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Sunday, May 27, 2012

My relationship with my Savior


The other day I met with a friend of mine—a non-Mormon, very spiritual man who has committed much of his life to Christ-like service within the LGBTQ community. He is kind, wise, and it is remarkably easy to see my Savior very much alive in both the words and the actions of this man.

We ended up, as we usually do, talking about things of a spiritual nature—specifically, about our own understanding of the nature of God."How," he asked, "do remain so confident about who you are and what you're doing in the face of so many who criticize you?"

Somewhere along the journey of my life, I shared, I bought into a notion of God as a punishing, spiteful, vindictive and judgmental God—quick to smite me if I made a misstep, and slow to love me again, if ever. This concept was resinscribed, it seemed, when I heard others (including leaders within my own faith) interpret scripture to say that God demands perfection and has a zero tolerance policy for those who commit transgression, whether it be by choice or by happenstance.

That was a dark and terrifying way to live. With that kind of vision of God, I had to live a faultless life, and if it were true that God has no tolerance for sin, then it would be up to me to perfect myself first, before I presented myself to Him. Worsening things was the consistent counsel to develop my own, personal relationship with God. Well, quite frankly, when I held a vision of Him as such a terrifying figure not only did I fear building a relationship with Him, but quite honestly imagined myself to have a better life on my own. After all, who wants to have someone—anyone—looking over our shoulder who is just waiting for us to mess up so they can condemn us?

I decided that I had to completely toss out what I thought I knew about my Savior and learn for myself. I began simply, just sitting in a room quietly and beginning to talk to Him the same way I would talk to a trusted friend. By experimenting with a combination of prayer (speaking to my Savior) and meditation (listening for His response) I began, over the course of a few months, to feel more comfortable with this new relationship. This step, for me, was not about church. It wasn’t about any specific religion at all. It was simply about building my own personal understanding of a Savior who would be with me anywhere at anytime—not just one who was accessible for a few hours on Sunday.

And over time, I came to an incredibly simple conclusion—my Savior is my best friend. He shares my hopes, my dreams, my heartache, and my failures. I am free to bring my entire self to this relationship—things that would have been off limits with my previous understanding of God—including intimacy and shortcomings.

Today, I can say anything to my Savior—He knows me that well. Even when I am not at my most eloquent, I can still express my feelings and thoughts stumblingly, and I know He understands my intent. At times, I get angry, like a little child, and kick and yell and want my own way. Then I get to apologize to Him, and through that process, our relationship deepens.

He knows my fears, my defects and my mistakes. He also knows my capacity, my worth, my assets and successes. He knows what I need and provides it for me, even when my sight is not keen enough to ask for it. He gently, and often with a great sense of humor, pushes me in the direction of His will for me. When I have questions, I know it’s okay to ask. My Savior never makes me feel stupid or wrong. He gives me choices—and when I make a mistake, it’s okay. That process only makes us closer.

Developing this relationship with my Savior didn’t only change my understanding of Him, I explained to my friend, it changed my life. Today, I can say with complete certainty, that I am much less reliant on the opinions, needs, and demands of others. I need no longer look outside myself for validation. When I'm right with my Savior, I don't really need to be right with anyone else, regardless of their title or position in my life. All the other stuff falls into place easily and effortlessly, or it falls away completely.

What a much better life it is to have Him as my friend, and to have shrugged off the concept of a God who wants me to suffer because of my mistakes.

Sure, there are those who say my version of my Savior is inaccurate and how I approach Him is even disrespectful—and they are free to have their own understanding of Him, as well. But for me, I’ve genuinely grown to believe that when it comes to my relationship with my Savior the only truly disrespectful thing I can do is to lie to Him, and bring some pre-packaged version of myself to our relationship. After all, He can’t really help me become the person we both want me to be if I am not rigorously honest with Him.

How will you cultivate your relationship with your Savior today?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

LGBT anti-bullying rally-video

On May 3, 2012, in Ogden, Utah, in response to the latest LGBT youth suicide, OUTreach (a local LGBT center) hosted "A community stands up--Northern Utah addresses LGBT bullying and suicide." I recorded this video for that event and I've included a copy of the press release below.

In this video, I share a side of myself that I've never shared with anyone: no best friend, no family member, no bishop. But it is a message that must be delivered. And the message I want you to take from the video is this: Not only can we survive bullying, we can thrive. While what I went through growing up was painful, it helped fashion me into the man I am today--and gave me levels of compassion, forgiveness, and kindness that I would never have developed otherwise. I wouldn't wish it on anyone--but I wouldn't change a single moment of it, either.

My life now is amazing--I have a wonderful career, a supportive family, and a great interfaith network of friends who love me for exactly who I am--the same way my Savior does.

I am no one's victim. And I don't need anyone's apology to be happy.

And neither do you.

My video remarks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkkM6kDAQWQ&feature=youtu.be

For my friend Margot, who walks this path with me.


_____________________________________________________

(May 3, 2012, Ogden, Utah) In response to the latest LGBT youth suicide in Northern Utah, community leaders spoke out for an end to bullying in schools and related suicides. OUTreach, a LGBT Center located in Ogden, hosted: “A Community Stands up - Northern Utah Addresses LGBT Bullying and Suicide.”
Speakers included Kendall Wilcox, producer of the recent Brigham Young University Students “It Gets Better” video, who spoke through tears of his conversations with youth and adults who struggle with family and church support. Teacher Bonnie Flint in Davis County said her district received an email from a gay student who said he was being bullied and called names in the locker room. “I don’t think this should happen to anyone’s kids,” said Flint, a mother herself. “There are a lot of us who care, and we would do anything to help you.”
Jim Rollins, a straight father and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took to the stage to let everyone at the vigil, regardless of who they were, know that they are loved. “I, in high school, I’m definitely guilty of using derogatory terms,” said one man. “I wouldn’t be caught dead doing that now. It’s because I love you, and it’s because I care.”

As the event concluded, over 250 candles were lighted, filling the amphitheater with light.  Religious leaders from diverse faith traditions offered prayers for the young lives that have been lost, and for healing, love, peace and action for change. 

Support from all over the country included active Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members. Mormon Church priesthood leader, Mitch Mayne, who is also openly gay,
recorded a video for the event, sharing his experiences of being bullied in school and suicide attempts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkkM6kDAQWQ&feature=youtu.be)

OUTreach Executive Director Marian Edmonds notes: “This is only the beginning. The
community response has been overwhelming that we must protect our children from bullying and homophobia. We must continue to press for the changes needed to ensure safety so that every child can grow up to adulthood. The community demands no less and we will continue to educate families, schools, congregations and our community hold forums, panels and rallies to organize channel this energy for positive change.”

Edmonds praised media coverage of the event which highlighted hope for change, especially the work of the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), an evidence-based approach that strengthens and helps families decrease their LGBT children’s risk and promote their well-being. (http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/)

The next community meeting, “Making Change: A Community Stands Up Against Bullying and Suicide” will take place May 17th, 7:15 pm at the Ogden Library Main Branch Auditorium, 2464 Jefferson Ave., Ogden.