Saturday, December 17, 2016

Called to Love

I've been home from, or rather, finished with my mission long enough to see how it has shaped many aspects of the life I have now.  Among several blessings, my mission helped me break down culture vs. doctrine. It prepared me to come to terms with my same-sex attraction, and it led me to my calling in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

First thing's first...I didn't want to serve a proselyting mission.

Yep.  The quiet, very active, duty-oriented, highly spiritual young man...the one everyone told "You'll be such a great missionary" didn't want to go on a full-time, proselyting mission.  I knew I wanted to serve in some capacity.  I wanted to dedicate that part of my life to something special.  I even had some spiritual feelings about possibly doing something different for my service.

However, there was no shortage of messages that going on a mission, a "real," full-time mission, was the right thing to do, and that anything else was a sign of selfishness or weakness.  I knew I had issues with depression and anxiety.  Asperger's syndrome had been mentioned by a few psychiatrists and therapists.  I secretly wanted a doctor to just tell me that I couldn't go, but that never happened.  I couldn't face the prospect of actually choosing not to serve.  That would be an outrage!  What would people think?  How would people treat me?  Of course, NOW I understand the value of not worrying about what other people think, but we're talking about a nervous wreck of an 18-year old.

There was an element of faith involved.  I figured if I made the first steps, God would make me equal to the task.  Besides, the other young men, who I then thought of as "immature macho men," did it.  If they could do it, I sure could.  When all was said and done, I received a mission call to Des Moines, Iowa the day after my 19th birthday.  I was scheduled to leave just over one month later.  I love the temple, yet my first time through the endowment session should have been a red flag.  I must mention, though, that I felt great peace in the Celestial Room.  So I knew there was something good about what I had just gone through. 

So anyway, I went to the MTC in February, hoping Iowa would be better, and in March I went to Iowa.  I returned home in May.  I did have some spiritual experiences.  I did love many of the people I met.  I had an amazing and very patient companion.  Yet in the mornings I cried more often than not.  I left a district meeting in tears, and of course my companion had to follow me (sometimes my breakdowns included bloody noses...something to do with my sinuses).   I went through bouts of wanting to injure myself.  After several decisions to stay, since I thought that would always be the right choice, I was finally advised to go home and get some help, with the assumption that I'd return, and I agreed.  I ultimately made the choice to go home.  If had chosen to stay one more time, I could have been in a dangerous situation with myself.  I felt soon afterword, as did my stake president, that I probably wouldn't go back.  It wasn't anything like I couldn't or shouldn't go back, but just that it wasn't in the cards.

Upon returning home, I dealt with a new set of challenges.  To put it simply, it can be awkward being a 19 or 20 year old Mormon boy in Utah.  As I look back, I realized that a TON of crap came from my own shame and negative self-talk.  The vast majority of reactions were very kind and understanding.  Most people treated me like any other returned missionary.  There were a few who I thought were extra sensitive around me.  Some assumed I would leave the Church and were surprised when I kept going.  I know one person who seemed very nervous in asking me to say the prayer in Elders' Quorum.  All the talks about missionary work were painful for a few years. 

Now, this was over ten years ago.  Any shadows have pretty much disappeared.  I no longer feel shame about my experience.  I sometimes look back and chuckle at how obvious it was that it wasn't for me.  I now know that it was the will of the Lord.  I had to go through that experience as part of my test of discipleship.  I've since been the recipient of many blessings.  I had the opportunity to serve for a year as a missionary in the Family and Church History mission in Salt Lake City.  I now refer to that as my "real" mission.  I loved the senior missionaries with whom I served, and I actually got along better with them than with people my own age!  I understand now that the young missionary crew has grown exponentially, and I love seeing them every week at Music and the Spoken Word.

On that note, while I was on this mission, I sang with the Elijah Choir, which was the mission choir.  During my time there, we were directed by two professional musicians.  Imagine...a choir where the average age is greater than 60 singing Mack Wilberg's Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, along with several other moving songs composed and arranged by these missionaries.  I thought it sounded pretty good, and this is what started my love for singing sacred music in good choirs.  It led me to pursue a minor in music and be involved in the choral program at Weber State University.  During my last year of college, I auditioned for and was accepted into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I often wonder if I'd be in the Choir if I hadn't come home from Iowa.

More importantly, this experience has enabled me to relate to others who don't fit the so-called "Mormon mold."  (In reality...there is no mold).  I would never encourage someone NOT to go on a mission, yet it's refreshing for me to see people who don't serve in that capacity for whatever reason but still remain faithful in the gospel.  I've seen these people go through the temple and get sealed.  It warms my heart.  I have an increased sensitivity for those who are single, divorced or those who do not have children of their own.

And of course, this all prepared me to accept and navigate being gay.  It prepared me for a life "on the edge" of Mormon culture.  Just like I did something a little different for my mission, I now have the opportunity to find love and intimacy in different, creative ways.  This isn't anything outside of the simple truths of the gospel.  Missions are important.  Marriage is important.  But these experiences have helped me understand that there are even more important aspects of the gospel, such as a personal relationship with the Savior and subsequently a life of service and love to God's children.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A November Testimony

"And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things."

-1 Nephi 11:17

A few days ago I came across a post from a sister whom I highly esteem and view as one of my greatest examples.  She had posted it shortly after last November's policy clarification regarding same-sex marriages and children of same-sex couples.  She said that she would never ever turn her back on her gay son and that she would never ever turn her back on her faith and on the Church.  I think this is a place where God would have us.

Many are mourning the anniversary of this event, and understandably so, yet I'm also reflecting on what I gained.  I'm reminded of some fundamental truths that have strengthened my testimony.  As I was sitting at choir rehearsal shortly after hearing the news, I felt an enormous sense of peace come over me as I remembered that God loves all His children.  I knew that He was in charge, and that if this was wrong, He would fix it (however, in the discussions following the change, I understood more fully the reasons behind it). I knew that He was very well aware of individuals in same-sex marriages and their children, if any.  I knew they were not forgotten to Him and that the Atonement would make up for any misunderstanding or current life situation.

I was also grateful for the decisions I had made up to that point.  It reaffirmed to me my testimony of following the prophet and prayerfully being obedient.  I was exceedingly grateful for parents who taught me the gospel and helped me in building my foundation on Christ.  It solidified my testimony of the doctrine on marriage and the law of chastity.  It's obvious that not everyone gets married or has the ideal family situation, but this event showed me more of the importance of the institution of marriage.  It's a central component of my faith and of the Father's plan, even if I may not understand completely, and even if I may not have a family of my own.  It's still important. 

Through "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" and the words of other modern-day prophets, I have found that a lot may rest on how we view marriage and family.  Some may see this as a small part of the gospel, yet this very concept seems to be at the center of why some people leave the Church and why some stay.  I reiterate that not everyone gets married.  Some people are single parents.  Some couples do not have children.  It's a stretch, but I've often said that I could be in a same-sex relationship, but I'd still probably have an understanding of the important role of marriage between a man and a woman.  Sure, there would be moral implications depending on the nature of that relationship, but I believe I'd still have a decent relationship with the Church.  It's that important!

As November rolls around this year once again, I do acknowledge the hurt of many people.  I'd say my own mother had a harder time with it than I did.  I don't discount those feelings.  But I also remember the peace that I felt, the peace that came through the Holy Spirit, that voice that said, "Stay with me.  It will all work out.  I am in charge."

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Acceptance and Resistance

OK, I certainly don't want "gay" or "same-sex attracted" to become my identity, but I think this concept (acceptance vs. resistance) is pretty important.  It can be applied in a variety of situations and I wonder if it's something in Mormon culture that needs a different perspective.  I also want to continue to share my journey when applicable, especially since my path is officially "unconventional" in the gay community...in and out of the Church (some of my friends have cleverly described it as people trying to tell us "how to gay.")

In the LDS faith in general, we are taught to resist a lot of things, especially when it comes to sexuality.  I remember hearing many talks on pornography and sexual relations.  Chastity is important.  Protection from the chains of pornography are important.  And yet, when we say "don't think about           ," we're probably going to think about           .

Specifically in my situation, I go through bouts of resistance, telling myself I shouldn't feel a certain way or that there's something wrong or bad about my sexual orientation.  In such resources as the current version of the Mormons and Gays website and the First Presidency Pamphlet, God Loveth His Children, there is this idea of resisting same-sex attraction.  I understood the implication of abstaining from sexual relations, but the wording has always been a little bit uncomfortable for me.  It makes it sound like living with same-sex attraction has to be this life-long white-knuckle ride.  This concept could be taken and interpreted in a variety of ways from people on all different sides.  Also, it shows that many people still believe same-sex attraction is all about desires for sex and acting out on them (and yet, how many times to we hear that we need to resist opposite sex attraction...plenty of people "struggle" with their heterosexuality, let me tell you!!!).  It's so much more, and as usual, I could write paragraphs...

I often hear and see (on Facebook) well-meaning people say things like, "You're a son of God." "This doesn't define you." "Don't let it become your identity." "Don't label yourself." "You're more than your sexuality."  Of course these things are true, especially in reference to my divine identity. Yet when I was in the thick of things, they just didn't help.  I found them invalidating, and I felt cast aside.  I felt like people were trying to avoid discussion.  I thought maybe my feelings didn't matter or that they weren't important.  I didn't always know the intentions were, but for whatever reason, they led me to further resist my gayness.

Of course my sexuality doesn't define me, but an important point to make is that it doesn't define me any more or less than heterosexual feelings define someone else.  Of course its not my identity.  My identity is Alex Lindstrom.  I am a son of God, and many other things, but that doesn't make my sexuality irrelevant, at least not any more or less than anyone else.  There is this concept of "sexual identity."  Whether someone chooses to focus on their sexual identity or not is irrelevant for my purposes.  "Sexual identity" doesn't usually need to be discussed because most people are heterosexual (and I acknowledge and understand that it more easily leads to God's pattern of procreation and family life).  That's why, I believe, it seems out of the ordinary for someone to "identify" as homosexual, bisexual or queer.

Anyway, back to the concept of eternal identity.  I came to see more of my eternal identity and potential when I accepted my gayness, not when I resisted it.  Resistance gave my feelings more negative energy and attention.  Acceptance led me to see what it seemed like others wanted me to see; however, I doubt most people had acceptance on the brain when they told me those things.  It was acceptance that led me to see myself more as a son of God.  It was acceptance that led me to not dwell on these feelings.  It was acceptance that allowed me to move forward and start healing.  It's much easier and healthier for me to accept that there are plenty of gorgeous men in the world, rather than resisting it and telling myself I shouldn't feel or think that way.  It just is what it is.  God has made some beautiful people.

It was acceptance that helped me to see that I'm actually somewhat fluid in my sexuality, maybe somewhat bisexual.  In fact, it was acceptance that led me to realize that I didn't have to be confined to a specific "gay" or "straight" identity or set of expectations.  However, it was a necessary step in my journey of acceptance to say "I'm gay."  Acknowledging my feelings and being authentic with myself always brings me back to center.  "Gay" doesn't always resonate with me like it used to, yet I'll continue to use it when it feels right, especially when it comes to humor!

Why is this important?  I feel like it applies on a larger scale when it comes to LGBT youth and young adults.  This is just my observation, but sometimes I wonder if people leave the Church and/or pursue relationships outside the bounds the Lord has set because they can't find a way to accept themselves otherwise.  Of course, some may need to leave for a time as part of their journey towards acceptance, but perhaps this could be alleviated a little bit.  We talk about accepting each other, and that's important, but it's also important to accept ourselves.  What would happen if we encouraged more self-acceptance, especially for those who do experience same-sex attraction or gender identity issues?

In the past year or so, when more attention was given to transgender issues, I was disheartened by a comment that read, "The worst thing you can do is tell them to accept themselves!"  REALLY?  I have no idea what this lady's situation was or where she was coming from, but is this an attitude that is still prevalent?  Perhaps we're afraid to encourage acceptance because it sounds like embracing behavior that is not in harmony with the gospel.  That may be true in some circumstances, but it could be miraculously opposite for others.  Either way, acceptance would be healthier than "white-knuckling" discipleship.

In conclusion, acceptance of my feelings brought more healing than resisting them.  I don't want to characterize same-sex attraction solely as a trial (because it's been a huge blessing too), but I feel like this concept applies to other tendencies as well.  I experience anger, jealousy and sadness.  All too often I get the impression from our culture that these things are "bad."  Therefore, I resist those feelings.  I'm still learning how to do this, but acceptance is where it's at.  I can accept them, feel them and then give them to the Lord and allow Him to do what He needs to. 

In fact, that is similar to my feelings for guys.  I can turn them over to the Lord.  He doesn't take them away, but He shows me how they can be acted upon in ways that are good.  I rejoice in the fact that no matter how I choose to describe my feelings, the genuine love and admiration I have for men are gifts from God.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Hold On


This week at choir rehearsal, we sang some songs that really hit close to my heart.  Among them are “My Song in the Night,” “Hold On (from the musical The Secret Garden),” “Sing Praise to Him” and “Amazing Grace.”  For me, these songs coincide remarkably with the increased attention to suicide.
I don’t write about this much.  It’s a tender topic, and I’m no expert in addressing it.  But it does break my heart every time I hear of another gay teen taking his/her life.  Yes, most of the suicides I’ve heard of recently are from the LGBT Mormon community.  I’ve had experiences that quite naturally push me away from the more mainstream LGBT community, and I’ve had to withdraw, take care of myself and secure my home in the gospel.  But suicide is something that should be a concern to everyone, no matter what we feel about church doctrine, politics, sexual orientation or gender identity.
I love Utah.  I love the Church.  But I also understand that there is a culture that doesn’t lend itself to authenticity.  I attend a singles’ ward, and most of my social life consists of my family and gay/SSA friends (or “covenant-keeping queers,” to be more specific).  So I’d say I’ve been somewhat sheltered from this culture, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
I was recently with some friends from this demographic, all faithful members of the Church, some married, some single.  The topic of suicide came up, and I was saddened to see how many (yes, myself included) had had thoughts of suicide within the past year.  Sometimes I wonder if there’s this notion that just because some of us remain in the Church and/or are married, it means that we have it all figured out.  Right now I’m picturing a husband and father who experiences same-sex attraction, but feels like he has to keep it a secret from his friends, people at church and making every effort to keep up the appearance of the perfect dad, the perfect Mormon family.
On a larger scale, my heart goes out to anyone who is still struggling silently, trying to pretend they're someone they're not.  It could be anyone…even among those who are married who appear to have it all “figured out.”  Are our families, wards and stakes safe places to open up and talk about this?  Much of the pressure, stress, depression and suicidal ideation could be averted if we could just be authentic with fellow disciples.
I know some people have concerns with the basic doctrines and the Church’s stance on marriage.  I know there are some who are angry with Church leaders and criticize anyone who has faith in them.  That is not me.  That hasn’t been my experience, so I can’t write about it.  I’m only talking about the culture.  I acknowledge that there are other aspects of Utah Mormon culture outside of the LGBT spectrum that need addressing as well.
As I mentioned above, I have been to that edge; the edge where I wondered if I could carry on another day.  In fact, I knew I couldn’t do it with the feelings I was feeling then.  This wasn’t too long ago, actually.  But through divine intervention, I got the help I needed, and I’m in a much better place.  The thing is, I don’t have the answers.  I can only share what has worked for me so far (and that could be a whole other blog post).  There is no one size fits all solution.  Each individual needs to be listened to.  Each individual needs to come to a level of self-acceptance before progress can be made, at least that has been my experience.  For some, it DOES mean leaving the Church, or at least pursuing a path that may cause limited participation at church.  But does that mean they can’t feel like they can still come to church?  Still be involved in the activities?  Be in a place where they can feel the Spirit?
Christ continues to be my rock.  When I don’t meet the approval of others, whether in or out of the Church, I constantly remind myself that it is ultimately between me and my Savior.  With that in mind, I’m still thankful for those who have been placed in my path.  It still is a major blessing to have others who are facing similar circumstances (not always “struggles”) and who strive to hold on.
The music we sang this week was not depressing, of course.  It was filled with hope.  My heart was touched as we sang, “Child, hold on to what you know is true.”  I resonated with the phrase, “Unto Thee, O Lord, in affliction I call.  My comfort by day and my song in the night.”  And as always, I am grateful for the “Amazing Grace,” patience and mercy of a loving Heavenly Father.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

"There's a Place for Us"

There's a lot in our world that revolves around romantic love.  Plenty of music has been written about it.  Whether it's wholesome and clean, more explicit or vulgar, there's a lot!  There was a time when I struggled with romantic songs.  With where I am now, I wonder if I could go back to when I was taking voice lessons and be able to sing those songs.  For a while I took comfort in the fact that I could never go wrong with singing about the Savior.  This is one major reason it's such a blessing to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and yet...we still sing love songs!

It's understandable that our culture points toward romance and sex, and hopefully marriage in between.  We've all been given certain feelings that help us desire to marry and have a family.  Such is a central component to God's plan.  But for those of us who are gay and who desire to respect and live traditional Christian values, what can we do with the love that we have to give?  What do love songs mean to us?  Like the rest of the human race, we have needs for love and connection.

In the last year or so, it occurred to me that I can simply expand many of the love songs I hear to include other kinds of love; the love and devotion that is present in a family; the love that one can have for themselves; the love that one can have for anyone they meet; even the love that a man can have for another man.  Of course, there are some songs that are obviously romantic or even sexual in nature.  But for the most part, it seems like a lot of love songs are more general and can be used in other ways besides heterosexual love and marriage.


I first came to this realization when I met a new friend last year.  And yes, I may have fallen for him a little, but I was still thinking of all this within the context of friendship.  At around the same time, I bought the soundtrack to the TV show, Downton Abbey.  I didn't know the main theme song had words, but it does!  It's called "Did I Make the Most of Loving You?," and it is based on the complex relationship between Mary and Matthew.

Did I make the most of loving you?
So many things we didn’t do.
Did I give you all my heart could give?
Two unlived lives with lives to live.
When these endless, lonely days are through, I’ll make the most of loving you.
I’ll make the most of loving you.


Did we make the most of all we had?
Not seeing you makes my heart sad.
Did we make the most of summer days?
We still have time to change our ways.
When these endless, lonely days are through, I’ll make the most of loving you.
I’ll make the most of loving you.
I’ll make the most of loving you.
I’ll make the most of loving you.


Did those tender words stay in my head?
So many things were left unsaid.
Did I give you all my heart could give?
Two unlived lives with lives to live.
When these endless, lonely days are through, I’ll make the most of loving you.
I’ll make the most of loving you.
I’ll make the most of loving you.
I’ll make the most of loving you.


Of course, more than half of the magic lies in hearing it with the music and watching scenes from the show. The lyrics, the vocal line and the familiar accompaniment led me to apply the song to my life in unique ways.  Am I making the most of the love I have to give?  Are my relationships where they need to be?  Do my friends know that I love them?  Am I fulfilling the measure of my creation as a queer Latter-day Saint?  The message in this song can lend itself to many forms of love.  It can also be in reference to our measure of love and devotion to the Savior.

Another significant realization was at choir rehearsal a couple weeks ago.  We were rehearsing "Somewhere" from West Side Story.

There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Somewhere.

There's a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care,
Some day!

Somewhere.
We'll find a new way of living,
We'll find a way of forgiving
Somewhere . . .

There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there
Somehow,
Some day,
Somewhere!  


The arrangement we do is beautiful.  As we were singing it, I realized that it doesn't have to carry only its original meaning.  I don't need to think about romance between a man and a woman.  I don't have to dread singing this song because such a relationship might not be mine.  I can apply it to my life right now, to the friendships I have and to the hope I have of finding love and companionship in some form in this life.


More profoundly, I can also apply these lyrics to my relationship with the Savior.  The lyrics "hold my hand and I'll take you there..." reminded me of Jesus leading me through my life little by little.  I go back to the importance of this relationship with the Him.  I have found that when I am in a good place, when I am doing my best to keep the commandments and rely on the Atonement, that is when my love for others is most genuine.  That is when lyrics about love mean the most.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Gott Sei Mit Euch - Mission to Europe

600 people, 19 flights, 5 hotels, 7 concerts, 6 countries, 10 cities and I don't know how many buses.  It always boggles my mind to think of all the planning and logistics that goes into touring with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square, the staff and guests.  And yet, like most events with the Tabernacle Choir, everything always runs surprisingly smooth.  Members of the Choir and Orchestra are set apart as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  However, being out of the country, away from work and away from Facebook brought "set apart" to a whole new level.  I had a different routine, a dedicated purpose, and I actually met and bonded with the people I sing with every week.

I've hesitated to blend these two parts of my life (the Choir and being a fabulous Mormon, which is the premise of this blog), but what the heck.  They're both important and they both intertwine in significant ways.  So I thought I'd share some highlights of our tour (for a more complete diary, please visit the Mormon Tabernacle Choir blog at https://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/blog.html.

AmDam 30

I was put on the last flight to Europe, with a night-time flight over the Atlantic, an 8-hour layover in Amsterdam and a midnight arrival in Berlin.  But there was a positive spin on it.  We had some of the funnest people in the choir and orchestra, and we had a canal lunch tour of Amsterdam arranged for us during our layover.  We called ourselves the "AmDam 30" group and yes, we had our share of dam jokes (Amster-Amster-Amster-Dam-Dam-Dam).  It was a little strange to think...we left Salt Lake City on the afternoon of the 27th and didn't get to Berlin until 11:30 or so at night on the 28th.  Something that impressed me was that our choir president and tour guru were there to greet each and every group (with a piece of chocolate).  They were also there to greet us as we arrived home (but without the chocolate...).

Concerts

As mentioned above, we gave 7 concerts while we were in Europe.  These were held in Berlin, Nuremberg, Vienna, Zurich, Frankfurt, Brussels and Rotterdam.  It's kind of hard to pick one concert out over the others.  Every concert had wonderful musical moments.  Every concert ended in a standing ovation and voluminous cheers (including a very audible "Whoah!" after a performance of "The Battle of Jericho"), which we were told not to expect from European audiences.  One of the more notable concerts was on our first Sunday in the historic Musikverein Golden Hall in Vienna.  Most choir and orchestra members would probably agree agree that this was one of the hottest halls temperature-wise (I think only one hall we performed in had air-conditioning), but the sound was glorious.  I could hear the sopranos in ways I 
hadn't before!

Our program had two parts.  The first half featured a continuous set of songs of praise, with a recurring theme based around "All People that on Earth Do Dwell" (the same melody as "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow").  These pieces came from various time periods, with works by Gustav Holst, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Friedrich Handel, Alberto Ginastera, and our very own Mack Wilberg.  One of my favorites was Brother Wilberg's "Requiem Aeternam."  I enjoyed the string interludes and the rich choral harmonies that were heard and felt throughout the hall.  I also liked Ginastera's "Alleluia" from his work, "Psalm 150," even though it's kind of weird.  It started out sounding like some strange Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but it concluded with the main melody embedded in a complex system of various meters, with sixteenth notes in the sopranos, triplets in the tenors and quarter notes in the low bass.  I guess you'd have to hear it to know how cool it is.

The second half began with our traditional international pieces, "Ah El Novio" (or for some of us...ah-hell-no-vio) and "Betelehemu."  The audience was always impressed when we started moving and clapping.  Then we sang some of our American folk songs, and we concluded with some Latter-day Saint hymns.  As can be expected, I loved singing such pieces as "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," "Come, Come Ye Saints" and "The Spirit of God" in such prestigious venues.  A crowning performance for me was in Rotterdam.  Unlike many of the concerts, I was able to see the whole choir and orchestra.  It was thrilling to be able to see the cymbals clash during the powerful ending of "The Spirit of God."  

At the end of each concert, we sang "God Be With You," most of the time in the language of the country we were in.  It was a very special moment for everyone involved at each performance.  Up until our final concert, I was wondering, "Why learn it in Dutch when we sang it in English in Brussels and German everywhere else?"  However, as we started singing, and as many in the audience started chiming it, I knew that it was a needed blessing for many.

Site Seeing

While our main priority was to plant seeds of the gospel through music, we did have some recovery days and designated site-seeing days.  We lodged in Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris, and visited various sites in and around those cities.  I mostly hung out with my tour roommate and a few others.  We visited the Berlin Wall and other memorials, the Marienplatz in Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle, Heidelberg Castle, Palm Gardens in Frankfurt, the Anne Frank House and Madame Tussaud's in Amsterdam, a Segway tour and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  

 I think one of my favorite places was the Anne Frank House.  I remember learning about her story in eighth grade, and it was something else to be where it actually happened, to read about those events with older, more mature eyes.  It reminded me of the reality that some similar things still happen today with people of various religions, skin color, gender and sometimes sexual orientation or variant gender identity.  And it's not like there is always an easy answer for all of it either.  I've come to learn that it's ultimately up to each individual to lay hold upon that which is good--for me that is the gospel of Jesus Christ--and let love flow.  Another poignant part of the museum was a video clip where Anne's father, Otto Frank, described part of his experience reading her diary.  He was heartbroken at how self-critical she was in her writing.  He didn't know a lot of what she went through emotionally.  He said, "Most parents don't know well their children."  This hit me very hard, having gone through my own battles with self-criticism and self-loathing as a result of believing that was what it meant to "be humble."  That might be one of Satan's greatest tools that causes so much hate in the world...getting us to doubt ourselves.  How different it is to realize that we CAN be happy about ourselves.  We can celebrate and develop our positive attributes.  We can recognize them as divine strengths.  We can simply LOVE ourselves!

After that deep thought...Another favorite of mine was the Heidelberg Castle.  Now, Neuschwanstein was intact and embedded in the most glorious landscape I have ever seen, while Heidelberg was in ruins.  But I enjoyed the history and visualizing the size and beauty of the castle and its surroundings.  I also thought it was cool to see the college town of Heidelberg with the old, castle looming above it, preserved in it's war-torn state.

Heidelberg

Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein

My roommate and I visited the top of four different structures: the Glockenspiel and St. Peters Church (Munich), St. Bartholomew's Church (Frankfurt) and the Eiffel Tower (where do you think?).  He counted the steps while I huffed and puffed.  In all, we climbed 1,200 steps one way, and of course we came down too.  It was well worth the money and the exercise!  I think my favorite may have been the Eiffel Tower, something that I had only seen in movies (mostly "Anastasia") and learned about in my junior high French class.  It was odd to think that at 10 in the morning I was up on top of the Eiffel Tower and later that same day (almost) I ended up back in my own bed in North Salt Lake (27 hours later including the time change).

Glockenspiel from St. Peters
 Hence Forth and Forever

We returned home (back in Utah) on Saturday, July 16 (well...early Sunday in the case of our flight).  We were home, but our tour didn't really feel over as we had two concerts to prepare for the following week!  As is commonly stated, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir organization is a "train that keeps on going."  


Eiffel Tower
It's a difficult world we live in today.  
We were in Paris when the awful attack happened only six hours away in Nice.  We were saddened to hear of some more horrific incidents in Munich shortly after arriving home.  I am grateful for our safety, for the security personnel prepared the way and came alongside us, and for those who reminded us each to be aware of our surroundings and stay in the safe zone (and that's a good lesson in obedience!).  We also did not forget the previous attacks in Brussels and in Paris.  During our Sacrament meeting in Frankfurt, we were told that we would bring peace and healing to our European friends who have been through so much fear and heartache.  And isn't that the good news of gospel, the hope that comes through the love of Christ and striving to live as He would have us live?  I am humbled to be able to share that message with my little baritone range in such a marvelous choir.


*And if anyone cares, yes, there are many fine gentlemen in Europe.  They take good care of themselves and inspire me to do likewise.  But yeah...as I've been telling people...that moment in Amsterdam when I was so preoccupied with the fully clothed men that it took me a while to notice the topless woman standing in the middle of the town square...yeah.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thoughts on Marriage - What They Mean, What They Don't Mean...

"Stuff I think about" post number 2...

Over a year has passed since same-sex marriage was legalized all across the United States.  I wrote a post about the new opportunities that we'd have as a church and as a nation, to simply reach out and embrace those who might choose that route and just show more respect.  I certainly had my own reasons to celebrate.  I wasn't mourning like some thought I should be.  I was genuinely happy.

Every once in a while, however, this topic circles around and haunts me.  I have to keep re-evaluating where I stand, what God has told me, and how to keep that in my view while I adapt to the changing political climate and have more and more friends and acquaintances pairing off in same-sex relationships and/or deciding to marry.  I am very close to letting go of this topic and just living, finding out what God would have me do with my personal life and the relationships I have.  But even so, I've had the opportunity to narrow things down and find out what's really bothering me.  Maybe things have changed, or maybe the same thing has been bothering me all along.

It's not a secret that people have different views on marriage, more specifically, among members of the Church (and I realize marriage has already been redefined legally...so read this in past tense if you wish).  Most of the time, it seems like people are coming from all sorts of different angles.  We rarely disagree on the exact same thing...it's more like we're not even talking about the same thing when we think we are.  In other words, a voice that is opposed to same-sex marriage isn't always the exact opposite as a voice that is for it.  I was prepared to deal with these kind of differences among different faiths and with those who had decided to choose that path, but I wasn't prepared to deal with it among other faithful members (it brought a whole new perspective to Elder Oaks' talk "Loving Others and Living with Differences"...I really thought he was talking about different churches).  Since I am caught in the middle, I do sometimes wonder what the larger LGBT Mormon community and their allies think of me and others like me.  Do they really understand me?  What on earth would possess a gay guy to stand behind traditional marriage?  It's not like I don't know what it's like to be gay, or that I'm like some average straight homophobe who thinks gays are ruining society.

There are many compelling, logical and sensible reasons to advocate for same-sex marriage.  And do you know what?  I understand them.  I don't disagree with them.  If I had my way, I'd be right on board with all of it.  In fact, I was to begin with.

My stance doesn't mean I want to force my morals on others (and I don't think that's what the Church wants to do either).  It doesn't mean I'm anti-agency.  It doesn't mean I want to keep others from finding happiness (jealousy aside).  It doesn't mean I want to deny marriage rights to LGB individuals (well...we've always had the right to marry, just not to each other...of the same sex...sometimes I think it would be cool to marry a lesbian or a transgender man...anyway...).  It doesn't mean I'm for inequality...there's just disagreement about what equality is (I mean really...why would I say that about myself?)  It's not because I want to marry a woman, nor does it mean that I want to remain single for the rest of my life.  It doesn't mean that I won't attend a same-sex wedding and do the best I can to stand by any friends who choose that (and let's acknowledge how difficult that would be...it's not like there's a big part of me that doesn't want that).

The prime reason, for me, is faith...Faith that I have a Heavenly Father who can see the big picture and who has prophets on the earth who can see some of that big picture...more than I can.  Of course they're not perfect.  They don't claim to be.  Yet I see a distinction between cultural mishaps about homosexuality and pure doctrine that (may) affect the world as a whole.  Sure, I don't have to worry about disciplinary action if I were to advocate for same-sex marriage.  That's great.  But does it really change anything?  I've looked into books and articles to study more on this topic, but the important part is my faith.  That's it.  That's all.  No need to attach anything political to it.

This is why it hurts to see the terms "marriage equality," or "Mormons for marriage (redefined)" from fellow Latter-day Saints.  I feel like it automatically paints me as a hateful enemy, a gay rebel (as opposed to an "ally"), when really I was just trying to follow the prophet as well as the things I have prayed about.  Satan works on me all the time to get me to believe those lies.  I hope this illustrates how difficult it can be for some of us, and the same probably goes for some other well-meaning members of the Church.

Just like my gayness sometimes puts me in a difficult position with other members of the Church, my feelings about marriage puts me in a difficult position with the larger LGBT community and their allies.  There are times when I want to be accepted more fully in the LGBT community, not just for my personal lifestyle choices (well...in discussing this topic I could still be in a same-sex relationship for all I care.  Ironic, huh?), but also with the understand that I've received some different answers about marriage and it's overall purpose.  I don't know everything, but I just have faith.

Anyway, I hope this may clear up any misconceptions and provide more understanding as to where I come from.  It's not to say that those who don't share my feelings are wrong.  I don't mean to judge.  I just wanted to share how this topic reflects on me, and what it puts me through sometimes, or as I've learned recently, what I put myself through.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Falling in Love

For the past year, I've been focusing on getting healthy.  I can say I'm health-IER, but healthy habits take a long time to catch on to.  I'm an emotional eater, so as you could imagine, trying to eat healthier has uncovered some new and different emotions I didn't even know were there.  Granted, it's been physically wonderful.  I no longer feel achy in my joints, my arms don't hit my sides when I'm walking and I'm much more alert in the mornings that I used to be.  And running?  It's actually fun!  However, some of the emotional baggage is still there, and I'm working through it.






In my posts, I tend to talk about the "big picture" kind of stuff, like the Church in general or the LGBT/SSA faithful Mormon community in general.  I even get rather passionate about defending the Church and the apostles.  But I haven't spent too much time on what it's like to be me...a typical day in the life of Alex.  As a part of getting healthy, I've seen a need to be more authentic, not just on-line (can't get much more there...), but in my real, in-person life.  I'm not seeking for advice, nor for pity.  I just want to share what it's like.






I've mentioned several times that I have a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  Because of circumstances surrounding me, I had to gain my own testimony of The Family: A Proclamation to the World.  I feel like I understand the main purposes of marriage and the law of chastity.  It's simply a truth that I've accepted and I feel like I understand why it's that way.






I have been blessed with some wonderful friendships on my journey in reconciling my sexuality and my faith.  These connections are no accident, and I know that God meant for us to be in each others' lives.  I have one friend I've gotten close to.  We just hit it off.  Our interests are similar, yet different enough (it might be a while before I watch some of his scary movies!).  And something I value very much is our mutual testimony of God's eternal plan, including that of eternal families and the way God has organized man on earth.






Since I have a testimony, and since I strive to keep the commandments, I thought, for some reason, that I'd somehow be exempt from ever falling in love.





That hasn't been the case.






There came a time where, with a certain amount of heartbreak, I realized, "This is probably where a heterosexual couple would probably start thinking about marriage."  The thought just hit me all of the sudden.  Some pieces started coming together in my mind...an "aha" moment.  I always thought I could separate emotional and spiritual intimacy and never have to deal with the romantic and sexual desires.  But now I understand; I can now see how all of it is "supposed to" work together and point towards the marital union and procreation.  This revelation indeed tugs at the heartstrings.  I've started to notice married or dating heterosexual couples a little bit more.  I see them holding hands in the Celestial Room, kissing each other hello or goodbye, or simply putting their arms around one another at church or at a movie.  It never used to bother me, but now there's a little sting to it.  I'm comfortable with non-sexual, physical affection with my guy friends (and yes, it probably would wig some people out), but my heart sinks a little when I realize that it probably will never have the same meaning as with heterosexual couples. 
 


I used to deny this analogy, or at least try to explain my way around it, but to be honest, it is almost like a straight guy falling in love with a woman, but never being able to "go all the way."  I probably would marry a man if it made sense biologically and spiritually, but it doesn't.  I just know it doesn't work that way.  While this is a heart-wrenching experience, I'm also grateful for the ability to recognize these feelings.  They help me more fully understand the feelings that lead towards marriage and family in a typical, heterosexual situation.  I just happen to have those feelings largely for men instead of women.  I sometimes carry some shame around the fact that I fell in love with someone (and that I have a crush on a lot of men...).  I sometimes wonder if I did something wrong or if I haven't been faithful enough, but I'm learning to just accept it.  It is what it is.  I didn't choose these feelings, but I can choose what I do with them.  I could ignore them, which hasn't served me well in the past, or I can bridle them and act on them in the bound the Lord has set.






I actually do not know where to go from here.  Nothing is for sure, and no path is clear.  I do know that sometimes we have to take a step out in the darkness before the Holy Ghost can shine the way.  I know some people believe that there are only two options for gay members of the Church if they wish to remain in full fellowship: that they either have to fake their way in a heterosexual marriage, or that they have to live a lonely life as a single person.  I do not believe this is true.  I know plenty of gay men who have married women who genuinely love their wives and have some great sex, and yet they still have needs for emotional and spiritual intimacy with other men.  Even straight guys need other guys...I just think it's to a greater extent for those who experience SSA.  As far as singles go, I don't think we have to be lonely and miserable if we're single. 






I've been reading about friendship a lot lately, and how it has been far too outweighed by marital/romantic love in our culture.  Friendship is something that can be elevated, celebrated and recognized.  I even think the celibate partnership option might work for some.  Aside from potential temptations, I can totally imagine the possibility of a life partner while waiting for and working toward all the blessings of exaltation.  I feel like I have options.  Some of them might look edgy for Mormon/Christian culture.  I'm certainly not going to sever relationships with people I'm attracted to.  Avoiding these relationships might be the first "go-to" suggestion, but maintaining these friendships actually helps me refrain from acting out in unhealthy ways, even if it is at the risk of falling in love.  I'm just doing the best with what I've been given, and it's ultimately between me and the Lord, regardless of what others might think, say or do.  I have hope for a future in the gospel (or at least I try to).



This last Sunday, I was once again grateful to be reminded of where my priorities should be in life.  I was reminded of my covenants, and the safety to be found in keeping them.  I was reminded that I am not a lone, and that I have a Savior who understands my situation.  I was reminded that He will "never, no never forsake (Hymns, 85)."  I know He is the ultimate priority.  He is my Number One, my Before Anyone Else.  This knowledge doesn't solve everything, but it sure brings me peace.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I don't "Identify" as Gay

So this is more of a random, "stuff I think about" kind of post, and I don't know how best to write it.  I keep wondering if I should continue to share my story.  I certainly don't want this to be my most prevalent attribute, and I don't want to make it a spectacle.  But as it continues to be a hot topic, and rather polarizing, I sometimes feel like I should do my part to try and fill in some of the gaps I see in understanding.

I want to talk about terminology and identity.  Sometimes I discount them as "just words," but really, they carry a lot of weight, and they mean different things to different people.  This causes a lot of misunderstanding. Furthermore, everyone has different interpretations of what "identities" and "labels" are.  I'm not so sure there is a right way to interpret these concepts (well...unless it's completely unrelated!)  It's OK to have differing beliefs about what these words mean, but it's important to understand the reasoning behind why we use them the way we do, especially for those who actually deal with same-sex attraction (or gender identity issues, and that's a different story).  We need this understanding so that we can all be more on the same page, especially from within a faithful, gospel perspective.

First off, I already know that my gayness doesn't define me.  I already know that I am a son of God and that I have eternal potential.  I already know that He seeks to bless me with all that He has, and that I will have a wife and children in His time (and not mine or anyone else').  I already know that my Savior suffered and died for me, and that He knows and understands my various pains and mistakes.  I already know that marriage between a man and a woman has been ordained by God, and I know that He has set aside the sacred powers of procreation for specific purposes.  I already know that the family plays an important role in society.  I already know that sexual attraction doesn't equal love.  I already know that the policy change last November was to preserve unity in the homes of same-sex families and to further clarify the seriousness of homosexual behavior (and outside of that, all I can say is that I'm very much at peace with it).  I already know what Elder David Bednar meant when he said "there are no homosexuals in the Church," contrary to the way many others took it.

Whatever your objections are about the terms "gay" and "homosexual," I've probably heard them, and I probably already understand them.  If that's not apparent, I hope I can better explain where I'm coming from.

I don't identify as gay.  I identify as Alex, a son of God, a son of earthly parents, a friend, a brother to four siblings.  Yet, I still use the term, "gay."  It's simply a part of who I am, equal to many other attributes that compose who I am.  When people try to lecture me about how I shouldn't "label" myself, they might as well say, "Your not bald, your a son of God!  Don't label yourself like that!"  I know full well what they mean, but that's what it sounds like.

Some people think "gay" refers only to sexual behavior or a decision to pursue that kind of lifestyle.  That's OK, but others, like me, need to be better understood.  There was a time when acknowledging "I'm gay" was actually something very healing.  It helped me start peeling more layers of the shame I had surrounding my feelings.  I know that it's been a necessary stage for many others as well.  Now, that term has kind of taken a back seat.  It's not as big of a deal, yet it's still important.  Being gay, for me, encompasses so much more than sexual attraction.  Maybe calling it "sexual orientation" is an understatement.  I can also call it "emotional orientation" or "spiritual orientation."  In fact, sexual attraction or sexual pleasure is very low on my list of things to do.  I'm not constantly lusting or wanting sex.  I know many people think this is all gay people want, but it's really not important in my book.  This terminology also describes many other aspects of who I am.

For me, being gay includes the genuine love and admiration I have for other men.  Yes, I think a lot of guys are attractive physically.  There's nothing wrong with appreciating the good looks of God's creations!  But it goes deeper than that.  I find other guys' devotion to God attractive.  I love having other friends who are gay, and who also share similar perspectives and goals in relation to the gospel.  In fact, seeing my other fabulous friends striving to keep their covenants actually makes them MORE attractive to me!  This is true also with celibate gay people from other religious denominations.  I compare my version of being gay to the relationship between David and Jonathan in the Book of Samuel, or the relationship between Jesus Christ and John the Beloved.  I've mentioned this a few times before, but I can imagine Christ holding my hand, giving me hugs, holding me in His arms.  The men I have in my life who are willing to do this are like an extension of what Jesus would do for me.  I value my friendships and the spiritual connections I have with other men (right now, these men consist mostly of other gay men, but I don't discriminate...).

This is why it is sometimes difficult to think that I'll be "healed" from this "affliction," or that I'm constantly "struggling" with same sex attraction.  I know what church leaders mean, and I know what others mean when they say this.  I do hope to be able to have a family at some point, but for me, that oversimplifies what it means for me to "be gay."  It's not just a struggle or an infirmity.  It's a blessing, a call to love in special and unique ways.  It is indeed part of my eternal identity as a son of God.

Some may not agree with what "gay" means to me.  I understand where they are coming from, and I hope I can be understood as well.