Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What I Want In a Partner

Opening note: There are far more important topics for discussion than little ole me and my love life (or lack thereof). But since you’re visiting my blog, and the whole purpose of my blog is to explore my faith journey while navigating my sexuality, please indulge me.

I’m going to put church stuff aside this time and concentrate more on love and my quest for a fulfilling relationship.

As you may know, I maintained an anonymous blog 4 years ago. I’m much more open and willing to share these days, name attached and all, not much to hide. But, in September of 2011, I wrote a blog entry that was pretty challenging for me to write at that time. It was entitled “What I Really Want In a Relationship With Another Man”. Click here to go back in time with me and see what I wrote.

It was difficult to give voice to what I actually wanted. After all, I’ve spent most of my life putting aside what I really want and instead, settled for things I was supposed to want or expected to want. I’ll readily admit that I put most of that expectation on myself. But it was SO freeing to put my thoughts into words and put it out there, even if it was under an anonymous blog. It felt good to express it, even in a limited way.

In 2011, I wasn’t exactly open to the idea of dating and actually going after these things. I was “all talk” and not sure if I could actually pursue a relationship or give myself to another man and feel like I was in good standing with the Lord. While it was nice to voice my desires, I just didn’t see how I could actually pursue them. My views have evolved quite a bit since then.

This new entry is written with that old blog article in mind. But this time, I can share freely without the need to hide my name. I want to share the things I’m searching for in a relationship for a few reasons:

1.    To put it out there. You know…it’s the Secret! Put it out into the universe and it will come back to you. Haha. Okay, not sure I believe that. But I DO believe in voicing what you want and the power of positive thinking. Being willing to share what you want with others makes it more likely that you’ll get it.
2.    To give others hope. There are others who, like me, have said no to love or the chance of a relationship because of their religious convictions. I can only speak for me when I say that I feel peace in my relationship with God while pursuing a relationship with a man even though the church I belong to regards such relationships as sinful, perverted and counterfeit.
3.    To cut to the chase. I plan on sending all of my future first dates to this blog entry. It’ll save so much time! I’m totally kidding on this one. But I am interested to see what “2015 Nate” wants compared to what “2020 Nate” will want in 5 years. It’ll be interesting to look back and see how this account changes.

I recently expressed to friends (in person and through Facebook) that I don’t want to spend the holidays alone anymore. It has truly sucked all these years to celebrate them without someone special in my life. While I wasn’t necessarily looking for dating advice, some friends offered that all I needed to find someone is the courage to say hello. As well-intentioned as comments like that are, that’s not why I’m single. If I can so freely share some of my innermost thoughts and feelings on this blog, I can certainly work up the nerve to say hi to someone.

I’m single because it’s only been in recent years that I’ve permitted myself to even consider the idea of dating men. For a couple of those years, I was hung up on a man I was in love with and I wasn’t really open to pursuing anyone else. In addition to that, the ongoing wrestle that I was having with my upbringing, my own beliefs and the expectations of others has simply been crippling at times. To reduce my experience to a dating tip such as “you just need to say hi to someone” isn’t helpful.

This entry is to boldly proclaim that I am ready to love. Ready to give it. Ready to receive it. Fully. Deeply. Madly. Unconditionally.

It took some doing to get to this point. It doesn’t mean I’ve let go of all of my previously held religious beliefs. But it does mean that I’ve finally found a balance where I can love God and love another man and feel good about both kinds of love.

With this in mind, here is a quick list of things I’m looking for in a relationship: 
  • I want to be loved.
  • I want to be adored.
  • I want to be desired.
  • I want to matter.
  • I want to be someone’s top priority.
  • I want to be considered.
  • I want to be regarded.
  • I want to be cherished.
  • I want to be touched.
  • I want to be kissed regularly.
  • I want to be held.
  • I want to be pleased.
  • I want to be listened to.
  • I want to be validated.
  • I want to be challenged.
  • I want to cuddle and have interesting conversations.
  • I want random funny or sexy texts just to check in, make me laugh or turn me on.
  • I want gifts for birthdays and Christmas that are thoughtful or creative.
  • I want full access to touch and be touched.
  • I want a man to appreciate where I’ve come from and where I’m going. 

There, that’s good to start with. I’m not asking for anything unreasonable, these are things most people want. I’m willing to give every single one of these things to my man. In addition, I think I’m justified in wanting these things considering that I’ve gone my whole life without the joys of a romantic relationship.

I’m not expecting a fairy tale and I don’t expect perfection. But there are some things that I believe should be in place, amidst the frailties and imperfections that my future partner and I will exhibit. I’ll take the good and the bad.

In short, I just want a guy to reciprocate. I’m prepared to love a man pretty completely and intensely. I recognize that, as new as I am, it might take more than one relationship to find what I’m looking for. But I’m also making up for lost time, so I am hopeful that my time on the sidelines has served some purpose.

I have no idea what if feels like to like someone on a deep level and actually have them like me back. Finding that ideal is one of my top goals for 2016. I’m ready and I intend to finally make this a reality. I think about how my life could be affected for the better if I had that. I can be complete and happy without it. I’m my own person. But, let’s be honest: Love is power and I’m ready to experience that level of power.

I’ll close with a quote from a recent episode of “Modern Family”: 

Why do we choose partners so different from ourselves? It's not fate or chance or cliches like, "the heart wants what the heart wants". We choose our partners because they represent the unfinished business from our childhood. And we choose them because they manifest the qualities we wish we had. In doing so, in choosing such a challenging partner and working to give them what they need, we chart a course for our own growth.

I’ve gone on long enough (as always), but I could write a whole entry about how this quote applies to me. Instead, I’ll just say that I find it interesting and true in some ways (and beautiful in many ways).

I hope this article doesn’t come across as though I’m the only person who has ever been lonely or without love. Many of my married friends are lonelier within their marriages than I am. But, you have to admit, my experience is a little unique. I’m 38 and only now am I ready to seek a boyfriend. I feel like such a teenager.

My love and support goes out to any of my readers who are also in search of love and haven’t found it for whatever reason. I love you and hope you find your version of love.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Message of Love and Gratitude to My Haters

Around this time of year, I see a fair amount of my Facebook friends posting daily gratitude messages as Thanksgiving Day approaches. I enjoy reading them. They remind me what I should be grateful for. Cynics might look at these posts and quickly dismiss them as an attempt to show off, as if the author is trying to say “Look at how much more blessed I am than you!” Others are able to see past that and appreciate heartfelt expressions of humility and reliance upon God, family and friends.

Whatever the case, I believe there is so much good that comes from acknowledging the various ways in which one has been blessed. I was raised to begin my prayers by telling God what I was thankful for before I asked for anything. I believe that this upbringing has made me pay less attention to what I don’t have and appreciate more fully what I DO have. Sometimes, I sulk and complain and want and murmur like anyone else. But I strive to maintain an attitude of appreciation.

James Talmage said, “Gratitude is twin sister to humility; pride is a foe to both.” Furthermore, we are warned in D&C 59: 21, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things.” Personally, I don’t think the Lord has a needy ego where He must be thanked. He is clear on what He has given us. But I do believe that He asks us to be thankful, kind, humble and appreciative. Doing so helps us treat each other with more compassion. Plus, I think it helps us put our egos in check from time to time and to remember that without Him, we are less than the dust of the earth (Helaman 12, anyone?).

With all of this in mind, I’m taking a different approach to my blog entry about gratitude. In thinking back over the past year, what am I most grateful for? Well, readily, I think about this blog and about how vocal I’ve been with regard to my sexuality and my membership in the LDS Church. The obvious display of gratitude should go to the hundreds of people who have shown love and kindness and reassurance and support in the way of a phone call, an email, a comment on FB, a one-on-one conversation. etc. My soul has been enriched by these acts of kindness and I’ve felt strongly again and again that I am on the right track. I feel like my heart is in the right place and that I am accomplishing some level of good through this blog.

But my thoughts are turned to those who haven’t been as supportive or as kind. Though it’s a very small minority compared to the overwhelming majority of you who have shown support, I’m in touch with and very much affected by the things that my “haters” have said. It is to my haters that I direct my thoughts of gratitude. To those of you who have shown a lack of compassion or understanding, you strengthen me in my resolve to do what I think is right. In the wise words of Christina Aguilera: “Thanks for makin’ me a fighter!” Haha. The thing is, I’m not motivated to fight.

I’d like to highlight 3 comments from my readers, but keep in mind, not one of them is signed with a name. It’s amazing the things we can say to others from the comfort of our own computers and with the title “Anonymous”. I’ve literally received over 1,000 expressions of love and support since I started this blog in late June. But these 3 comments were pretty hurtful to me. It’s not that they don’t agree with everything I say. It’s the tone that is used. It’s the attempt to shut me up. It’s the refusal to try and understand my point of view. It’s an unwillingness to have a conversation that really stings.

I feel that the comments are “ad hominem: a reaction directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.” I wonder if the same person wrote all 3 comments. Still, I try to make these comments useful and constructive. I don’t want to give power to these comments, so some might question why I’m showing them here. First and foremost, I want to send a message that we can rise above these kinds of setbacks. But honestly, I just wanted to respond to each one in the spirit of love and gratitude. I hope that doing this will help the “haters” better understand my intentions and purpose. After that, there’s nothing more I can do if the sender of these comments isn’t going to budge.

On July 30th, I submitted “The Parable of the Combo Meal” as an attempt to illustrate what few options gay members of the church are presented with compared to the options our straight counterparts receive. I learned a lot from the comments and learned that many members of the church who are straight and married can feel some of these same things I’m feeling. It was comforting to me to get their point of view. Unfortunately, I was met with the following comment:

“Stop trying to fix the damn Mormons, or having them accept your lifestyle CHOICE so as to feel better about your own insecurities. Take responsibility for you and STOP holding the Mormons or any other group that doesn't share the same beliefs as you at fault. What makes you so right! You want to change their views??? Start with changing yours. All you write about here is your feelings and how you presume to be treated. What the hell have you done to foster bridges or good will and in being respectful of Christians beliefs and feelings? Enough of the cheese.”

My response: In the nicest tone I can employ, let me assure you that I’m not trying to “fix” anyone. The “lifestyle” that I want to maintain is probably remarkably similar to your lifestyle. What have I done to foster bridges and be respectful? Oh, I don’t know. Write thought-provoking, heart-wrenching blog entries about how much I love the church and how I’m having a difficult time reconciling that love with their doctrine and my sexuality? Being a line of support for others to relate to? Offering my bare soul to the masses without hiding behind a mask? Does any of that count for something? As for the last line by this commenter, I guess I’m just a cheesy guy. I’m sorry you feel the need to use all caps and shout at me in response to what I thought was a fair piece. If I come across as self-righteous or forceful in trying to change views, I failed. Or, maybe you just need to re-read what I’m actually saying and compare your comment with all of the other comments. Can we meet in the middle?

On October 16th, I submitted “Matt Walsh: Blood on His Hands” to suggest that his approach is potentially harmful, judgmental and cruel. I warned my fellow members of the church that if we take his same approach instead of showing compassion and understanding, it can lead gay members of the church to feel more disenfranchised than they already do. It was a plea to my brothers and sisters to be more careful in how we address gay members of the church. In response, someone commented:

“Some of this shit is absolute garbage. Maybe, just maybe, you're too sensitive. It's always those rotten Mormons with you, never any other religion. Get over it, it is free speech and it doesn't always make it right, but it does allow us to express love in return. Matt Walsh, whatever!!! Stop going after his head (spreading the same hate he is, tarnishing him) and go after his heart. Show love. If you can't do that, you're no different. For hells sake get off Matt's level.”

My response: Garbage? Asking people to be more compassionate and careful in their approach to members of the church who are gay is garbage? I’ll admit, I’m probably more sensitive than your typical guy, but I view that as a strength. With that sensitivity comes an added level of awareness. I am able to consider what others might be going through. I am willing to entertain another point of view. But my point of view here is dismissed by you as garbage. “Never any other religion”? I am LDS, so that’s my experience. The whole purpose of my blog is to discuss my membership in a church that I love while facing some very challenging aspects of hanging on to that membership. I may have failed if the message received was that I am spreading the same hate Matt Walsh is. If I’m seen as on his level, dang, I dropped the ball. Most commenters don’t feel that way, but I’m willing to reconsider my approach here. Let me keep it real to this commenter: I know many gay members of the church who are in a dark place. Not because of their “lifestyle”, not because of their state of sinfulness, but because of the refusal of their brothers and sisters to see that their experience looks a little different. When these friends start taking their own lives, I’m going to have something to say to the Matt Walsh’s of the world. I thought my piece here did nothing but show love and demanded love from others. But I’ll take another look and self-assess.

On November 6th, I submitted “Unrequited: My Love Affair with the LDS Church”. The commenter here has no idea what kind of negative impact the change in church policy had on me. I was in bed for days, I had lost of lot of hope in the church I love and have given so much to over the years. My intention was to compare my relationship with the church to unrequited love. It took an extra level of vulnerability to express what I wrote, but this was the comment I received from another “Anonymous” person:

“You only hear what you want, and YOU NATE are as guilty as what you blame others. You only appreciate those with the same views and "lifestyle" and label everything that goes contrary to your view as mean. You argue to win not to build, give me an F-ing break. You try to come off guiltless. You are so damn hypocritical, easily offended over everything, EVERYTHING! You look to find argument. It's like you can’t talk of anything else, you always play the victim when in F-ing reality, you have so much to be thankful for. I'm so tired of hearing your constant bitching and you cloaking all your insecurities. PLEASE PLEASE as a friend (tough love) just shut up and think about it. Your f-ing sexuality shouldn't define you. So again SHUT YOUR MOUTH and stop pointing fingers. Can someone please give me a HOLY SHIT!!!!”

Honestly, I just don’t have much to say in response. The person who wrote this uses the term “F-ing” several times and uses all caps to drive their message home. It reeks of hate and anger. Anyone else who read my entry can see what my intention was. Even now, I’m hurting from the policy change and am not sure where I’m at with the church. But I’m calm and know that I’ll come to some conclusions when I’m ready. I received an unprecedented outpouring of love after this blog entry was posted. But this commenter’s sole purpose is to get me to shut up. To stop speaking. I will do the opposite. I will speak firmly, loudly and confidently. For those who can’t speak and for those who have been told to “SHUT UP!”, I will continue to ask for change. I will continue to offer a different point of view. I will continue to love others. I will continue to love the Lord and seek direction from Him.

One thing is clear: When people write these kinds of comments, it really doesn’t have much to do with me or what I’m saying. It has so much more to do with where they are at in life. I take comfort in that. Still, I get hurt like anyone else. But I’m grateful to be developing a thicker skin and I’m grateful that any kind of persecution or negativity I’ve experienced in this blog journey helps me relate a little more to what the Savior went through.

If you are an internet troll who hides behind your computer and sends out whatever nasty messages you want to send, I love you. I feel for you. I don’t understand you, but I understand that some of the main emotions that drive your messages are fear, self-loathing and ignorance. That can’t be easy to experience. Consider your words before you hit that “Send” button. It’s my belief that you’ll be faced with those words and that you will account for them one day.

To my readers: I hope my message and intention is clear. If I have put out any kind of negativity or messages that cause division and hate, I apologize. My intended message is about love, inclusion, understanding, sympathy, compassion, reaching out, having a willingness to consider another point of view. If I’ve failed, I’ll try harder. Continued thanks for your support and kindness.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Unrequited: My Love Affair with the LDS Church

Four years ago, I fell in love with a man. Deeply, madly, profoundly. What started out as infatuation developed into something much more meaningful. I’d never felt so deeply for someone and even now, I question if I’ll ever feel that way about someone else.

I got to know this man more and more and we became close friends. But alas, he was taken. Still, I would do thoughtful things for him. I’d send uplifting messages and gift him gifts on special occasions. While he never reciprocated much with these kinds of gestures, he was remarkably kind and sweet. He allowed me access into his world and we shared some experiences that I’d never experienced before.

And then the message was delivered: “I don’t feel that way about you, Nate.” I was fully aware that he wasn’t exactly on the market, but I was still devastated. Knowing that we couldn’t be together was one thing to accept. But knowing he didn’t view me in the same light that I viewed him was crushing to my soul. It did a number to my self-esteem and I’m still not sure I’ve recovered.

Besides health problems, financial stress and losing people you love, I’m not sure there is another form of pain that rivals the ultimate agony of feeling so deeply for someone and knowing that those feelings can’t be returned. It may sound like high school, but really: Unrequited love hurts like hell.

As I reflect on my deep affection for this man, I’ve come to realize that I’ve never been so hurt by someone in my entire life. However, the object of my affection doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. I would take things very personally. If he didn’t return gestures or if he couldn’t find time for me, I’d take it as feedback. To him, he just simply didn’t have the bandwidth to give what I was able to give. The furthest intention from his heart was to hurt me. But that was the result.

Intentions vs. results.

Since then, I’ve recognized that my tendency to hold on was leading me to a very sad place. Who knows? In another world, another time, maybe we could’ve worked or been a good fit. But all of my hopes and wishes were ultimately wasted. This man didn’t hurt me. My hopes and expectations of what could be hurt me. Thinking of what I could do for him and what he could do for me over the years. Gone in a second.

I’m seeing a parallel between my experience with this man and my experience with the LDS Church. I fear more and more that it’s a classic case of unrequited love. I’m never going to get back what I give.

I was dealt a double punch to the gut on Thursday, November 5th. I became aware that new policies in the church handbook would deem members of the church in same-sex marriages as “apostates”. This wasn’t too surprising. After all, married people tend to have sex. Straight married sex is not sinful and gay married sex is grounds for excommunication. But to add “same-gender marriages” to the list of offenses that deem someone as an “apostate” is pretty hurtful.

Can you imagine being called a bigot? Or a racist? When you know in your heart that you love all people and you strive to be Christ-like, being called a word like that takes away from everything you try to stand for. And so it is with the word “apostate”. Can you actually imagine having a deep love for the church to the point of giving your life to it and then being dismissed as an “apostate” simply because of who you love?

So, later that night, I began to see a flood of posts directed at the church and assumed that it was because of this whole apostate thing. Then it became clear that a second bomb had dropped: Children of same-sex couples don’t get baby blessings and can’t be baptized until they turn 18. Even then, these children must move out of their parents’ homes and disavow all same-sex relationships. In a sense, they must turn against their parents. Plus, approval from top leadership in the church is required.

Initially, I couldn’t help but feel angry, confused, attacked, misunderstood, judged, shut out, uninvited, etc. A flurry of texts, private messages and other gestures came my way by family and friends who knew this would be a painful thing for members of the church in my boat. So much love at such a low time. I was an emotional wreck and just needed time to sort my thoughts and feelings out. After all, the church hadn’t even commented yet on the new policies. But would the way I felt change at all after a statement was made? To me, the damage had been done. The message was already delivered.

Anyone who has followed my blog has seen that I have tried my best to speak well of the church. Entry after entry, I’ve been honest about some of the difficulties that come along with being a gay man who still wants connection with the LDS church. I’ve defended the church at times because it is filled with people I love. People who are so good and who are so loving and so quick to show compassion. I’ve explained why I wish to stay aligned. I’ve shared my testimony. I was even planning on posting a new entry with “The Top 10 Reasons I’m Still Glad to Be a Mormon” as an uplifting message to my brothers and sisters in the church. I wanted them to see that we really aren’t that different.

I felt my balance was good and that more and more people were open to having a conversation. I saw progress in the church and found a period of peace where I knew that things would take a while, but hey, things were progressing. I was getting mostly positive feedback from my blog and was humbled by the notion that being so open and honest might actually be affecting some change.

Thursday’s news stopped me dead in my tracks. I am reminded of a man I loved very much. I gave and gave and would’ve done anything for him. But he just wouldn’t (and couldn’t) love me back. He wasn’t mean or unkind. He just didn’t have the ability to return my feelings. To give myself some semblance of peace, I’ve let go of him. In some ways I will always love him. But I recognize that holding on is causing more pain.

Similarly, I have loved this church. I loved singing at the top of my lungs in primary. I loved passing the sacrament and collecting fast offerings. I loved leadership roles as a young man. I loved playing the piano for the kids in Primary. I loved doing countless musical numbers over the years. I loved leading Gospel Doctrine classes in thought-provoking and meaningful discussions. I fought hard to serve a mission. I loved and taught the people of England and Wales with everything that I had. I put aside my own needs and desires for companionship for 20 years of my adult life because I wanted to abide the law of chastity. Even now, as I’m ready to date and consider companionship, I am trying my damnedest to affiliate with the church and have a place at the table. While I don’t feel I’m getting that back, I have to ask: Is the church trying to hurt me deliberately? I don’t think so. At the end of the day, that’s the result.

Maybe it’s time to let go. Maybe holding on so tightly is causing more harm than good. Maybe I’ve been a fool to think that I could one day marry a great guy and raise children with the principles and teachings we learned in the LDS church. Maybe it’s time I admit that I should’ve known better.

Since Thursday, the debates on both sides have merit and deserve consideration. But I’m just not in a place where I can accept most of them. One guy wants to compare this to children of polygamy and suggest that “this is nothing new” and I’m supposed to be comforted by such thoughtless sentiments. The next guy wants to bash the church and suggest that it’s responsible for suicides and tearing families apart. While some of that may be true, I am not ready to join his fight against the church.

I am, however, ready to question and ready to express that I am hurt by what the church did, once again. I’m down for the count and will need some time to reassess whether I still want to be a part of this church. I know that will hurt some of my friends and family very much. But I’d ask them to consider the rollercoaster this ride has been for me. I want to get off that ride for a while because I’m sick to my stomach.

While I have no plans to resign and pull my records from the church, this whole experience has shaken me. I feel like the church is saying the same thing to me that a man I once loved said: “I don’t feel the same way about you, Nate.”

Unrequited love hurts like hell. Especially when you’ve given so much.

For a time, I will not be turning to the church for direction or answers. But I will continue to turn to God and pray for peace and understanding. For clarity and for hearts to soften. Thanks to all of you who have reached out. It’s the one thing that kept me going and gave me the courage to post this.

UPDATE: I posted the following in response to the church-released statement from Elder Christofferson of the Twelve to my Facebook page on 11/07, thought I'd include it here:

With a humble heart, I wanted to quickly express my response to this video. I've already shared how I feel on my blog before the church released any kind of statement. But many of my dear LDS friends have made comments such as this: "It's too bad people are overreacting to the policy being leaked to the press by an apostate. Wait and see what the church has to officially say before you draw any conclusions." Some have added that this video helps them feel peace and understanding. With love and respect for Elder Christofferson, however, I must say that watching this 10 minute clip did not comfort me or magically change the way I feel. I wish I could report that it did. Some would say: "Church haters are going to continue to hate, no matter what." Fine, some will do just that. But the majority of people I know who have been rocked by this recent news are not haters of the church. They are not lacking in spirit or failing to exhibit faith. They are simply devastated by these changes. I'm willing to entertain the ways in which children could be spared confusion and humiliation with this strict policy. Unfortunately, I strongly believe that this change will affect children in many more negative ways than in positive ways. It will break what semblance of "family" the gay members of our church have. I do not wish to be divisive. I don't enjoy hurting the feelings of church members that mean a great deal to me. But I needed to express that copying this link with a quick command to "watch this and pray before you condemn" did not have a changing effect on me. I'm still hurt. I still disagree. And I will still turn to the Lord for further understanding and peace. I'm not a rebel. I'm not an apostate. I am a gay man who loves the Lord and with humility, I continue to question this change in policy.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Why I Sing", an essay for The Utah Chamber Artists

(Originally written for The Utah Chamber Artists newsletter and website in September 2015)
I have a confession. For years, I’ve been hanging on to a secret that has been the source of shame. Now is the time to let it out: I dropped out of piano lessons at the age of 9.
Yes, friends, it’s true. But it doesn’t stop there. I used to hate singing because of a traumatic experience I endured at the hands of my piano teacher. Let’s go back in time.
My earliest music-related memory was when I inadvertently played a chord on my grandmother’s piano at the age of 5. With excitement, she ran over to me and said, “Nathan, do you know what that is? It’s a chord!” I loved the reaction and validation my musical mistake elicited from a woman who could ragtime rattle those ivory keys like a rattlesnake can rattle…well…you get the point.
As the youngest of 8 eight kids, and being a triplet on top of that, I saw the piano as my chance to step out and do my own thing. From that time on, I would play piano on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of my 6 brothers who wanted to watch TV without my childhood compositions coming into creation in the background. After all, the one TV we had and the piano were in the same room.
A few years later, I would begin taking piano lessons from Denese Webster across the street. She was a fantastic teacher and I was scheduled to play two songs at a recital within a few months of starting my lessons. That’s when the proverbial crap hit the fan.
“Nathan, let’s have you do the Beethoven for your first piece. For your second piece, I’d like you to do something more upbeat and fun. How do you feel about singing and playing at the same time?” It was the first time in my life that I was challenged to actually sing in front of people.
So, there I was, at my recital. The Beethoven went perfectly, but it didn’t matter. My second piece, “The Boogie-Woogie Goose”, was coming up and I knew my brothers would give me a hard time. I was encouraged to sing it with conviction and pep. The main note from Mrs. Webster was “Louder, Nathan. LOUDER!”
As I assured the audience through my performance that Aunt Rhody’s old gray goose was, in fact, not dead, but was busy being a dancing fool, my faced flushed with embarrassment. My brothers meant no harm, but I remember seeing them laugh throughout the song. The lyrics were fun and silly, but I took their laughter as feedback. Ever since then, I still have insecurities about my singing voice. I can take a compliment on my piano playing or songwriting, but I somehow don’t think I’m as deserving when it comes to singing. Darn, that silly goose.
Mrs. Webster turned me on to a new possibility, however. The idea of singing and playing piano at the same time led to a love of songwriting and arranging. Throughout junior high and high school, I was much more comfortable being the accompanist than the singing soloist, but I kept trying to find my voice. There was the time my voice cracked on my “Bein’ Green” solo in 8th grade and the entire choir chuckled behind me. But, in a bigger victory, there was the time I wrote a song and performed it at my high school graduation, backed by the choir and followed by a standing ovation from my graduating class. To this day, it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.
Since college, I developed more of a singer-songwriter style. It was perfect. I could hide behind the piano and sing in a quiet, comfortable style that perfectly suited my range. But this style did not bode well for my first audition for The Utah Chamber Artists. While I was told I had a lovely voice, I had much to learn. Phrasing, diction, shaping my vowels, etc. Since then, as a member of this lovely group, I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone and learn to use my voice in a new way. A collaborative way. A beautiful way. No more hiding behind the piano for this guy. “Louder, Nathan. LOUDER!”
I’ll end on a personal note. As a 38 year-old member of the LDS church who happens to be gay, I’ve only recently decided that it might be okay to date and eventually find companionship. My personal journey to find balance, acceptance and peace began in a similar way to my singing career. The once trembling, nervous boy who had to sing about that stupid goose has evolved into a man who is comfortable singing a solo or blending beautifully with the most talented group of musicians around.
Similarly, I’m no longer afraid to use my voice in other ways. I use my voice to speak out, to ask for kindness and understanding, to challenge the status quo, to encourage acceptance and change. I use my voice to express myself, to offer advice to a friend in need, to make people laugh, to agree and to disagree. But perhaps the most beautiful thing I do with the voice I’ve been given, as imperfect as it may be, is touching lives through music.
Joining my UCA friends in song is one of the most thrilling and joyful experiences I’ve ever had. Being part of something like this has not only built my confidence with my own songs, it has also affected my approach to life. My personal song is sweeter and fuller as a result. 
Guess I have Mrs. Webster to thank. I’ll admit, I’m glad that goose isn’t dead.

Original post: http://www.utahchamberartists.org/2015/10/28/nate-why-i-sing/ 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Matt Walsh: Blood on His Hands

On a fairly regular basis, LDS friends of mine (who I love and still associate with) will share a post like the one shown below. Sometimes, they’ll add their own stamp of approval for the content they are sharing and praise it. So, then I go to read what is shared and feel completely opposite. I continue to be amazed how something that brings a friend such goodness and light can cause me to feel incredibly down and sad, at times, even angry.

“Well, Nate, you’ve lost your way.”

“You’re not in tune with the Spirit.”

“If you made more of an effort, you’d agree with everything in the post.”

I’ve lost my way? I’m not in tune? Then why do I feel so good when I pray? Why do I feel more assured than ever before that the efforts I am making are acceptable to my Maker?

Consider the following example, posted by a friend earlier today. I’ve eaten dinner at her table and she is remarkably kind and thoughtful. But then, she posts something like this and regards Matt Walsh as brilliant and courageous. It makes me wonder what she truly thinks of someone like me.

Matt Walsh is well-known for his blog, and I have a fair amount of friends who subscribe to his way of thinking. That’s okay, we can still be friends. But I’m a different kind of Christian. On numerous occasions, I’ve read Mr. Walsh’s thoughts on a variety of topics and, in my humble opinion, he misses the mark. It’s very “letter of the law” and less “spirit of the law” to me.

In his latest post, No, Christianity Should Not Welcome or Include Your Sinful Lifestyle, he says a number of things that strike me as dangerous, insensitive, lacking in understanding and devoid of any compassion. When members of the church perpetuate these kinds of messages, I feel extreme sadness.

I understand that as members of the church, we must strive to be obedient. But sometimes I wonder why we don’t focus as much on the concept of forgiveness. “The law is the law and who are we to change it? Fall in line or get out of the way!”

As I consider friends who have taken their lives or who have lived their lives in hiding and isolation in fear of condemnation from the very people who should be prepared to love them the most, these are the direct quotes from Mr. Walsh’s latest blog entry that concern me the most. As you read through them, do you feel good?

“The sins of homosexuality and fornication have existed since Biblical times…What do we know in our time that the Church didn’t know — that God Himself didn’t know — up to now? Be very careful in how you answer that question.

“You need to stop reading with your emotions and read with your brain.”

“Two plus two equals four, because it does, and because even a stupid man can see that.”

“It’s difficult to have grown-up conversations these days, because people like yourself see every mention of moral truth as either a personal attack or a statement of superiority. This is the real damage you cause in the Faith.”

“You want to be coddled.”

“You want to modify Christian teachings not because you tried them and found them wrong, but because you found them difficult and don’t want to try them.”

“You apparently come a sick and broken man looking to be assured you were never sick and broken to begin with.”

“I’m tired of hearing this “inclusive” stuff.”

“You’re asking to be “included” in the Faith on your own terms. That’s just not how this works, brother. As Christians, we have no authority to “include” you in that way.”

“You must be the one who “includes” the Truth in your life. Your lifestyle must change to accommodate the Truth, not the other way around.”

“A sin is still a sin, and He instructs us all to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11), which often means dramatically altering our lifestyles.”

“You must choose, then, to walk through the right path, the narrow path, but it will be difficult and demanding, and it will not and cannot be widened to include you.”

“We all struggle with sin. But struggle is the keyword. Struggle. Fight back. Plead with God in agony to help you defeat these demons. Go to Christ begging that He help you overcome your temptations and live with chastity and temperance. Don’t demand that your sin be allowed to accompany you into Heaven. It can’t.”

“It seems you want to remove, well, all of those ingredients and still call yourself a Christian. You might as well remove all the yeast and flour from a mixture and call the goop of water, butter, and salt that remains ‘bread.’”

“We have to choose to shed our sin, pick up our cross, and follow Him. That’s what it means to “be included.” You say that’s what you want, but do you?”

“Christians churches in America were never guilty of “alienating” unrepentant sinners like the “LGBTQ community.” They are so attached to their sin that they literally define themselves by it. They look for ‘community’ not with the Body of Christ, but with those who share their urges and fetishes. They elect to reject the difficult aspects of the Faith. They alienate themselves.”

“John Chrysostom said the Holy Scripture should be “engraved upon our hearts.” There are some Christians who wish to adhere to it with that level of severity. They are the minority that all churches should be bending over backwards to embrace. They are the ones who need to be included again.”

“The church has not failed if it makes open homosexuals or anyone else feel uncomfortable in their sin. That is a success. That is the church doing what it’s supposed to do.”

“I’ll pray Christian churches in this country always “include” the Truth, not liberal sexual dogmas or any other form of blasphemy.”

“I’ll pray you leave your sin behind and come to Christ remorseful and empty handed, ready to be His servant.”

I could respond to each quote, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll leave it up to my readers. Do these comments sound like they come from someone who wants gay people to feel welcome and included? Does the author of these comments even begin to understand (or make the slightest attempt to understand) what it’s like to be gay and Christian? Does this collection of quotes sound like anything the Savior would say?

As I read through this blog, it doesn’t bring me closer to the Savior. It’s basically Matt Walsh saying, “Get over it, no mercy is available here. Just get over being gay and stop complaining.” He associates being gay with being depraved. Most of the gay people I know have the same core needs as anyone else. But Mr. Walsh would dismiss the longing to be loved and the chance to build a life with someone they love as “urges and fetishes”. But only when it comes to gay people.

In closing, I’m just asking you to be more aware when you share these kinds of messages. I’m all for standing up for what you believe in and even fighting the good fight. But if you can do these things in such a way that makes people like me feel loved and included and part of the fold, that’d be really great.

Compare his approach to Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve:

"As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach. Let's not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender."

His use of the word "lifestyle" kind of bugs me, but the tone is so much warmer and more Christ-like, don't you think?

I think Matt Walsh’s approach is irresponsible and dangerous. His complete lack of mercy and understanding is something that he’ll have to account for one day just as much as I will have to account for my own sins. Luckily, we both have a Savior who loves us. I just think one of us tries to bring people TO the Savior while the other one often pushes people AWAY from the Savior.

Read Matt Walsh. Agree with Matt Walsh if you want. Say how brilliant and courageous he is. But be aware that his insensitive tone and unapologetic approach is doing damage to people who truly love the Lord. I know plenty of brilliant and courageous gay men and women who lives their lives in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord. People like Matt Walsh may never understand what this kind of discipleship requires.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Right Way to Be Gay (and Mormon)

So, I’ve experienced three separate rounds of coming out: Pre-mission, post-mission and 15 years after my mission. Each round came as I was ready and I’m open to the idea that there may be future rounds as I continue to evolve and find my way. Some things will always remain constant and consistent. It’s my nature to need stability and a foundation upon which to stand. Other things are negotiable and undecided. At 38, I can’t predict exactly where I’ll be when I’m 70, let alone 40. I’m truly a work in progress.

Over the years, I’ve opened up and had countless conversations with friends and family members about where I was at with the church and with my sexual orientation. In retrospect, I see that I spent most of the time in those conversations making it okay for the listener. Assuring them that I would get out on my mission soon while enduring humiliation, speculation and judgment for going late. Assuring them after my mission that while I was attracted to men, I had no intention of seeking a relationship. And now, assuring them that while I’d like to give dating a try, I still have a testimony of many things that are part of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught within the church.

Some friends have been upset that I would agree to a life of such loneliness, even if it was the righteous thing to do. Others have assured me of their continued love and support, as long as I didn’t act on these feelings. I’ve had friends (and family members) come and go. Some are ready to support me and really try to understand where I’m at. Some have written me off, leaving me in the dust. Through it all, I’ve learned, there really isn’t a right way to be a gay Mormon that will please everybody.

With that in mind, I’d like to present 4 different gay-Mormon archetypes by presenting a description of each, how the church might see them, how the gay community might see them, and finally, how I see them. I hate to put people into categories, and these are very general, but this serves a purpose. I’m asking you to review these archetypes with an open heart and the added consideration that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this.

Gay Man, Married to a Woman, Active in Church
Perhaps this man dutifully did what he was supposed to do. Served a mission, returned home, got married to a woman, had kids and then later in life has come to terms with his sexuality. Sure, certain aspects of his marriage are tricky, but what marriage doesn’t have its own set of challenges?
The church might say: Good for him! See? Just because a man is attracted to another man doesn’t mean he can’t still marry a woman and make it work.
The gay community might say: He’s a fool if he thinks that is going to last. It’s just unrealistic. Besides, why build a life with someone you’re not even attracted to? Isn’t that dangerous for the kids involved?
Here’s what I think: The balancing act and complexity of being in a mixed-orientation marriage seems overwhelming to me. The men who patiently and skillfully maintain this kind of marriage have my respect, not my judgment. Some of these men come out to their wives before the wedding day. Some come out to their wives years into the marriage. One has to wonder how it affects the wife when her husband makes this confession. But can it be done? Sure it can. I have friends who are making this work and, while everything isn’t perfect, they are resolved to make that commitment (and covenant) work at all costs. I believe that it takes a strong woman who has enough self-confidence and self-worth to make this work, and I applaud these women. If a gay man truly wants an eternal family, as taught within the church, more than he wants companionship with another man, who are any of us to say he shouldn’t be married to that woman? On the flip side: I have had many conversations with gay men who were married with kids, held callings such as bishop and stake president and who gave their marriages everything they had. With tears in their eyes, they’ve told me how torturous their marriages were for them and the guilt they carried for not being the husbands and fathers they were supposed to be.
Summary: I know gay men who are married to women who are some of the best husbands and fathers I’ve ever known. It can be done. But just because it’s working for some couples, should all couples be held to that standard? No. In fact, the statistics aren’t great. I know far more men whose marriages didn’t end well than those whose marriages are working. It can work and I admire couples who make it work, but let’s be honest about the heartache that can come despite earnest gay men giving it everything they had.

Single Gay Man, Active in Church, No Intentions of Dating Men
Some of these men remain open to the idea of marrying a woman while others see that marriage isn’t in the cards in this lifetime. They agree to a life of celibacy and loneliness but feel the peace and assurance that comes with standing right before the Lord. Plus, it’s not complete loneliness. Some of these men have an amazing network of friends that they feel a close bond with. Some of them even have cuddle buddies because it’s important to have intimacy and connection with others. It’s necessary to have certain human needs met. But, for the most part, these men remain chaste and are able to experience a closeness with other men without crossing a sexual, and thus, sinful line.
The church might say: How commendable. Who are we to question God’s laws? Just because some experiences same-sex attraction does not mean they have to act on it.
The gay community might say: How unfortunate that someone would choose to live this life so alone because of what they were raised to believe. Don’t they get that God still loves them even if they have a husband or boyfriend?
Here’s what I think: To members of the church who challenge gay men “not to act on it”, I would remind them that being gay isn’t just about being tempted to get naked with another man and have sex. It’s about having basic core needs that need to be met. To the men who have been involved with organizations like Evergreen and North Star, I admire you and respect you. Your resolve to remain authentic in your own way takes a great deal of discipline and sacrifice. Trust me, I know. My personal experience with groups like that was a mixed bag. At times, I felt uplifted and I felt a sense of brotherhood and support. But my participation provided me with hope that often led to disappointment. I also felt a lot of the guys were so focused on their own righteousness that a Savior wasn’t even necessary. When one fell to the “dark side” by choosing to date men, it became topic for judgment and lamentation. I mean no offense, but that’s what I experienced. Still, there are so many great guys in the church who are so pure in heart and have such good resolve to do what they truly feel God wants them to do. I’m not here to challenge that at all. For 20 years, I was in this category. For me, it just got to the point where I could no longer realistically consider that level of loneliness.

Single Gay Man, Not Active in Church, Dates Men, Still Has Affiliation with the Church
Men in this category still have testimonies that mean a great deal to them. Or maybe they just want involvement with the church on a cultural level because it’s part of who they are. In some cases, these men are involved with groups like Affirmation which earnestly assists the LGBT community in bridging the gap. Some men in this category date other men freely, without feeling guilt or condemnation. Other men in this category date men but aren’t ever truly able to do so without feeling some level of conflict.
The church might say: If you’re going to live that lifestyle, then just leave already. Why do you have to be so vocal about it? You’re being way too open about something so private. Do we have to talk about it?
The gay community might say: Just move on already. If you’re dating men, then the church doesn’t really want anything to do with you anyway. Why on earth would you want any affiliation with a church that is so hateful toward you and others like you?
Here’s what I think: This is where I’m at currently. I know the pain that comes from living 20 years of your adult life without someone to call your partner, lover, spouse, significant other, etc. Despite having a constant supply of great friends and a supportive family, I know what it’s like to mourn deeply over the number of weekends you stay alone at home while everyone else is moving on with their dating life, married life, and so on. I truly believe that I’ve incurred some level of psychological damage by putting myself through this long period of intense loneliness. Can a loving Heavenly Father truly expect this of me for another 38 years? Can a merciful Heavenly Father forgive me for not being as active in the church as I once was? Can my gay friends just try to support me and understand why I want connection with the church even though they don’t? Can my LDS friends just be happy for me that I finally get to experience life more fully by seeking companionship like they have? So many thoughts and so many people to consider and make happy. I actually had a brother ask me recently why the gays can’t just start their own church. I’ve seen gay couples who achieve levels of intense happiness by finding love and still having a place in the church (although being sexually active presents some problems with their actual memberships). Ultimately, I’m in a place where I won’t be completely happy either way. If I leave the church fully and marry a man, I’m in pain. If I stay with the church and don’t date men, I’m in pain. For men like me, sometimes the decision is about which choice is less painful. Men in this situation don’t need approval or condemnation from the church or the gay community. They just need to feel loved while they try to make both parties happy.

Gay Man, Left the Church, Wants Nothing to do with the Church
Some of these men are married or partnered to other men and lead very happy lives. Men in this category do not consider themselves members of the church and have even had their names removed from church records. But some continue to keep a pulse on what’s going on within the church and publicly share their opinions about church history, general conference talks, changes in church leadership, headlines from the church’s news room or website, etc. Other men in this category have nothing to do with the church and have no interest in discussing it. Maybe they weren't offended or anything. They just simply don't agree with the doctrine and so they’ve truly moved on.
The church might say: Quit kicking against the pricks. If you aren’t happy in the church, then just leave. Why do you keep digging up dirt? How can anyone find happiness outside of the church? It’s just not possible!
The gay community might say: I left the church for a reason and I intend to share it with others. Just because I’m no longer a member doesn’t mean I can’t share my opinions. Do you have any idea what the church put me through and how it made me feel?
Here’s what I think: Men in this category are perhaps the most in need of and most deserving of your love and understanding. In many cases, these men have considered suicide. They’ve been made to feel less than 2nd class members of the church. They’ve spent their entire lives listening to messages and talks that make them feel like who they are is wrong, sinful and unworthy. If an ex-member of the church feels the need to bash the church, I don’t get defensive and alarmed. Instead, I look at what led them there. In many cases, what led them to a place where they hate the church is how they were treated by other members of the church. Pain manifests itself in a variety of ways and I am prepared to pull up a chair and listen. I’m further prepared to open my arms and offer love and understanding. I have felt many of the things they have felt. While I’ve made the decision to have the church play a significant part of my life, I completely get why others do not. I imagine a Father in Heaven who mourns with them and who understands the source of their pain.

In closing, I’ll reiterate: There isn’t a right way to be a gay Mormon. What works for one may not work for another. And I don’t necessarily think one archetype is better than another. After years of trying, I personally don’t think I could ever marry a woman. I also don’t think I could ever fully leave the church. I’m kind of in the middle. But I have love and admiration for my gay friends wherever they are at on the spectrum.

As you listen to and counsel your gay loved ones, don't approach it with where YOU are at. Instead, consider where THEY are at on their journey. Remember that it doesn’t help to force them into any one archetype. I’ve only presented 4, but there are tons of different personalities, proclivities, sensitivities and sensibilities that a gay Mormon experiences. I welcome them all.

I draw comfort from my belief that there is only One who can fairly judge and exercise ultimate mercy. I love the idea that when backgrounds, upbringings, circumstances and other factors are taken into consideration, all 4 (and thus 444) archetypes can end up in God’s presence with the potential to receive all that He is prepared to bless us with. I am grateful to my Savior, Jesus Christ, for perfectly understanding the lesbian runaway teenager, the suicidal gay father, the conflicted transgender woman who is in the middle of her transition, and the gay man who has decided to be less active for a time while he navigates the gay dating world. I long for the day when we can all look at our gay brothers and sisters the way Jesus did on that night in Gethsemane.

Monday, August 31, 2015

"I Know" vs. "I Believe"

I still remember the first time I bore my testimony in an LDS sacrament meeting. I must’ve been 6 or 7 years old. In the same way that I wanted to be the first out of my triplet brother and sister to sit in the back row of the Tidal Wave at Lagoon, I was determined to be the first to courageously take the long walk to the pulpit and share what I knew to be true.

What should’ve been daunting for a child to do came pretty easily to me. After all, I’d pretty much memorized what I was supposed to say. Up to the pulpit I went. I grabbed the microphone and positioned it within a centimeter of my mouth and proclaimed, “I want to bear my testimony. I know this church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet. I love my mom and dad. Name of Jesus Christ, amen.” I remember how good it felt when some of my older brothers patted me on the back with a “good job, Nathan”. Most importantly, I felt the love and approval from my mother.

Over the years, I have watched thousands of children get up and do the same thing. It’s become a rite of passage in a way. You have to admit, it’s an adorable thing. Sure, sometimes it gets old when you want to hear grown-ups share their thoughts and then 10 kids rush the stage to essentially say the same thing, one after the other. I appreciate the comic relief, however. There’s always that one kid who burps or giggles or trembles when they get to the mic. It’s so cute! But, if I’m being honest, there was always a part of me that was uncomfortable with children being taught to say “I know” when, in most cases, they didn’t know their multiplication table. I hate the word “brainwashing”, but I sometimes wondered what some parents would do and say to their own kids if they wouldn’t get up and say “I know”. Luckily, my mother never forced or pushed for me to get up there. It was just something that you were supposed to do because other kids were doing it.

I’ve watched some of these children grow into teenagers, young adults, and parents with children of their own. It’s been a most interesting study of the many different ways one’s testimony can evolve over the years. Part of the reason that I am still a member of the church as a gay man is that I have felt many wonderful, meaningful feelings during testimony meetings. At their worst, these meetings can be tedious, boring or full of ridiculous amounts of emotion. Some choose to play testimony bingo as a way to get through all of the canned things people say. There’s also the “I’ll go up if you go first” game that gets a little tired. But, at their best, these meetings have been sacred, powerful and strengthening to me.

There is, however, one thing about these meetings that hasn’t seemed to change from when I was a kid: The pressure to say the words “I know” is as apparent for adults as it is for children.

Now, I’m not saying that church leadership demands this of its members. But there is an unspoken pressure where many say “I know” instead of “I believe”. Who am I to question what somebody knows? It’s not my place. But as one who has intently listened to the testimonies of thousands, I have questions when someone says “I know without a shadow of a doubt”. I’d like to know how they came to this knowledge. What did they see and hear to be able to say “I know”? Most would answer that it’s about what they have felt, not what their senses have experienced. I can relate to that.
  • When I taught the discussions in the mission field, I felt something special.
  • When I began attending the temple, I felt something special.
  • When I went to Palmyra and walked through the Smith family log cabin and frame house and then went into the Sacred Grove and prayed, I felt something special.
  • When I went to Kirtland and stood in the upper floor of the temple and contemplated some of the revelations that were given to Joseph Smith and others, I felt something special.
  • When I went to the School of Prophets and the Newel K. Whitney store and considered some of the events that took place there, I felt something special.
  • When I went to Nauvoo and did a session in that temple and then went to Carthage to see where the martyrdom occurred, I felt something special.
  • When I went to Independence, Adam-ondi-Ahman, Haun’s Mill, Far West and the Liberty Jail and took all of that history in, I felt something special.
Where did these feelings come from? Well, in the church, we would identify that as the Spirit. Some would suggest that after a lifetime of being taught about these experiences that occurred in these various locations, that of course it would be a meaningful experience to visit any one of them. Perhaps I was wired and programmed to feel such emotions after putting so much hope and study into what occurred in each “landmark”. Others would dismiss these feelings as a Santa Claus effect. Remember the magic of being a child and having so much hope and even assurance that Santa was real? You couldn’t doubt! After all, “if you don’t believe, you don’t receive.” Finally, there are some who would dismiss these experiences as strange, biological ticks that the body sends through the nervous system when certain emotions are felt, like watching a touching movie or reading a moving novel.

I don’t feel the need to become defensive when these kinds of things are suggested. But, at the same time, I will say without apology that these feelings are the very reason I have not up and left the church. These experiences mean a great deal to me. I’ll never forget them. But even now, with most things in the church, I can only offer “I believe”. Sometimes, I’m made to feel that “I believe” isn’t good enough. It’s only when you can proclaim boldly “I know” that you truly have a testimony. Or, at least, that’s how it feels sometimes.

Listen with a new set of ears in your testimony meetings this Sunday. Keep track of how many members state “I know” versus “I believe”. As you listen to those who claim “I know”, do you have some of the same questions I have? Have they seen and heard things I haven’t? Are they taking the experiences they’ve had like the ones I listed above and elevating them up to a surety of knowledge? If so, it’s not my place to judge or criticize. I guess I just feel inferior sometimes because I’d begin many sentences in my testimony with “I believe” instead of “I know”. For some, this inability to say “I know” leads to feelings of inferiority.

Even our Articles of Faith begin with the words “We believe”. Not a single one of them starts with “We know”.

I’m not here to challenge anyone’s testimony. After all, mine means a great deal to me. If someone tore my testimony apart, it would affect me in a deep, personal way. I guess I just wish others would see my testimony as worthy and powerful even if I begin most sentences with “I feel confident that…” or “I have every reason to believe that..”. I think we show faith when we say those beautiful words: “I believe”. Can faith lead to a knowledge of things? Sure. But I do not have a perfect knowledge of most of the things I believe. It doesn’t mean that the things I believe aren’t important.

One of the strongest testimonies I’ve ever read about the Savior and His atonement came from Elder Bruce R. McConkie in April of 1985, just days before his passing:

“I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.”

I remember loving this address entitled “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane” so much as a teenager. I still read it and marvel at the words he expressed. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve often thought “Unless he already walked and talked with Jesus, how could Elder McConkie know to that degree? Certainly, something as intimate as seeing the Savior in person and feeling his nail marks would be the surest way to know, so how was McConkie so sure unless he's seen and interacted with the Savior?”

In my mind, I can reason that Elder McConkie was a special witness, had a special calling and that He probably lived a life that was much more conducive to having a close relationship with the Savior. I’ve listened to the testimonies of prophets and apostles throughout my life and have been moved by many of them when they use the words “I know”. I also consider scriptural accounts where people saw and interacted with heavenly messengers but still didn’t seem to “know” in their hearts what they had seen and heard. I’m willing to consider all of that. It’s only when lay members of the church speak with such conviction and assurance that I have a hard time accepting why they are at “I know” status when I’m only at “I believe” status.

In closing, I’ll say that I have a testimony. I believe there is a God in Heaven who loves us and wants us to return to Him. I believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and that through Him, I can return to Heavenly Father, even as a gay man. I have read the Book of Mormon many times and have felt closer to the Lord by its teachings. I’m not sure I can say that I know that it’s the word of God, but I can say that I have a love of the book. I am aware of some of the problematic things that people say about Joseph Smith. Some of these things are unfounded while others seem to be a matter of record. Through it all, I want to believe that he was truly a chosen prophet and that the Lord used him to restore His own church to the earth. I cannot say "I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet" as I did when I was 6 years old. But I can say "as I've studied his life and his teachings, I believe he was a man of God".

I think that Heavenly Father would be pleased by what I just shared in the previous paragraph, and yet, for some members of the church, my testimony isn’t enough until I can say “I know”. To them, I’d offer that I can’t fully accept their testimonies if every sentence begins with “I know”, especially when some of the statements that follow the words “I know” are extremely hurtful. I guess, at the end of the day, we should all just try harder to create spaces where people are welcome and comfortable sharing what they believe or what they know. I would just like to see less pressure to subscribe to “I know” statements and more support and encouragement anytime someone has to the courage to say “I believe.”