Sunday afternoon—Following our fight, my boyfriend had gone home. I could use some reflection time, so perhaps that was a good thing. I picked up a volume of the Journal of Discourses. The thin layer of dust on the upper ridge was a reminder that I hadn’t read from it in a while. I’d saved up a long time to afford a full set and was so excited when I received it. It is one of my most prized possessions.
1—Who I am; where I am; why I’m writing this blog.
2—So many personal anniversaries of a religious nature for me. Caught up between memories and a newfound state of mind I feel closer to God—and determined to get closer still.
Those 26 volumes contain thousands of sermons delivered in Utah between 1854 and 1886 by the early leaders of the Mormon Church. Once considered ‘Scripture’ ¹ (and predating doctrinal changes), the Journal of Discourses has been disavowed by the modern LDS Church ² but remains popular with Mormon Fundamentalists of all stripes. To me they’re full of precious, extensive and explicit teachings on the ‘fulness of the Gospel’.
I took the volume I picked up to the woods behind the flat. It is where I go run and read. It was such a warm day. We don’t get those often here, so I always make the most of them. Besides, I have always felt closer to God in nature—woods in particular—than in church or anywhere else. Maybe it’s because of that powerful testimony I received near the woods, back in July ’95. A day I shall never forget! ³
It is July again. This is some sort of anniversary, then. It was so long ago! I was 19. I can see my hometown—dusty, boring and oppressed under the implacable sun.
About twice a week that month, I met with the Mormon missionaries for ‘discussions’. A few friends knew about it but I couldn’t explain to them how I felt the Spirit so strongly during those discussions—and for hours after. Some friends were worried I was joining a cult. I told them it was not so; I was not being ‘brainwashed’!
I enquired, I kept reading, I asked lots of questions. And, despite feeling the Spirit, I wanted to be sure before committing to anything.
As a matter of fact, I was the one who asked for the discussions after reading several books on Mormonism and receiving a confirmation that it was the path for me to follow. And I still didn’t take anything at face value: I enquired, I kept reading and I asked lots of questions. It’s always been in my nature. And, despite feeling the Spirit, I wanted to be sure before committing to anything.
I can feel the water of the deep and wam river in which I got baptised in August. ³ The missionary who taught me and confirmed me a member of the LDS Church remains a great friend to this day.
As I’m reading a sermon Brigham Young delivered in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City in 1856, it also occurs to me that it was in July ’97—exactly 20 years ago—that I visited Utah’s capital city for the very first time. I had arranged an internship in San Antonio, Texas, through members of the Church, as part of my university degree. Once the internship over, I went to Utah for a few weeks. That was when I met my missionary’s girlfriend. She’s now his wife, and with their three kids they are family to me. They’ve always loved me, no questions asked. I could learn a lot of from their true Christlike behaviour and real charity.
I read another few lines before the memory of July 2012 shows up. Another anniversary. Five years ago I was re-baptised by a Mormon Fundamentalist in Arizona. On that other scorcher of a day (to use a local expression), we drove up to a lake in the middle of woods. I’d been waiting several years to be rebaptised. I was (and remain) so grateful for it. And I remember how I wanted to do anything I could to remain worthy.
I had been excommunicated from the LDS Church in July 2000. I had to learn to begin again. Now it is July again. I am in the woods on a warm day reminiscing. I put the volume down on the ground—dirt and grass—half-way through Brigham’s sermon. And I started praying.
Now I’m back in the flat. Out in the woods I prayed with more purpose than I had in a long time. And as I restored communication between me and the Lord, the Spirit infused clarity in my mind; the shadows subsided.
It was no one else’s fault I’d gone astray and didn’t enjoy that closeness I often had with my God. It was my own fault. It was not my relationship with my boyfriend that had caused this estrangement. It was me. It was not the teachings that went against my sexual orientation that made me to pray less. It was me. I’d turned myself into an outsider. There was no one else to blame.
Anger departed; frustration dissipated. Peace and serenity replaced them in measures I had not experienced in much too long. And I felt so thankful. I felt full of the Spirit of the Lord.
Don’t call me a sinner because I’m gay—there are so many other reasons! I’m not the perfect Mormon but I don’t think my sexual orientation is the top reason for it.
I have so much to work on. So, instead of feeling like I cannot enjoy my religion because of my sexual orientation, I have decided that I could become a better Mormon by extirpating anger, pride, resentment from my heart and developing virtues to replace them, such as peace, humility—and the most important of all: charity, as exhorted in 1 Corinthians 13.
Don’t call me a sinner because I am gay—there are so many other reasons. I’m not the perfect Mormon. But I don’t think my sexual orientation is the top reason for it.
Today, caught up between memories and a newfound state of mind, I have decided to make a real effort to get closer to my God and to live my religion better—by tackling all those aspects that need reformed and that I am able to change.
A friend just WhatsApped me a quotation from an early 20th century Scottish preacher called Oswald Chambers: “If you yourself do not cut the lines that tie you to the dock, God will have to use a storm to sever them and to send you out to sea.” It was out of blue but so à propos. A sign?
Maybe it’s a July thing for me—I feel I am claiming back my religion.
¹ “The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of ‘the light that shines from Zion’s hill.” (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses (JoD) 8, Preface)
“When they are copied and approved by me they are as good as Scripture as is couched in this Bible, and if you want to read revelation read the sayings of him who knows the mind of God.” (Brigham Young, JoD 13:261)