We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout

We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout:
Thoughts after Conference

I recently read a poem by the poet Rumi that I found quite profound. The poem is an invitation, titled “Come, Come, Whoever you are.” Its message, I feel, is the same as Jesus’—that all are welcome, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. The poem goes like this:

Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Even if you have broken your vows
a thousand times
Come yet again, come, come.

One of my greatest challenges as a gay Mormon is understanding how to handle my interactions with the church. I find myself torn between feelings of betrayal and connection. I feel close to God as I sing hymns and partake of the sacrament, but so divided from him during many Sunday School discussions. And the search for understanding the interplay between my sexual orientation and the doctrines of the church often leads me to dwell in doubt and despair. Standing before me is the massive task of reconciling who I am with an institution that teaches me to be something different. And I’m left face-to-face with the frightening question of how so much good and so much bad can coexist in one place. I feel caught between the worlds of being both a wanderer and a worshiper—a lover of God, but also a lover of leaving.

General Conference last month was difficult for me, as it was for many. A few of the talks felt like a spiritual high, and a few others felt like a deep betrayal. As members of the Quorum of the Twelve expressed that the will of God was something utterly contrary to my own experience, I felt a distance that at moments seemed unsurpassable. And perhaps what hurts me the most is that the very words they use reveal their lack of understanding and nuance in approaching the complications of LGBT issues—referring to sexual orientation and gender interchangeably.

Hurt, pain, and even depression are often unavoidable. This is especially true about matters so close to the heart. I spent the endless hours of endless days sitting at bus stops as a missionary talking to complete strangers about a message of love and acceptance that I now find absent in the very institution I was supporting. And that hurts me. I can’t help but feel a deep dissonance. What defines us, however, is not the pain we feel, but how we choose to handle it. As long as I believe that suffering and pain can rob me of my peace, I will be dissatisfied in my interactions with the church, because pain is inevitable. But my hope is that I can shift my paradigm to focus less on what is done to me, and more on what I can become.

The experiences of conference weekend were a stark contrast to how I felt at the recent Affirmation conference. On the Saturday night of that conference, I had somewhat of a spiritual epiphany as we were singing “The Spirit of God.” I was standing there surrounded by other gay friends who were experiencing the same doubts and internal turmoil as myself, and all around me were people who had left the church, many who had been disfellowshiped or excommunicated, and many who were still active members. As we stood together and sang the lines to the chorus, something hit me. “We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of heaven,” we sang, and I suddenly felt bold. Because whether or not we sing and shout with the armies of heaven is up to no one but ourselves. Our spirituality is in our own hands. And as I listened to talks during conference that caused me to feel pain, betrayal, and anger, it reminded me of that experience. Despite what anyone says, I can still choose to sing and to shout with the armies of heaven in my own way.

And so moving forward, I’m trying to focus less on the pain, and more on what I want to do about it. Yes, I hurt. And yes, I get angry. And yes, sometimes instead of singing and shouting with the armies of heaven, I want to scream and shout at the people who say they represent them. But I’ve realized that while my dissatisfaction with the world rarely changes the world, it always changes me.

And I want to be able to say,

Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Even if you have broken your vows
a thousand times
Come yet again, come, come.

Ours does not have to be a caravan of despair. We can rejoice together, and sing and shout with the armies of heaven, that we have come closer together and to God by accepting who we are. And maybe my rejoicing won’t change the world. But my hope is that it will change me.

2 comments for “We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout

  1. Michele hartley
    November 10, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Josh thanks so much for this article. As a mother of a gay son I can relate to everything you wrote. And yes the testimony meeting at Affirmation was a very spiritual experience for me and sing the hymn was wonderful. I feel more of the spirit at times like that more than I do at church. When I listen to them talk about the homeless lgbt kids and then sing “I need thee every hour” I have never felt the truth of that song so strongly. Thanks.

  2. James F. Cartwright
    November 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Josh, I can only offer the advice that over the decades–even centuries–we have been told to honor the voice of the spirit within us. If that voice differs somewhat from what others tell us, we should hold true to the voice of our own experience. That does not mean we strike out on our own necessarily. It means you hear the voice of the spirit telling you of your reality and you remain true to it, sometimes in silence and sometimes more openly.

    When I first came out to my bishop, he imposed a blessing upon me and in it said that I was not gay, but merely lacked faith–to marry a woman without her knowing my attractions to men and disinterest sexually in women. I had told him after receiving a personal confirmation from the spirit that God loves me as I am, not as I had spent over thirty years trying to become. As long as I remained faithful to that insight, I felt peace; whenever I prayed that I could have the strength to obey the priesthood authority, darkness and despair engulfed me. This in retrospect helped me confirm that the blessing of the spirit to me was real; the instructions of the bishop erroneous–if not worse.

    James Cartwright
    Honolulu

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