Thursday, June 26, 2014

Resignation: Doctrine Cannot Be Separated from History

I left off my last post by describing the angry feelings of betrayal that I experienced after having read Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History. It wasn’t so much that I was reading things I’d never heard of before – although there were more than a few surprises. What Brodie did is look at Joseph Smith’s history and the early history of the institution of the LDS Church (which are pretty much one and the same) from a different perspective. She told the story that chapel Mormons never heard. The other side of the story. And it was pretty compelling.

In early 2012, I read D. Michael Quinn’s two books about Mormon Heirarchy, i.e., Mormon Heirarchy: Origins of Power and Mormon Heirarchy: Extensions of Power. As was the case with Brodie, Quinn revealed a very-well researched and documented account of early Church history that was very different than the one I was accustomed to reading. Also like Brodie, there were more than a few arched eyebrow moments when I read something I’d never heard of before but that was clearly solid history. 

Reading these books helped me to shake myself loose from the vestiges of belief I still had. As I expressed in my last post, my problem was that many of the core LDS doctrines – particularly those preached before the Nauvoo period – had made sense to me. The restoration argument was very plausible. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the doctrines it taught were plausible. Other doctrines developed by Joseph Smith were not only plausible but were attractive to me. 

But as I read, the evidence mounted. And so did my anger. 
  • Anger at the Church for deliberately deceiving its members about who Joseph Smith was and what he did during the 1820’s. 
  • Anger at the Church for deliberately and consciously advancing one story of how the Book of Mormon was translated while history reveals a different account (the seer stone in the hat method). 
  • Anger at the Church for concealing how early “revelations” were later changed to accommodate evolving doctrinal developments. 
  • Anger at the Church for deliberately glossing over glaring “problems” with the Book of Mormon that were presented to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as early as the 1920’s (by B.H. Roberts).
  • Anger at the Church for deliberately concealing information about Joseph Smith’s evolving doctrine of polygamy that began in the early Kirtland period.
I could go on and on. 

It was this evidence and this anger at being duped in so many ways that made it much easier for me to sever the remaining cords of belief in an institution and belief system to which I had given much of my life.

The First Vision? How could I believe in this doctrine if Joseph Smith himself described it in at least four different ways? How could I believe in this doctrine if his family knew nothing about it or about the visitation of Moroni in 1823? Rather, the evidence pointed to the fact that this doctrine, like all of Mormonism, was evolving into something quite different than it had originally been conceived of being. 

The Book of Mormon? How could I believe in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon if Joseph Smith himself never preached from it and uttered his thanks to be rid of the last remaining written manuscript when it was put in a time capsule in the Nauvoo House? How could I continue to believe in it when the church that evolved in the 1830’s and early 1840’s bore little resemblance to that described in the Book of Mormon? 

Joseph Smith? As the evidence mounted, I found a Joseph Smith emerging that was very different than the one depicted today by the Church. What was I to think of him? 

No matter how much some of the “doctrines of the restoration” are appealing, they cannot be divorced from the poisoned well from which they originated. (And let me state that I am not interested in debating the matters I have referenced in this post. The purpose of this post is to tell my story, not to prove it to someone else.)

When I was investigating the Church in 1983, I was once told that “it’s really very simple: if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Church is what he said it is.” In 2011-2012, I reversed this pithy little statement: If the Book of Mormon is not what it purports to be, then Joseph Smith was not a prophet. Conversely if Joseph Smith was not what he purported to be, then the Book of Mormon is – ultimately – a fraud. In both these cases, if Joseph Smith was not what he purported to be, then the “doctrines” that he advanced were not revelations from God. It’s really very simple.

That’s what I told myself in the spring of 2012. I came to a point where I told myself that I didn’t have all the answers, but I didn’t need all the answers. I knew enough to know that Mormonism is no more “true” than is Methodism, or Presbyterianism, or Catholicism, or any number of other “-isms.” In anything, Mormonism was even “less true,” because, ultimately, it is based on historical lies and deceit. No matter how appealing some of the Church’s doctrines may be, these teachings cannot be separated from the historical context in which they arose.

Thus were any remaining, lingering threads of belief I had in the Mormon Church severed … forever.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Resignation: An Expression of the Divine

In my last post, I described how angry I became when I first started really confronting the early history of the LDS Church in November 2011. This confrontation proved to be crucial in the process of severing all spiritual, emotional and intellectual ties to the Church. What I learned is that LDS doctrines, however appealing, cannot be separated from the historical circumstances in which they arose or were formed.

Appealing doctrines?

Yes. I was an adult convert to the LDS Church, and among the reasons I joined at age 24 was because the doctrine, in the words of Joseph Smith, “tasted good to me.” 

In January 2011, when I was beginning the process of coming out, I wrote a post on my Invictus Pilgrim blog that explained how I felt about some of the Church’s doctrines. The following is an edited version of that post, which was entitled “An Expression of the Divine.” I would like to stress that what I wrote almost 3-1/2 years ago was a reflection of where I then was, not where I am today. 


The title of this post comes from a statement written by artist and writer Wes Hempel, with whom I had struck up a correspondence.  He had used this phrase in a discussion we were having of President Boyd K. Packer’s recent General Conference remarks. “If homosexuality is not a choice but is instead intrinsic,” Wes wrote, “the inescapable conclusion is that homosexuality is not ‘impure’ or ‘unnatural.’  Rather, it must be just another aspect of God’s creation ... [which] alongside heterosexuality … must be an expression of the divine.”

I would like to use Wes’ words to frame an articulation of some thoughts I have had recently.

I should first of all say that I was not born into the LDS Church.  I encountered Mormonism shortly after I graduated from college at a time when I was searching for meaning and direction in my life.  I had been raised in the Catholic Church, but had joined a mainline Protestant church when a senior in high school. Later, I had a brief but satisfying affair with the Episcopal Church.  By the time I met the missionaries in 1983, I was flirting with going back to the Catholic Church.

In college, I took a number of religion and philosophy courses that both challenged and enriched the belief structure I had been raised with and which I had later added to and modified.  I guess you could say that I was somewhat unusual for someone my age, in that I had devoted a lot of thought, time and effort to the study of organized religion in an effort to find my place in the world. So when I was introduced to Mormonism, several of its doctrines strongly appealed to me (not to mention its claim for absolute truth), such as the following:

The Eternal Nature of Man.  Unlike any other religion or belief system, Mormonism taught that each human being is an eternal person, that before being clothed in a mortal body, my spirit had existed in a “pre-existent” state and that, furthermore, my spirit had in that state been clothed in a spiritual body.  "All spirit is matter,” wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith, “but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes … This spirit element has always existed; it is co-eternal with God.”

Furthermore, Mormonism taught that, prior to being organized by God into my spirit body, the “essence” that is me existed as intelligence.  “We know,” wrote Joseph Fielding Smith, “that there is something called intelligence which always existed. It is the real eternal part of man, which was not created nor made. This intelligence combined with the spirit constitutes a spiritual identity or individual.”

The Godlike Nature of Man.  Closely connected with the Mormon teaching that we are spirit children of God is the belief that, because of this heritage, we possess attributes of God within our very spirits.  “Our spirit birth gave us godlike capabilities,” wrote President Lorenzo Snow. “We were born in the image of God our Father; He begot us like unto Himself. There is the nature of deity in the composition of our spiritual organization; in our spiritual birth our Father transmitted to us the capabilities, powers and faculties which He Himself possessed -- as much so as the child on its mother's bosom possesses, although in an undeveloped state, the faculties, powers, and susceptibilities of its parent.”

The Dual Nature of Mortal Man.  Mormonism also simply cut through the Gordian knot when it came to the age-old debate among philosophers as to the true nature of man:  was the body merely a corrupting force of our “true” selves, our “spirit”, and thus something to be despised?  No, answered Mormonism.  We were sent here to this earth so that our spirits could be clothed in a mortal body which the spirit would, during the resurrection, reclaim and which would then be made immortal and glorified to a degree that would bring each of us eternal happiness and joy.

The Purpose of Life.  Far from proclaiming mortality to be a vale of tears, Mormon scripture shouted the truth that “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy”! (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:29)

The Destiny of Man.  Mormonism also rejected the false dichotomy of heaven vs. hell.  In a blaze of light and revelation, Joseph Smith’s vision of the degrees of glory, an account of which appears in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants (Mormon scripture), consigned the traditional Christian view of heaven and hell to the dustbin of history.  Except for “sons of perdition” (which I will not address), all will be resurrected and eventually inherit a degree of glory in the eternities that is commensurate with and designed to give ultimate joy to each of God’s children.

These doctrines lie at the heart of what Mormons alternately call “The Restoration”, the “Gospel” or the “Restored Gospel.” Each term refers to truths that Mormons believe are eternal but which had been lost for centuries due to apostasy within the Christian world.  These doctrines, among others, are what have led thousands, including myself, to join the Church.

The "Family" Trumps All

These doctrines, however, are given only passing reference in the Church today.  To the extent they are considered or referred to, whether “in the trenches” (in ward sacrament meetings or Sunday School lessons) or from the pulpit of General Conference, they typically serve as backdrop to what in my view has become the all-important, all-consuming Doctrine of today’s Church:  The Family.

The Church’s emphasis on “the Family” colors and drives every activity in and aspect of the Church, from Family Home Evening to Proposition 8 to the ordinances of the LDS temples.  It is this emphasis that, I submit, has led to the Church’s historically harsh position with respect to homosexuality and its involvement with several initiatives to fight gay marriage.

I believe it is also this emphasis, coupled with the Church’s (commendable) emphasis on meeting the temporal needs of God’s children through practical service and humanitarian work, along with its corporate approach to missionary work and temple “work”, that has led to the “pedestrian-ization” of the Gospel, particularly as the Church continues to seek to be accepted into the North American mainstream.

Even though I have become disaffected with orthodox Mormonism and the mainstream church, I still believe in the doctrines I have described above.  I still believe that these doctrines are like rich veins of precious philosophical ore, waiting to be explored and mined.  I feel this is particularly true with respect to how these doctrines relate to the concept of homosexuality.

I’d like to issue a challenge Mormon thinkers to consider this question: If one is born gay (which I very definitely believe is the case), and if one accepts the premise that homosexuality is not some sort of biological abnormality such as Down Syndrome but rather a reflection of one’s pre-mortal identity (which I believe), then what implications do these postulations have concerning the nature of God, a gay pre-mortal identity (and how such an identity was acquired) and (perhaps most importantly) a post-mortal gay identity?

In the meantime, I wish to simply adopt Wes Hempel’s statement as an expression of my own personal creed:  I was born gay, and this is not only a part of my eternal identity, but also an expression of the Divine.


In my next post, I will explore how confronting the history of the LDS Church and of Joseph Smith allowed me sever any remaining emotional, spiritual or intellectual ties to the Mormon Church.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Resignation: Confronting Church History

This is another in a series of posts chronicling my decision to formally resign my membership in the LDS Church and my confrontation with Church history and doctrine that followed my resignation.

I had submitted my letter of resignation. I had formally left the LDS Church, but I knew when I resigned that the Church, or rather a lingering - albeit tattered - belief in the Church, had not left me. As I've written in the previous posts in this series, when I resigned, I still didn't know what I believed about Joseph Smith, about the history of the Church, about the Book of Mormon, about temples, about a number of things. 

Leaving Was Not Enough

I was an adult convert to the Church. I had invested 28 years of my life in believing the Mormon Church was what it claimed to be. I found that it was one thing to leave a church that I felt had turned its back on me and in which I could no longer fit; but it was quite another to stop believing in things I had ardently believed, that I had taught my children, of which I had born testimony, that had seemed so rational and so believable for so long. Relinquishing long-held beliefs was far more difficult than mailing a letter to Church headquarters.

For a while after resigning, I thought that I could just leave these beliefs behind. But merely relinquishing them somehow felt like I imagined excommunication would feel like ... in that I hadn't "acted" of my own volition, but had merely "reacted." 

Relinquishment wasn't enough. I had to go back and face the beliefs and, if necessary and appropriate, renounce them, thereby paving the way (as it turned out) for healing from what the beliefs had done to me. I say "if necessary and appropriate" because I did not start out with an "agenda." I merely opened my mind, and the result followed of its own accord.

Opening My Mind

In the 28 years that I had been an active member of the LDS Church, I had never allowed myself to read anything that was even remotely "anti-Mormon." Over the years, I had read widely about the history of the Church, about Joseph Smith and about the doctrines of the Church, but all from sources that were sympathetic to the belief that the Church and Joseph Smith were what and whom they purported to be. 

I knew a lot about the history of the Church. I'm not trying to be boastful, but merely state a fact. I had read virtually every "friendly" biography of Joseph Smith, including Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling. I had read biographies of almost all of the presidents of the Church as well as many other books about the history of the Church. I had believed the Brethren when they had said that "detractors" from Joseph Smith and "apostates" had been led away to write and speak untruths about Smith and the Church, both during his lifetime and later. 

After all, if Joseph Smith really was what he proclaimed himself to be, and what many believed him to be, then it makes a certain amount of sense that many would seek to destroy the Prophet's reputation and cast doubt on his prophetic calling. The same could be said of Brigham Young, Smith's successor as president of the Church. The history of the Church as presented by those friendly to it made sense - in a sort of a way - and I would not entertain any notions that this history was not what it purported to be.

Starting to Read

The first book I picked up after I resigned of which I read parts was Under the Banner of Heaven. Mark had recommended it to me, but I quickly lost interest in the modern-day polygamists described in the book. What I found interesting was its depiction of the history of polygamy in the Mormon world. On 22 November 2011, I made the following entry in my journal:
“I am now reading Under the Banner of Heaven, which is basically about polygamous sects but also goes into the history of the Mormon Church. I thought I knew just about all there was to know about church history, but I read some things yesterday I had never heard of. Needless to say, they challenged my understanding and knowledge of church history. I’m only scratching the surface, I’m sure. I have quite a journey ahead of me. 
“As I was thinking about this yesterday, I realized that I would never have ‘gone there’ in the past – even though I considered myself a ‘liberal Mormon,’ [at least intellectually] because it would have been too challenging. I couldn’t afford to shake my testimony – it was the one thing I clung to in order to bring sanity to my life of denial, conflict and shame. Paradoxically, it was also the one thing that tied me to my life of denial, conflict and shame.”

No Man Knows His History

Later in November, I started reading Fawn Brodie's landmark biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History. I well remember going into Barnes and Noble and almost feeling like I was purchasing pornography – it was so taboo. Or at least in my mind at that ime. 

I had heard of her book, of course; but I had also read Hugh Nibley's rebuttal as well as other negative commentary written by defenders of the Church. It was the typical sort of stuff: slinging mud at the author, but leaving her basic message unchallenged. Brodie, however, was no "anti-Mormon." At the time she initially wrote History, she was a young historian (in the 1940's), but she would later achieve fame and recognition for her landmark biography of Thomas Jefferson. 

What I read in Brodie's book infuriated me. I don't know now many times I said to Mark (who is not, nor ever has been, Mormon), "I was so gullible!" Brodie told the other side of the story that had been constantly denigrated by the Church and its various apologists. But she also told the story that was never in the official or friendly accounts because it was too damning. I felt like I had been duped. Mislead. Lied to. And I didn't like it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Resignation: Grace and the Courage to Be

“Sometimes it happens that we receive the power to yes to ourselves, 
that peace enters into us and makes us whole, 
that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, 
and that our self is reunited with itself. 
Then we can say that grace has come upon us.”

“The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself, 
in spite of being unacceptable.”

~ Paul Tillich

This is another in a series of posts chronicling my decision to resign my membership in the LDS Church and to confront the historical origins of the Church. As mentioned in my last post in the series, the first Circling the Wagons conference was going on while I in the process of resigning. I wrote this post in November 2011 about the interfaith service that was held as part of the conference.

The above two quotes were both written by Paul Tillich, a noted Protestant theologian and philosopher, and I think they aptly and beautifully capture much of what was expressed and felt at this past weekend’s “Circling the Wagons” LGBTQ conference, sponsored by and held here in Salt Lake City.

The conference was successful beyond expectations by any of a number of measures. The Deseret News pegged attendance at 300. I personally know of attendees who had come from Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, California, Nevada, Idaho and Oregon, along with many from Utah. In addition to gays and lesbians who attended, there were many, many family members and other members of the Church who attended in order to learn and support loved ones.

Throughout the weekend, many plain and precious truths were conveyed, hearts were touched, friendships formed, and love shared. As was expressed by a number of presenters and attendees throughout the weekend, we all felt like we were part of something historic.

The Interfaith Service was no exception, though it was somewhat discordant. There we were, sitting in Skaggs Memorial Chapel at the First Baptist Church, singing LDS hymns. The organist was a gay Mormon who will be married to his partner this week. The chorister was a straight LDS woman. The man who conducted the service is an openly gay member of his ward. The congregation consisted of gay men, lesbian women, families with children, parents of gay children, straight men and women, friends of their gay brothers and sisters.

We heard inspiring talks given by Kevin Kloosterman, an LDS bishop who had traveled from the Midwest to attend and speak at the conference, by Rev. Mary June Nestler, the Canon of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, and by the Rev. Jimmy Creech, who had been one of the keynote speakers the day before.

Though there were many notable moments, the highlight of the service for me came when Julia Hunter, a lesbian Mormon who is a professional violinist, was joined by a young gay man who was long-time friend and fellow musician (Julia laughed when she said they had gone to the prom together in high school) to play a piano-violin duet of a medley of several Mormon hymns. As I sat there, transported by the beauty of the music, I contemplated the words of the hymn Julia was playing, “There Is Sunshine In My Soul Today.”

In the row in front of me, I saw sights that are common in any LDS sacrament meeting:  a couple, sitting close together with one’s arm around the other person in an expression of tenderness and love. Next to them, I saw a young couple, the flower of LDS youth. As the young man leaned forward in the pew, the other’s fingers ran up and down his back – a sight seen over and over again in wards throughout the Church.

This scene was different, however, for both of these couples consisted of gay men. The older couple, partners, expressed deep love and affection as one rested his body within the embrace of the other’s arm. The younger couple, boyfriends, were both returned missionaries, both handsome, clean cut young men. One had given the opening prayer for the service. Halfway through “Sunshine”, after his boyfriend had been gently running his fingers up and down his back, he sat back up in the pew and put his arm around his boyfriend.

It was scenes throughout the weekend of gay couples openly expressing affection for each other - scenes that we would take for granted in an LDS meetinghouse among heterosexual couples - that I think was one of the most powerful messages of the conference. Even for us gay folks, as well as our straight allies, these scenes took aback a bit at first; we're not accustomed to seeing this in a "church" or "LDS" setting; but then we think, "Yeah, this is what it's all about," and it just seemed (as it was) so natural, so right, and yet such a powerful representation of what all the talks, songs and discussion are all about.

These were the thoughts running through my mind while the violin and piano played on, transporting all of us higher and higher with beautiful musical runs that evoked feelings of ascension and transcendance. It was during these moments that I felt what I am sure most people in that room felt:  a spirit of love, a spirit of peace, a spirit that confirmed that we are loved and accepted for who and what we are, a spirit that drove away self-hatred and self-contempt. It was, as Paul Tillich wrote, a moment of grace, and I think we all felt it.

I could write about what Rev. Nestler had to say about the Episcopal Church’s journey to full acceptance of gays and lesbians. I could write about the powerful words Jimmy Creech shared about no one having the power or the authority to tell us who we cannot love. I could write about those things. But what I personally think was most memorable about that service was what we felt … as a group of gay and lesbian Mormons, together with their friends, families and allies, gathered to worship together in a small chapel in a Baptist Church in Salt Lake City … and what we left with:  a greater courage to be, to accept ourselves in spite of being unacceptable.

Postscript: At the time I wrote this in November 2011, I still very much considered myself to be a Mormon - culturally if not literally. This was before I started investigating and confronting the history of the Church, before I became disillusioned and angry at lies and deception and betrayal.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Horseback Riding at Fisher Towers

Our last big adventure during our vacation to Moab last week was going horseback riding near Fisher Towers, east of Moab. The last time I could remember being on a horse was in 1977, when I took an equestrianship PE class at the University of Illinois. Before that, I had only ridden a horse one time - at Camp Ondessonk in southern Illinois the summer after fifth grade.

So ... I was a bit apprehensive about getting on a horse. They are, after all, very large animals. I was also apprehensive that some of the kids - or perhaps all of them - might be afraid of getting on a horse. Boy, was I wrong.

Our horses were saddled and ready to go when we arrived.

We set out at 8:15 from our condo for the 45-minute drive out to Hauer Ranch near Fisher Towers - very near where we had put into the river the day before. It was another beautiful day. Clear blue skye, mild temperatures, perfect.

Kerry with the kids before the ride

Hauer Ranch is a small operation, but we were very pleased with the choice Mark had made in arranging this outing. Kerry, our guide, was very friendly, outgoing and reassuring - great with the kids. I engaged her in conversation (and visa versa) for much of the ride. 

I am fascinated by people's accents, and hers to me sounded very much like an upper midwest nasal twang. She obviously wasn't from Utah, so, intrigued, I eventually asked her where she hailed from.  "Well," she said, "I grew up in South Dakota, but then I lived in a lot of other different places." She mentioned a divorce and a remarriage, telling me that she had ended up in Utah because her husband had a job in economic development with the Navajo tribe. 

After moving west, Kerry had seen an advertisement by the owners of Hauer Ranch for a trail guide and had gotten the job. She related that she had been riding rodeo by the time she was seven years old and had a lot of experience with horses. It find continual fascination in hearing the stories of people that lie just below the surface.

The ornaments we bought in Moab

I had had a similar experience a couple of days before in a Native American gallery in Moab. I found a couple of Christmas ornaments - hand-painted sand globes (half price even) - and the cashier was an older woman whom I thought was probably in her mid-late 60's. I mentioned that I collect Christmas ornaments. Her face lit up. "I do, too!" she said. She proceeded to tell me a story of how she had collected ornaments all of her life and what a pleasure it was to get them out each Christmas and reflect upon the story behind each ornament. "Then," she continued, "I started buying ornaments for my grandchildren." She shared how excited her grandson had been to receive a small dream-catcher one year from her.

As I listened to her, I could detect a clear upper-Midwest accent, and sure enough, she was originally from Michigan. I sometimes hesitate to ask because of the reaction some people have when I enquire. She frowned a little bit and said, jokingly, "After all these years ... I thought I had lost it." I replied that it only stuck out because she is in Utah; then I mentioned that, when I first went to the University of Illinois, being from the southern part of that state, people asked me -in all seriousness - if I was from Alabama. Of course, most of my fraternity brothers were from the Chicago suburbs, and "southern Illinois" to them meant the part of the state south of the Cook County line.

But I digress. Kerry proceeded to get the kids on their horses one at a time, and I think her calm and friendly manner inspired confidence in them (and me).

Annie (above) hopped on her horse as if she'd done it dozens of times. Unlike on the rafting experience the day before, she showed no fear at any point on the trail ride. 

Getting Aaron on

Aaron was next up. Mark took pictures of all of them as they got on their horse, and when we later saw the pictures of Aaron, we all got a good laugh because of what the horse was doing, even funnier because it was Aaron's horse (think Boy Scout potty humor):

After we were all mounted, we headed out, seven horseback riders with two dogs accompanying us. Kerry told us about them, Twister and Spook; about how Spook was so named because one of their horses had been spooked one day by stomaching under a bush. Upon inspection, it turned out to be an abandoned dog whom the ranch adopted and nursed back to health.

Heading out. I love the look on Levi's face. 

Kerry also told us the story of "Blender," a ranch dog who had become famous during the 1990's because he loved to swim out in the Colorado River and be "rescued" by rafters. He would happily enjoy their attention on the way to lunch, then enjoy being fed before he'd set off on foot for the ranch. The next day, he would do the same thing, day after day.

I can't emphasize enough how surprised I was that all of the kids took so readily - and happily - to trail riding. Annie had absolutely no fear. Levi - who had told me earlier in the week that he isn't really "an outdoors person" - LOVED it. Esther and Aaron, too. Esther, of course, looked like a natural, she's such an athlete.

Along the way, Kerry told us stories about movies that had been made in the area. "City Slickers 2" was filmed on and around the ranch. "Rio Grande" with John Wayne was filmed in the area, along with a number of other westerns. Kerry also pointed out where a car commercial had been made, where a helicopter set a car on top of one of the towers. During the filming process, a storm came up, and the helicopter needed to land. The actress featured in the commercial stayed in the car; everyone assumed that the storm would quickly pass. But it didn't, and she ended up spending the night in the car.

Once we got up to the turnaround point, Kerry had us all line up (well, she lined up the horses and we all hoped they stay put because none of us - except Mark - really knew how or had the confidence to steer them) and she took a picture of us with the Fisher Towers in the background. It's the lead photo above, but I'm going to put it here as well to give texture to the comment Mark made about it when I posted it to my Facebook page:

"Here's what's wrong with the picture," he wrote. "Very western cowboy setting but mounted on those very western horses in the very western setting are 4 Xbox addicts and 2 road bike addicts. What an experience - lots of fun with those fearless children."

Indeed, it was fun. And such a great experience for the children, to encounter something they had never before encountered, to allay fears they might have had, and to teach them that they weren't necessarily who they thought they were.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Resignation: "There is No Home For You Here"

This is the fourth in a series of posts that chronicle my decision to resign my membership in the LDS Church and my confrontation with Church history that followed. Unlike the previous three posts in this series that were originally published on another blog in the spring of 2013, this is a new post.

Within a week or so of mailing my letter of resignation, I received a form letter from the Membership Records Department of the Church:

Perhaps I should say again that I didn't feel I could just go inactive in the Church. For me, it was a matter of personal integrity. I just didn't want the feeling that I was responsible to some church authority for the way I was living my life; nor did I want the feeling of looking over my shoulder to see if some church leader was going to send me notice of a disciplinary hearing. I wanted to be free of all that. Period. 

I know other gay Mormon men who have been excommunicated but still believe in the Church. I know of others who were excommunicated and have nothing whatsoever to do with the Church. Others have simply gone inactive; they are still members but don't associate with the Church. Still others have, like me, chosen to resign their membership in the Church. I respect each of these decisions; it is a very personal matter. I have never regretted my decision to resign.

As the above letter describes, the Church doesn't give up easily. Resignation requests are always referred to local church leaders, i.e., the bishop and stake president. By the time my then-current bishop was contacted, I had already moved in with Mark, but I deliberately used my old address. Sure enough, the bishop came by the house and talked to my old housemate, who assured him that I was deadly serious and totally confident in my decision to resign.

So, a couple of weeks later, I received the following letter from the bishop that had been sent to my old address:

Enclosed with this letter, however, was a personal one, hand-written by my former bishop. I have to say I was deeply touched by and appreciated his words and the sentiment behind them:

It was somewhat ironic that the letter was dated the day my daughter Hannah was married in the Salt Lake Temple. Of course, I wasn't in the sealing room, but I was there when she came out, looking radiant. I didn't know until much later of the ordeal she experienced within her own heart and soul with regard to the temple. But she also didn't know until much later what was going on regarding my decision to leave the Church. 

My resignation also occurred in the midst of the first Mormon Stories Circling the Wagons Conference, an event which I helped plan and in which I participated. I will share some of my thoughts about that conference in the next post in this series.

In early December, I received the final letter:

Thus, the end of a 28-1/2 year period in my life. I didn't know what the future would hold, but I was confident that I had made the right decision.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rafting the Colorado

We got up and going early last Tuesday morning to go river rafting. We woke up the kids, got them breakfast, and made sure they were dressed appropriately. We left our condo a little before 8:00 a.m. and showed up at the Red Rivers Adventures as directed at 8:15. Mark had made all the arrangements. Some guides immediately started picking out life jackets for the kids while Mark and I went into the office to sign the necessary paperwork. But it soon became apparent that they had no record of us going rafting that day. 

"Are you sure you have the right company?" the cheerful and well-mannered employee said.

"Yes," Mark replied as he reached for his phone.

"Hmmm. Let me check something." He did some typing and clicking on his keyboard. 

"Yep. You guys are scheduled for tomorrow."

Mark and I looked at each and laughed. What else could we do? "It's a good thing you guys are on vacation, right?" said the employee. "It's all good."

It was all good. The kids swam, we looked for souvenirs, and we had the brilliant idea of introducing "quiet time" at the condo, where the kids stayed in their respective bedrooms for an hour or so in the afternoon. We told the kids it was quiet time, but it was really "recoup and survive time" for Mark and me.

The next morning, we went through the same routine, knowing for sure that we had the right day.

It was a beautiful day. In fact, the weather was stellar the whole time we were in Moab. We had expected it to be much hotter but it was very pleasant.

One thing I noticed as we were standing around waiting to get on the bus was the looks from others who were going up the river with us. I suspect in most cases they were attributable to the novelty of seeing two middle-aged men with four kids under the age of 12. 

In one case, however, it was quite clear that the husband in a hubbie-wife-teenage son group was definitely not a happy camper. I noticed it down in Moab and later when we stopped for lunch along the river. I didn't say anything to Mark, but he brought it up once we were back in Moab. What was interesting is that I noticed his wife, who was quite sociable to the rest of the group, staring at our raft at one point on the trip. She had a look on her face that made me imagine that she was trying to process this scene of two gay men and four laughing, happy children having the time of their lives.

Getting the rafts in the water near Fisher Towers

Mark and I immediately liked our guides. There were three young women (who were somber and serious) and three men (who were definitely not). One of the men had hair halfway down his back, and the other two had long hair and beards. We had the feeling that these guys were all about fun (and safety, of course) on the river, and this proved to be the case. Unlike some larger rafts that seated 12 or so people, ours each had no more than six guests and the guide.

One of the men was named Cody. I noticed him right away when we were still back at Red River's place. What was noticeable is that he was, um, extremely fit. He was also very friendly and told lame jokes on the bus as we drove to our embarkation point. I quietly told Mark that I wouldn't mind having him as our guide. After all, he seemed to be the leader of the group.

Cody in action on the river 

Waiting for embarkation

As it happened, Cody did end up being our guide. In the process of assigning members of our groups to rafts, he somehow got confused as to where to put our family. Finally, he asked, "Who do you guys want to be your guide." "You!" Mark responded. And that is how Cody came to be our guide. 

He set the tone for our trip down the river when, shortly after launching, he did a back flip off the raft. Then he engaged in telling more lame jokes, and Aaron happily joined in. 

I was surprised at how well the kids took to the rafting. I have to admit that I was a bit anxious taking the kids out. I could just see one of them falling out of the raft and getting carried down the river. But none of them seemed the least bit concerned - at least until we hit our second rapids. That's when Annie, who was sitting behind me, yelled "I don't like this!" (See close-up below.)

We did our best to reassure her as we worked our way through the waves, then she was fine when we came out the other side. The other kids, if they were frightened, didn't show it.

A professional photograph of us in some rapids. Note that Levi and Esther were smiling.

We were later told that the river was higher than it's been since 1981. Most of the trip was through placid waters, though there was a pretty good current. We didn't realize how fast we were going until we looked at the shore. Cody told us that, toward the end of the summer, it's a real slog with every guest paddling almost all the way down. For us, all we had to do (other than in the rapids) was paddle every so often for directional purposes.

Our group floating down the river amidst majestic scenery

After a couple of hours on the river, we pulled over to shore where we could have lunch under the shade of some cottonwood trees. The kids went looking for lizards while the guides prepared the food. Mark took this picture of them not far from our lunch site:

During this lunch break, I had an interesting experience with one of the other dads on the trip. He was there with his son - a beautiful boy - who appeared to be about Annie's age. He said he was from the Bay Area. As we walked down the trail that the kids had taken (resulting in the above photograph), he said, "Are all these kids from one household?!" I nodded. "My wife and I stopped at three because we felt outnumbered," he said. "My hat's off to you!" I didn't volunteer any information about my six children older than the Quads.

Except for one (or two?) sets of rapids, the part of the trip after lunch was very placid. Encouraged by Cody, the three older kids jumped off the raft into the river, which was very cold. Esther did it three times (of course). We were by far the liveliest raft in our group. It was about this time that I saw that woman (whose husband sent out extremely homophobic vibes) staring at us. Whatever. It was so much fun.

We had one more set of rapids, and another professional photographer snapped this picture of us:

It was a really, really fun day.

Our family.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Teenage Son's Father's Day Tribute

Mark and I received quite a surprise Sunday when our 15-year-old son posted a tribute to us on Instagram. With his permission, I am publishing screen shots of this tribute here on my blog. Needless to say, we are very proud of Nathan.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Vacation: Arches and Moab

So the day after the Bryce Canyon incident, Mark and I girded up our loins and took the kids to Arches National Park. On the way to the trail head for Delicate Arch, we drove by some amazing scenery. As I said to Mark, my eyes tend to glaze over when someone starts talking about geology, and I think that's mainly because it has always been presented (to me at least) in very boring terms. This period. That period. What does it all mean?

But I am fascinated by not only what I saw in southern Utah but what I see every time we go cycling in one of the canyons along the Wasatch Front. Each canyon - to me anyway - seems to have its own unique geology, look and feel. But the varied landscapes we saw on our trip to southern Utah are amazing - and took hundreds of millions of years to form. It boggles my mind to think about how relatively short - understatement - the period of recorded history is on our planet compared to the age of these formations, these mountains, these canyons.

If I wait long enough, however, the desire to know more passes, and I'm back to just enjoying what I am looking at.

To reach Delicate Arch, you drive to a trail head and then hike for 1.5 miles back to the Arch. We were apprehensive about how well the kids would do - mentally more than physically - after the Bryce Canyon experience. But they did well. Looking for lizards helped. As did the promise of ice cream back in Moab. We stopped by the Moab Cafe more than once last week.

We rented a condo while we were in Moab, and that was perfect for us. Three bedrooms, family room, kitchen, large patio and a pool down the street. The only way to go - it's cheaper than a hotel and it sure beats camping (at least in my book).

Dad's exhausted after a long day, while the kids keep going strong