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As I indicated in a post last week, I have this whole list of things I am struggling with spiritually right now, and the second item on the list says SATISFACTION/SPIRITUALITY. I don’t know if I have as much to say about this one as I do about the last, even though in many ways it is bigger. And again, it’s more of a cluster of interrelated issues (that are themselves related to other things on the list) than one discrete one. And it’s a hard one to talk about because it’s vague, abstract, and super personal.

One of the facets of this problem is trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that I hunger for God. I desperately want to know God and be known by God, to experience God’s presence and have that hunger somehow be satisfied in God.

The problem is that God never satisfies, and I don’t know what to do about that.

I can sometimes get little tastes of God’s presence and momentary mild satisfaction in God, but never in the deep, complete sense that I desperately long for. And I only get any of that when I engage in some kind of dedicated spiritual practice. God never calls me; I always have to call God. And even when I call God, never fully satisfies.

Really, it would be easy to just not care about God. That’s what a lot of people do. They’re not worried about it, it doesn’t interest them, so God presence or distance is just irrelevant. God is not a thing they have in their life and they don’t miss God or sense a lack. That would work great for me, except I sense the lack. I have this hunger, and it wants to be satisfied. I want God. I can’t just, not. So here I am.

I have yet to find an approach to spirituality, prayer, spiritual practice, rule of life, or “relationship with Jesus Christ” that leads reliably to any kind of satisfaction in God. Granted, I have never been able to do any of that stuff very reliably or consistently, but that’s one of the relevant variables, isn’t it? A pathway that leads to God that I am unable to walk may as well be a pathway that doesn’t lead to God at all.

This drifts into a second facet, which is that I consistently find that, the darker things are for me (whether it’s a matter of depression, anxiety, or just terrible shit happening), the less I am able to pursue God through spiritual practice. Really, it’s more extreme than that: I am only able to bring myself to pursue God through sustained spiritual practice, but I am only able to engage in sustained spiritual practice when I am in a good place, things are going well, and I am generally emotionally and spiritually healthy. When things are dark, I can’t. And that means that when I need God the most, God is the least there for me.

I mean, on the one hand, I could just totally blame myself. I’m not doing a good enough job of connecting with God, so how should I expect God to be there for me? But I need God to have enough grace for me to be there when I’m unable to reach out for him. I need God to call me when I’m unable to call him. If my relationship with God is solely dependent on my ability to consistently maintain it, then I’m basically screwed. Also, if that’s the case, then God is an asshole, because that’s not how healthy relationships work.

Many very lovely people have recommended all kinds of approaches and spiritual practices to me as ways to connect to God, but most of them are non-starters. I have had some success (during good times) praying the daily office from the Book of Common Prayer, but, like I said, that only holds for as long as things are going well. When I really need God, God is never there. But the hunger stays.

Someone smart told me that the hunger itself is actually a connection to God. That’s probably true, but it doesn’t solve the problem of never feeling satisfied.

Finally, I wonder if I am onto something with last week’s revelation about Mormonism, i.e., that one of the biggest obstacles I have to knowing God deeply (and experiencing God’s presence) is knowing God with all of my pieces, and that means collecting them and honoring and acknowledging all of them. Even–especially–the Mormon ones. But I don’t know what that looks like. My gut says that the way to connect to God is through depth–engaging deeply in a set of spiritual practices over time, but that also involves choosing a framework to engage with, to the exclusion of others, and I don’t know if that works. So it’s a frustrating paradox. Setting aside the fact that God pretty much utterly abandons me every time I even have a dim twilight of the soul, my intuition says that I could theoretically commune with God in, for example, an Anglican way (the daily office, like I’ve been trying to do), but it turns out that doesn’t work because I’m not an Anglican person. Or at least not just an Anglican person. I’m also, deep in my heart center, a Mormon person. So, somehow I need to figure out how to reach out to God in a way that honors all of my messy pieces, I guess. But I don’t have any idea what that even looks like in practice.

And I know there are some of you out there reading this and thinking “oh man, you’re seriously over-complicating this; it’s really so easy to just (fill in the blank with something trite or vague.” Well, fuck you, you smug asshole. I’m doing the best that I can with the tools I have. I’ve already tried simple and it doesn’t work.

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Dear LGBTQ+ friends, neighbors, family and assorted loved ones: I have wronged you and I want to confess it to you and beg for your forgiveness.

I have spent several years trying to reconcile Jesus’s explicit command to love my neighbor with a “biblical” view of human sexuality that tells LGBTQ+ people that they are uniquely broken and uniquely sinful.

As you know, of course, better than anyone else, it just can’t be done.

When I first became a Christian a few years ago, I went headlong into conservative theology because it seemed like the only real, authentic way to believe in and follow Jesus. I immersed myself in garbage theology because I thought I had to and I allowed myself to be convinced by the lie that I could somehow really love you without also loving who you actually are.

But when systematic theologies and worldviews and constructed ethical systems–or anything else for that matter–meets the actual words of Jesus, everything else has to give way. At the end of the day, Jesus is the lens through which we see God most clearly, and it is most clear to me that Jesus loves you and has a seat for you at his table the way you are. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Jesus also said that every good tree bears good fruit, and every bad tree bears bad fruit. The fruit of conservative Christian doctrines about human sexuality for LGBTQ+ people has been one long nightmare of pain, rejection, heartbreak, isolation, and even torture and murder. If that’s not an indictment straight out of Jesus’s mouth, I don’t know what is. The fruit is not just bad, but heinous, so the doctrine is also heinous.

So to my LGBTQ+ friends, neighbors and family, I tell you this: I am sorry. I was horribly, horribly wrong. I love you, I affirm you, I am here for you, I will advocate for you. And I am committed to speaking truth to a church that cannot possibly love Jesus the way it says it does, because it refuses to love you.

Postscript: I posted this back in April elsewhere on social media, but I wanted to make sure it was here too, especially today in honor of National Coming Out Day.

God is Gay

God is Gay

This is something I posted on Instagram during Pride Month, but I wanted to post it here, too, as long as I have this thing back up and running, and especially today in honor of National Coming Out Day.

So, Here is what I mean when I say that God is Gay:

First, I mean that Jesus was gay. Maybe not literally gay in the sense that he experienced exclusive same-sex attraction (although maybe; we don’t know), but in the sense that to understand who Jesus was through a 21st century lens we have to see him first and foremost in the faces of oppressed and reviled minorities. I just read a headline that says that 55% of people surveyed would be okay with having a gay or trans coworker. That means that more than 4 out of 10 would not. We live in a country where LGBTQ+ people can legally be discriminated against, where they are routinely made victims of violence, and where their right to exist is up for discussion. Jesus, as a member of an oppressed people under the heel of a brutal empire, had a lot more in common with 21st century queer people than with suburban well-off white cishet Evangelicals.

Second, God personally identifies with LGBTQ+ people. The Bible shows over and over again that God identified with the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden. In Matthew 25, Jesus says “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” God identifies with queer people in the deepest, most personal way. God stands with them so completely that he becomes one of them.

Third, God is queer in the sense that God breaks down our binaries and disrupts our categories, turning everything upside down. God blurs life and death in the resurrection. Jesus breaks down the distinction between creator and created in the incarnation. The trinity dissolves the difference between one and many. The last will be first and the first will be last. The gospel turns the world upside down. God is not just queer, God is the queerest thing that exists because God rewrites existence itself.

Finally, when I say that God is Gay, I am saying, unequivocally and without reservation, that God made LGBTQ+ people in his image, including their sexuality. If you are queer, God doesn’t just love you for who you are, he made you who you are in his own image, including your queerness.

Postscript: I had that t-shirt custom made. You can get one if you want; I have them set up to sell for cost so I don’t make anything off of them (I think).

I have this whole list of things I am struggling with spiritually right now. It’s a thing I do maybe every six months when my level of frustration about God and church and spirituality starts to bubble over and I lose my grip on my ability to articulate just what exactly is the problem. Because it’s never just one problem, it’s always a bunch of interconnected problems so the one-sentence answer is never really sufficient. So I try to write it all down, chart it all out, and explain it, first and foremost to myself, but also to anyone else who is trying to come alongside me and finding me frustrating. Inevitably, the list/chart/diagram/equation is completely different from what it was when I did the same thing six months earlier. I definitely have a sense of a moving target. Someone less charitable might say that I am always looking for something to be dissatisfied about, but being dissatisfied feels bad, so I am definitely not being dissatisfied on purpose.

So right now I have a new list, and at the top it says BELONGING/INTEGRATION. I don’t know that this is the most important thing on my list, but it’s arbitrarily first, so I’m going to write about it first. It also clearly connects to my previous post, about embracing my identity as a Mormon despite my non-membership and non-belief. And, of course, it’s two different things, and could certainly be two entries on the list. Sorry; this is just gonna have to be the way it is.

Deep in my gut, I feel like knowing God and following Jesus is something that should be done in deep community. This is probably partially baggage from my Mormon upbringing–I first learned about God in tight-knit Mormon spaces, as a part of a community of believers with a strong, discrete cultural identity. So, by default, that’s what it feels like how knowing God and following Jesus should be shaped.

My problem is that I don’t really have that, and I might have to make peace with the idea of never really having that.

In the past few years of so, during which I have been sort of evangelical or at least I have existed in various states of evangelical-adjacency, one thing has been crystal clear to me: evangelicals are not my people. Everything about evangelicals and evangelical culture and evangelical expressions of worship and spirituality feels like petting the cat backwards. And it’s not just a matter of unfamiliarity or newness. I have put in the time and effort, and it always feels 100% wrong. Setting aside my theological problems with evangelicalism (I will write a post about them later, but it boils down to Matthew 7:16), the whole endeavor just does not fit me right. I never feel at home.

This ill-fittingness isn’t just in evangelical churches; it’s in all evangelical spaces. I have many lovely evangelical friends with whom I love spending time and being in community, but as soon as you get more than about three of them in a group together, the air changes and I can’t breathe anymore.

I could certainly go and look for community in non-evangelical churches, but to be honest, my community bandwidth is pretty full already. My wife and I put hospitality at the top of our list of values, and we have a lot of people in our lives. And, as I alluded above, despite my dissatisfaction and difficulty with evangelical spaces, we do have a lot of community with evangelical people. So the idea of making space for a whole additional community of church people is pretty daunting, especially since church people are not exactly on my new friends wish list.

And more importantly, I have no particular reason to think that I will fully fit into any community of believers because I am coming to realize that I will never be able to be just one thing, spiritually. I can’t fully be one with my Methodist congregation (not that I have one, or am planning to; it’s just an example) because I have discovered that I still have a big part of me that has a Mormon identity. And I have some part of me that has a pagan identity, too. And probably another spiritual identity or two. I’m not going to be able to fully become part of a community because I will always be fractured. I belong too many places, so I will never really belong in any of them. In being true to myself and trying to know God with all of me, follow Jesus with all of me, I have to let go of the idea that I will be able to do that in deep community with others, because, in the wise words of Rocket Raccoon, “Ain’t no thing like me, except me!”

And that’s how we get to Integration. I am discovering that one of the biggest obstacles I have to knowing God deeply is knowing him with all of my pieces, and that means collecting them and honoring and acknowledging all of them. And that places limits on the extent to which I can truly know God in community.

I will admit that this makes me sad. It is a thing I have to mourn. I miss it. The Mormon idea of Zion, the utopian vision of a people who are deeply in community with each other and with God, of one heart and one mind with no poor among them, is an idea that is deeply embedded in my psyche. But I don’t know that I am able to be of one heart and one mind with anyone. It’s certainly not going to happen at church.

On the other hand, I had lunch today with Pastor Lura Groen, and she said that there are more people like me, with fragmented spiritual identities and messes of baggage, than I realize, and that for people like me, building a deep community can mean constructing a support system from people who are a part of or on the fringes of different groups and circles–a person or two here and a person or two there. So maybe there is still a Zion for me, even if it doesn’t look like the image of Zion that I have in my head.

I Am A Mormon

Over the past few weeks it has become more and more apparent to me that, in a very real sense that will never go away, I am still a Mormon.

It’s been more than a decade since my de facto exodus from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and nine years since I formally resigned my membership. I am not likely to become a member ever again, and I disavow many of the church’s truth claims. I never, ever wonder if I made the wrong choice, or if the Church is Really Actually True After All.

But as I continue to struggle to find my way spiritually through the world, and to navigate my relationship with God (and it’s a big struggle, and one I hope to talk more about in the coming few days), I have realized that one of the many issues I have to work through, spiritually speaking, is how to integrate all of my pieces.

The reality for me is that, as attracted as I am to unidirectional zeal, I am never just going to be One Thing. I’m never going to be a Methodist, and nothing but a Methodist, through and through. (I mean, I don’t think I’m ever going to be a Methodist at all, but that’s just an example). Every time I try to be just one thing, I wind up only able to hold it together for a little while and then I disintegrate again. Because it’s always a lie. The truth is that, spiritually speaking, I contain multitudes.

I have a lot of pieces and I have to figure out how to integrate them.

Some of my pieces are bigger than others, and one of the biggest pieces is that I am a Mormon, regardless of my membership status in an organization or my belief in a given set of truth claims. I am still, in a real and deep sense, a Mormon. I was raised in a devout Mormon family, I went to primary, I was baptized and confirmed at age eight, I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood at age twelve, became a deacon, teacher and then priest, I was active as a youth, I passed and blessed the sacrament every week for years, I graduated from Seminary, I received a Patriarchal Blessing, I was ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood, I made covenants in the temple, I served a full-time mission for two years, I returned with honor, I went to Institute, I met a girl and married her in the temple, I read the Book of Mormon fifteen times in two different languages, I prayed, fasted, and sought the guidance of the Holy Ghost, I spoke in Sacrament Meeting, I taught Sunday School, I served as Ward Mission Leader, I blessed my firstborn child in front of the congregation. I can walk away from that in the sense of formal disaffiliation from an organization, and my beliefs can evolve over the years, but come on. How am I going to say that all of that didn’t form and shape who I am as a person? Of course it did. To claim otherwise would be absurd.

My ancestors crossed the goddamn plains. How am I going to say that I am not Mormon?

When I talk about integrating my pieces, I am not talking about combining religions into some sort of weird syncretism, so much as I am just talking about figuring out a way to hold those pieces loosely together and not neglecting them completely. Because I am all of these pieces and if I just pretend I am not, then I think I will never be satisfied and never know God the way God knows me, becaue God knows me in all of my multitudes.

Of course, this also means, on some level, dealing with the fact that I will never be a full-insider in any religious community. And that makes me sad, because it’s something I want, but it’s also something that I wind up never really wanting, because the shoe never really fits right.

And I worry that it means that real spiritual depth might be elusive. I have an intuition that commitment to a spiritual direction is the key to truly diving deep. I hope that’s not the case, but I am afraid it is, because I want spiritual depth, but I just can’t pursue it at the cost of neglecting who I am spiritually. (Like, I literally can’t–I have tried and I always fail.)

So then, what does being a Mormon mean to me? Because, like I said above, it certainly doesn’t mean re-affiliating with the Salt Lake City church. Mostly, I don’t know what it means in terms of the big picture. I don’t really know what it means to hold all of my pieces together, even loosely, and still try to find and know and experience God in the middle of that. And I don’t know what it means in terms of navigating Sunday mornings, which are always complicated for me, no matter what I do. But I do know a few things that it means:

-It means I’m allowed to listen to “Come, Come Ye Saints” and still get choked up about it. And I can claim it as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to find this crazy nineteenth century prairie vision of Zion incredibly compelling. And I can claim it as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to still believe that families can be together forever (whether or not that has anything to do with what a bunch of octogenarian men say about The Temple), on a gut, visceral level. And I can claim that as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to find the Book of Mormon’s imagery and symbols compelling and meaningful. And I can claim them as mine.

-It means I can identify with and align myself with the people on the fringes of Mormonism (in and out). There are some pretty great people out there doing some pretty great un-correlated things. And I can claim them as mine.

I am a Mormon. I have always been a Mormon. I will always be a Mormon. It’s time that I made peace with that.

Postscript: I guess it’s interesting that I am thinking through this right at the time when the Salt Lake City Church, under Russell M. Nelson’s leadership, is distancing itself from the name “Mormon.” As silly as I think that is, I think it is infinitely preferable to the SLC Church trying to claim the term for itself alone and zealously police it’s use. Mormonism is a lot bigger than one organization.

Second postscript: My good friend Katie wrote a great post recently on similar themes, except hers is way more poetic, generous and Christlike and way less navel-gazing than mine.

I took this blog offline a while ago.  Now it’s back on.  I’m not 100% sure whether I will actually start writing again or not, but at least you can read old posts if you want.

This video from the Mormon Channel is currently making the rounds on social media. It depicts a mother going through a day of frustrations, failing to accomplish the items on her to-do list, failing to meet other people’s expectations, being ignored and/or taken for granted, and ultimately having to cancel her own plans (which she had clearly been looking forward to all day)because of the tornado of things that got in her way. At the end, crying and hopeless, she hears her son pray his goodnight prayers, and suddenly she realizes all the good she actually did that she didn’t realize she had done, because she had been focused on what she was unable to do.

“You Never Know” is clearly intended to encourage and give hope to mothers (and others!) who feel like they just are never able to measure up, to do everything they are supposed to do and still take care of themselves. The message is, “hey now, don’t get so discouraged, you did better than you thought you did!”

Most of the criticism I’ve seen focuses on the absurdity of the specifics (that project really won the science fair?), the parenting problems (making your kid a second meal after they reject the first), the gender issues (why are there apparently no able men anywhere?), the value judgments about life choices (the career-oriented and accordingly selfish sister) and the terrible modeling of interpersonal relationships (COME ON WOMAN, LEARN TO SAY NO TO SAVE YOUR SANITY).

In other words, the critics say, the problem is not the concept, but the execution. But the thing is, the problem is definitely the concept, and it’s a big problem.

Even looked at as charitably as possible, the message of this video is still firmly built on the premise that your value is based on your merits. Whether its the things you know you do or the things “you never know” that you do, at the end of the day, the question is still, what did you do? Folks, that’s what we call the Bad News. Spoiler alert: you will never do enough. You will always fail. You will never measure up, ever. Even if you add in all the good you do that “you never know,” you still fall miserably, wretchedly, abysmally short.

But the Good News is that Jesus Christ did enough, Jesus Christ never fails, and if you will put your trust completely in him and nothing else, He offers grace to you that is truly amazing: in him, you have also done enough. In Jesus Christ, you have already succeeded.

You don’t deserve God’s grace. You could never deserve God’s grace. And that’s precisely what makes it grace: you have failed, and God is under absolutely no obligation to do anything other than to subject you to his unbearable wrath, but even so, God gives eternal life to those who believe. Not because they earn it or deserve it, but because Jesus Christ earned it. Jesus paid it all.

That’s the good news: at the end of the day, the answer is that Jesus did everything.

And that’s also why criticism based on the need to set healthy boundaries is misplaced and will fall on deaf ears. As long as someone believes that they have to earn their salvation, your plea to them to do less for their own sake is completely and utterly vain. They know perfectly well that God demands nothing less than absolute perfection and unbounded righteousness, and they know perfectly well that God demands sacrifice.

People don’t need to be told to give themselves a little break, fall a little short, and God is okay with that (even if you actually did “more than you know”). People need to be told that Jesus already did everything.

Matthew 22:1-14 is a parable, and it has nothing to do with ceremonial symbolic underwear.

We are told in the New Testament to put off the old man (Colossians 3:9 and Ephesians 4:22) and put on Jesus Christ (Romans 13:13 and Galatians 3:27).

The man without the wedding garment is cast out because he hasn’t been called by God and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The problem is not that he is wearing the wrong underwear, it’s that he wasn’t invited to the wedding feast.

Look at Ezekiel 16–the whole chapter is absolutely beautiful–God finds us wretched, filthy, and playing harlot, and He dresses us in glorious new clothing and makes us his bride.

Rituals and ceremonial objects won’t save you. Only the grace of God and the blood of the Lamb will.

(This post is adapted from a comment on Wheat & Tares, and that comment was mostly a paraphrase of John Calvin’s commentaries).

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

“For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14

“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)” Philippians 3:17-19

I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, which meant that I had very few Mormon friends and many if not most of the people I went to school with were some kind of evangelical Christian. I often secretly envied them.

Even so the words and phrases they used to talk about their faith often really bugged me. It was so alien, and so off-putting.

Turns out those words and phrases were almost always actually from the Bible.

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