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.