We Don’t Need Another Martyr

This summer has been crazy, and it has left me with so many thoughts swirling through my mind. There are so many of them that I honestly don’t know where to begin. As I have been pondering what to say to begin this blog post, one common question has come to mind: “when did we become such an angry nation?”

As this summer brought more freedoms to more people, I also noticed the increase in popularity of what I will call Angry Christian Bloggers. From political wanna-bes like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin to talk show hosts Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh down to Matt Walsh and Joshua Feuerstein, I have seen an explosion of anger across social media sites. It frightens me that the angriest people claim to be Christians.

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Instead of explaining in my own words, I am going to go to the scriptures to support my argument that American Christianity is heading down a dangerous path. After all, the scriptures explain things more clearly and plainly than I ever could.

15. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” – Matthew 7: 15-20.

I see many follow these bloggers and personalities in a cult-like manner. They, to me, have become the false prophets of which we have been warned about since the time of Jesus Christ. Now, I am not saying that any one of the people I mentioned above actually claim to be prophets, but all use their Christian beliefs as a means to build up a following in social media outlets. Unfortunately, their message seems to be one of fear, anger and hate, and it scares me how many followers they have.

22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23. Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5: 22-26.

If the Spirit speaks to use through all of the peaceful means listed in the scripture from Galatians, what does it mean when these Christian bloggers cause their faithful followers to be fearful and angry? I don’t think that’s Christ’s way.

Not a Hero Nor a Martyr

Now, to the Kim Davis controversy. I think Stephen King stated it best when he tweeted “Kim Davis has gotten exactly what she wanted: martyrdom.

Some believe that the only way you can be a true Christian is if you are persecuted for standing up for your faith, so they find twisted ways to become martyrs in their own minds. Too often this perceived persecution comes to people who treat others in ways contrary to Christ’s teachings. These people aren’t really martyrs; they are simply sowing what they reap.

Let’s make Tuesday a Day of Love

Mike Huckabee and Joshua Feuerstein are gathering the angry mobs to protest Kim Davis’s consequences for refusing to abide by a court order. They are using angry rhetoric and scaring good people into believing that their religious freedoms are being eroded.

I propose we create a counter movement and designate the same day as a Day of Love. Choose a happy color to wear: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo or violet. Share messages of love on your Facebook, Twitter and other social media feeds that day. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or do something to lift others less privileged than yourself. Let’s show the world who really has the spirit of love within their souls.

I’m Not a Service Project

You invited me
To sit with you on Sunday.
That’s nice.
But why would I want to sit
In a place where most don’t even care if I am there?
Neighbors fill the pews on Sunday
To learn about love and kindness
And then leave the building
Only to ignore me throughout the week
They avert their eyes when I wave during my morning jog
Or look straight ahead as they pass in their cars.

I’m the stranger in a familiar land
The prodigal who has yet to return
A gentile raised as a saint
Shunned for my selfish sins.

It’s hard living on a street where nobody knows your name
They only know me as the gay guy.

I will sit with you
If only I could be fully included.

But I would rather have my neighbors smile when I say hello
Thank me when I shovel snow from their sidewalks
Inquire about my life
And sit with me in the shade of my front porch.

I will sit with you when it isn’t written on your agenda
Part of a special event
Or an assignment from your priesthood leader;
I would rather be loved
Than be your service project.

Chapter 12 – Come, All Ye Sons of God

And when your grief is o’er and ended your affliction,
Your spirits then will soar to await the Resurrection;
And then his presence you’ll enjoy,
In heav’nly bliss your time employ,
A thousand years in Zion to praise the Lamb.
“Come, All Ye Sons of God”, verse 4, LDS Hymns, lyrics by Thomas Davenport

 

Church is meant to be a sanctuary. It should be a consecrated place where we all feel safe from the troubles of the world. Latter-day Saints also expected to look out and protect one another from the pain and abuses inflicted by others. Unfortunately, my family’s place of worship was a place where my peers had another opportunity to cause extra stress in my life.

 

When an LDS boy turns 12, he leaves childhood behind and begins transitioning into manhood. The most important step the young men take is to accept the responsibility and authority of the Aaronic Priesthood and being ordained a Deacon. The boys are assigned a Quorum with an adult leader, but they are also guided by a presidency of four peers around their own age.

 

In January 1981, it was my turn to leave Primary and become  a Deacon in the Mormon church. My hope was that I could once again find safety among other boys who were doing their best to follow God’s commandments. The first cold Sunday morning I arrived at the church building with my father, I was dropped off at the building’s kitchen that also served as our classroom and met the other boys who made up the quorum.

 

There were fourteen of us leaning back in metal folding chairs around the perimeter of the kitchen. Kurt Monson, who was two grades ahead of me in school, started out the meeting by making a few announcements about Wednesday’s Boy Scout service project and who was going to pass the sacrament later in the day. He recognized me as the newest member of the quorum, welcomed me to the ranks, and then invited me to say the opening prayer.

 

After the prayer, the bishop of our congregation entered the room, and he took over the rest of the meeting.

 

“Good morning, brethren,” Bishop Calder said. “As many of you know, Brother Monson has served diligently as our Deacon’s Quorum president for a little over a year now. We are so grateful for his faithful service, but it is time for us to make some changes as he advances to the office of Teacher today.”

 

The boys in our room started looking around to see if any expressions would give away who would take  over as our new leader. Bishop Calder named the other boys who served with Kurt in the presidency and released them from their callings. We all raised our hands offering our approval of their service and waited for the announcement of their replacements.

 

“One of the joys of being a bishop is the opportunity to interview young men when it is time to extend a calling,” Bishop Calder said as he cleared a crack in his voice. “It is so rewarding to hear of your love of the gospel and witnessing your willingness to serve one another. The young man the Lord has called to serve are your new president exemplifies the best in all of us, and he also happens to be the newest member of our quorum–“

 

All eyes turned on me, and I was just as surprised as everyone else by the announcement. I thought the bishop was supposed to interview me first. I  was not ready to lead this group of boys. The bishop noticed the reactions in the room and laughed.

 

“Excuse me,” he said and cleared his throat again. “I guess I should say one of the newest members of the quorum. It’s proposed that we call Brother Nickolas Shepherd as president…”

 

I forget what was said after that. All that mattered was that Nick Shepard, my tormentor, was now responsible for my well being in church. Surely this was a cruel joke. God one not call someone who was so mean to be his servant. I looked around as the other boys raised their hands in approval of the callings. I wondering what would happen if I objected, but I raised my hand with the others and accepted Nick as my new leader.

 

The bishop then called on all of the boys who were released to speak, followed by our new leaders. Each boy said similar things–that it’s a joy to serve one another. Nick was the last one to speak, and he did seem a little bit humbled by his new calling.

 

“I will do my best in this calling,” he said looking around the room. His eyes stopped on me, and he swallowed hard. “I am also happy to see Colin join us in the quorum. This is going to be fun.”

The adult bully

Iworkplace-bullying-autism don’t know what has changed recently, but I have had another uncomfortable incident this past week. Another adult confronted me in a hostile manner, but this time I know it was because of my sexual orientation.

I was waiting outside a county rec center after swimming with my local team. A man approached me and asked where the nearest bar was. I told him the closest ones I knew of were downtown–approximately 20 blocks away. He then asked how to get there, and I suggested he take a bus. He left.

His demeanor was a little bit strange, but I felt safe because there was a large crowd finishing a company dinner in a park pavilion near the pool. The sun was setting, and people were busy cleaning and packing their picnic supplies and families into their cars. The man wouldn’t try anything stupid with so many people around.

Soon other friends were gathering in the parking lot. We talked about meeting somewhere for dinner and decided to go to a new restaurant just down the street. The picnic crowd was gone, and just a few swimmers from my team remained. I was talking with a friend, Mike, and we were planning to walk to the restaurant when the intoxicated man approached us again.

“Is this the library?” he asked.

“No, it’s a pool,” Mike answered.

The man started walking to the building’s front doors, which were now locked. I thought he must be looking for a public restroom.

“The building’s locked,” I told him, and I pointed east past the building. “The closest library is that way.”

“I don’t want the library.”

“What are you looking for?” Mike asked.

“Is this where the fags meet?” he then asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The fags. Is this where the fags meet?”

“Why?” Mike asked. “Do you want to meet some fags.”

I laughed, but tried not to let the drunk man see it.

The man was looking in the rec center’s front door, and he then turned and started walking towards us. I experienced a brief flashback to my mid-August altercation; this couldn’t be happening again.

“Let’s get in my car,” Mike whispered. “We can drive to the restaurant.”

“I don’t want to meet fags,” the man yelled. “You guys disgust me.”

Thankfully, my friend’s car was close, and we avoided any more problems. We didn’t say anything else about the situation on our short ride to the restaurant, and we didn’t tell anyone else about it during dinner.

Now I wonder if we should have done more. Should we have stood up for ourselves, or would we have put ourselves in danger for speaking up? Was it our responsibility to let others know what happened so that they can be more cautious at the pool? I am ashamed I didn’t do anything.

What bothers me the most is that I still haven’t told anyone outside of this blog and the police officers about what happened to me during my Saturday morning jog last month. Mike doesn’t know, and I don’t know if he saw how much this brief incident frightened me; he left the restaurant early, and I remained there as other people finished their meals.

I wound up walking back to the rec center alone. I am not going to lie–I was terrified of running into that man again and getting beaten up in an empty parking lot. My car was one of three when I returned, and it was in a darker section away from the light posts. I made it into my care safely, and my heartbeat decreased as I got onto the freeway to my home. I couldn’t get the thought of what could have happened out of my mind, however.

We read so much in the news now about childhood and teenage bullies, but we don’t do much about the adult bullies in our lives. The problem is that much of what an adult bully does is protected under our constitutional free-speech rights. I believe in protecting those rights, but too often such hateful speech eventually leads to crimes. How can we allow for complete freedom of speech and cut down on hate crimes in our communities? If anyone has the answers, I would like to know.

Chapter 11 – I walk alone

I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. In fact, I knew early on that I would be the type of child that most had to tolerate instead of choosing to include me in their activities. I wasn’t the last one picked for teams, but I was usually near the end of the selections. The way we divided teams during sports activities always caused anxiety; I hated the rejection. By the time sixth grade arrived, however, I had gotten used to the process. I quietly accepted the rejection.

It was also in sixth grade when one of my classmates, Nick, had decided to increase my misery levels during school hours. I didn’t realize it then, but my reactions to his teasing during recess were exactly what he wanted. He knew I hid in the bathroom and cried after our recent recess incident, and he liked it. I was to become the targeted victim in a plan to increase his popularity at school.

It started subtly. Nick made sure I could hear him whispering to other boys in class. Here’s how it usually went:

“Hey, did you know that Colin is gay?” he would say.

“What?”

“Colin, he’s a homosexual.”

“What’s that?”

“It means he likes boys.”

“Huh?”

“He doesn’t like girls; he likes boys!”

“Oh… you mean he’s a faggot?”

At that point there would be some snickering, and then I would get hit by a ball of crumpled paper. Of course, this was all done while Mrs. Frandsen wasn’t watching.

Nick never mentioned my secret—so secret that I still didn’t know it was true—to any of the girls in class. His gossip-mongering, however, lasted an entire week until all 17 boys in my class were informed of my deviant sexual preferences. As far as I knew, none of them bothered to stand up for me, but the worst part was I let it all happen. Some part of my upbringing—I’m not blaming anyone, mind you—something had told me that if I ignored the bullies, it would all stop.

Boy, was I wrong! Finally, the day that Nick had been hoping for arrived. Mrs. Frandsen was called out of the classroom, so we were all there without adult supervision. Nick had just what he wanted—a captive audience of 35 kids and the opportunity to say whatever he wanted. He motioned for his friend Brock to stand at the door and watch for Mrs. Frandsen, walked to the chalkboard, and began pacing the width of the room.

“Attention class, I have a very important matter to discuss with you today,” he said in his best attempt to sound like an adult.

Most of the boys laughed, and so did some of the girls.

“Settle down, kids. This is serious.”

“Sit down, Nick,” Kathy said.

“This concerns you, Kathy, so you better listen carefully.”

“Shut up, and sit down, Nick,” Kathy insisted. She stood up.

“Oh you’d want me to do that because you don’t want everybody to hear what I have to say. We all know you have a big crush on Colin, don’t we?”

Boys and girls laughed and whispered to each other. Kathy looked around for some support, but there wasn’t any. She looked at me with her sad, brown eyes and sunk back into her chair.

“Well,” Nick continued, “there’s a problem with you having a crush on Colin. He’ll never love you back And you know why, don’t you?”

I felt the blood rushing to my face, looked back at Kathy, and watched her sink lower into her seat. Some of the girls were whispering questions, and the boys were laughing.

“You know Colin’s secret, don’t you, Kathy. Well, it’s time everybody knew. You see, class, Colin will never love any girls because he’s a ho-mo-sex-u-al.”

He really let that last word last for an uncomfortably long time. The boys started laughing more, and girls started whispering amongst each other. “Is that true?” “Poor Kathy.” “That’s gross.”

“Let me tell you about homosexuals,” Nick continued. He was getting confident in his public speaking abilities. “Homo means the same, and sexual, well–”

“Cool it, Nick,” Brock said from the classroom door. “Mrs. Frandsen is coming back.”

The two boys returned to their desks and everybody did their best to look like they were busy working on their school work. I could feel people staring at me, and even though they tried hard to stifle them, an occasional boy or girl would let a giggle escape from deep within their gut. I didn’t dare turn and look and see if Kathy was suffering a similar level of discomfort.

Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the day, and they all made sure there was plenty of empty space around me at the lunch table. There’s usually a lot of movement in my class, but the students made sure to go out of their way to avoid my desk. Finally, when 3:15 arrived, all students rushed out the door. I pretended to search for something in my desk while everyone left. Is was easier than seeing their disapproving looks and mean laughter.

Kathy would probably be waiting for me in the hall. I looked at the hook where she usually hung her jacket in the hall, but she wasn’t there. I waited for ten minutes outside the girls’ restroom, but she never came out. For the first time since kindergarten, I walked home alone. I walked alone the rest of the school year.

Share the Spark

sparklersAs the state celebrates its pioneer heritage this month, many of Utah’s citizens are still treated as outsiders in our communities. We can’t help but think of the strong divisions that we have created within the state, and we want to do something to help break down those walls. These divisions—or walls—exist because of religious differences, race, gender and sexual identity, liquor laws, education, and politics. We have allowed these differences divide us for far too long.

On Friday, July 26, we would like to invite anyone who is tired to these cultural conflicts to come together and Share the Spark. Join us somewhere along the Jordan River Parkway at dusk, bring a package of sparklers, and enjoy the summer evening with others in your community who believe everyone should be treated with dignity.

This is a simple idea that a few of us hope will spread throughout the community. Share the Spark isn’t organized by any official group—just a few friends who are conducting an experiment in tolerance. There won’t be any speeches or political demonstrations. We hope to see you there.

**please be respectful of Utah fire codes and keep all sparklers on the paved trails. We want to Share the Spark, but we don’t want to start any dangerous fires.

All-American Boy

All-American Boy

I came across this video on Facebook today, and I was very impressed.  I am not sure people fully understand the loneliness and rejection that gay men and women fear when we come to terms with our sexuality. This portrays those emotions beautifully.

 

Warning: the video depicts characters drinking liquor and a brief shot of a bare backside skinny dipping scene.

Playing victim

Yesterday and today I have viewed hundreds of posts from Facebook friends and others complaining about yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions. They are all crying that they are losing their rights. They are playing the victims in this fight for equality. While I do believe that most of them deep down believe that they are being persecuted, I would like them to try practicing a little bit of empathy for a day. Imagine being harassed your whole life for being queer. How would you feel if you were reminded on a daily basis in your local newspapers that you are a genetic mistake? What would life be like for you if you were told that you would never be allowed to spend your life with the person you love?

I am disappointed that the Deseret News is leading the charge of playing the victim in this historic time of human rights. Here’s a sample of some editorials that the newspaper published today:

DN1

I can’t help but cringe at the title of the first article. It’s disingenuous to cry about stereotypes when a lot of the rhetoric against “the gay lifestyle” is saturated with stereotypes. I was hoping that the LDS church and it’s media outlets would take the higher road after yesterday’s announcements. Unfortunately, my expectations of a call for more civil dialogue and better treatment of all of our neighbors has been absent from the comments.

Being passive aggressive on Facebook

If there’s one characteristic many LDS faithful share in common, is their ability to share an idea in a passive aggressive manner. So many of my LDS friends posted links to the church’s Proclamation to the World on their wall. All of those posts made me chuckle, but the comments that accompanied many of them made were like secret punches in my gut. The comments like “… so there,” “‘Enough said,” “They’ll get there’s on judgment day,” and “I’ll live by the higher law!”   Those comments have a subtle, prideful tone and convey a disdain for their homosexual neighbors who are doing their best to live good lives and wish to be treated with the God-given dignity they deserve.

So much good being spoken

On the flip side, there have been so many comments of support to match or even outnumber the negative that I have seen. So many people are coming to the realization that homosexuality is not a choice, and it’s time we start doing what we can to get rid of the stigma of being gay. The winds are changing direction, and it’s an exciting time to live.

My friend Noah

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1061350162/noah-clean-prison-or-dead

This is my friend Noah. He is coming to terms with substance abuse and searching for help to overcome his demons. He desperately wants to find a good set of gay friends who don’t turn to drugs for their escape or entertainment. I hope I can help.

When young gay men come to terms with their sexual orientation they search for others with whom they can relate.  Too often, the only people they can find that they feel are accepting also spend a lot of times drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use.  These young men feel like they have to choose between sticking with their church and feeling doomed to a lonely life or becoming an alcoholic, drug-using party animal. Too many pick the destructive option. Why do we leave them just the two choices?

I haven’t known Noah for long, but I do consider him my friend. I want to welcome him to my friend circles and help him find a healthy group of friends who aren’t on that destructive path too many go down. I may be setting myself up for heartbreak, but I can’t not reach out to him. After all, he wants those same healthy relationships that we call crave.

Chapter 10 – Outed at Eleven

As we progressed to the upper grades of elementary school, recess increasingly became the time for boys to show off their athletic skills while the girls watched and gossiped on the sidelines. Occasionally, the girls would organize their own games, and a few would work their way into the boys’ competitions. I was never fortunate enough to be picked to play on any of the teams, so I spent most of my recess time with the sideline girls.

Late March meant that we were soon going to participate in the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge. I wanted so badly to reach the top level this year–something that had never happened in the past. I did pretty well on most challenges, but it was the 40-yard dash that had always held me back. No matter how hard I tried, I was always about two seconds slower than the requirements.

I was sitting with Kathy and Tiffany; we were talking and watching a softball game. Corey Wood hit a fly ball far over the reach of the boys playing in the outfield. He casually tossed the bat behind him and started with a slight jog to first base. As he turned past each base, he picked up speed until he was sprinting towards home.

“He’s so fast,” Kathy said.

“I wish I could run like that,” I said, not thinking the others were listening.

“You can,” Kathy replied.

“What?”

“You can run as fast as Corey.”

“Nah.”

“Sure you can,” she gave me a small punch in the shoulder. “You just need to practice.”

We argued for a little while. Kathy insisted that if I practiced enough, I could get faster; I told her I didn’t believe her. She told me I need to believe in myself; I told her I believe that I am too slow. The truth is, I enjoyed her encouragement, and I kept arguing to keep her going.

“I can’t even do the 40-yard dash in less than 20 seconds.”

“Sure you can,” Kathy said. “It just takes practice.”

“But…”

“Why don’t you two go practice right now,” Tiffany interrupted our banter.

Kathy and I looked at each other and laughed.

“The start and finish lines are right over there,” Tiffany said, pointing to the blacktop area behind us. “You can race each other.”

line divider

“But we don’t have a stopwatch,” I yelled at Tiffany, as she turned around and faced us from the finish line.

“Doesn’t matter. You’re just practicing, right?”

“That’s right,” Kathy punched my shoulder again. “Just a practice. Let’s go.”

Kathy pulled her dark, black hair into a ponytail, placed her hands on the starting line in front of her, and put her feet in a racing start position. I awkwardly did the same.

“Ready!” Kathy yelled to Tiffany.

Tiffany raised both hands and yelled “Ready… set… go!”

She dropped her hands, Kathy started running, and I followed a split second behind her. I ran as fast as I could, but every time I thought I would catch up with Kathy, she would pick up speed just a little. I think she crossed the finish line a full two seconds before me.

“Nice race,” she said. “Let’s do it again.”

The look I gave her was meant to say no, but she just smiled and skipped back to the starting line. I felt obligated to follow. We assumed our starting positions, and Tiffany started our next race. Kathy was even faster this time, and Nick was waiting with Tiffany at the finish line. How did he get there so fast?

“Way to go, chump,” Nick said in between laughs. “Get beat by a girl often?”

“Shut up, Nick!” Kathy said.

“I’m not surprised, though. After all, you are just one of the girls.”

“Let’s go,” I said to Tiffany and Kathy. I hated confrontations, and it was easier for me to just walk away.

I started walking to the outside drinking fountain with my friends, and Nick followed. He continued laughing.

“Where you going?” he asked. “To paint your fingernails? That’s what girls do together.”

“Shut up,” Kathy said. She turned and stepped between my persecutor and me.

“He’ll never be your boyfriend, Kathy. You know why?”

“I don’t want him as a boyfriend!”

“Well, that’s good, because it will never happen because he likes boys.”

I froze. Did Nick really just say that? How did he know? I wasn’t really sure if I knew. I mean, I had noticed some strange habits when I watched a football or basketball game. In the past I paid attention to the games, but recently, I had started thinking about how muscular and handsome the athletes were. I told myself I was just admiring the types of physiques I would like for myself.

“I told you to shut up, Nick!” Kathy said. This time she slugged him in the shoulder.

“Let’s go,” I said. “It’s not worth it.”

“Just like a faggot to run away!” Nick shouted as we went through the doors to the school.

The three of us walked in silence until we reached the restrooms. We stopped. Tiffany and Kathy looked at each other, hoping to come up with something to say. I looked down, held out my hands, and pretended to inspect them.

“I need to wash my hands,” I said.

“Okay,” the two girls said in unison.

I surveyed the room once I entered to make sure I was alone, entered one of the three empty stalls, shut the door, and cried until recess ended.