Sheep and Goats

I’ve been preparing a lesson for my Primary class, and the text pulled together a lot of the tumultuous feelings I’ve had over the last few weeks and set them to rest.

The lesson is the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In the end, the Lord says at his coming, the nations will be divided Sheep to the Right hand, Goats to the left hand.

What got to me was the sorting criteria. There was only one.

On the right hand – those who were kind to others, those who fed the hungry, those who visited the sick. In other words, those who upheld the baptismal covenant to “stand with those who stand in need of comfort, to mourn with those that mourn.”

On the left – those who did not.

There was no talk of any other commandment. No other set of rules, no other set of things to do or do not.

Just to love, to stand with, to uphold the least of those among us. That’s what sets the sheep on the right from the goats on the left.

This has long been the bedrock of my personal faith. In the end, I don’t know a lot of things, but I know that what it takes from me is an added measure of kindness, an extra dose of empathy. That’s what I hang my gospel hopes on, and I’m hoping that my fellow Latter-day Saints do the same this day and always.

A Constantly Renewed Stream

This is the text of a talk I gave in my ward (Ann Arbor 2nd) on February 15, 2015.

I would like to explore one of the concepts from President Eyring’s October talk on the subject of continuing revelation [1], and share with you some of my experiences as I have sought revelation.

President Eyring said “We need revelation from God. And we will need not just one revelation in a time of stress, but we need a constantly renewed stream. We need not just one flash of light and comfort, but we need the continuing blessing of communication with God.” [2]

Today, I would like to focus on that concept of a “constantly renewed stream” of revelation. Continue reading

Starting with Why: A Path to Authenticity as an LGBT Mormon

(This is the text of the TED-style talk I shared at  “This is the Place” Affirmation International Conference 2014. I don’t yet know if there is video of the event, and I haven’t rerecorded it yet.)

Like many of you, I enjoy cooking and baking.  As you learn to cook, you go through several stages of growth.  At first, you follow simple recipes, you lock onto the basics.  Over time you progress, learning new and different techniques.  At some point, you realize that the skills you have learned are all parts of a toolbox that you can pull out and use as the situation requires. You no longer have to slavishly follow a recipe, and you can begin to improvise and experiment with techniques, flavors and ingredients that fit your taste.  The day that I realized I knew enough to not be bound by a recipe, that I had a cooking toolbox available, was one of the most liberating of my life.

Today, I would like to introduce a framework that has been just as liberating for me in my experience as a gay Mormon as the day that I learned that I could adjust a recipe to my taste. Continue reading

The Wrong Side of the River- My Experience at Nauvoo

About a month ago, I took a quick roadtrip from my home in Southeast Michigan to Nauvoo, Illinois for a weekend retreat hosted by Affirmation. I plugged the address “Main Street, Nauvoo, Illinois” into Google Maps on my phone,  and off I went.

I suspected when I entered Iowa that I wasn’t quite on track, but I figured that Google Maps knew where I wanted to go, so I followed the course it laid out for me.  I soon found myself on the western banks of the Mississippi River, headed south.  I figured that there must be a bridge or something that would get me to Nauvoo faster than having stayed on the east banks.

Boy was I wrong.

It turns out that, for reasons unknown, Google Maps thinks that “Main Street, Nauvoo, Illinois” is co-located with “Main Street, Montrose, Iowa.”

Temple in the Distance

Nauvoo Temple in the Distance

As I was pulling into Montrose, I could see Nauvoo across the river.  I quickly recalibrated my phone with my actual desired destination, and as I headed out I realized that if this wasn’t a great metaphor, then Dieter F. Uchtdorf has never flown an airplane.

I have found that sometimes life takes me in directions that I don’t anticipate.  From a vantage point I did not anticipate, I end up looking at my desired destination across a gulf or a river or a gap I didn’t mean to put between me and my goal.

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.  Actually, having my retreat weekend begin on the wrong side of the river gave me some excellent perspective. I got to see the Nauvoo temple the way that the Saints would have seen it as they completed that first step of their no-turning-back journey.  Being afforded that view, when we later discussed the reasons we serve and  the things that sustain us, I felt a stronger kinship with the families who lined up on Parley Street and left their beautiful Nauvoo behind. I could imagine those lingering glances over their shoulders as they began their migration westward.

After I got myself oriented and found the nearest bridge, I also enjoyed a beautiful riverside drive that I would have missed if I had not taken a wrong turn.  (It was also very fun to drive that winding road!) I was reminded that even when my life detours in unexpected ways, I can always find some joy in there somewhere.

Tulips at Nauvoo

Tulips at Nauvoo

Redbud Tree

Redbud Tree

The remainder of the weekend was a refreshing journey. I was shy, but  I did make some connections with others on similar paths as mine.  Together, we looked across the metaphoric river that stands between where we find ourselves and the destinations where our lives may have originally taken us.

We discussed the revelations received by Joseph the prophet while in Nauvoo.  In D&C section 127, he commented that “deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel… to glory in tribulation.”  This became a secondary theme for us that weekend.  Life as LGBT Mormons and their allies isn’t easy swimming, but like Joseph, we gloried in our tribulations.

We also pondered how the early saints built Zion among them and how we might do the same. I took a few minutes during our free time to meditate at the site of the original temple stone quarry.  I find peace in old sites where there had once been furious activity but now sit silent and off the beaten path.

Quary at Nauvoo

Quary at Nauvoo

Temple Close

Temple Up Close

In the evening, we gathered in the Red Brick Store’s upper room. Among the speakers there, Carol Lynn Pearson shared a story about one of Emma Hale Smith’s final interactions with her husband, the Prophet Joseph Smith.  On the day that Joseph was to go to Carthage Jail, Emma felt the need for a blessing. With all of the goings on, Joseph didn’t feel he had the time so he told her to write out the best blessing that she could think of, and that he would sign in on his return.   Emma did just that.  She wrote it out, but because of Joseph’s death, it was never signed.  It is beautiful though.  Emma desired wisdom, strength, and the ability to understand the will of God, things I think we all desire.  (Read the whole thing here: http://www.the-exponent.com/emmas-blessing/)

Our weekend ended with a story sharing testimony style meeting in the Seventies Hall. It was a comforting to hear and be with so many Saints who desire the best things in life, to live a full, authentic life, who may have found themselves on the other side of a river they didn’t anticipate.  I left feeling uplifted, braver than before, and believing that I could find my way forward, just as the Saints did as they left Illinois for a place of peace.

Keeping The Spirit of Christmas All Year

This is the text of the talk I gave yesterday as part of our congregation’s Christmas program.  I thought I’d share.


The Spirit of Christmas is a marvelous thing. In the days of Christ’s birth Angels sang, Shepherds watched with care by night, Wise men adored. It was a time of wonders and miracles. A new star appeared in the sky. Half a world away, “at the going down of the sun, there was no darkness” (3 Nephi 1:15). A prophet was commanded to lift up his head and be of good cheer and a people of faith was spared.

One passage of scripture has often caught my attention as I have studied the glorious times that accompanied the Savior’s birth. In the Gospel of Luke we learn that His mother, Mary “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”. (Luke 2:19)

She had the Son of God with her every day and yet she kept and pondered the miracles of His birth in her heart. We would do well to follow Mary’s example.

What might we keep and ponder in our hearts throughout the year?

I propose that we remember first and foremost the miracle of Christ’s life and death. That we remember that He lived for us and that He died for us and that through His infinite atonement, we can be made clean.

Second, I propose that we strive daily to model our actions after His; that we love one another; that we keep His commandments; that throughout the coming year, we keep in our hearts the generosity, the love, the joy, the gratitude, the kindness and the happiness that we feel during the Christmas season; that we love our God and we love our Neighbor and we love Ourselves.

Finally, I propose that we Be Believing, now and all year. Christmas is a time of faith. Christ has made many promises to us. If we Believe Christ, we will find that when we are challenged, there will be no darkness. We will not be alone. We will be able to lift up our heads and be of good cheer.

These are just a few of the many Christmas miracles we could keep in our hearts and ponder over the coming year. You and I have been blessed beyond measure through the birth of Jesus Christ.

President Howard W. Hunter made the following invitation many years ago, and I echo its sentiment now: “If you desire to find the true spirit of Christmas and partake of the sweetness of it, let me make this suggestion to you. During the hurry of the festive occasion of this Christmas season, find time to turn your heart to God. Perhaps in the quiet hours, and in a quiet place, and on your knees—alone or with loved ones—give thanks for the good things that have come to you, and ask that His Spirit might dwell in you as you earnestly strive to serve Him and keep His commandments. He will take you by the hand and His promises will be kept.”(Hunter 1972)

In conclusion, I would like to share a lesson that I learned from the classic Christmas story, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Present teaches old Scrooge that Christmas “is a season of the heart, a special time of caring, The ways of love made clear. It is the season of the spirit. The message, if we hear it, is make it last all year.” Scrooge also learns that “When you do your best for love, it feels like Christmas.”

I have learned that the Spirit of Christmas is a spirit of love and gratitude. For me, keeping and pondering the spirit of Christmas in my heart all year means working to show love, compassion and kindness as best I can.

I know that Jesus Christ lives, and that He loves us. I know it now and I hope I remember it throughout the year. I know that if we do keep the Spirit of Christmas with us all year, it will be a time of wonders and miracles for us as well.

Brothers and Sisters, May we keep and ponder these things in our hearts. May we remember the miracle of Christ’s Birth, follow His commandments, and Be Believing.  May we do our best for love and make the Christmas spirit last all year.