historical relationships. I don’t mean to say that personal experiences with the divine are not sacred. I don’t mean to say that family relationships are not sacred. What I mean to say is that your conclusions in regards to what they mean are not sacred.
               
                We encounter a problem when people begin to lead conclusion-driven lives. When people treat their beliefs as sacred, they act as if the conversation is closed. Their beliefs enter a realm beyond questioning and beyond criticism. The answer has been reached. The solutions are at hand. This is how the Confucians in “Diary of a Madman” approached life. This is how Albert Eichmann approached things. And this is how so many on both sides of LGBT issues in Mormonism approach things. And I include myself in this criticism.
                But obviously I do have an agenda with this post. I’d love to say that we just need to listen to each other and everything would be fine. And I do think that we should listen to each other more. But equally important in that process is speaking up. And this is what I have to say about the church’s love for LGBT members:
                Behind the sincere (and I do think they’re sincere) expressions of love lies a dire, albeit banal phenomenon. The problem is not one of intention—it is systemic. As a system of belief, Mormonism simply precludes eternal LGBT identities. This leaves LGBT Mormons floundering for a place. And it results in real harms—youth homelessness, depression, anxiety, and suicide.
                And so I say that Mormonism eats LGBT people.
                Let me repeat myself: Mormonism eats LGBT people.
             And so, Samantha Shelley, when you tell me the church and Jesus love LGBT people, what so many of us hear is not "come, let us love you," but "come, let us feast on you." 
And this is a banal phenomenon. It is not purposeful. It happens because people hold their beliefs to be more important than the sanctity of life. It is a tragedy. And tragically those who realize it are often labeled insane. Doubters and LGBT people alike can easily identify with Lu Xun’s madman when, in regards to the eyes that peer at him and the whispers he hears around him, he says “it’s as if they’re afraid of me…but also as if they want to hurt me.”
I end now with the same wish I wrote at the end of my censored comment.
May we all, myself included, have the bravery to question everything we believe. Because your beliefs are not sacred. And neither are mine.
In fact, they may just be eating people.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Exploring the LGBTQ Experience and Faith through Art

My own ongoing journey of reconciling faith with a minority sexual orientation has been the defining struggle of my life. It's been deeply rewarding and transformative. Many times throughout the process, the only medium I've found adequate enough to express the complexity, nuance, and contradiction of it all has been poetry. When the thoughts and feelings became too much, they spilled out of my pen in an attempt to understand myself and my own experience.

The more I've come to know other LGBTQ/SSA Mormons, the more I've found many who have similarly turned to art to express their own experiences. Late last year, I had the idea of starting a community for people to share and explore the intersection of sexuality and faith through art. So many of the poems, songs, and stories shared in that group have touched me and resonated deeply with my own experience, and I think they deserve to be heard.

So in the upcoming weeks, I'd like to start a new blog dedicated to sharing the diverse artistic expressions of LGBTQ/SSA Mormons as they creatively explore their own experiences. In my experience, art has a unique capacity to express emotion and circumstance without judgement and inspire empathy and compassion in those who are exposed to it. My hope is that as we can build a community of empathy and creativity and find resonance and identification in the artistic work of fellow LGBTQ Mormons.

Anyone interested in sharing their poetry, stories, songs, or any other artwork that deals with themes of Mormonism, faith, and the LGBTQ/SSA experience, please contact me and join our Facebook community. I look forward to working together to release the artistic and creative potential of the LGBTQ/SSA Mormon community. I hope that this can be a place where everyone, no matter their perspective, current position with the church, or choices in regards to how to handle the LGBT experience in the Mormon context can feel safe to share their most intimate and creative expressions.

While the intersection of minority sexual orientation/gender expression and Mormonism is the main object of the community, everyone is invited to join the Facebook group, no matter how they identify in terms of sexual orientation, gender, or religion.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Short Story Narrated by God


Last night I was thinking of what I think of God...and so, in utter blasphemy, I attempted to write a short story from the perspective of the Almighty.

I'm not pretending to know what God actually is or means--this is just the best expression I could come up with of what I currently think of God.


Words and Wordlessness

There will come a point in time, if you have not reached it already, when the words you’ve put together to contain your life will burst from internal pressure. It was just such a moment, now, for Thomas. His arms curled around his knees; he sobbed. He’d thought of calling someone—maybe his sister, or one of his close friends. But he didn’t know what he’d even say.
                It was all too big, he realized. No amount of explanation would bring anyone close to understanding the immensity of it all. Nothing would fully explain the origin of the tears lightly licking his cheeks or the tremors of hyperventilation shaking through him. He’d had moments like this before. But there was something different about this one. It was the first time he couldn’t put together a complete explanation that was free of contradiction. There was no neat story-line that had brought him here. It was just too much.
                And so he sat there on the floor, curled up in the space between his dresser and the door to his bedroom, releasing the wordless immensity in wordless, inward cries.

                Allow me to introduce myself. I’m sure you’ve heard much about me—I don’t mean to be presumptuous, it simply happens that along with the title of “Divine Omnipotence,” most people think they know a thing or two about you. People have been labeling me for countless centuries—God, Yahweh, Shang Di, the Tao, Shiva, Kali, Krishna, Osiris, Zeus…the list goes on and on. I get quite bored of all the names, to be honest.
                In fact, it might surprise you to find out that the Word Made Flesh is not much of a fan of words at all. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of when I appeared to Moses at the burning bush. He asked me what I was called, and I had no idea what he even meant. Called? In many human languages to introduce their name, people say “I call myself…” But what do you say when you’ve never called yourself anything before? It caught me off guard. Most people had simply made up names for me—but Moses actually had the decency to ask what I thought of myself.
                And so I told him—No name. I simply am. Funny thing is—it just became another name. The Great I AM. Another thing to call me. Frankly, his people missed the point completely— I really wish they wouldn’t have called me anything at all.

                And here, now, Thomas finally understands a small piece of what I’m talking about. How did he get here? Why was he crying on the floor? Well the simple answer was that Alecia walked out on him. Yes, Alecia, the girl with the hair like a sunset and eyes as fierce as the sky on a bright summer’s day. Alecia, the girl whose voice was like the light breeze whistling through the trees. Alecia, the messiah of Thomas’ loneliness. She left him.
                But his tears were much more complicated than that. He wasn’t just crying for Alecia—he was also crying for his friend Anthony, who would perhaps never leave the hospital. And for his incurable loneliness. And for the time when he was six and hid in the bushes because he didn’t want his cousin to call him more names. And for the rejection letter he'd received from Ohio State University. And he was crying for his pathetic excuse of a job. No, it wasn’t just Alecia. It was the everything of which she was only a part.
                And to be quite honest, I think she was in the right. Really—despite all those beautiful words Thomas used to describe her (the above were his, not mine—like I said, I rarely work in words), he never quite understood her. Their relationship was like that of painter and his subject, always trying to force her to be still—not out of maliciousness, but because he saw some deep beauty in her that he wanted to capture on canvas. And Alecia, dear, wild Alecia, could not be kept still.
                Sure it seemed noble—he saw her beauty. He wanted to capture it—to preserve it—to keep it there for all to see. But in the end, he stifled her. And so she left. Earlier this very afternoon, she told Thomas she was leaving and not coming back. She had packed all of her important belongings into two, black suitcases, and took a taxi to the airport. She was returning to her childhood home, some small town in Oregon whose name Thomas could never quite remember. And a few hours later, his heart had finally processed what his eyes had seen and ears had heard, and his body could no longer contain the torrent of anguish it had been keeping inside for so, so long. The reservoir of pain finally outgrew the dam he’d built to keep it in. Rushing down, it became a flood of destruction.

                This will be a very short story. You’ll notice that it begins at the climax, with our hero
overcome. I’ll warn you that he stays there for its duration.
                I’m not the one to come to if you’re looking for solutions or prescriptions. I don’t solve things. Solving is something that ought to be partitioned to the realm of eighth grade algebra classes, and stay there. Solutions occur only in the world of the fixed and the finite, where just enough manipulations can create the desired outcome. No, I don’t deal in solutions. If I had to choose a name, it would, perhaps, be Infinity.
                But this is precisely why I don’t like names. I’m sure you’re familiar with the work of the artist Rene Margritte? My favorite is the large image of a pipe against a solid background, with the appellation, “this is not a pipe.” I wish that every name I was called, including “Infinity,” and every description of me, and every painting and image made of me, could be accompanied by the appellation, “this is not a God.”
                Words—it always comes back to words. They were your invention, you know. The sensory world was just too much for the human mind to handle. Oh yes, you humans like to think you’re somehow special—like your ability to manipulate symbols somehow makes you better than other creatures. But I’ll tell you just what words do. They steal you away and hole you up into fantasies of your own creation, fooling you all the while into thinking that the never-never land of your descriptions are an accurate map of reality. The words you use hardly describe things—they call forth simplifications, that’s all. Just simplifications. And I’ll tell you why, try as you might, you’ve never been able to find me completely—because I am a thing that cannot be simplified. Irreducible. Absolute, even. Which is why even my current attempt to describe myself will, ultimately, fail completely.

                And to be honest, that is not my intent. I hope to do no more in this short sharing than to show to you the tears of Thomas as he sat there in the corner between his dresser and his bedroom door, with his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth, and to tell you that you, like him, will reach the point where what you are is too big for the stories you tell about yourself.
                Thomas was too much now. He and Alecia were a contradiction—yes, you heard me say that he stifled her. But I could give you another picture to show that it wasn’t just a one-sided stifling. Imagine the oft-repeated image of the donkey whose master is leading it on by a carrot on a string. The donkey lurches forward, always trying to catch the carrot. Alecia often knew what she was doing, and did it anyway. And Thomas saw the maliciousness, but wanted the carrot too badly to care.
                Are you starting to see? I understand why Alecia left, and I don’t blame her—no one wants to be the subject of a portrait for that many years. But I can also see how pitiful it is that Thomas, after following the carrot for so long, had even its mirage stolen from him by her sudden withdrawal. And now, with no one to lead him forward, he sat bathing in the waters of his own tears.

                Living waters. That’s one description of me that is apt, indeed. And think of all the things that living waters do—they pour from the sky, bringing life-granting moisture. They escape from your eyes when the pain is too much. They surge with the destructive force of tsunamis, mercilessly ripping to pieces the homes of the innocent. Living waters can do much more than quench your thirst—you can also drown.
                And so I am life, love, joy, and creation, but also death, anger, vengeance, and destruction. No one name or description even comes close.

                Do you see now? I’m too much for words. Once you use them, you lose me. Now, sobbing and in the depths of misery, Thomas is closer to me than he’s ever been—and I don’t say that to try to give you some false sense of comfort and joy that I’m with you always. I say that because it is the literal reality of the matter. Thomas’s stories have broken down. He’s seen the contradiction of his life. Words have become smaller than him. Words can no longer contain his reservoir, and so it spills over, entering the wider, wordless world.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Thoughts on Salvation

I just ran across this poem/prose thing I wrote about salvation sometime last year. Thought I'd share it.

I often find myself pausing to ponder exactly from what it is that we want so badly to be saved.  The concept of salvation permeates our thoughts and theology to such a deep degree that it shapes our views and shifts our focus. An emphasis on salvation lends itself so naturally to the condemnation of sin. How often do we glory in salvation only at the cost of living a life of stress at our mistakes? And especially potent is salvation's potential in contrast to the destitute drone of our sometimes hellish reality.

Scripture teaches that man has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Religious rhetoric attempts to reveal the immediacy of our own imperfection. A theology manufactured to save so often succeeds only in condemnation--if not outwardly, then at least inwardly as the self resolutely rejects its every flaw. Psychology confirms that people have a proclivity to focus on negatives. In the mind's eye, a negative vastly outweighs a positive. And so while salvation promises the potential of a perennial positive,  it delivers the more psychologically potent damage of emphasis on the events from which we're taught we need to be saved.

And so the question coming to me over and over is this: if I was never told to want to be saved from sin, then would I feel so far removed from salvation? Is the need for salvation only truly found in the creation of the concept? Perhaps if I approached life more organically, not as if it were a test imposed by deity, but instead the grand evolving of a species that creates and extracts meaning from the paradoxical complexities of a reality beyond our comprehension, perhaps then peace would be more present and the ever burning need to correct the constant inconsistencies of the phenomenon of "self" would gently fade away. Is sin the problem? Or is it the concept of a salvation that keeps me bound in chains by promising to set me free?



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

To be Free from Suffering

A comment on my last post made me realize I need to clarify something.

How can I accept the world exactly as it is, and yet desire that people be free from suffering? Isn't this an incredible contradiction?

It isn't, for two reasons: this sort of acceptance comes from a place of nondual thinking, and so to accept the world is to accept my desires, as well. Second, to be free from suffering does not necessarily mean that the suffering ends.

The path of accepting the world precisely the way it is begins with a deep inquiry into our own nature and the processes of our conception and cognition. The more deeply I understand the nature of reality, the more willing I will be to accept it. And this inquiry into nature's essence has, for me, yielded the conclusion of the nondual nature of the world.

What do I mean by this? Much of our philosophy and perspectives on life are based on the idea that we are something separate from life itself. There is this self, and there is everything that happens to it--two separate things. There is mankind, and then there is nature--two separate things. There is self, and there is God--two very separate things. Watch yourself, though. Watch your thoughts and your motivations and ask this one crucial question: where do they come from? Where is their origin?

This is the incredible thing about studying history. When you study a time period deeply and then read the writings of people who lived and thought in that time, you see their thoughts and feelings in context--almost everything they write can be viewed as the product of historical forces. Likewise, my every thought, and many of my fears and pains, are the product of historical and social forces. My hunger, thirst, and fatigue are the product of the laws of nature. So what exactly am I?

Nothing separate from the whole. I am the intersection of many different things, but I am not separated from the world or from life itself. And so, to accept the world is to accept my own desires and thoughts about the world--but to accept them for what they are, which is not any product of my own uniqueness, but rather the culmination of the intersection of historical and social forces that I represent.

And this is why acceptance is never quietism. I believe that the world is perfect just as it is, including my desire to change it. I do not want people to be hungry, and so I accept the world of hunger and my own desire to change that world. These are not two separate phenomena. They are one.

Second, to be free from suffering does not mean that pain ceases. Freedom from suffering comes when we stop identifying in suffering. When we recognize ourselves for what we truly are--which I believe is loving awareness--we find an incredible capacity to greet our own suffering with love. Instead of identifying in the pain, we can identify in the awareness that is aware of the pain (and the awareness of the pain is not in pain--it is simply aware of it. Awareness of depression is not depressed. Awareness of anxiety is not anxious.)

As we cease identifying in our suffering, something changes about its nature. We stop desiring for it to leave. We find an incredibly deep acceptance. Ironically, it is this very acceptance that changes things. It is this very acceptance that makes us, like Hafiz, "always kind and full of wonder." This is the step between desiring change and becoming change.

Suffering can be a beautiful and wonderful thing, because it is a call to awaken to our own nature.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Morality of Acceptance

Trev left an important comment on my blog post yesterday: he said that to argue that "virtue is constructed of vice" is a "huge jump." And I agree with him. I think I need to clarify a bit what I mean here, and I've realized that the words I've been using to express this idea have been inadequate. So I'm going to clarify what I mean and delineate what I call "the morality of acceptance."

I think that "vice," specifically is the wrong word. It's not big enough. Vice is generally interpreted as a specific bad habit that leads to more suffering, and thus ought to be overcome. What I mean is that everything we view as negative literally constructs everything we view as positive. And also, everything we view as positive constructs what we view as negative.

This first began to occur to me when I read "The Great Divergence" by Kenneth Pomeranz. The book explores the question of why industrialization was sparked in Europe and not in Asia; China and India were both significantly more economically advanced than Europe prior to the nineteenth century. One of the important reasons Pomeranz discusses is slavery. Slavery enabled economic growth in such a way that encouraged industrialization (I'm not going to get into his argument as to why; you can see the book for more details.)

This was really profound to me. I thought about my entire life, which has been extremely comfortable in terms of material well-being. And I suddenly realized that none of that material ease or comfort would be possible if slavery hadn't have existed. Now this doesn't make me grateful for slavery, but it made me realize something profound--when you step out of the judging mind and look at life for what it is, you realize that every benefit comes associated with costs. And likewise, every cost brings along certain benefits.

I believe that the same principle can be applied to individual people. Every particle of suffering I've ever experienced has worked to make me more compassionate. My own inability to overcome my vice has constructed within me the virtue of empathy. My understanding of myself as essentially limited has led me to judge others much less. What I view to be my own greatest virtues have been constructed of what I know to be my greatest vices.

And so I advocate for a morality of acceptance. A morality of prescriptive injunctions, "I should...I ought...I have to...", seems to me to generate more suffering than not. On the other hand, mindful acceptance generates important changes. When we step out of the judging mind and stop thinking in terms of good and bad, we see things more clearly--we see that what bothers us most about other people is also what enables their good qualities. We see that what we hate most deeply in ourselves is what enables our best qualities.

From what I've been able to observe, this seeing changes things. Because as you accept life exactly for what it is and rejoice in it as it is, you develop equanimity. You react to all things the same. You're less bothered, less filled with hate, and more likely to be compassionate. Instead of wishing for people to be righteous, you just hope that they'll be free from suffering. Instead of getting down on yourself, you treat yourself with compassion.

And this is a great irony. Because as you begin to appreciate vice, it begins to dissipate. This is because you no longer judge it. Instead of talking and thinking about change, you become the change.

And this is the base of the morality of acceptance. instead of judging life, you accept it. This acceptance works within you the change you never could have done with judgment or prescription. To me religion is deeply symbolic of this reality. God is the great "I AM." He is the personification of existence itself. Scripture observes that as we accept God, he begins to change us through his grace. I believe that as we accept reality just as it is, we experience this phenomenon of grace. Life works inside of us to change our very nature. It changes us from beings of judgment and prescription to beings of acceptance and love.

And love itself is to accept. It is to embrace people just as they are and only have the best of wishes for them. There is no judgment or condemnation in love.

For anyone who desires to be more loving, I would ask this: how do you expect to cultivate love by the means of rejecting the reality that meets you? Acceptance is cultivated by accepting. It's counter-intuitive because there are many things we feel we should not accept. But practicing acceptance on the most difficult of issues (such as our own vice) builds the quality of acceptance, of love, within us and fundamentally changes the way we approach living.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thoughts on Gay Parenting



So I have a question.

If you find yourself opposed to gay parenting, would you be willing to look the children in the above video in the eye and say to them, "your life experience is fundamentally flawed and should never have happened. The person you are and who you will become is a problem that needs fixing through social policy. The family you love is something wrong with the world and ought not to exist."

For some reason, I don't think so. It just feels intuitively wrong. And yet, whenever people argue that gay people shouldn't be allowed to have children, that is exactly what they are saying. They are saying that children raised by gay people deserve something more than the family they have and argue that children raised by gay people will have a disadvantage in life. In essence, they are saying that these children will have a life flawed so deeply that it would be better for social policy to prevent their existence.

One of the biggest problems in the way we approach people, I think, is the assumption that there is something wrong with them that needs to be changed. And it's not just with gay people and their families. I think the application of this attitude to gay people comes from a deeper problem with the way we approach life. We look at life and people as if it's filled with problems that need preventing and stress ourselves trying to gain control over life and people. Most often, I think, this is because it's the way we treat ourselves. Too many people believe there is something fundamentally wrong with themselves that needs changing and perfecting.

I've never met anyone whose ever been able to rid themselves of what they think is wrong inside of them. And the most miserable people I've encountered have been those most obsessed with changing who they are. The path to progression, it seems to me, is counter-intuitive. It comes not by rejecting our flaws, but by embracing them and seeing them for what they are: the very building blocks of our virtues.

Virtue is constructed of vice. Our weaknesses enable our strengths. A deficit in one area transforms itself into a surplus in another. In trying to rid ourselves of all vice, we also rid ourselves of our greatest virtues. The maximization of virtue happens when we see our weaknesses for what they are and embrace them with love. Compassion for self and others arises from imperfection, and it is generally compassion and love that we most admire in people.

As we truly accept ourselves, we begin to see others more clearly as well. We see that their flaws enable their best qualities. We begin to fall in love with their fears and insecurities and see beauty in them exactly as they are. To me, this is the deepest form of love: one that does not require any change at all, but embraces everyone equally precisely because of their faults and imperfections.

Could it be that the way we approach social problems like gay marriage and the families of gay people originates in how we treat ourselves?

If we see ourselves as possessing fundamental flaws that need to be eliminated, and we believe that there is something sub-optimal about gay parenting, we'll apply the same outlook. Eliminate it. If, however, we stand back and see our true nature--that nothing good about us could exist without the parts we think are bad, we'll begin to see things more clearly. We'll begin to understand that the optimal is impossible in all cases, and that what we call sub-optimal comes along with unique benefits.

Humanity's greatest strength is its diversity. We need our transgender people. We need our straight people. We need our asexual people. We need our single people just as much as our married people. We need our atheists just as much as we need our theists. We need our blind, deaf, and physcially impaired people as much as anyone else.

We need the children who were raised in homes with same-sex parents because they have a unique perspective to offer us.

My deepest hope is that we can all accept ourselves just where we're at. I hope that we can all become well practiced in self-compassion, and then apply this outward. Instead of engineering the perfect society by eliminating sub-optimal family combinations, we should embrace every family as they are. Instead of asking the question, "how can I make myself and others perfect," perhaps we could ask, "what can I learn from my own flaws and the flaws of others?"

Does every child really deserve two opposite sex parents? What children really deserve is our affirmation. They deserve to know that they are okay, loved, and welcomed in society whether they were raised by a single mother, single father, two men, two women, a grandparent, or in an orphanage. Every child deserves to feel like they and their family belong.

Feeling far from Love

"Friend, do not despair if you are now feeling far from love. You are only seeking a reflection of your own heart. Love is burning even more brightly now, even if it feels like pain and longing.

If it is warmth you seek, if it is closeness you long for, begin by feeling the warmth of your own broken heart, reconnecting there at the very source of disconnection, finding presence in your own presence. Your loved one is near, for you are near.

Know that your life cannot go wrong. Even if you find yourself in ruins now, understand that even the ruined place contains seeds of grace and the fragrance of renewal. You cannot go back, life only marches on. Dignify its ever-onward movement. The power of suns is always with you.

Know that a new life can only grow from the ground upon which you stand. A new painting must begin with a canvas. Use the canvas that is given. Even old canvases can hold fresh paint.

If you dream of a new tomorrow, your dream appears now, held in your presence. Keep sight of the goal, yes! - but never lose connection with the ground, this moment, the place from which goals are seen or not seen, held or released.

Being present is never in conflict with holding a vision of a more expansive future in your heart, for the holding can only happen in Presence. The present holds the future.

And then, out of the ashes of ground zero, that dark place associated only with death and destruction, a new kind of life may suddenly appear possible, and, with love and trust, begin to manifest.

Never give up on life, for it never gives up on you, even when you give up. And know that your heart is near, broken yet radiant."


"If our love is dependent on looks, when our looks fade, our love fades. If our love relies on feelings, when feelings weaken or suddenly change, our love is threatened. If our love is attached to stories and memories, when history cannot be remembered, our love is forgotten. If love clings to form, then when form dissolves, as it must, love dies too. 

Is there a love that is not dependent on form or feeling, looks or stories? Is there a love without conditions, and without end? Is there a love untouched by disease and death and the passing of things? Is there a love that is so close, so intimate, even the word 'love' is too much?

We do not seek love, find love, borrow love or steal love; we do not buy love or sell love; we do not even become love. Love is what we are, the awesome power of universes, holding planets in their orbits and dripping morning dew from the grass in the first light. Without love, without the profound interconnection of things emblazoned on our hearts, without that deep knowing that we are inseparable from all we see, all the riches of the world fall into nothingness.

Love is all."


--Jeff Foster

Friday, January 24, 2014

What I Know to be True

Truth...knowledge....these are such common words in Mormonism.

So many people talk about what they "know to be true."

How often do we really deeply pause to reflect not on the knowledge we have, but rather on the process of knowing. How is it that a thing can be known?

What are the most basic things that I know? Well, I know that I am Josh DeFriez.

But wait, what even is the concept of "Josh DeFriez"? And what is the "I" to which I am assigning this identity? Is it the thoughts in the head of the body typing these words? Are these thoughts called "Josh DeFriez"? Or is it the body itself? Is it the feelings in the body? Or is it a combination of all of them? If it's a combination of all of them, then how do I go about setting the parameter for the combination that creates this mysterious person? My thoughts and feelings are deeply based in historical and social patterns. They most often did not originate inside this head. Then are those forces and patterns also a part of what it is to be "Josh DeFriez"?

But I feel that I have an intuitive understanding of what it is to be "Josh DeFriez." Maybe this mind isn't capable of defining the thing, but it most definitely exists. Kind of like when the sun is just barely going down, and stars start appearing in the sky. If I look directly at them, they disappear. I can only see them from the corner of my eye.

And this is odd. Something appears to be there from the corner of my eye, but not to be there upon closer inspection.

Isn't the self kind of like that? If I'm not thinking about it, I feel intuitively that I am a self. And yet, when I examine the thing, I find that I can't know for certain exactly what it means to be a self.

And the more deeply I examine the processes by which I think and function, the less certain I am about certainty. I don't really know how any of it works. I don't know exactly how thought is formed, or how food is processed into energy, or why I feel the way I do about certain things.

I am a mystery to myself.

Now back to knowledge. If I have any knowledge at all, then it must be stored in the vessel of this thing I call my "self." But if I cannot even know with certainty what sort of a thing this "self" is, then how can I ever know for certain the veracity of its beliefs or what it thinks it knows?

I can't, really.

And yet, I tell myself I know things. And telling myself these things create patterns of action. And these patterns of action can often lead to suffering.

And this is the way I see it when LGBT people continue to live in suffering because they "know the church and its teachings are true." While we are not capable of ultimate knowledge, we are capable of setting parameters within our own minds. These parameters can hurt us.

But within a narrative that tells you abandoning the narrative will lead you to the greatest suffering imaginable, it is difficult to ask deep, important questions. And this is the central problem of narratives based on the assumption of certainty. The nature of reality is uncertain. Maybe this is why the certainty of testimony more often leads to pain than joy--because it's not in line with the nature of life.

To me, religion is less about what I know to be true, and more about the conglomeration of mysteries that enfold my life. What do I know to be true? I don't know even know what truth is, ultimately, let alone how I would know it if I knew what it was. Of course I have general predispositions and methods of judgment, but even my most certain means of judging the nature of reality must be approached with a degree of apprehension.

And the more I acknowledge the unknowability of things and the incredible mystery that surrounds even the smallest action I take, the more deeply connected I feel with life. The more I embrace mystery, the more I feel peace.

Mystery fills me with awe. And, as Rumi says, "awe is the salve that will heal our eyes."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tripping Over Joy

I've started a new blog just to share poetry called "Tripping over Joy." The title comes from one of my favorite poems by Hafiz. For any interested people the URL is trippingoverjoys.blogspot.com

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Love Poem to Everyone

This is a love poem I wrote to everyone. Including you.


Dearest,

You are no simple thing.
You are a message so precious
That the Beloved
Built the Universe as a bottle
To carry you to my eyes.
He shaped stars and formed galaxies
To contain you 
While you deliver that 
Truth that is your own Being!

Cease from fear and worry--

Embark on an inward-facing journey
And be God's divine message
To the world.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Today

Today

I
Do not
Want to step so quickly
Over a beautiful line on God's palm
As I move through the earth's
Marketplace
Today.

I do not want to touch any object in this world
Without my eyes testifying to the truth
That everything is 
My Beloved.

Something has happened
To my understanding of existence
That now makes my heart always full of wonder
And kindness.

I do not
Want to step so quickly
Over this sacred place on God's body
That is right beneath your
Own foot

As I
Dance with
Precious life
Today.

--Hafiz--



May each of you dance with precious life today!
May each of you be safe and protected from inner and outer harm.
May each of you be happy and find joy in the present moment exactly as it is.
May each of you be well.
May each of you be peaceful and at ease with life.

May each of you be friendly to yourselves today!