Making Sense of Sunday

What is the most important commandment, Lord?
Love God and love your neighbor.
But who is my neighbor?
The Samaritan,
Who is the Samaritan?
The one left on the side of the road, the one
you hope will disappear.
(Who is my Samaritan?)
Oh, and what is Love?

+++++++++++++

Alice and Carol have been partners for over twenty-five years. For the last five, Carol has been unable to stand – battling one infection after another in her long quest to have a double hip replacement surgery. Alice spends long hours reading Harry Potter aloud, acting out the voices, cooking healthy meals, bringing news of the outside world. I have known my husband for five years. I hope I would bear up as well under the strain of long-term care. I don’t know if I am that strong yet. Alice replaces the gauze on an open wound. I go home to hug my husband, with hope for Us twenty years from now.
++++++++++++++++

The Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating there, she brought perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the host saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus sensed his thoughts, turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman has not stopped kissing my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

What is this thing, love? A power that trumps powers, that revises our histories; strong enough to heal a woman’s soul. The name of deity itself: God is Love. “Do you see this woman?” Really see her. I think of the bishop in Cambridge who implored us with Christ’s own fervor to make the ward “a safe place for sinners – we are all sinners.”

++++++++++++

When I was three days old, my parents placed me in a crib in the room of my five-year-old sister, Rachel. We shared everything, and I was her grand pupil: she taught me how to read, how to open my jr. high gym locker, and how to manage the hallways in high school. When she went to BYU, she let me spend each Friday night with her in her dorm room. I wouldn’t have been such a generous big sister. She is shyer than I am — and certainly kinder; an artist and a teacher, making her way in the big city. But she has chutzpah, coming out while still in college. Provo is not the safest place to be a kind, shy young lesbian. The very place that should be most welcoming and embracing — a church house — becomes an emotional landmine. Memories of anti-gay comments I heard from LDS peers in high school still make me wince; I did take it personally – every joke – but in silence because I didn’t have the courage to tell them to Stuff It. Years later, she harbors no bitterness (I’m still making sense of that); she lives a vibrant life and supports my decision to remain a member of a church that has effectively shut its doors to her.

+++++++++++++++++++

I finish a Relief Society lesson. Somehow Rachel had come up, our friendship, navigating these waters. After one then two – and later three and four – women come up to tell me about their brothers, fathers, sisters. It’s like confessing a secret, like we have kept it as a skeleton in our closet long after loved ones have come out of theirs.

+++++++++

I didn’t want to come home crying on Sunday. I had pre-read the announcement on the web, and thought I had the grit to attend. Later that evening, I looked up the story Ruth – balancing two worlds for love of a woman — thought of my sister, wondering: Who is Ruth and who is Naomi? Protecting and loving each other, trying to worship the same name of God: Love.

Ruth

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go: and where thou lodgest I will lodge: and thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God.

Ruth, you were a good daughter-in-law,
Provider where no husband was
Daughter where only a son had been.
And when Naomi cried out with bitterness
You went to work. You brought home food. Kept house.

But what did you miss
In those lonely hours in the field
(stranger in a strange land)
As you stooped to gather the discarded?
When the wind came to Moab, how the fields blew?
The gossip of the women who know
The story of your birth?

When Israelite women wondered, shifting-eyed,
At the hue of your skin,
The fabric of your hair,
The angle of your voice,
Did you want to shout out what you lost?
To name your dead?
Did you want to carve your sacrifice on your palm
And say, pressing it into passing souls:
Here is my goodness and it is hard.

I’m trying to make sense of it all. Love and loyalty. Church and family. I don’t expect to any time soon.

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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42 Responses

  1. Eve says:

    Deborah, I don’t even know what to say. What a beautiful and heart-rending post. Thank you.

  2. annegb says:

    What Eve said.

  3. Sue says:

    Thank you for this Deborah.

  4. Amanda says:

    You made me cry. Thank you for sharing that with us.

  5. Kristian says:

    I was raised by hippies and taught (rigorously) against any form of prejudice. I had many gay friends growing up, and still do. My cousin is gay, although we’re not that close, more by reason of distance than anything else.

    I’ve often struggled with how to be LDS and still be open to SGA. Two scriptures always comes to mind:

    “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
    While the scriptures may say that acting on SSA temptations isn’t right, who’s to say that it is any way worse that any of my sins. Just as I can’t railroad someone for watching a R-rated movie, I can’t railroad them for sexual issues either. We’re all sinners in one way or another, aren’t we? That’s why everyone needs the atonement.

    The other is John 8:1-11, the story of the woman taken in adultery. It was Christ himself who gave the law which said that one should be stoned for this, yet he told her “Neither do I condemn thee”. If the one who gave the law does not condemn her, how can I?

    I love my friends and cousin who are gay. I wish others would too.

  6. Lynnette says:

    Wow. Thank you. After wading through endless debate on the subject, I’ve been feeling like I couldn’t stand to hear anything else about it. But this really spoke to me.

  7. Tracy M says:

    Deborah,

    Thanks for leading me here with your comment on my post. I had a hard time not running out of Sacrament meeting when they read the message, made especially hard because of whom it came from, for the same exact reasons you have.

    I am going to post a link to this, if you don’t mind, because you have done such an eloquent job saying what I, too, wanted to say. Thank you.

  8. Jennifer says:

    People here speak of condemnation. The letter read in Church on Sunday condemmed no one. It also didnt say that we shouldnt love all the people in our lives. All it said was that we should work to protect the God given definition of Marriage. Why does everyone here always have to equate not supporting Gay marriage with hatred or not loving your fellow man?

  9. AmyB says:

    Breathetaking post, Deborah. I am so moved by your poems. Thank you.

  10. Deborah says:

    I appreciate the feedback. Like Tracy, I’ve been feeling a bit tender and I’ve been doing a lot of writing and wondering the last few days. Calling my sister, praying, writing some more. Being open about my own experiences in wards has helped me see that this is an issue that intersects the lives of many many saints; all stripes of life. I guess I hope that whatever our political differences, in our personal life we ere on the side of love. And thanks for the link, Tracy — I’ve really appreciated your voice on the web.

  11. Eve says:

    Maybe because I have so many sisters, I think your description of your sister, of her life, and of her and your relationships with the church really spoke to me. I think if one of my sisters were a lesbian and people treated her badly because of it that would anger–and hurt–me so deeply on her behalf. I can’t even imagine.

    But then, thinking about it more, I realized that of course, in that most important gospel sense I do have sisters who are lesbians, and brothers who are gay. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  12. Caroline says:

    Deborah,
    Thanks for this reflective, beautiful post.

    I have a gay cousin myself, and I want more than anything for him to be able to form a legally sanctioned commitment with someone who loves him. I’m just one of those who can’t see how gay marriage threatens my own. It just doesn’t. Not for me.

    I too am trying to make sense of Sunday, and am afraid of what’s to come in the future. I hope this amendment dies fast and hard so we won’t have to deal with this in the church setting again any time soon.

  13. Dora says:

    Thank you for your post Deborah.

    As we’d discussed earlier, one of the temple-worthy homosexual men (of which there are at least two) in my ward stood during the reading of the letter. No histrionics or disrespect, just stood quietly with his hands clasped behind his back. When the bishop, who did not look up while reading, finished, the gentleman sat down. I thought it a very eloquent and graceful gesture.

    However, I did not join him in his gesture. I thought about it, at the time, but something held me back. Was it the fear that some would construe my opposition of the ammendment as a declaration of lesbianism? Possibly. As a single woman in a family ward, I sometimes feel as if I have enough on my plate without worrying about others worrying about my sexuality, political views, worthiness, desire to have a family, etc. Anyway, as I reflect upon it now, I wish I had joined in my friend’s stand.

    As much as I support the church, I do not support the proposed ammendment. I think that the separation of church and state is a necessary part of the government of a nation as diverse as ours. Yes, I understand that celestial sealing, as we currently understand it, is between a man and a woman, but I also believe that the temporal and legal definition of a family can be expanded to include homosexual unions.

  14. sarah says:

    As Deborah and Rachel’s older sister, I must also applaud Rachel’s quiet dignity and ability to not harbor any bitterness towards the Church. I have more unresolved angst and anger than she does about the whole gay marriage issue and the Church’s involvement. I’m glad I missed Church on Sunday, now that I know what was read over the pulpit. I’m really not sure what to do with my church involvement. At least a third of my friends and co-workers are gay, and it feels like a betrayal of them to be active in a church that is actively fighting to stop them from having the same legal relationship rights as I have, simply because I prefer men. I have seen their relationships first hand, seen them as loving parents, seen them as devoted partners, and I have nothing but respect for them. After having a civil union in NH, my dear friends Deb and Cathy are now in the process of adopting a daughter, and I can’t help but think what a lucky child that will be, having two such caring, stable, and loving mothers to raise her.

  15. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    It’s important to love people no matter their actions in life. It’s important to let them know you love them. However, I think it is equally loving and just as important to tell someone when they’re doing something wrong. They may not listen to you and you have no business trying to force them to but you equally have no business making it easier for them to continue. Marriage and the act of procreation are sacred and divinely ordained. Men and women were created as helpmeets for one another, two parts of a greater whole. I am proud of our leaders for standing up for the truth that they themselves teach and not hiding under a bushel.

  16. sarah says:

    Some of us simply do not agree that loving someone of the same sex is morally “wrong.” I just can’t understand what the issue is, other than that they can’t procreate…but neither can oodles of infertile heterosexuals couples. And many simply choose not to have children…so linking the sanctity of heterosexual marriages to the act of procreation is faulty. I adopted my child without being married — I wonder if some would consider that morally wrong. I was accused by one Mormon woman of trying to make a feminist statement by adopting and by another of denying my child of a father — yeah, better that she live out her days in an orphanage than live with a single mother who simply can’t find a decent man to marry….puh leeze! Perhaps it is the insistence that there is just one “right” way to live, love, and be a family that irks me most.

  17. sarah says:

    Sunstone had a good blog on this issue yesterday.

    http://sunstoneblog.com/?p=74#more-74

  18. sarah says:

    Sorry…me again….one more Sunstone blog on the issue:

    http://sunstoneblog.com/?p=73#comment-468

  19. Darryl says:

    Why is it that with all this debate, no one has mentioned prayer at all? In any situation, the leaders of the Church ask us to consider their council, then pray about it for individual confirmation – Not to just follow them blindly. Has anyone here ever done that?
    It seems to me that most the people on here won’t do it because they are not open enough to allow the Lord to change their feelings on a subject – for pro or con.

  20. gurlpurl says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, it means a lot to me to see that others are struggling with what was said on Sunday…
    Love thy neighbor as thyself…
    love, love, love.
    forgiveness.
    I suppose we shall have to learn how to forgive those with whom we disagree on this matter as well!
    Peace,
    brooke
    (heretic mormon)

  21. jana says:

    Darryl:
    In my state when we were asked to campaign for a protection of marriage amendment, every time I went door-to-door campaigning or made phone calls, I prayed. I prayed that I wouldn’t knock on the door of anyone who would be offended by my message. I prayed not to meet up with anyone who was gay because I knew I couldn’t look them in the eye and tell them that marriage should only be legal between a man and a woman.

    Since then I’ve prayed a lot about homosexual marriage. I’ve met many more homosexual couples in the intervening years and I’ve read a lot on the topic.

    That’s why, this time, I’m campaigning against the amendment.

  22. Deborah says:

    Eve: Thanks for your comment. I’ll write more next week about this issue of families and homosexuality (e.g. being the brother, sister, father, mother, cousin of a gay loved one) — which is perhaps the more pragmatic topic than the polarizing debate that can taint these discussions. I had hoped this would not become a debating thread.

    Dora: Thank you for relaying that moment from Sunday — an individual who remained respectful of both his church and his own conviction.

    Sarah: Thanks for chiming in!

    PDOE: I know that good people can feel differently about laws, legislation and policy. And I know many other threads online are currently arguing this to death. I guess I believe that my ponderings are not unlike the wrestlings of many members whose dearest loved ones are suddenly the subject — by proxy — of this vigorous debate. And this does take a person on a journey. I have no hard and fast conclusions. I have relationships — to family, church, and God — that I treasure. More next week.

    And Darryl: Please read more charitably — and carefully. I do mention prayer but that is neither here nore there. I hope a gentle reader could find in this post twelve years worth of prayer and pondering . . .

  23. AmyB says:

    “I suppose we shall have to learn how to forgive those with whom we disagree on this matter as well!”

    Well said! (I do think it’s perfectly fine to disagree, but some do it in a more polite way than others.)

    I keep returning to the Samaritan poem – does it have a title? It’s a powerful reminder to me of who it is I personally need to work on loving. Thank you again, Deborah.

  24. Rory says:

    Deborah,

    Stephen M (Ethesis) placed a link to this post in our comments, and I am glad he did. This was a touching, well-crafted and penetrating piece.
    It’s an example of why Exponent II has become one of my favorite blogs.

    Thank you for posting it.

  25. Ana says:

    Deborah, I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of thanks. I have two younger brothers who are gay. I have not yet arrived at a point where I can write anything that says anything about my feelings on this. I am still too sad and confused and sometimes angry at having to straddle such a wide, deep crevasse, one that seems to be getting deeper and wider. But you do a beautiful job. Thanks with all my heart.

  26. Ronan says:

    Wonderful post. Thanks.

  27. SalGal says:

    Hmm. I missed Sacrament Mtg. I think I would’ve like to have heard this since they’ve asked us to make phone calls before for Prop. 22 in California. Is there anywhere I can see the message? I’m curious.

    Please forgive me if I offend or hurt anyone. From what I’ve heard and understand, it sounds like as a whole the church is trying to protect the institution of marriage, not persecute anyone.

    This is about what we know and believe to be God’s plan for us to return to Him and live in his presence. I’ve heard some say “Who cares, it doesn’t hurt my marriage” but… it does. It affects society as a whole and the deterioration of it. As women, we have God-given gifts that are meant only for us. As men, they have the same. It doesn’t make either one of us more or less important than the other, but without the one there cannot be a whole. Many of us with gay friends and family members (myself included) wish it were not so, but it is. And we must choose. The pain is great, yes… but which will cause more anguish? The hurt you feel for your loved ones because this life “isn’t fair”, or the harrowing of your soul when you dwell in a lesser kingdom because you don’t want to offend anyone?

    No one in the church has told us to hate another. It is only the sin we must look on with abhorrence, not the sinner. There is a difference.

  28. AmyB says:

    SalGal,

    I think your views are representative of the mainstream, and I personally appreciate the respectful tone you used to convey them.

    However, I respectfully disagree with you. I do not think that SSM represents a deterioration in society. It certainly represents a change, and one that is hard for the ethnocentric worldview to handle. Deborah’s post was not meant to start a debate, so I should stop myself now.

    This issue brings up tremendous paradoxical issues for us to face. How can we judge someone and love them at the same time? It is even our place? I don’t know that any of us have the answers. Love is at the heart of this issue on so many levels. If only love were simple.

  29. Jeff T. says:

    Deborah,
    Thanks. I found your post substantively and spiritually moving. I once lived in Boston, and subscribed to Exponent II. Your poetic prose reminds me how much I enjoyed it. Is it still being published? How does one subscribe?

  30. Deborah says:

    Dear SalGal:

    I sense, from your tone, that you are writing from your heart. May I suggest that the phrase “And we must choose” is perhaps one of the least helpful for LDS families who have gay brothers, sons, sisters, and daughters? Because in the messy world of human relationships, it isn’t an authentic choice. I’ve seen fathers “choose” the church and disown the son — certainly not something the church (not to mention Christ) would condone. I’ve known several people who have felt that loving their offspring meant they had to leave a church (that they also loved) that had no clear place for their loved ones. And for many many many others, well, it’s a foggy path with no clear compass. So we straddle, and question, and pray because . . . we love; we can’t help ourselves. Thank God.

    P.S. You can go to the church website to find a copy of the letter.

    Jeff T.: Yes it is! But it’s now moving to paperless distribution (PDF/online). Visit our new website at http://www.exponentii.org.

  31. Ed K says:

    Deborah, up to this point, my favorite Mormon post on SSM issues was Kevin Barney’s “Why I Favor Gay Marriage” at http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2006/05/why-i-favor-gay-marriage/

    But, you edge him out on style points.
    Thanks for sharing.

  32. Deborah says:

    Oh, and AmyB! Since I forgot to respond earlier . . . There’s no title for the poem yet. It’s a parable I love, and that has taken on different personal meanings through the years. This is the way it played itself out on Sunday.

  33. Leslie says:

    It seems to me that people are reading WAYYYYY to much in the message from the first presidency.
    (exactly, jennifer)

    They ask us to vote to protect the sanctity of marriage.

    That’s it.

    People are debating whether this means NO tolerance of the homosexual lifestyle.

    BAH.

    The prophet himself has said time and time again, to love the sinner not the sin. (You can read this in President Hinckley’s Concluding talk @ conference in 1995 Titled “The Fabric of Faith and Testimony”)

    Are we actually debating whether or not endorsing same-sex marriages is prejudice?????

    Either you believe in the Scriptures or you don’t. No one is asking you to judge whether or not alternate lifestyle is ok or not ok… They are simply asking to protect what is sacred.

    Did you really think the church would embrace such laws and peversions of such sacred ordinances?

  34. Deborah says:

    Leslie:

    There are lots of LDS blogs “debating” the first presidency’s statement–try timesandseasons.org or bycommonconsent.org.

    I’ve really tried to avoid contentious debate on this thread because it is this very contention that makes church a more difficult place to navigate for many families who are caught in a cross-fire of emotions. I’m certain this statement reawakened this tug-of-war for some families (even if they agree with it!) and this is a dimension of homosexuality and the church that we should talk about more, in safe places, with understanding.

  35. sarah says:

    I agree about avoiding debate. The two “sides” aren’t going to change each other’s beliefs, as this is a topic people tend to feel very strongly about. What I like about this post, other than the fact that my cool little sis wrote it, is the fact that it acknowledges the emotional complexities and the real faces behind the rhetoric. I’d rather talk about how how I am struggling to understand people’s fears on both sides of the issue and my stuggle with whether or not to stay a member at this point, rather than try to explain why I think SSM should be legal, as the debate goes nowhere and just leaves an “us” v. “them” feel to the board. I want to discuss my worries about families being strained, hearts being broken, and a Church becoming divided by contention. I don’t want to feel angry when I go to church–it sucks. But it is my current reality. It’s a painful time for many of us, because the impact of the issue is felt in our lives, families, homes, and hearts, and we (at least I) do not know what to do. For many of us, there is no simple answer–the issue is just too personal.

  36. Seraphine says:

    Thanks for this post. It was beautiful, and what I needed to read on this issue (rather than the debates elsewhere).

  37. Deborah says:

    (Anonymous: I removed your comment only because I have tried to reiterate that the purpose of this thread is not to open up a debate on SSM — and I won’t be around much this weekend to moderate. There are lots of blogs doing just that, and I encourage you to visit them for a vigorous debate on the merits and perils of such legislation. However, if you would like to e-mail me I’d be happy to respond to your thoughts. Got to “contact us” for the e-mail. Thanks!)

  38. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry,
    I read your comment policy, and did’nt think I had done anything contrary to it. I still dont know what was contrary to your policy.

  39. Deborah says:

    Anonymous:

    It wasn’t contrary to the policy — and normally I wouldn’t have moderated in this manner — but with the proliferation of debates on the LDS blog, I have felt a growing desire to keep this *particular* post out of that fray (look at the 300+ comment posts and timesandseasons, etc.). Especially as I won’t be around to moderate as I have this week. Actually, I may close comments soon — next week I’ll be posting more directly on LDS families and their various responses to discovering a family member is gay. I do think we need to talk more about that issue, as it cuts across the religious and political spectrum and can be quite challenging for many families to navigate. Again, feel free to e-mail. I hope there are no hard feelings.

  40. Anonymous says:

    No hard feelings, I understand. Thank you for the invitation to email, but I would rather not participate in a censured forum.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Where did you find it? Interesting read » »

  1. February 29, 2016

    […] 2013, but there were exactly two occasions where I felt the need to stand up and say something (see here and here). And instead of finding myself voiceless, I found myself heard. And for that, I thank my […]

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