My family and I sat huddled in our small living room staring intently at the projection on our wall. We were in the middle of a slideshow of the story of Joseph Smith that the missionaries had come to show us. BEEP! With that, the asthmatic little slide projector announced that it was time to move to the next slide, so one of the Elders pressed the button on the wheezing little machine and the next picture came up. It was of a blonde adolescent boy dressed in 19th century clothes throwing seeds into the air. The accompanying cassette soundtrack announced “Lo haré!” (“I will do it”). It was a re-enactment of the moment when fourteen year old Joseph Smith decided that he would take his question (about which church to join) to God. He was so exited by the prospect of asking God about what was troubling him that he threw his seeds in the air. At least that was how the church’s audio-visual department had decided to portray that seminal moment. It may or may not have been a historically accurate rendition but the freeze-frame picture of the young Joseph throwing his seeds into the air stayed with me. So did the idea that he (and by extension I) could ask for and receive answers from our Heavenly Father.
Twenty-four years later my family and I were no longer living in our little home in the barrio of Santa Ana. Instead, we were now comfortably situated in Mapleton, a sleepy little town just south of Provo, Utah. I was just coming upon the end of three particularly challenging years. The effects of closetedness with its incumbent isolation and sorrows and many other things had finally come to a fore for me. Something needed to change or I would not be able to go on. To give you an idea of just how I found myself I had taken to sleeping in a tent, indoors, in my hemi-bedroom, on the first tier of a bunk bed. I used the second tier to hold covers that created a second layer of protection around the tent. Protection from what? From a seemingly unsafe world. From the feeling that I could only ever be a secondary citizen in God’s kingdom. But most importantly I was hiding from myself as a gay person. I would sleep through the day and wake at night, when it seemed most peaceful and safe to be about. It was a very large and dark room, with a tiny lamp and I rather liked it that way. It was a perfect reflection of how I felt; the darkness was palpable, heavy, and cavernous. It is in the middle of all of this that I remembered what I had learned all those years ago in Santa Ana. The freeze-frame of a boy throwing his seeds into the air determined to ask of God, and the lesson about the power of personal revelation.
If ever there was anyone that lacked wisdom, that needed desperately to know what was good and true it was me. So it was that on an April night I finally broke down and asked God with a sincere heart, with real intent and full vulnerability, if it was ok that I was gay. And it is there, huddled in my little tent that I felt a full and unyielding love flow over me and felt a resounding yes echo in my heart. James was right; He had given me liberally of His love. The gift and principle of personal revelation is something I am grateful to have been taught as a Mormon. Without it I could have never come to accept and love myself. My little tent in an immense and poorly lit room is hardly as beautiful a setting as the grove in which the Prophet Joseph Smith prayed to God yet there it is. It became my sacred grove. The lesson of God’s artistry went beyond the freeze-frame and became real for me. I learned that God could weave color and beauty into even the most plain and forgotten tapestries and breathe life into them. That night I began to wake from my long sleep in Gethsemane.
Next, I decided to speak about being LGBT more and more openly, to see where my journey, my personal quest for peace and authenticity, would lead. This has led to doing advocacy work on behalf of the LGBT community. Seldom have I felt the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, as I have in working to improve the conversation and conditions of my LGBT brothers and sisters. These fruits have slowly replaced the heavy necrotic tissue of hopelessness that had weighed my heart down and have grafted in its place light, possibility, beauty and faith. Recently I spoke at a non-discrimination rally and there was an energy there, an uplifting power, the kind of feeling that comes when God’s children from a marginalized community are being elevated; almost what I imagine it might have felt like to be made whole while lying by the pool of Bethsaida. I am grateful that I was taught about the fruits of the spirit; that we discussed these things in Seminary. Because of that foundation, I have learned to listen closely to and trust what resonates with my heart and what leads me to feel love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness and faith.
Lastly, there are days when the going is not so easy. Days when hearing the stories of LGBT homeless youth, for example, can feel overwhelming. Days when a well meaning but uninformed member of my congregation says something that makes it difficult to feel welcome and to want to sit in the pews and worship. It is on these days that I remember the legacy of my pioneer brothers and sisters; they who with faith in every footstep continued to put one foot in front of the other even when being marginalized and driven from their homes, in part being cast out because they did not conform sexually to the template of the majority. If they could carve out beautiful new communities for themselves from the malarial swamps of Nauvoo and the Utah desert then surely I can endure and work to build the beloved community, one where none will be treated as strangers and foreigners in our chapels but all will be fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.