I am very happy to be with you today. I love to meet with the Saints in new contexts. We share so many assumptions, so much history, so many beliefs.
I think that everything that we do benefits from singing and dancing, so we are going to sing a song.
Four lines here to be learned:
Dear LGBT friends
Meeting here in harmony
We share our stories and
Feel God’s Love
Not a great song. Has problems. But all mix together and sound pretty good.
All are alike unto God. But by the same token, all are individual, different in many ways. We have our similarities and we have our differences and those are things that we should celebrate, make something of. We have special skills that can improve the lots of others. We can show the sympathy and the needed response to other minorities. We can organize, like this, to show mutual support, and communal affection.
What are our talents, our strengths, what can we make much of? What do we not want to waste?
Part of a poem by Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
Because it’s up to us. We make choices on how to live our lives. We are given possibilities and circumstances and contradictions to make sense of. From those we must craft our own wild and precious lives. It’s important for us to follow our interests. To develop our own talents. There are things that each of us can do better than anyone else.
But we cannot have it all our way. Ambiguity and contradiction are part of life. Truth is illusive and malleable. Accepting that situation is a necessary part of maturity. Living with it means that we must adopt a wide tolerance and acceptance of others and of ourselves. We are all the same, but we are all different. We must fashion and create ourselves out of what we have been given. We can’t be other than we are, but we can work at being our best selves.
My one wild and precious life. We have this one time to spend on earth. How can we make the best use of it? How can we turn our problems into challenges and our challenges into successes? What are people who do not go by the rules of others on the earth to do? There are too many of them to be mistakes. There are not enough of them to be the majority. How can we explain this apparently eternal divergence?
I have a number of explanations, one of which is related to my first large heresy. That basically says that what we know of our life on earth, our plan of Salvation, our understanding of the past, present, and future, our understanding of the solar system, the universe, and on and on is only a very small piece of human and natural history. It’s like looking at a map of Arizona, or Mesa, and thinking that that is the universe. It’s like thinking we understand the world because we have a view of New Jersey across the Hudson River. There is just so much more out there than we can know or comprehend at this time. Our tiny sliver of life is is only a dot on the big picture. We can think we know, but we don’t. I do not believe that the world we perceive accounts for all things. Everything is just much more complex and vast than we can imagine. Everything has its place and fits in.
And my second heresy is that I believe in universal salvation. Everyone is good. Everyone will be saved. We all passed the first test as we understand it. But even those who voted wrong will be saved. I don’t believe that a whole third of the host of heaven was cast out because of a single vote. Those beings are eternal, made from the same components as the rest of us. They may have been sent to another planet for remedial civics lessons. But a soul is a terrible thing to waste. Each one has a past and a future. They will endure and prevail. And even that arch evil creature Satan will be saved. He is a potent spirit, given a difficult role. He too will come along in the great scheme of things.
What we need are more stories that tell these things, more myths to live by. Ancient peoples who had even more limited world views than we do and no science came up with stories that explained the meaning of things to them. Those myths differ from people to people, but they help make sense of things and give direction.
Some of us differ from most of our fellow beings in ways that go deep inside us, that we cannot deny, that change the way we see our world. I am not an LGBT person that I have yet discovered, but I am the grandmother of one gay young man, a BYU graduate and successful returned missionary. He had planned to take his secret to his grave and just could not manage to do it. I’m also the grandmother of another fine young man, age 26 who after many years of private suffering told us that he plans to transition from male to female. He said that his choice was either to tell us or to take his own life.
I have some very partial limited understanding of the suffering of these young men because I am left handed. I know that you think that that’s nothing of a burden, but this variation from the standard has had a similar history with gender variations over the ages. Left handed people used to be burned at the stake. Though they are now regarded neutrally, they still live in a world created for other people. They know that they are different. They die earlier. They tend to be good in music and math. Lefties are over represented in art museums as well as in prisons and insane asylums. I actually do almost everything right handed, but write. I could probably do that too as I can also write upside down and backwards. But my mind is definitely wired differently from those of others. I get lost, I don’t know the difference between left and right and have to figure it out every time, frequently making dumb, dangerous, embarrassing mistakes. I am a stranger in a strange world. I a stranger and afraid in a world I never made.
There is a disproportionate minority of people who are left handed in the same sex populace, about 10%. Both variations, according to someone, that result from a polygenic situation. About 40 different genes contribute to a complex interplay of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences to account for a natural variation of nature, rather than a mistake.
Kangaroos are left-handed, along with some other Australian mammals. I tend of think of Australia as a left handed continent. We should all just move there.
So my myth. My story is that all of us who are different in some notable way are really visitors from some other earth or colony where we were in the majority. It might have been an accident that some of us slipped through, but I prefer to think that we have been sent here for some particular course of study to be used on another earth in some future stage. We are people from distant planets who will go on to spread our culture or to return to instruct others. Our experience allows us to see things that others do not.
It happens that we have a pretty good Biblical example. Much of the early Bible is mythic. The Bible has many helpful stories that may not be literally true, but that we can use to teach lessons. Today I’m using the Babylonian captivity or exile narrative as the basis for my myth. King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon repeatedly made war against the Jews and they fought him back, losing every time. About 500 or 600 before the common era, as we say. We have these wars recorded in the Old Testament history books. Then we have the prophet books, with some personal stories, including and some of the personal stories in the first six books of Daniel. These stories have been interpreted as God using Babylon as His agent of judgment against Israel for their sins of idolatry and rebellion. Many Jews were killed each time, the temple was destroyed and Jerusalem left in ruins, as thousands of Jews were taken captive and marched to Babylon.
But a great promise was included with the punishing destruction. As prophesied, the Jewish people would be allowed to return to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile, about the length of a single life. That prophecy was fulfilled in 537 B.C., when King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Israel to rebuild the city and temple. That’s the captivity/exile story and the return/restoration of the Jewish nation that fulfill OT prophecies.
So, King Nebuchadnezzar took many of the finest and brightest young men from Judah captive. They were given the best education that Babylon had to offer and then employed to govern and administer Babylonia and their own native lands. This was smart colonialism. These outstanding young men included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were strangers in a strange land whose test was to hold to their identities in this strange world, even as they had been ripped away from their homes.
Using this myth for my purposes requires some redefinition of the forces at play. King Nebu represents not just our current judgmental society, but also parts of other establishments and current leaders, all the opposing forces. And we need to recognize that in this myth, the boys strengthen themselves against this opposition. Like them, we have been chosen to learn from another civilization, as those Jewish boys were sent to Babylon to learn leadership skills. Our challenge is to honor who we are, to refuse to give in to the gentile ways even as people make life difficult for us. We must follow our own ways and honor them.
So, in the book of Daniel, we have two parallel stories of divine deliverance. The point is that God will deliver those who are faithful to him. Daniel survived his time in the lion’s den and the three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego spent their time in the fiery furnace. I’m just using the story of the three friends.
King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image described as three score cubits high and six cubits wide. A cubit is more than a foot and less than a yard, so lets just call them feet. I figure 720 feet high, that’s 240 yards, and that’s six feet wide. Really bigger, a very tall pillar kind of a thing. He then ordered his leaders, the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image.
A herald cried aloud to all assembled, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and language at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made. But if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
Certain officials informed the king that the three Jewish men who held significant office in Babylon, refused to worship the gold idol. The penalty for their actions was death. Their response: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against S, M and A, therefore he spake and commanded that they should heat the furnace seven times more than it was wont to be heated.
Then the boys were bound in their coats, their stockings, and their hats and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. The hot flames slew those men who threw them in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar was astonished that the fire did not consume Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He was also amazed to see not three, but a fourth person with them: "Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they have no hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."
Nebuchadnezzar brought the youths out of the flames and promoted them to high office, decreeing that anyone who spoke against their God should be torn limb from limb, one of the ultimate punishments.
I love this story. How can you tell that this is a legend? By the extravagant use of exaggeration - the size of the statue, the list of officers, the use of every kind of music, the destruction of the executioners, and the king's rage followed by his confession of the superiority of the God of Israel. The plot is a type known in folklore as "the disgrace and rehabilitation of a minister," the plot of which involves a man in a state of prosperity who is sentenced to death or prison by the plots of his enemies but vindicated and restored to honor.
This rehabilitation in a broader world is a narrative that we can use. We are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from the evil king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, "that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
It’s hard to be that brave. They had faith in their God and in themselves. They believed that they would be delivered, and they were. Their faith in a higher law was persuasive to others. This story demonstrates that God is able to deliver us from our own problems and trials. We must look beyond local authority figures to higher ones.
As believers, we know that God is able to deliver. However, we also know that He does not always do so, at least not right now. We may not be able to understand the purpose of our trials, but God asks that we trust Him.