I accept your thoughts and prayers

prayer-13-04-3We’ve seen the posts and heard the words. “Thoughts and prayers for Orlando.” The same sentiments were shared after the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Wisconsin, Oregon and elsewhere. While the words are meant to comfort, too often they anger the people who need the comfort the most.

Why do they create so much division? I have often wondered; I always considered prayer a gesture of empathy. If somebody says they are praying for me, it’s proof that they care. Others, however, don’t see it that way. Prayer, to them, is just and empty gesture that won’t do anything to solve the problem. It comes across as a hollow gesture when many feel that religion has played a role in creating the problem. I get that, and I don’t want to downplay those feelings; being let down too often can lead to those real, raw emotions of abandonment.

Prayer for me, however, has always been more than just words. I was taught to pray for understanding. When I see a person offering prayers for the people of Orlando, I believe they will be searching for understanding. They want answers of how something so horrible could happen and what more they can do to help. Those are tough questions to answer without some sort of prayer or meditation.

When I was taught to pray, I was told to pray for guidance–to discover what I should do next. It was up to me, however, to search for ideas and meditate on which of the proposed solutions would be best.

Whatever the answer, prayer requires me to follow up with action.

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So, when people offer prayers after tragedies like Orlando, I have hope. I have hope that people who don’t understand the pain and anxiety this has created in the LGBTQ community seek to for empathy. I hope that they pray to find out what they can do to help the victims of this horrible crime. I hope they search for what they can do to avoid more tragedies.

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Their prayers give me hope that there will be at least one more ally joining our fight for acceptance and equality.

When others get angry because of your offers of prayer, don’t despair, just pray to understand their hearts. Yes, prayer does have a way of softening hearts, but it usually changes the person who prays first. As we pray, we will learn how to better reach out to those who are in pain, and that is what we all need.

 

 

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I didn’t celebrate

TempleYesterday was an amazing day. I woke early to do some trail running in the beautiful foothills of the Salt Lake Valley. I planned the run to be early enough in the morning so I could avoid the heat that was forecast to approach close to 100 degrees for the day; I don’t handle heat very well.

After the run, I made a planned stop at the gym to soak my legs and feet in the hot tub before I showered and put on fresh clothes before I headed to the air-conditioned movie theater next door. Summer is my time to catch up on the movies I don’t see the rest of the year, and I don’t mind going to matinees alone.

I then spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon browsing home improvement stores as I made a mental wish list of features I would like to add to my home. As I looked at the different design ideas, my heart longed for a day when I would have somebody with whom I could share my home. Unfortunately, I feel like that day will never come.

As I got into the car to come home, I heard the radio announcers talk about the day’s Supreme Court announcements. I experienced a brief sense of joy, but deep down in my soul was some aching. My aching, you see, is because I knew too well what the reactions of many friends and family members would be.

I was tempted to get on Facebook and Twitter when I got home to read the reactions of others, but something inside me–I will say it could be that still, small voice we are taught about in Primary–that something told me that reading the posts of others would not be good for me on that day. I had the deep impression that I should wait at least a day.

So, June 26 became a social-media-free day for me. I missed out on a few local celebrations, but I spent the remainder of Friday taking care of some home maintenance, reading and planning some future writing projects. I was tempted several times to check up on how others were responding to the day’s news, but I resisted.

Believe what you believe

I waited until after I took a morning walk to open my computer this morning. When I first checked in on Facebook, there were a few jokes about rainbow explosions all over social media, but the lighthearted tone didn’t last very long.

I started seeing post after post from my LDS friends. Very few had comments from the individual who posted, but they were links to articles. Post after post were like needles in my heart, as I read headlines telling me that the people from my church, the kids I knew in school, and even family members truly believe that I don’t deserve the same happiness they take for granted.

Now, I am not going to ask my LDS friends to change their beliefs, but I want to ask them what bombardment of links and quotes posted on social media is meant to accomplish. Perhaps it’s an attempt to reaffirm one’s faith, but isn’t that best done in your home and not on a social media site?

I am sure I am not the only one who has been hurt by the passive-aggressive disapproval of who I am that has been shared so many times in the past 24 hours. I have other friends who have posted on their social media outlets at how disappointed by the angry reactions of friends and family members. I didn’t celebrate because even though the government now recognizes me as a full citizen I now know that too many of the people I love don’t think I should be treated with fairness.

I long for the day when true believers will accept that Jesus atoned for me just as he did for each of them.

Every Six Months

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected J...
Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected Jesus Christ, as depicted in the Christus Statue in the North Visitors’ Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s LDS General Conference this weekend. Growing up, these two weekends each year were my favorite. I looked forward to them because it meant that I didn’t have to go to church; I could escape the quiet tormenting some of the boys around my age caused. Later in life, it became a time to take a break from the busy weekends I had serving in church callings.

The past several years, however, I have entered this weekend with the hope that church would make a major announcement that would shift the way my LDS neighbors treat anyone who doesn’t fit into their tidy definition of worthiness. I have wanted somebody to talk about our homosexual brothers and sisters and call members to repentance for the way we have been maligned, but that hasn’t happen.

It hasn’t happened, and, as a matter of fact, Boyd K. Packer has been allowed to continue sharing his misunderstandings of homosexuality. Church members continue praising him for standing firm, and they make sweeping comments that they don’t realize are so hurtful. In many ways, I dread this weekend now because I hate to see what controversial and hurtful comments will be made.

I have heard rumors that the church is waiting to make a policy change about homosexual members, but we know how reliable rumors can be. The people in the know claim that leaders are just waiting for Boyd K. Packer to pass away, and then announce that they have received more enlightenment about the matter. They claim that the leaders don’t want to offend the long-term leader and announce that he has been wrong for so many years; they would rather alienate thousands of church members and millions of men and women to appease this one man. I am not sure I believe this, but I have heard the same ideas from several different sources.

I have often wondered why Boyd K. Packer has taken such a strong stance on homosexuality. Sure, faithful members will say that it isn’t Packer who has declared his disapproval, but he is speaking for God. In my mind, if that were the case, wouldn’t comments from other leaders support him? Would the church make an effort to edit his comments from a previous conference when they printed his talk? President Gordon B. Hinckley and others have now admitted that they believe that homosexuality could be an inborn trait that one cannot change, yet Boyd K. Packer sticks to the old ideas that it’s a choice that can be fixed.

I really hope that the church leaders are sincerely praying for a solution to this conflict. I hope they take bigger steps to heal the wounds and bridge the gap that has been created. I so wish that my LDS neighbors will soften their hearts and see that their misunderstandings about us do hurt and make us feel like outcasts within our own communities. Will this happen this weekend? Of course not, but I can always hope.

Send them a pink slip

I am so disappointed in our elected officials right now. The United States is in trouble, and I am sad to see the direction we are headed. Unfortunately, some of the elected official who belong to the LDS faith are leading us down this troubled path.

I was thinking about a great way to send a message to Congress to let them know how I feel, and then I decided that the best thing I could do was send them a pink slip. Of course, this pink slip will merely be a symbol of my disapproval; I can’t really fire them. My pink slip alone won’t do much, but if I can get enough people to do the same, imagine the message it would send. So, here’s my invitation to all of you–send a pink slip to your elected members of Congress. Pass the idea along to your friends, and encourage them to do the same.

The reason I am so disgusted with the LDS members of Congress is that their actions seem so counter to some basic principles of the faith. I am going to end this post with some well-known verses from the Book of Mormon:

8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are adesirous to come into the bfold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

 9 Yea, and are awilling to mourn with those that bmourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as cwitnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the dfirst resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

 10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being abaptized in the bname of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a ccovenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

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.”

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.