Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Earth Day 2020

I inherited a love of nature from my grandma and grandpa Matkin. 

As a young boy, my grandpa took me on walks in the coulees and in the mountains. He taught me how to identify and classify the plants and animals we saw. He showed me that the more you knew about nature, the more respect you had for it. More recently, I inherited from him his 35mm slides of wildflowers, with the flowers' names carefully labeled. As I went through them on an old projector with my kids, I thought how wonderful it is that I had a grandpa who took pictures of wildflowers.

My grandma taught me how to see and appreciate beauty. She was breathless in her enthusiasm over pretty flowers and trees, scenery and birds, especially hummingbirds. One of my favorite stories of her is when she was snorkeling in Hawaii. She became overcome by all the vibrant colors and diversity of the tropical fish to the point where she had to stand up in the crowded bay and shout out loud, "Oh! You are all so beautiful!" Her reverence for creation always felt like a big part of her religion, and it stuck with me.

Our church teaches some amazing doctrine about the earth, and how we must learn to both take care of it, and to share it.

Joseph Smith revealed:

"For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.

But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low." (D&C 104:13,16).

And again Joseph Smith teaches:

"For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance. 

But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. 

And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need." (D&C 49:19-21)

That is some pretty radical stuff there.

Modern day prophets have pointed out the relationship between spiritual pollution, or sin, and the subsequent pollution of the earth. And while some stubbornly question man's environmental impact, especially climate change, I think that "seas heaving themselves beyond their bounds" and increased natural disasters and climate extremes in the last days is solidly scriptural, and that it is a result of our wickedness, namely our greed, our rampant consumerism, and social and economic disparity.

Enoch saw the earth groaning, saying "Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me?" (Moses 7:48)

And finally, President Spencer W. Kimball:

"When I pass through the lovely countryside or fly over the vast and beautiful expanses of our globe, I compare these beauties with many of the dark and miserable practices of men, and I have the feeling that the good earth can hardly bear our presence upon it." (The False Gods We Worship, 1976)

I believe that reverence and good stewardship for the earth, especially by sharing more freely our resources, will inevitably turn our hearts to God, and vice versa.

In short, I believe as Latter-day Saints and Christians, we should take our environmental stewardship very seriously.

Happy Earth Day.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Peter and His Shadow

This week, I had a sobbing nine year old in my arms. He was frustrated and burnt out trying to be good. He had done his very, very best. I could tell he had tried to be a kind brother, and to do what he was told, but he has a temper, he likes to tease, and when he doesn't get his way, he often resorts to violence. In despair, he said he was just bad no matter how much he tried; that he had might as well give up and accept it.

I had to admit to myself that I understood what he was feeling. I understood it so well that it hurt.

A thought hit me, though, and we got talking about Peter Pan and his rebellious shadow. His name is Peter, so the connection came easily.

The story of Peter Pan begins with a severed shadow that doesn't like to behave. The shadow romps wild, gets into mischief, and refuses to obey the real boy Peter, to whom it is supposed to be attached.

I asked him, "Which one of them was the real Peter? The shadow or the boy?" He answered of course, "The Peter." But this was a bit of a trick question, because both of them can feel just as real as the other.

He and I then spent some time in the scriptures discussing what it means to have a "natural man." Each of us comes to earth with a body, one that is full of passions, appetites, and carnal responses that are designed to survive in the fallen world around it. Like Peter, we all have a shadow and, try us as we might, we can't make it just "go away."

Though it feels as real as can be, our physical body, together with all our millenia of finely tuned evolutionary reactions and passions and animal instincts is only a shadow of who we really are. It is a temporary existence. It will die. The truest Peter is the spirit inside you, the son or daughter of God, the boss to whom the shadow must learn to obey and respond correctly to life's complicated stimuli. 

But that doesn't mean that our feelings and temptations aren't real. They are an integral part of who we are. We cannot become who we are inside by killing the shadow. Our mortal wrestle isn't to find out which one will live and which one will die. Having a shadow just means that we learn to integrate them together, to find balance between our spiritual and physical selves. They must learn to live together.

The Shadow

The amount of light we have shining in our lives will affects our shadow's size. Some days, when the source of light is low, our shadow rises up to 2, 3 times the natural size of our spirits. Other times, when the sun is high in the sky and all the world looks bright, it seems to shrink down to almost nothing.

Learning to master that shadow, our physical self, is the principal purpose of our existence here.

"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." (Mosiah 8:19)

So, what does that mean, to "put off the natural man"?

"You can't stick it on with soap, Peter. It needs sewing."

Everyone has a shadow. As a gay man, my shadow sometimes feels more complicated than most, but I don't think it really is essentially different. Like anyone else, my particular shadow does not always match my spiritual desires. I know that I am a child of eternal parents, that marriage is an inescapable part of both my physical and spiritual heritage, and my spirit truly wants to try and follow God's plan of marriage and family.

However, I simultaneously have a body that, simply put, wants to have a long-term, intimate relationship with a man. My natural self is not aligned to my spiritual self. They are mismatched. Like Peter, my shadow does not function the way my spirit wants it to.

Like Peter Pan, for years I tried to reconnect my shadow with soap. I believed I had to repent of my natural man. I had to "pray the gay away." I had to cleanse myself of my physical attractions. I believed that since I had a body that wanted those things, that I was sinful.

It was a huge and deeply personal revelation to me when I realized that the Lord accepts me how I am. I mean how I am now. He knows all about my shadow, and He doesn't expect me to kill it or wash it away with soap or get rid of it at all. He designed it. He gave my shadow to me this way. On purpose. He knows it doesn't match the celestial glory I came from and am trying to get back to. He doesn't need me to repent of my natural feelings or attractions or desires. They are not a sin. This is important, because if I thought I had to get rid of my shadow to get to heaven, and change my mortal attractions, extract any unrighteous desires in order to be accepted by Him, and, well, the only option to do that would be suicide. If the suicide rates among LGBT youth prove anything, forcing that kind of a narrative on a vulnerable person leads them to it. I have spent some time considering the logical conclusions to that line of thinking, and I will not go back there. There is a better way.

As Wendy told Peter, "You can't stick it on with soap, you know." While sins can be washed away by the atonement of our Savior, our shadows stick with us. This is important, and it is part of God's plan. Our shadows are the catalyst for both growth and grace.

However, God does expect us to learn to control our shadows. We can't have them romping around the nursery and making a mess. How can we do this? As the scriptures teach us, it is done by bringing our "natural man" to Christ. Christ has promised me a gospel program that will help get my shadow synchronized with who I am inside. This is done by keeping the commandments which He has provided. But just like Peter couldn't sew on a shadow, or even knew what sewing meant initially, I require a Savior to do this part. A disobedient shadow needs sewing. It requires sealing. A rebellious shadow requires making and keeping covenants that bind me to Christ.

In the book Peter Pan, Wendy says, "I daresay it will hurt a little." And it really does. But it is the only way there is to get me put back together properly.

The Resurrection

The Savior is the Master of dealing with our shadow selves. He does it not by throwing them away, or banishing them, or burying them forever in the graveyard. Our flavor of Christianity is somewhat unique in our insistence of a literal, physical resurrection, complete with a God with "body, parts, and passions." Our physical body, our "shadow," is not something to get rid of. It is an important part of the plan, that even God has one, and we need one to find joy. Christ promises us that our bodies will rise up, joined forever to our spirits to never again be separated. He promises us a resurrected body that matches perfectly our spiritual selves.

In the meantime, we get to decide what kind of spirit our resurrected body will be matched to:

Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state. (Alma 42:10)

Our physical selves will be joined forever with our spirit, yes. But the type of body we get will depend entirely on the type of spirit we have chosen to become here. Alma teaches Corianton at length about the resurrection, that who we are here will determine what we are resurrected to later.

And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?

O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful. (Alma 41:12-13)

If I choose to live contrary to celestial law of marriage and eternal family now, how can I expect to be raised up a celestial body in the next?

Paul explains that there are different types of bodies we can receive, depending on our choices here in mortality:

"There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another...So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption...

The first man is of the earth, earthy [the shadow]: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."(1 Corinthians 15:40,42, 47-49)

What we sow in this life will determine the type of body that will rise in the next. If we sow celestial seeds by submitting to the plan of God, putting off our natural, carnal selves (our earthy selves, as Paul puts it,) keeping commandments (including chastity), then we will receive a body that will match our "the image of the heavenly" of who we were before we came to this earth. The shadow will be synchronized with our spiritual selves. While we will all make many mistakes and live contrary to God's spiritual laws multiple times a day, if we stick with Christ and repent and try to live according to the gospel, He promises us that we will be made a new creature in the resurrection. A perfectly integrated creature.

As hopeless as you feel integrating your shadow into your spiritual self, His atonement is infinite. He specializes in miracles, even in raising the dead. He will raise your shadow romping around the nursery and grow him or her up into a son or daughter of God.

Who We Really Are

Growing up gay in the gospel was/is a difficult process. My main question I wrestled with is the one all people must face, "Who am I, really? What do I really want? Do I even want this stuff? Why would I want to live in an eternal family, anyway?"

When I was young, I knew I had felt the spirit before, I loved the gospel, and the teachings of the church resonated in my heart. I truly wanted to be a dad and a husband. I wanted family. My spirit wanted it. It was a part of who I was. It was an undeniable part of my spiritual identity.

But at the same time, I also had feelings that absolutely contradicted these desires. I wanted a husband. I wanted a sexual relationship with another man in a way that I was taught was contrary to the plan of God.  My whole self seemed to crave it. It was also a part of who I was. It was an absolute part of my mortal identity.

I was mismatched. The wrestle between those two parts of me was dire. It seemed like an impossible battle. And it is.

Lehi taught Jacob:

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.

Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God. (2 Nephi 2:11-12)

There is not just opposition to all things. There is opposition in all things. In me. In my very nature. The struggle inside me was (and continues to be) a difficult part of my mortal experience. But the opposition is what helps me to grow, and it is by design.

Which part of me will I choose to follow?

Lehi reminds his son, "Remember, to be carnally minded is death, and to be spiritually minded is life eternal." (2 Nephi 9:39)

I can't put my physical and spiritual selves together any more than I can raise my dead body up and stick my spirit back into it. Putting them together is Christ's job, not mine. 

But what is my choice is whether I will stick with Christ and have faith in His ability to make a miracle out of my mismatched life.

As a son of God, my spiritual DNA is designed to become like Him. To grow up. But unfortunately, there is no forced maturity in God's plan. I have to choose, and then choose it again. And then again. Every broken day I get to choose.

My question is the same question for everyone, whether you are gay or not: Will I let my shadow self run wild in Never-Never Land and choose never to grow up, trying to find my identity with the rest of the lost boys? 

Or will I fly back to reality, and to Christ?