Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Series of Sundays, Part 5

May 10, 2009

I Chose and my world was shaken,
So what?
The choice may have been mistaken...
The Choosing was not...


As I closed the bathroom door behind me, I realized I was in the midst of a time of endings and beginnings.  Some I was prepared for and others I had not.  Graduation and the end of my job on campus had been in sight for months, as was my impending departure for South America.  My brother Darin was in a similar point in his life. 

Just an hour ago, he'd made a decision that would affect the rest of his life.  I sat outside the Stake President's office with my father and mother as well as my older brother's family.  After several persistent months of doctor's visits, interviews, and paperwork, Darin was now prepared to submit his application to serve as an LDS missionary. 

He would be the third of three boys and the third generation to go out clad in black nametag, shirt, and tie.  It was a fate ascribed to us from the moment we were born.  Five years ago, I'd been in his place as my brother had fifteen years ago and my father nearly forty years. 

My mind turned to that moment-- to the utter unpreparedness of my nineteen year-old self preparing to commit two years of my life to a cause which I had my doubts, though it was still something in which I held faith, albeit incomplete. 

stake president interview

"Do you feel prepared, GMB, to serve the Lord with all your heart, might, mind, and strength?" President Matheson asked me earnestly.

"I don't know how I could be feel more prepared," I answered.  His smile consoled my doubt as much as it could.  "Everything's been ideal for me.  My parents are great.  I've had great leaders and teachers.  I'm not without doubt, though.  I've fought with that for a long time."

"GMB, no one's faith is perfect.  And sometimes that's all we have to act on, but know that you will be prepared.  By committing yourself to the covenants you've made, you'll find all of the answers you need.  They come in time, and I'll still admit I'm finding them all the time."

"That's something I really needed to hear," I blurted out from across the mahogany desk, my every gesture communicating the relief I felt. 

"I know you're under a lot of pressure, but everything that makes me the man I am today stemmed from that decision to serve a mission and commit myself to the covenants we make in the temple."

My arms folded across my chest, I nodded-- confident in the decision I was making.  Four years later, I sat with the same expression and the same confidence rushing through me. 

The door opened and Darin emerged letting out a sigh as he stepped across the threshold into a new segment of his life.  Soon he would be our missionary, the topic of conversation at every family gathering for two years in his absence, but in that moment we hugged, realizing that this was one of our final moments together for a long time. 

graphic concept 03 - continents in boroughs

Of course, I would be leaving for Chile and Darin soon thereafter to some unknown corner of the globe.  However, what was less apparent in that moment was the other change on the horizon. 

We drove home a happy family: my mother changing the Sunday station back to her weekday oldies, my father making a pun, Darin and I shaking our heads but still laughing in our "intellectual disgust."  We then said our goodnights and went our separate ways.

Looking in the mirror as I contemplated the day and prepared for my shower, my future and my past collided.  I looked at myself, at the person I'd become and I was satisfied.  I had accomplished more than I would have ever anticipated: success in school and work as well as the most complete understanding of myself I'd ever achieved. 

I'd gone as far as I could on that path, however.  Despite all of the growth I owed to the teachings of the church, and the success I'd garnered as a result of serving a mission, I felt limited by the options I had.  I'd lived the celibate life I'd been prescribed for a year and come to the conclusion (after deciding not to decide for so long) that it was not what was meant for me for an entire lifetime. 

I stared at myself from across the counter loosening my tie, unbuttoning my shirt, and pulling away the layers one by one until I stood in my white undergarments.  Five years ago, I put them on in an act of faith and obedience.   Standing as a constant reminder of the standards I was to hold and the godly power supporting me in this journey, I stood in awe of the holy garments for a moment.


Then, I removed them for the last time and stood before myself completely vulnerable: a small gut veiled by chest hair, breasts slightly plump for a man, tiger-stripe stretch marks lining the sides of my body. My strengths became just as apparent as I scrutinized my frame:  muscular legs shaped by years climbing up hills, arms colored olive by the rays of the sun, angular face framed by scruff.

For years, I'd been taught that this was God's greatest gift, that the human body stands as a vessel of godliness containing the power of creation.  Somehow, the elevation of the body as a glorious construction of a godless universe also seemed compatible in that moment.  So, I realized as I hunched over and stared into my own brilliantly hazel eyes a simple truth-- whether God existed or not, whether He created me or not, I had the potential within me to make a life of which I could be proud-- a life with which I could be satisfied and happy.

End of Series.

End, Book I.


naturgesetz said...

"For years, I'd been taught that this was God's greatest gift, that the human body stands as a vessel of godliness containing the power of creation."

This reminds me of something Pope John Paul II said in the talks he gave presenting his Theology of the Body. Here is how it is paraphrased in the book I am excerpting on my blog. "The body is a primordial sacrament, a visible sign of God's invisible mystery. This is the mystery of truth and love, of the divine life, in which the human person really participates. The body alone is capable of making visible the invisible. It was created to be a sign of God's love in the visible world.
"Through man, created in God's image, the sacramentality of the world is revealed. By means of the physical body, the human person is a visible sign of the love out of which God created all things." (Emphasis added)

In fact, in his own words, the Pope also said that the body is "created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God."

No doubt there are some differences between Catholic and Mormon theology on this point, but I was struck by the element of resemblance.

Keaton said...

Standing as a constant reminder of the standards I was to hold and the godly power supporting me in this journey, I stood in awe of the holy garments for a moment. Then, I removed them for the last time and stood before myself completely vulnerable.

You have to explain this. To give away power & support & purposely become vulnerable. I know its complex and simple at the same time. If you ever needed some heavenly connection that garments give it not now in this struggle? I well understand that the table at the institution is not inspiring but your personal spirituality something very separate must carry forth with hope and courage. Your body is a work of beauty and power and seeks fullfillment. Why can't the physical and the spiritual unite?

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

@naturgesetz: This is really fascinating. I'm thankful for these doctrinal connections you make. It helps to see other people viewing the world similarly. Far too often in religion, people are afraid of understanding other religions out of fear, when there is so much to be gained from it.

@Keaton: It is indeed a complex passage incumbent upon the context of all of my preceding posts, especially the last four. In so many ways I felt like the things in life I was supposed to be able to depend on and strengthen me were the very things tearing me down and making me unhappy.

A change was necessary: in becoming vulnerable I became stronger; I began building a life of my own rather than the one pre-manufactured for me. I began fulfilling, depending on one's view, a deeper promise to God: that I would make life worth living rather than living in frustration, anger, and stagnation.

Admittedly, the answer itself is semi-ambiguous because that is the nature of paradox.

Biki Honko said...

I applaud your courage and devotion to charting an unknown path to search for your own meaning of what you life is supposed to be.

We can only so long live life proscribed by others before it begins to erode our very foundation of our selves. What makes me so sad, is that often what is right and true runs counter to every thing we have been taught as true as children.

Miranda said...

Your words have such power and your courage is amazing. I have been an ardent admirer from a distance for some time.
I do not pretend to understand all the feelings of your heart, but you have helped me to clarify some of mine. That is the test of great writing.
I have been thinking about religion all day--with this thought in mind. When I was a child I saw God in black and white and everything was clear. There were answers to every question. The older I get the more subtle shades of gray I see and the more reason I find to turn to him on my knees in supplication for understanding about the questions I can never fully express. I have faith that one day the answers will come when I am ready to understand them.

Carla Schmidt Holloway said...

"By committing yourself to the covenants you've made, you'll find all of the answers you need."

That kind of certainty is what I think enslaves people to religions, that no matter how much is asked of them, if they get a certainty that they are in the right and that they will be rewarded in the end, they will stay.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

@Biki: Thans for the kind words. I think it's an especially difficult lesson to learn. It really is sad to see what happens to kids who are taught these things. In the wake of gay teen suicide #6 in recent weeks, I think there's a lot to consider in this vein.

@Miranda: I'm glad to hear you've enjoyed my story. It's gotten more difficult to share as I realize more people will take offense with the lessons I've learned and the decisions I've made, but your feedback and the emails of a few anonymous readers have shown me that I've done far more good by sharing than I ever could by keeping this all to myself.

Yes, things do get complicated into shades of gray. Often, one of the simplest things we can do is go back to the old lessons in new light. Whenever some criticism comes my way, I ask, "Have I done any good in the world today?" and I feel better because I don't need to worry about others' opinions quite so much when I can tell myself that I know I'm a good person.

@Carla: I've seen too many promises of "pray the gay away" destroy people emotionally and psychologically to know something is awry when reason is not involved in choices.

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