Sunday, March 20, 2011

Playing D until you fall asleep

I think I said, out of frustration for my big, uncollected hands, that I needed a guitar of my own. I don't think I really meant that a new guitar would solve my chord changes or fingerings; I think what I wanted to say was, "Give me new hands to understand. Make these nerves more responsive. Give me a brain with the ability to focus on something mechanical and cohesive, instead of the abstract abyss of soda bubbles and taffy dust." I meant to say all of that, but I just said to the front window, "I think I need a guitar of my own." Your indignation always sounds like the tide coming in. You're impossible to ignore in your automobile engine moments.

"I had that guy for a long time. It served me just fine." I sort of looked over into the dining room and said, "Yeah, but... one of the strings is broken. And I guess I mean I need something that fits me a little better." You let out a noise that was non-noncommittally concomitant. Was it a moan?

I stared hard at the gap-toothed body in my arms. Like a child. I need one of my own, I thought. I need one of my own to sing out high, to sing out of tune, to sing a calliope shine in middle august tones. I need one of my own to bang around, to open and close like screen doors and flour jars. I need one of my own to grow in the garden, to dust the deep earth smells off of, to eat on like a table. I need my own, to be as worn out and fitted to my hands as this one is for you. No need to be indignant; we'll sweep the floors together softly, softly, sweet melodies in dusk.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Since we're all pondering our feelings on The CHURCH: Introspection on Finding Truth

Austin recently posted a response he had to someone asking him about LGBT rights in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love Austin, everybody knows that, and this isn't an attack on him or the Church. This isn't even an attack. It's an introspection, you know? So let's get to thinking.

If you don't want to read Austin's original piece, that's ok. The main tone and point of the post was that he was responding to someone asking him how he can sustain Elder Boyd K. Packer's words on homosexuality given last conference. Austin's response is mainly that: the prophets are men, yet they are trusted with responsibility by the Lord and, therefore, are qualified even when they err or offend people. He also touches on marriage, and on the concept of arguing and judgment. All of it is, obviously stated, his opinion and he acknowledges that. I like a lot of what Austin is saying!

I guess it got me thinking about the concept of truth. At the heart of this whole same gender attraction "argument" is the question of whose opinion or take on the subject is ordained by God as Truth. For some it's cut and dried; the Church is correct, the prophets are the mouthpiece of the Lord and thus they are espousing the Truth. Anyone who is not inline with this Truth is causing dissent and contributing to the fragmenting of the collective body who accepts the Truth. And so it's not that someone speaking out against Elder Packer's comments isn't valued or unimportant; in Church culture, their words and opinions have weight and import, as every opinion outside of the understood Truth is a menace or detriment to the truth of the Truth. Thus we qualify our statements with things like, "I respect your opinion" or "I appreciate your view". We DO appreciate (from Latin appretiare; to appraise or estimate the value of; things appreciate, they gain power and value over time) the opinions that challenge the normative stance taken by the Church, because every opinion is understood to be an important contribution to the overall discussion. The culture is sort of admirable in this way. Outside of LDS culture, most opinions are simply ignored.

Here's the thing: Perhaps those who feel righteously indignant against the stance of some prophets on same gender attraction are, in turn, providing a source of relief or support for those of the same mind in the congregation. Careful and fair criticism of the Church is helpful to anyone having doubts; not helpful in that it leads anyone to leaving the congregation, but helpful to know that those who dissent aren't so completely on their own.

This leaves us with two ways to consider dissent; as a detriment to the conversation and testimony of others, and as a point of reassurance and connection with one another in the Church. These two considerations need not be diametrically opposed, either. As we already understand the value of opinions in relation to our own, why don't we agree that both points are necessary and valid, in their own way as they apply from individual to individual?

This, of course, reveals my sinister relativism; the concept of subjective truth as opposed to objective truth (read: Communist) Oh no! Don't worry though, I'm not arguing for anarchy or sinful chaos under the guise of religion. I mean, we're all instructed to find, listen to, and follow personal revelation right? What else is that other than subjective truth? We each have the voice of the Spirit in our ears and I'll bet the tone, timbre, and loudness of the one in mine is not equivocal to the one in yours. Our faiths are our own. Each of us has a different and personal relationship with God. This is because each and every one of us has a personal and different relationship with ourselves and with the world at large. Duh.

Therefore, it's not unreasonable to disagree with a prophet on a matter that isn't declared doctrine. The doctrinal guidelines for gender and marriage are, honestly, relatively open-ended (I mean, stating that gender is essential and that marriage is between a man and a woman isn't nearly as uncomplicated as it looks right off the bat. Use your imagination!). It's all open to personal interpretation, supplemented with the direction of prayerful thinking. If the Truth for Elder Packer is that homosexuals are simply suffering from an affliction, that they can be cured, that they are actually straight; well, that's the Truth for him. My Truth is different, and while I see that his Truth is his own Truth, I know that I can choose to interpret it my own way and still be on the same level as Elder Packer (w/r/t my faith and testimony, etc. Obviously I'm not an apostle).

Elder Packer's words are not doctrinal revelation. He never said it was revelation that homosexuality is environmental/choice-driven/etc. The Church, doctrinally and officially, has no stance on the matter. Therefore what Elder Packer is saying is truth is merely his own definition of it. You can agree with Elder Packer or you disagree and, either way, as long as you are square with God there's nothing to worry about. The true letter of all of our laws is simply to love everyone selflessly. So however you land on homosexuality shouldn't affect that. I, personally, disagree with Elder Packer's opinion. And I'm going to speak out in defense of the LGBT community within (and outside of) the Church. And I'm going to do that because it allows me to fully enact my personal belief that the central tenet of this Church is love. If you can do the same whilst agreeing with Elder Packer, that's alright as well. We're deeper than our mere complicity or dissent, and I think that's alright to acknowledge.

Addendum: So Austin and I have been talking about this a little more and I think, for posterity, it'll be nice to have this updated with the relevant comments.


The last thing I'll say is that no matter how you try to define it, modern revelation through the 15 IS the Church's inspired direction. It doesn't matter what any past apostle has said or done off or on the record.

We are a covenant Church. That means we will not be led astray, and all things happen on Heavenly Father's own time.

The Word of Wisdom is a prime example. There are aspects of DC 89 that have evolved over time. And it's my belief that in the future, certain things will be added and taken off, just as before. It is not clearly stated what will be on the Word of Wisdom 100 years from now (and it very well could be interpreted the same way it is now). It doesn't say that in church doctrine.
That's the entire mission of the apostles and prophets - to tell us their inspired idea of the will of God. Over time, things change, different revelation is given, different ideas are preached more than others.

I've been asked before, what if the Church's views (and they have clearly defined doctrine) on same-gender attraction reverse sometime in the future? Well then, I'll follow what the First Presidency advises. That's what my stance will always be. I don't feel comfortable putting my stock in anything else in this world. That why I joined this Church. I gained testimony that it was presided by men, but was led and inspired by Jesus Christ.


Ok, but the point I'm making is that when anything is amended, say D&C 89 becoming commandment as opposed to just Church advice, it is announced that it is, indeed, changing into a Church doctrine. It is stated, explicitly, this is revelation from the Lord that has been approved and is going to be instated Church-wide. There are things that the apostles probably all agree on. It could be that they all agree that homosexuality is a choice and not a state of being. Or it could be that they all think Famous Ray's is the very best barbeque chicken. And when they stand up on the pulpit and say, in any capacity, 'Brothers and Sisters, please understand that we all love Famous Ray's, it is the best barbeque chicken in the world and we all exhort you to eat it", they are not saying that it is now required, writ large, that everyone endorse Famous Ray's chicken. Even if every single member of the 12 and the 70 got up and said, "I feel inspired to let you know that Famous Ray's rules", that still would not be an amendment to the official Church doctrine. If the 12 got up next conference and stated, "We have been inspired, as a Church, to proclaim Famous Ray's the dinner of monday night, thus sayeth the Lord" then, well, yes. It would then be doctrine.

So even if Elder Packer is on the stand and says that homosexuality doesn't stem from a biological cause, and even if Dallin H. Oaks agrees and Gordon B. Hinckley agrees; even then, if it's not said, "We are now considering homosexuality as a choice, we have been inspired by the Lord, this is law,", if it isn't pronounced law, then it isn't law.

This has actually been a decisive point in past Church debates; namely evolution. Hugh B. Brown and Joseph Fielding Smith used to go head to head on this issue, often at BYU. When they'd address the students, they were careful every time to avoid saying that belief or disbelief in evolution was Church doctrine.

If it was Church law, it would be stated as that. It would be out there, clearly, instead of couched in past talks and pull-quotes from GBH and Dallin H. Oaks. If the official chicken of the Church was Famous Ray's, we'd know it, and we'd know it not because everybody was saying it was or because that's all anybody in the Church ate, but because it is expressly stated in the laws and doctrines of the Church.
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