Saturday, December 31, 2016

Going back to your beginnings isn't always a failure.

As I have seen plastered all over Facebook, 2016 has been a roller coaster for everyone. There have been many good things that have happened, and also terrible things. I've definitely felt that rollercoaster of emotions this year, but I'm fortunate that I am not the same person that I was at the beginning of 2016.

What has affected my life the most this year was the discovery of the CES Letter and the consequent research of LDS church history and doctrine that ensued afterwards. I was thrown into an existential crisis as my spiritual world view came crumbling down and I couldn't get answers from my spiritual leaders that I found adequate to satiate my curious and skeptical mind. Now that the end of the year is here, I have come to a place where I have set my Mormon asceticism aside to welcome new beliefs and spiritual practices while maintaining the Mormon values that have made me a better, more loving person. I have been able to better empathize and understand people with other world views and spiritual practices and why they behave and do the things they do. I have also realized that the people that I have demonized or pitied because of Mormon culture (mind you, culture, not doctrine) such as Ex-Mormons, other religions, people who drink alcohol or coffee, etc... are absolutely not bad or misled people at all. They want truth just as much as I do, but we all see it in different lights and from different directions.

Next to this change sparked by the CES Letter, my last relationship really changed me this year in a good way. The breakup happened just a few days after the New Years and it continued to be off and on throughout the entire year. What I hadn't realized is that my career path had changed because of him, and thus my passion and vision for my life. I was settling for a career path that I didn't think was going to make me as happy as I could be. Don't be mistaken, he never asked me to shift my passions. I just knew that my passions of dance weren't going to fit with the future of the relationship. And I chose the relationship over my career. That was not healthy for me. Breaking up that many times made me realize that the only constant I can rely on is myself, and because of that I had to focus on the things in my life that I can rely on. A career that makes me happy, my friends, my family, and myself. Relationships come and go, and one hopefully can stay. But it has to stay on the condition that I have the things that I can rely on to sustain myself as a distinct independent human being.

My best friend also taught me what kind of love I deserve. I haven't always had the healthiest perspective on love in regards to my relationships. I thought that relationships were meant to be saved no matter the cost. Things will get hard, but as long as you keeping working, things will always end up being better and the relationship is always worth saving. I learned that that is not always the case. It's important to pick up on patterns in relationships that are unhealthy and try to fix them, but the other party has to be willing to fix them too. Also, if your self-worth is being affected by the relationship, it isn't worth it. Build a self-worth that you make for yourself. That way, no one else can bring you down. Find someone that builds onto what you have already made.

This year I also made a lot of progress in my dance program and career. I performed a Bharatanatyam piece in a concert called "Ragamala Dance Company" and this made me realize that I have a real passion for Bharatanatyam dance. I also performed in the "Graduate Students Salon" and choreographed an original work for "If There Is One Thing We Are Not, It Is Brief." Next semester I have a lot of dance things coming up. I am choreographing and being a guest teacher for a residency at Snow College next week, I'm choreographing my senior thesis work on predatory hunting patterns in animals, I'm dancing as a guest dancer for Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company, dancing in the senior choreographer's piece, auditioning for the Spring Gala Dance Concert, possibly dancing in a concert produced by some graduate students (details are still coming), and doing my senior internship with RDT.

I plan on pursuing this career path. I'm auditioning for Salt Contemporary Dance Company in hopes to make their second company. I'm also auditioning for the Northwest Dance Project's LAUNCH program. I'm really excited for these, but since they are my dream companies, I am not holding too much hope quite yet. They're really advanced and I am behind in my ballet technique. Outside of those two things, I am submitting a piece with Xochitl Marquez for the Red Rocks Dance Festival and planning on doing some freelance choreography. If I don't make any dance companies that I audition for, I plan on doing a ballet academy for a year on top of freelance choreography so that I can get to the level that I want to be at for when I audition for Salt or the NWDP again. This shift in career path so that I pursue my greatest passions didn't happen until this year, and for that I am grateful.

I also had to move back in with my parents because of finances. At first I was really discouraged that I was moving back in with them because I enjoyed the independence that being moved out brought and I thought that it was a failure on my part. After spending a week at home, I have realized that it wasn't only needed because of finances, but also my well-being and emotional health. I have taken a lot of blows this year and I have been reeling in change, so it has been incredible to go back home, not as a failure and having to start over from the beginning, but as a sort of cleansing and rebirth.

So despite the craziness that 2016 has brought, I have learned and grown substantially. And for 2017, I am going to choose myself and going to pursue my passions.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

How the CES Letter Strengthened My Testimony

For the past month or so I have been on an intense search for truth in regards to the validity of the LDS faith and its claim that it is the one and only true church. This search brought me to start researching in depth church history and I happened to stumble upon an anti-Mormon piece of literature commonly referred to as the CES Letter. Anti-Mormon literature generally doesn't bother me, but surprisingly, after reading this, my testimony came crashing down own me. It was devastating.

After reading the CES Letter, I tried desperately to research articles, journals, documentaries, etc... that supported the translations of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon, I tried to find explanations for Polyandry, The First Vision accounts, and several other issues that the document addresses. I found nothing. In fact, I found a lot of things that supported the CES Letter and little to none to support the church. How could this be? How could the church that I once found to be true be seem to be so unmistakably false? How did that affect how I believed in God? Would I ever be the same after reading this? Is my life going to change forever?

After two months of crushing doubt and confusion, a thought finally shot through my head. Not just any thought though, it was like somebody else injected the thought into my head, because it didn't correlate with how my brain tends to process thought. For that reason, I concluded that it was a distinct prompting, a cryptic message from God, someone that I don't hear talk to me very much.

"By their fruits ye shall know [if they are true]." Matthew 7:20.

At first I thought, "What does that even mean?" And I was frustrated because that prompting seemed so clear, but it was so cryptic. Over time it started to make more sense as I looked around at my family and fellow peers who live and love the gospel. You can see a light in their eyes. For the most part they lead their lives in a way that is firm in morals and has little to no regret. These are the fruits of them living the gospel. Not only this, but the foundational church principles and doctrines are to love our neighbor, love God, and to serve whenever we can. These fruits are good and they lead people to do good things. Those things are eternal truths.

Though I believe that organized religion is inherently flawed and selfish in the sense that it pretty much bribes its followers with salvation if they are good... is that actually a bad thing? Sure there are going to be people who are always going to do good regardless, but religion provides a way for more people to do good,  more people to have a purpose, and more people to have genuine concern for mankind. Is organized religion inherently bad for doing that? No. Absolutely not. But do you have to have organized religion to be a good person? No. Absolutely not.

That being said, members are imperfect. Our leaders are imperfect. They are going to make imperfect decisions. In church history there are many many examples of our leaders and members making terrible mistakes that impacted the lives of people for generations, even to the present day. These are hard things to deal with even for myself. But do the mistakes and untruths completely invalidate the truths and right decisions that the church possesses? I don't believe so. The church still teaches to love God, to love our neighbor, and to serve others. Those are eternally and unequivocally true.

So what does all this have to do with the CES Letter strengthening my testimony? Despite all the bad, mistakes, and untruths in the church, I believe that the good outweighs the bad. The truths outweighs the untruths. The fruits of the gospel that I have seen are good and continue to be good.

I can't necessarily say that I believe that the LDS church is the one and only true church. That is not the basis of my testimony, and my testimony in that sense has not been strengthened. But my testimony in God has strengthened substantially because he loved me enough that even through my doubt and confusion, he was a voice a reason. A beacon of light in the darkness. My testimony in the principles of loving my neighbor, serving others, and prayer have been strengthened because those are eternal truths that I can rely on that will always be true. There are many things that have been brought to question about my testimony that I still am searching for answers, but because of my strengthened testimony in God, I know that answers will come. And I know that because He answers my prayers.

Monday, May 9, 2016

I Understand You, Tyler Glenn

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been sort of inactive on social media due to a smorgasbord of personal issues, one of those being the biggest faith crisis I have ever experienced. After the policy change and Elder Bednar's remarks on homosexuality in the church, I haven't really been the same.

About a month ago (just before I stopped attending church) was when my emotions started to reach a climax. My mental health was completely off-kilter. I would vacillate from being happy, to debilitatingly depressed, to peaceful, to angry, and then even to a state of psychosis. Thoughts of suicide ravaged my brain because all I could think was, "Well, if I stay in the church, I'll feel guilty for pursuing relationships in men. If I leave, I'll feel guilty about not living God's standards. If I stay and not date men I'll forever be alone and without a companion. What's the point? If I die, I'll finally feel the happiness that God promises us. I'll no longer have this pain of living."

In one of these bouts of emotional stress I wrote a poem in reaction to the hymn "Be Still my Soul" as I was searching fruitlessly for comfort:

My soul isn't still.
The hour is hastening on,
When fire and brimstone
Will consume my flesh at last.

Disappointment, grief, and fear,
Sorrows are there.
Love's purest joys are lost.

My soul isn't still.
When change and tears are past,
I'll be long gone,
Cursed, forgotten, and lost.

My soul isn't still.
God guides the future as he has the past,
His servants receiving salvation,
While butchering His black sheep.

My soul isn't still.
But my Brother and friend understands,
I hope He will
Lead me to joy in the end.

As I read it now that my emotions have settled and I'm much healthier, I realize how distorted my perception of reality became. Though this may not seem very morbid or even necessarily that angry, it was and is for me. But I love it because it's my raw emotion.

For this reason, my taste of suicidal, bitter anger, I understand the feelings that Tyler Glenn displays in his new music video "Trash"(I will post a link below). The Mormon community has been up in arms about the disrespect and anger that he displays in that video, which I personally agree with. It was disrespectful and angry. But wasn't that exactly what he was going for?

I think that because Tyler Glenn is a celebrity, there is a disconnect to reality that the audience (Mormons) feels. The audience (Mormons) feel that it's disrespectful and angry, but they don't realize the raw emotion and the humanity of it until they hear these same angry emotions from a person they really know. A friend. A person that used to sit next to you in class. Someone you would run into on the street and recognize. I've felt those emotions that Tyler Glenn shows. Imagine how hurt he is to feel so angry. That is a very real feeling. And many LGBTQ Mormons feel that. Many feel so desperate emotionally that they have to lash out because they hurt so bad.

For this reason, I don't blame Tyler Glenn or think any less of him because of  the video. I've felt that same thing, and because of that, I am no better or worse than he is. I hope that we all can search for a greater sense of empathy towards him and other LGBTQ people that feel the same emotions. We are a community of people that are hurting right now. And we need love now even more than before.

Tyler Glenn's "Trash":

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Missing In Action

It's been quite a while since I made a public blog post (I've written plenty private ones that I just saved as drafts because they felt too angsty or too personal), or even been very active on social media for that matter. This past school semester has been an insane whirlwind of emotion due to several personal events bombarding my life. When it rains, it pours. Right?

First and foremost, I went through a devastating breakup in January that continues to be unresolved today. At the peak of emotions, mid-February, I felt insecure about myself, unloved, unconfident in my abilities and physical appearance, and pretty depressed as a result of this terrible breakup. These emotions and insecurities had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the fact that breakups suck and leave you vulnerable, hurt, and sometimes very unhealthy. And that's exactly what I was. Though he and I are currently trying to work through things, I worry that because I haven't completely recovered from the initial breakup, the insecurities and pains that I feel as a result of the breakup, and problems that have occurred over the past few months regarding our relationship, that I am vastly unprepared to handle a relationship, let alone fixing one that is over a year long.

That being said, I have come to the conclusions after a lot of introspection and a journey of healing that I don't want to do my part to repair the relationship simply because I'm lonely. I can handle being alone. I enjoy my own company. I want to work on this relationship because I love him, not because I love the idea of being with somebody. But how can I do my part to repair the relationship when I feel like I'm in shambles? That's the question that I would love the answer to.

Amid this messy breakup, a lot of stuff happened in the church regarding homosexuality that really hurt more than I think I've ever hurt before. Bednar's statement about how there are "no homosexual members in the church" really gave a blow to my emotional health and trust in the leaders of the church. First the policy change in November, now this? It was too much for me. I decided that for me to spare some emotional energy through all that I had been going through, I needed to stop going to church for a time. It's been about a month and a half since I have gone to church, and I am surprised at how much this has actually improved my mental health and emotional stability. I need to be clear though, for myself and for my friends that may be reading this, my church attendance has no reflection on the belief that I hold in the church. I love the church. I believe in it very much. But sadly, as many of you probably understand, it has been hurting me very deeply and I just can't handle that right now.

I also was dealing with a terrible roommate situation. The apartment often smelled like cigarette smoke, there was always alcohol in the fridge, I could hear my roommate having sex with various girls AT LEAST once a week, and the roommates were pretty dirty. So in about March, I made a move across the Salt Lake Valley and have loved where I live ever since. My roommate is super empathetic and understanding of my living situations, very clean, and is a responsible person. Not to mention he sometimes makes amazing cinnamon rolls. So that's pretty great.

While I was moving to this said new place, my brother-in-law was helping me with the large items I needed to move with his suburban. A block away from the new place, he rear-ended me and totaled my car. I now lived all the way across the valley from where I go to school and work with no car. Awesome. So I frantically tried to work with the insurance, buy a new car, and mooch off of a rental car and eventually my parents' car. This took about a month and a half to get settled.

On top of all of that, I am a really poor college student that is essentially providing for myself. I pay for my housing, schooling, food, car, gas, and vision and dental insurance. Me moving to a new place combined with having to buy a new car left be broke and really strained financially and has been a major source of anxiety and stress for me.

Oh, not to mention I was taking an anatomy class, performing at the university, and writing 5 page essays every other week for another class.

Needless to say, it's been a crazy semester that has left me drained of emotional and physical energy.

But on a brighter note, my finances are stabilizing, I have a great roommate, I have a great car, I'm working through things with a man I love very much, I performed in a great concert put on by the university, and I got an A in my anatomy class (thank heavens above!). To be honest, I'm not sure if the A is correct, I think it actually is supposed to be an A-, but either way, I'm not complaining. Despite all the emotional and physical exhaustion, I came off victorious!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

With New Seasons Comes New Growth

With new seasons comes new growth.
There can always be a lasting hope.
Whether you struggle to stand today,
Christ's love is always here to stay.

I know things now look bleak and grim,
But don't ever let that light inside you dim.
Happiness is the choice that you have made,
That's the way to keep out the jade.

Always remember the pure love you have,
Loving is a thing that was never bad.
Growing together or growing apart,
I know you will always hold a dear part of my heart.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Loss of Purest Love

Something has happened to love. We killed it.
Replaced by momentary satisfaction, anonymity and no strings attached.
A lonely craving for a prince charming that will never come.

I think we've killed love.
Gorging on twitterpation and mutilating hearts when you see they're human;
You move on to the next victim.
High on the honeymoon, repulsed by the end of the night.

No, people choose to kill love.
Hiding behind blue lit screens, we gratify our carnal natures;
Entitled to satisfy our desires, it feels justified.
Yet, we feel just as lonely as before.

Love was killed when personal interest became more important.
A feast on excitement that can be tossed aside when unsatisfying.
What's in it for me? The question that murders.

I lost a purest love and face an immoral, entitled world.
Spirits in their hands and artificial romance on their minds.
Faces covered in masks and stomachs full of butterflies,
They cover their eyes and force themselves to feast, hoping to someday be filled.

Purest love is lost when we are impatient.
Wading through the worst of times, strengthening the best,
Love takes time. Time that no one is willing to give.
I lost a purest love because I didn't give the time.
In a world riddled with self-interest.
Without direction or true passion.

I lost a purest love in a world of dancing moral compasses.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Believing Isn't Knowing

(Prepare for an incredibly opinionated and controversial post!)

"If God came down right now and told you that dating men and pursuing a homosexual relationship was wrong and that you needed to change that, would you do it?"

I paused when my friend asked me this question. I didn't know how to answer it. At that moment, I knew what I wanted, and what I wanted was to get married to a man and have children and raise a happy family. Just because I want that, does that make it right? No, it does not. The doctrine of the church is immutable. Many people believe that it will change, and as much as I would like to hope that it will, I can't convince myself to have that hope. I don't believe the doctrine will ever change. It would cause the foundation of the religion to crumble. But just because it is not right in the eyes of the LDS faith, doesn't mean that it is wrong either.

"What? You unbeliever!"

Yes, I know. It sounds like I'm turning away from the church, doesn't it?

For all I know, the LDS church could be completely wrong. There could be nothing after this life. There could be no purpose to the crazy lives we are living. There could be no eternal families. There could be no God simply because I have no tangible knowledge that He is there. The only way that we could know for sure is if God himself came and told us that the church is true.

That being said, I believe that the LDS church is true, even with how much grief it causes because of my desires to raise a family. I believe that families are eternal, that there is a life after death that is infinitely more happy than the world we live in now. I believe in priesthood keys and ordinances, and I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. But do I know the church is true? No, I don't.

Can we believe that it's true? Absolutely! I believe that the hunches that I interpret as promptings is the Spirit guiding me. I believe that the warmth, peace, and comfort I feel inside comes from God and His love for me. I believe that God hears my prayers and answers them. Everyone can believe these things, but no one can know them. Each and every one of us, believers or not, are flying by the seat of our pants because no one really knows what is going on. We have faith that the Church is true. Faith is defined as a "strong belief or trust in someone or something" (according to Webster's dictionary), not a knowledge.

Back to the question that my friend asked me. If God came down and told me that dating men and pursuing a homosexual relationship was wrong and that I needed to change it, would I do it? Yes. Why? Because I would know that it was wrong. I would have so many answered questions and peace in knowing what is actually best for my eternal welfare and earthly life.

Do I believe that dating men and pursuing a homosexual relationship is wrong? To an extent, yes. That's why I've struggled so long with it and will continue to struggle with it. But knowing how much pain has come from following this belief and trying my darndest to keep the commandments and be the good Mormon boy that I should be, it's not what I want. And it's not what is healthiest for me. What's healthiest for me is being able to fall in love, have loving companionship, and raising a beautiful family. My life has been healthier and happier, though not without angst and conflict, pursuing my dream of my own family. I have to live in the scope of the knowledge that I have, not the beliefs. Because beliefs can be wrong. Knowledge can't.

An eternal perspective on life can't change that fact that it's based on a belief, not knowledge. I would rather live my life happy and healthy and find out later that my beliefs were wrong than an unhappy and bitter life. Life is too short to be unhappy and bitter.