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.

 

 

A hit of reality

jogger in parkTwo weeks ago I decided to go for an early morning run in the park near my home. It was a beautiful morning. I stopped to watch the bright red sun rising above the mountain peaks as I stepped into the park. I pulled out my phone and took a picture of the gorgeous scene. A man then stepped out of a gray hatchback car that was parked on the street by the park. I thought it was a little strange that he came right up to me as I was enjoying the sunrise, but I tried not to look concerned.

“Sup?” he said.

“Just enjoying the sunrise before I go for a run in the park,” I said without looking at him.

“Is that all?” he asked.

“That’s all.”

I put my phone in my shorts’ pocket, turned away from the man, and began my morning run a little earlier than I wanted. When I got to the edge of the park and turned to go east, I glanced back at the car, and I noticed the man was still watching me. I told myself he was far enough away that I would be safe, and continued on with my run.

I passed a few other people out for a jog or walking their dogs. Everyone was friendly, and we all seemed to be enjoying the cool summer morning in the park. Returning to my starting point, I saw that the gray hatchback was gone, so I felt safe returning there. I climbed the hill to a long, white vinyl fence that created a blockade between the neighborhood houses and the park. I pulled out my phone to see how far I ran for the morning.

As I was about to step around the corner into my neighborhood, the same man stepped from behind to fence to greet me. He had moved the car to a different spot, and his black curly hair was pulled back into a small ponytail.

“‘Sup?” he says. He steps to the left to keep me from walking past him.

I look at the car and notice three other people watching our activities.

“Just finishing my run,” I said.

I try to step to the right, but he blocks me.

“What are you doing with your phone?” the man asks.

“Just seeing how far I ran.”

I try to maneuver around the man, but he chest bumps me. I am stunned, nobody has ever done this to me. Even the bullying I experienced as a child never involved a real threat of violence. What was going to happen to me?

“Hey,” I yell.

I try to be as loud as I can so that others can hear. The man then clenches his fists, and I am hit twice in the right jaw and once in the left shoulder. I look back at the car, and I imagine the others are waiting for me to fight back. I refuse, because I don’t want them joining in on the attack.

“Sup?” the man says again, as he throws two more punches.

“What’s your problem?” I yell as loud as I can.

“You better not call the police,” my attacker warns me.

Lights turn on in the two houses bordering the park, and my attacker notices. My yelling has drawn some additional attention, and he paused for a moment. I run past him onto the street of my neighborhood. I make it twenty yards from my attacker and the car, and turn back. I lift up my phone as I face my attacker at a safe distance.

“I was just checking how far I ran,” I yelled back as I took a picture of the man and his car.

My house was visible from the park, but I wasn’t about to let those people in the car know where I live. I walked around the street just in case they were going to try and follow me home. When I saw that they weren’t following me, I called the police. I tried to stay calm as I explained what happened; the adrenaline release after an attack or fight can often cause people to cry.

How the attack has affected me

The police have investigated what happened, but they haven’t located the guy who attacked me. We’re not sure why he did it, but I have heard of two other acquaintances being assaulted while exercising recently. I hate to admit it, but the attack has shaken me up enough that I haven’t been back to the park that is just yards from my house since that day. I drove past several times, and I saw the same car parked at the same spot last Saturday morning. I called the police officer investigating my case, and told him the car was parked there again. I wasn’t brave enough to get close enough to identify the license plate numbers, and the car was gone by the time a police officer was able to go by the spot and check it out.

What has bothered me the most, however, is how alone I felt after I was attacked. I live alone, and I didn’t have anyone there to comfort me. The friends I used to go to regularly have gradually distanced themselves from me. We used to get together weekly, then I started getting calls from them about once a month, and now it’s only on birthdays when we get together. Why would they care that I was attacked?

I am fortunate that this attack did not turn out to be worse. How many hours or days could I have been injured without anyone I care about knowing about my condition? That has frightened me. I think my yelling and not fighting back kept me from being seriously injured, but I no longer feel safe in my own neighborhood. And the number one reason I don’t feel safe is because I am alone.

“It is not good that man should be alone.”

I’ve heard that saying my whole life, and I believe that. Yet, here I am having spent my entire adult life alone. I tried dating women. I hoped to find the right woman to marry and raise children, yet deep in my heart I knew that marrying a woman was not the right thing for me to do. I have endured the judgments that come from being a single man in my Mormon community, and it has been hard to stay cheerful about my situation.

I am grateful that church leaders no longer encourage men to get married to a woman to cure their homosexuality. It showing that they are taking baby steps in understanding who we are. I gives me hope that even more changes in attitudes can come in the future. Unfortunately, the same church leaders who tell us not to marry also subtly counsel us to live a life of loneliness. We are not to marry a woman, but we are also commanded to not seek companionship of someone we could truly love.

Up until about two weeks ago, I was relatively comfortable being alone in life. Sure, I envied those around me who had life partners and families, but I told myself that I was happy where I was. I was resigned to the fact that I was meant to be alone.

I am not comfortable being alone any more. I don’t want to be alone. I want the companionship and friendships of people who love me for who I am. The attack in the park has awakened me, and I realize that the line “it is not good that man should be alone” is also meant for me. It’s time to be happy, and it’s time to share that happiness with a man that I love.

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.”

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“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.

 

Time for renewal

LDS General Conference Crowd Photography
LDS General Conference Crowd Photography (Photo credit: JeremyHall)

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”

It has been several months since I have posted on here. In the time that I have been away, a few interesting developments have happened within the various LDS church organizations and people within the church. Here are some of my favorites.

Time for healing within the LDS church

Last fall the LDS church made a new website available to the public. The purpose was to share their views on gays within the church organization. Many people complained that it was not enough. Personally, I feel that it is a great first step in the official organization building bridges that have been damaged over the years.

Unfortunately, too many people who consider themselves faithful members of the church still have unkind and unfair views toward their gay family and friends. I see the website as an important move to help people realize that we have the same dreams and spiritual needs that everyone else has.

Time for the Boy Scouts of America

I posted a little bit about some of my experiences in the Cub Scouts, and I will post some stories about my time with the Boy Scouts. It’s exciting to see that the BSA is considering a change in its policy about gay scouts and scout leaders. The opinions I read on various articles about the topic are pretty divisive, but it’s a discussion that we need to have.

Time for gay Mormons to let people know who we are

A few months ago Jimmy posted a video coming out to his friends and family. I first discovered it from a Facebook post his sister Jolie posted. I have known Jolie for years through the small LDS film circuit, and I am impressed with her work and love shown towards her brother.

Within weeks, Jimmy’s video went viral, and I saw it mentioned on different news programs. Overall, I think the public response has been positive and supportive. I wish him the best.

Time for General Conference

Believe it or not, I look forward to General Conference every six months. I happen to know a lot of other gay and lesbian members and former members of the church who also pay attention to this weekend. We want to know what the leaders are going to say. We hope and pray that our issues of being bullied and feeling excluded will finally be addressed. We feel left out.

I am not sure what will be taught at this conference, but I know it will be a time of spiritual renewal for millions of people across the globe. Please remember many of those seeking spiritual renewal are your gay brothers and sisters.

A Seat at the Table

Mormon Family Dinner
Mormon Family Dinner (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Perhaps you have heard the story in church somewhere. It’s about an eternal family in the afterlife. They are at a dinner table with all of the fancy furnishings, the best decorations, and the most delicious food imaginable. Unfortunately, there is an empty seat at the table—a reminder of that family member that did not persevere to the end and earn the same eternal reward the rest of the family enjoys.

I don’t know about you, but I have overheard loved ones discussing this story quietly, and it hurts deeply knowing they consider me the family member that would be missing from that dinner-table seat. I may be kind, generous, and charitable, but I am not worthy of the highest of eternal prizes.

I am a single man, and as church policy currently stands, I will remain a single man until I die. To most casual observers, I am disobeying a big commandment to marry and start a family. It’s a requirement for the highest eternal glory. Many wonder about my “misplaced priorities” and urge me to hurry up and find a nice woman to marry. I tried that for nearly twenty years. I dated, I served faithfully in many leadership callings, and I prayed day and night to find a woman that would fix me. Any emotional connection I was able to make with a woman, however, was similar to how I love my sisters, and I felt my attraction to men grow more intense

I am not allowed at the table because I am a single man.

You see, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that it is my own fault that I am still single. Many well-meaning people have pointed out the wonderful single women who would be an amazing wife and mother. I agree that most of them would, but I also believe they deserve husbands that would love them in a way I am incapable of loving. I gave up on the singles wards several years ago because the intent is to lead every single woman and man in the congregations into the eternal bonds of matrimony. That wasn’t going to happen for me, so I switched to a traditional family ward, where I sit alone in the back of the chapel.

Even though I try to obey all of the commandments to the best of my ability, there is no place for a single gay man at the dinner table.

I want to find an eternal companion just like most members of the church. My wishes, however, would be to find a loving, kind man with whom I could share my life. These desires are selfish according to many faithful saints; such choices will only lead to a life of suffering and unhappiness. A life with a man I love, though, sounds more fulfilling than the life I currently lead coming home to an empty house.

f I choose the path of spending my life with a man I love, I will not be welcome at the table, because I am a sinner and turned away from God.

I don’t know the answers to this dilemma that thousands of men and women in our faith face. It seems as though, according to current teachings, that any of the choices we have to make all lead to dead ends. Do I sacrifice happiness now for an eternal happiness that I can’t possibly earn? Does the atonement of Jesus Christ make up for the requirements that I lack in this life? Where are the answers?

 

I would love to know what others think. Please feel free to respond and share how you have reconciled these conflicting issues. I will open up the comments for others to read.

Chapter Seven – I Want to Dance

I continued playing basketball for several weeks. Every Saturday morning we would practice as a team for about 30 minutes, and then we would play a game against one of the other teams in the gymnasium. I would spend most of the game sitting on the bench. Whenever I asked the coach when I got to play, he would tell me that he’s saving me as his secret weapon. .

By secret weapon, Coach Packer meant the only thing I was good for was to foul our opponents. Our last game arrived, and we were definitely outmatched. The boys on the other team all seemed at least one year older and six inches taller. They were more coordinated and were able to run and dribble the ball at the same time without any trouble. My teammates couldn’t.

Of course, for most of the game I was sitting on the bench watching my team getting humiliated by the more talented crew. Yet, for some reason I didn’t really care. I let my short, bare legs swing under the bench as I sang a song I heard my sisters play over and over. I may have had the lyrics wrong, but I didn’t care about that, either.

“Don’t go breaking my heart. Don’t, don’t, go breaking your heart!”

Finally, Coach Packer had heard enough of my singing and interrupted.

“I need you to do me a favor, buddy,” he said. “You see that boy over there? Number 12?”

He pointed to the tall, tan boy with dark brown hair dribbling the ball. Number 12 ran past three of the boys on my team, stopped, and shot the ball. He scored two points. His light brown eyes seemed to smile when he slapped hands with his teammate.

“He’s good,” I said.

“He’s too good,” my coach replied. “I need you to take him out. Next time he gets the ball, you foul him. Got it?”

I nodded my head. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to finally play in one of our games, and I was supposed to stop that cool player on the other team from scoring another basket. I replaced Danny in the lineup—he wasn’t much better a ball player, but at least he knew how to pass the ball—and the game resumed.

Nick received the ball and started dribbling to our basket. A blond boy with freckles on his arms almost stole the ball, so Nick tried to pass it to Brock. The tan boy with dark hair stepped forward and grabbed the ball. It was my turn; coach had told me to take him out.

I ran to the boy, but he moved fast and stepped around me. If I didn’t do something fast, he would make another basket. I did the only thing I could think of to stop him. I ran as fast as I could, lowered my shoulders, wrapped my arms around his waist, and knocked him to the floor.

Boys circled around us, and started encouraging us to fight. I didn’t want to fight, and it didn’t look like the other boy did either. We just stood up and looked at each other. Our coaches came onto the floor, and they both looked a little bit disappointed that they didn’t have a fight to break up.

“We can’t have that happening,” a referee yelled at my coach. “He’s out of the game.”

“He’s right, buddy,” Coach Packer said. He turned away from the referee, winked, and whispered, “but good job.”

We returned to the bench to watch the remaining 11 of the game. I started singing again, but that didn’t hold my interest for very long.

“Can I go wait for my dad with my sisters?” I asked my coach.

“Yeah, go ahead.”

The dancers were lined up in front of a long mirror in the back of the room. There were eleven dancers total—ten girls and one boy. The dance teacher was bent over a record player. She carefully placed the needle on the rotating turntable, stood up, counted backwards from five, and then faced the dancers.

“Do The Hustle,” the dancers all shouted as the music started.

The dancers moved to the right and left in unison. They stepped forward and then back, and they spun all at the right time. I could tell they were all having fun—especially the boy in the middle because I could see his big smile reflected in the mirror.

I wanted to do that. I wanted to dance. Until I saw the boy in that \class, I thought dancing was just for girls. When my dad came to pick us up, I told him I wanted to take a class like my sisters. He frowned a little but told me he would see what he could do.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about my experience in dance classes, but let me say I was a little bit disappointed. Dad found the most masculine dance class there was and enrolled me. I think it was actually a martial arts class disguised as dance. We had three clumsy boys, and we learned a few moves and poses choreographed to the “Kung Fu” theme song.

It wasn’t nearly as fun as the dance class my sisters were in, and I soon lost interest.