Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Celebrity Guest Post #4

*I know many of my non-christian friends might be very confused by how Christians view homosexuality. I wrote this post to a primarily mormon audience and did not defend or address the "why" of our opposition to homosexual marriage or intimacy. If you have any questions, facebook me or email me at ianbaen@gmail.com.*



A few months ago, I told my father that every Friday night I attended a support group for Latter-day saints who experience same gender attraction (SGA). Now, I do attend the group, but I don't experience SGA. I just wanted to see what he would say (and in case your curious, he did handle it very well).

I met Spencer on the last night of our missionary service in Ontario, and have kept in touch since. In August, Spencer told me about his SGA  and, in September, he asked if I would become an advisor to the group I referred to above. These meetings quickly became the most educational and enlightening part of my week.

The group is not affiliated with the church, but the group is founded upon church teachings. It is a place for LDS with SGA who want to live church standards to come and support one another. The role of an advisor is to make sure that the content of the meeting is inline with church doctrine and that inappropriate relationships do not form within group membership. Meetings start with a hymn, prayer, and a lesson. The final hour to hour and a half is reserved for sharing time. Sharing time is time allotted for members of the group to share whatever they want to share. I have heard experiences about everything from pornography addiction, familial abuse, suicide, depression, and intense feelings of lack of self-worth to stories of healing, self-acceptance, deep familial love, and incredible spiritual experiences.

I will share only three of the lessons and stories that highlighted my experience at the group. I choose to share only a small portion of what I could because I can't imagine anyone has a great attention span for the quality of writing a computer science major produces. Oh, and also I told Spencer that I would have this done in February.

No Greater Struggle.
I'm not sure I personally know of a greater struggle than to be a lifelong active mormon and be gay. A short story told by a member of the group illustrated that to me. Gavin (obviously not his real name) told us of the moment when he felt his mother came to understand some of his struggle. One day, he and his mother were in the kitchen talking. His mother mentioned that she never understood how people could call living the gospel a "sacrifice", because every time that a person does something good they are blessed. Gavin then broke into tears and said, "Mom, because of my belief in this gospel, I am going to have to be alone for the rest of my life." I wish I could adequately communicate that moment.

I am not going to try to expand further why this is such an immense trial, but instead challenge you to take a second and ask yourself, "What would that life be like?"

To The Core.
Many of difficulties discussed in the group are far from unique to gay Latter-day Saints. Many in the group fight an extreme lack of self-confidence and lack of self-worth. Your immediate thought to that statement was probably, "That is because their entire lives they have been told that homosexuality is weird, strange, or wrong. They, therefore, deep down think that they are weird, strange, or wrong." I think there is a lot more to it than that; I unfortunately just don't know what.

I wish I could give everyone in that group (and everyone else for that matter) a deep sense of their value. I love the members of that group so much. I wish they could see their own strength, humility, and how amazing they are. They motivate me to be better and to really find happiness in life (the church pounds into our heads that marriage is the source of ultimate mortal happiness, as I think it is. But having to contemplate with them a life without marriage, I have asked myself regularly "Who would I have to be to find deep long-term happiness without marriage?" When I consider that question with a sense of reality, I don't know if I have a good answer). The group has taught me that I can't be really happy until I love myself.

God 
If anyone ever tells you that God doesn't love homosexuals, politely tell them they are absolutely wrong (I had a harsher rebuke, involving words such as "inbred", but my proof reader/dad recommended I not be so mean).

I have only guesses to why such powerful homosexual feelings exist, and yet acting on them is considered sinful. I do not know why God picked certain spirits for certain bodies and trials.

But this I do know, God loves them so much. I have heard their spiritual experiences and have profoundly felt the spirit as they have shared their struggles. In their struggles, God has far from abandoned them.

Knowest thou the condescension of God?
I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

The White Witch's Mistake


"Did you honestly think that by all this you could save the human traitor? You are giving me your life and saving no one. So much for love." --The White Witch (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 2005 movie)

How often do you hear this lie from Satan in regard to the Atonement? How often does he tell you that you 'wasted" the Savior's blood? It's never wasted. The Atonement is always available to save you. And no matter which side you choose, Satan will lose and Christ will win.

I have to wonder what lies Satan told the Savior as He suffered in Gethsemane, as He mocked that night, and as He crucified on Calvary. I imagine it was similar to what the Witch said to Aslan. “So much for love.” I can see Satan whispering to the Savior as He kneeled in Gethsemane, “You are in so much pain and yet they won’t repent. They’re mine anyway. You’re wasting your time. You are suffering and killing Yourself for no good reason.”

I think he also tells each of us the same lies. “You have gone too far. You can’t repent now. It’s too late. You might as well give up. Christ suffered for you and you’ve gone too far; you’ve wasted His blood.”

Narnia has been one of my favorites for years! Aslan being a type of Christ has taught me so much about the Atonement, from something as commonly understood as Aslan sacrificing himself to save Edmund from the White Witch (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), to something as intimate for me as Aslan quietly protect Shasta (The Horse and His Boy).

Like Edmund, we have all made mistakes, betrayed those we love, told lies, gotten angry, and said things we didn’t mean. Like Edmund, we have all felt guilt and remorse for those mistakes. And (hopefully) like Edmund, that remorse has pushed us toward humility and repentance in order to make amends for what we’ve done.

Look forward to more Narnia posts. I’ve been hoping to do them for a long while and now it’s just time!


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Satan and the Cybermen

So I’ve recently been re-watching pretty much all of Doctor Who with Garrett as he’s still catching up (four seasons in less than a month, that’s impressive). While watching a Season 2 (Tenth Doctor) episode, I had a thought come up. So, just so you’re aware, SPOILER ALERT for season 2.
  
In the two-part episode “Rise of the Cyberman”/”The Age of Steel”, one of the Doctor’s foes from the Classic Doctor Who series is re-introduced. Simply put, Cybermen are robotic humans. Literally. They literally take a human body and put it in a suit of metal. In addition, all emotion is eradicated or inhibited because it is seen as a weakness.

While watching the Cybermen take over London, I couldn’t help but think that Cybermen and their world paradigm is EXACTLY how life would have been under Satan’s plan. That was always the hard question in Sunday school growing up; why was Satan’s plan a bad idea? Why would we reject it? No pain, no death, no sin, and no troubles. Sounds like paradise doesn’t it? Well, after watching the Cybermen… yeah, I can’t quite say that.


One of the goals of the Cybermen is to remove pain (physically, emotionally, etc.), eliminate death, and stop hardship. However, in doing that everyone becomes exactly the same. That’s how I imagine Satan’s plan. Uniform, emotionless, painless, and loveless. No differences in any regard. No variety. Nothing to stretch for. Nothing to strive for.

Something that bothers me about cultural Mormons is the idea that if someone is different in any way, they’re a sinner. This is totally bogus! Just a few weeks ago in General Conference, President Uchtdorf said this during Priesthood Session:

“But while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.” (April 2013, “Four Titles”)

As much as I love BYU, sometimes the culture here can come across like this. We have to put on a face. We have to have no struggles. We have to be “perfect Mormons” because we’re at “the Lord’s university”. We have to date. We have to get married. We have to have families. Sadly, not everyone can fit that mold. Nor would I want everyone to fit that mold. We all have struggles. We all have things we’re working on, be it something as “small” as being thoughtless with our words or as “big” as a pornography addiction. We all feel pain. Pain is okay. Pain is good. Recently a friend of mine told me that he had a boyfriend. My heart broke. It seemed to be making him happy… but even he recognized there was an expiration date on that relationship, be in during life or at the end of life. Sure, it would have been easier as a Cyberman; the heart break hurt a lot. However, the pain told me how much I cared for my friend. Heart break is a sign that we have loved. If it didn’t hurt when someone we love goes off the gospel path, when a family member passes away, or when a dear friend moves far away, how much did we really care?

During another Season 2 episode of Doctor Who “School Reunion”, the Doctor’s former companion Sarah Jane Smith says this: “Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love, whether it’s a world or a relationship.” I love that. Pain and loss define us as much as happiness or love. If I had not been teased, excluded, and hurt during middle school and high school, would I be able to appreciate my best friend Garrett? If I had never been hurt and teased, how could I be caring and sympathetic to those around me?

I’ve read a quote that I’ve been unable to find a source for, but I think it describes some of my feelings here: “The loneliest people are the kindest. The saddest people smile the brightest. The most damaged people are the wisest. All because they do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do.”

The scriptures also teach this principle: “And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7)

Satan’s plan, like the Cybermen’s plans, would have removed pain, hurt, and sin, but it would have also removed love, happiness, and joy. It gives me a new sense of understanding of Lehi’s counsel to his son, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” (2 Nephi 2:11)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Voice(s) of Hope, Part 2


I’ve had a hard couple of days, so I decided the best way to deal with it was to do another Voice(s) of Hope post. The ones I decided to do today have been really powerful. As promised, I’m going to summarize three videos and one essay, but please please please visit the website itself and watch the videos and read the essays. I can only capture a small portion of the Spirit that they portray.

"I thought I could probably [make a gay relationship work],
but the Spirit had shown me something different." --Jeff Bennion
I’m going to start off today with Jeff and Tanya Bennion’s video. They both also wrote essays for the Voice(s) of Hope book (the last two, in fact) and their essays together are probably my favorite ones, as far as how couples where one partner has SSA should react. I’ve met them both in real life and they are AMAZING people and Jeff has helped me out several times when I’ve needed support. I could relate to a lot of what Jeff said in the video. He talked about how he was first “forced” into accepting his SSA by the Spirit while on his mission, because it was inhibiting his ability to be an effective missionary. That step was incredibly important for him. After returning home, he began telling people slowly. Telling people about his sexuality slowly rewrote the story in his mind that “They wouldn’t love me if they knew my secret.” I can relate to that. After I told Garrett about my SSA last summer, I knew I didn’t have to be scared to tell anyone else; my best friend still loved me, so who else mattered?

I loved what Jeff said about sacrifice. On a daily basis each of us make the decision between what the carnal body desires and what the Lord assures us will make us happy. Though maybe not consciously, each day I make the decision to sacrifice acting on my homosexual feelings in order to feel the blessings of the gospel and submit to the will of the Lord. From what I know of Jeff and Tanya’s story, I really admire their AMAZINGLY open communication. Even just the fact that Tanya was able to ask Jeff if he ever wanted to live in a gay relationship is powerful. Though I do think that Jeff’s perspective on the question is just as powerful, basically telling her that a better question is “Do you wish you weren’t married to me, so that you could be in a gay relationship?” to which his loving answer was a simple “No.”

"Any area in our life that we know is broken, the
Savior can fix it." --Cedric Phan
Second one today: Cedric Phan. As always, I am always so impressed by the men and women who leave the gay lifestyle in order to join the church. I can’t imagine making that sacrifice, had I not been raised in the church. However, one thing I loved from Cedric’s video was that it wasn’t hard for him. He recognized that the gay scene did not make him happy. What made him happy was being accepted and loved and feeling at home at church and in the gospel. I love that Cedric brings up what it means to be a man, a concept that I believe is totally skewed in our society. A lesson that Cedric learned, which I wholeheartedly agree with, is that being a real man is becoming a Christ-like man. I loved that he talked about how much he has grown and learned from being in the church, because it would DEFINITELY be easier to leave the church at times. At BYU, it’s really hard to feel hounded with the marriage and dating talk. Sometimes it feels like it’d be so much easier to not go to church and not deal with that lecture again. However, I keep going, because I know that I can find immeasurable strength there. To close his video, Cedric quotes a song, “Broken” by Kenneth Cope. This past week I have felt broken, so this song brings me hope and peace: "God loves broken me. Praise His name; my God loves broken things."

"I couldn't have the testimony of the Atonement that I have
without ... same-sex attraction." --Stephen Larsen
Final video for today is of Stephen Larsen. Of all the videos I watched today, I felt that Stephen spoke really specifically of the blessings of gospel in his journey. Like him, I can say that if it wasn’t for the gospel, I would not have made it through the lonely years of third grade through the end of high school. If it wasn’t for the gospel, I would not have survived at BYU as a 19-year-old and later a 20-year-old RM. Like Stephen, a lot of my peace has come through having support, having brotherhood, and having friends. I loved Stephen’s affirmation that it’s okay if he, if I, or if any man or woman cannot get married in this life. Singleness is not the end. One of the things I try to work on is the concept of being happy regardless of whether I’m currently interested in any girls (which I currently am, I suppose), whether I’m dating someone, or whether I’m married. I’ve been told (and I believe it) that if a person isn’t happy single, they won’t be happy married either.

The essay for today really touched me and really tore at me. It was by Ed Hayward, who has a transgendered child. His daughter Eri was born a boy who they named Eddie. Over the years, Eddie had crushes on boys and thought he was gay, finally coming to understand that he was not gay, but transgendered. The heartache and struggle that Ed and his wife went through in accepting the struggles of their son going through the process of physically becoming a woman. These stories always hit me differently. I don’t understand transgendered feelings much. Last before this last year, I didn’t know anything about it at all until one of my childhood friends told me that he was going through hormone therapy to become a woman. I admit that I still don’t understand. It has taught me a lot about how I suppose straight people feel about SSA, not understanding how it’s possible or how it could possibly feel, but still sympathizing as best they can.

I am grateful for the hope I feel in reading the Voice(s) of Hope essays and watching the videos. I have felt the love of my Savior and my Father from it and it continues to things get better. As I trust in Him and do my best to take care of myself, I see that it gets better.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Supermom


So with Mother’s Day having happened this Sunday, I want to shamelessly do a post about how amazing my mother is. She is amazing to me because of all the things she’s done for me and all the things that she has taught me both directly and through her example.

Let’s start off with her ability to love and sacrifice for others. I remember countless times that she would go out of her way to serve others. I remember that when I was a junior in high school she had a brother in the ward over for dinner each night while his wife was in the hospital after breaking her leg. She knew he was going through a hard enough time that he didn’t need to worry about making dinner for himself each night as well.

She is a champion at putting others first! Before she married my dad, she worked as a single mom to provide for herself and for my sister. I’m sure there were many others things she would have rather done than to be a bartender (though she quit that job shortly after joining the church). As long as I was at home, she was always there. It means a lot to me that she was there when I got home from school. She was there on the days when I came home crying because I was bullied. When I had had enough of it at school, she was there to come pick me up and bring me home, somewhere I could feel safe. Until my little brother (Tyler) was in school, she never worked outside the home. We were her top priority. And it wasn’t until Tyler was only a few years from graduating high school that she went back to college when she was fifty to earn her nursing degree. And I would say the only reason she even works outside the home is so that she can pay for trips for our family to get together, since we’re spread out (my sister lives in Colorado, my brother lives in Idaho, I’m in Utah, and the other three kids are in Alberta still), because her family is what has always mattered to her.

She is an example of AMAZING faith. I love the story of the Stripling Warriors for many reasons, but I love it because like them, I learned to have faith from my mother. She has gone through so much in her life. She went through a divorce, worked as a single mom, joined the church, moved from New York to Alberta to marry my dad, endured five C-sections to bring my brothers and I into this world, and she lived on with great faith when she lost one of her children, my baby brother Jay. I was only about 20-months-old when Jay was born/died, but I know how hard it was on my mom. It still affects her. But she lives on because she has faith that because she was married to my dad in the Washington DC Temple on July 17, 1984 that she still has Jay and the rest of us, no matter what happens. She parented me, my brothers, and my sister. She has learned with us as she has taught us. She has learned to followed the Spirit and be an instrument in the hands of the Lord.

I have seen her cry. I have seen her heart break when her children who live far away (me, my brother, and my sister) leave after a vacation or a visit. I have seen her sob when saying goodbye to me as I entered the MTC. She is full of love. She is my angel. She is my hero. I love my mom and I want to be as faithful as she is. She knows what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and that’s how she lives. There is no one that she doesn’t love, because that’s just who she is.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Voice(s) of Hope, Part 1


So it’s been nearly a month since the Voices of Hope website was released. Now, with finals about over and some extra time on my hands, I am finally able to start writing about the videos and essays. So here’s what you’ll see with these Voice(s) of Hope posts. I’m gonna skip Blake, Josh and Lolly, and Katharine’s videos, since I already wrote about them. And from this point out, I’m planning on writing about three videos and one essay at a time. After I run out of essays, I’ll continue to write about three videos at a time and then come to the essays when more get posted. And pretty much I’m just gonna write about what I liked, so that you can still go and enjoy the videos and essays (multiple times). Alright, now that my logistical/planning thing is out of the way, time to write.

"Happiness and joy and peace can be ours if we will take
one step at a time and stay on a higher road." --Sarrah Groves
First I’m gonna start with Sarrah Groves. The first thing I loved about Sarrah’s story was that she says from a young age she knew she was a child of God and it was that valued testimony that she made the choice to pursue in her adult life, because it was more important to her than her fulfilling her sexual desires. Another thing I got was that for her peace came when she stopped needing all the answers of why it happened, but instead immersing herself in the gospel. That being said, it didn’t just go away. Like she says in the video, you may work at it your whole life and that’s okay. I loved one of the things she ended with, because it’s something I struggle with: Take it one step at a time. Pick yourself up when you fall and then keep going.

"It does work out and you’re able to get through it and see
the other side and see that there is hope and joy.” --Alison Frei
Next on my list are Steven and Alison Frei. Currently, Steve is the president of North Star and you can also check out his story in the Voice(s) of Hope book. One of the things I loved the most about their video was their relationship. At one point Steve says that after telling his wife his concerns he said, “What happens if I mess up again?” to which she responded, “I guess we'll start over again.” Nothing judgmental or extreme. Just “we’ll keep going”. I also loved how they said that this struggle will not always be turmoil. I like that they mention that every marriage is tough and takes work. If it’s not SSA, it’s something else. Steve also said that, though it’s not the only problem a person may have in life, it is good and it may be necessary to continually do maintenance or inventory on it. They also mentioned focusing on the things that bring you joy and bring you closer to the Savior, instead of focusing continually on your problems, which I know I’m guilty of.

"When you mix [the ingredients] together, suddenly
you see that there was a design in mind." --David Peterson
Okay. Third video for this post: my friend David Peterson. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, David has helped me through some intense days before and I am very grateful for him for that reason. David starts off his video by describing how his autism has affected him, which I can relate to, to a certain degree. I am really impressed by David’s desire to serve. Both with those who deal with depression and those who deal with SSA, his initial reaction was to help other people. That desire is what brought about his blog, “(Gay) Mormon Guy”. I loved David’s analogy of life to a cooking recipe (in fact I’ve used it twice in elders quorum because I thought it was so good). When cooking, you don’t put flour in the recipe because it tastes good. You put the flour in because it mixes with the baking soda, the yeast, the sugar, etc. in order to make a delicious, soft, fluffy loaf of bread. I liked the analogy because it helps put in perspective better my favorite scripture (Words of Mormon 1:7). I get upset and go into crisis mode, but God looks at is going on with me and knows that the experience is a necessary ingredient that will mix with my other experiences to make me a better man.

The essay I’m looking at today is by Joshua Johanson. When he talks about the bullying he experienced, it resonated with me. Very little of the “bullying” I felt in my life was other boys directly being rude to me or teasing me (probably because they knew they wouldn’t get away with it, because I’d tell someone) so instead it was exclusion and cowardly anonymous attacks. The exclusion and the teasing made me feel different from the boys and made me feel like something was wrong. His words about finding wholeness, peace, and support resonated with me, as I’ve learned (and am still learning) to do the same. His story of getting to a place emotionally/mentally/sexually where he was able to get married inspired me to keep myself in a place where I will be able to be worthy of the same blessing.

I am very grateful for the Voice(s) of Hope project. I have seen it do so much good already and it’s only just beginning. It will grow, it will bless, and it will do what God needs it to. I love the gospel and I love my Savior and I know it is through Him that my life gets better.