Sunday, January 25, 2009

Who Would Fardels Bear

I was suicidal again last night.

I suppose its kind of a shocking statement, but I don’t find it so. If anything, I find it irritating. For me, the most troubling part is not that I was suicidal, but that I was suicidal again. It’s easier now to calmly contemplate death, to form a plan with indifferent detachment, to let the shock and horror of suicide slide off me like misspent tears, and to stare into the chasm of my own mortality and not flinch. That is what troubles me. It comes too easy, too often. And I am not afraid.

The heroic figure in his moment of death was once my idol. I idolized him because he did not fear death, because he was willing to die. He didn’t flinch; embraced it Death. He embraced his heroism. And now I embody that aesthetic, or rather a perversion of it. I do fear Death. I am willing to die, unflinching and unmoved. But I’m not a hero—a false idol, perhaps, but not a hero. Because in Death I do not give Life. Because even if I saved a dying world with my death, I would be no savior. It would be no loss or sacrifice. Death would be my crown of glory, my vestments of splendor, my feast of kings. How little I would care for those I “saved.” How little I would care if they starved while I supped with Death.

I don’t fear Death. I’m not sure I’ve ever feared it. For I had a theology that declared in concrete terms a glorious post-mortal Life. And so Death had no sting, the Grave no victory. In Christ was the Resurrection and the Life and Death was but the painless doorway into his presence. But well do I now know, there are not painless doorways. Through pain was I born and through pain will I die, and the interim is filled with thresholds of agony and horror. And you can’t go back; the Door snaps shut behind you.

There was the precipice: The Closet Door. Within, I was a devout, orthodox Mormon, without, I was a homosexual and a heretic. The horror and the agony. To choose heaven or hell, hope or despair, life or death, glory or ignominy, crucifixion or condemnation. And I could not tell which held what. A storm raged in my soul, at once freezing and searing, a tempest tearing at my flesh, pulling me apart, twin voices roaring, screaming, demanding that I go one way, that I go another, that I be tortured within, that I suffer without, that I choose, that I choose, THAT I CHOOSE! And I chose. I stepped out of the Closet. And the Door snapped shut behind me.

And the Door is locked. I have lost my theology, my teleology, my hope for that glorious post-mortal Life. Death is restored its sting, the Grave its victory. And yet I still do not fear Death. In fact, I fear it less. It is Death’s cruel trick. In the days before and after I came out of the Closet I came closer to Death than ever before. I had a plan; I had the means; I had the will to do it. The storm was still raging and it seemed the fastest means to quietus, it seemed the “third” choice, the unchoice, a place of silence, a place without suffering, a place where I could rest, where I could sleep. To sleep perchance to dream? No. No dream in Death could rival the horror of the living nightmare.

And so I approached Death. I stared it in the face and did not flinch. But I didn’t manage to kill myself either. I returned from the edge, exulting in the knowledge that I had conquered Death because I had faced it and was not afraid. And yet I was uneasy, for as the ambulance carried me away, I saw the faintest of smiles on Death’s face.

Twenty days. Twenty days in a psychiatric hospital. Locked doors and strip searches. Nurses busily administering psychotropic drugs so that we would be quiet, so that we would sleep our problems away and stop bothering them. Doctors watching us, playing mind games, taking private notes and saying very little, hedging around our questions, holding our lives in their hands, walking out the door without a backward glance. All around me was mental illness, pain and anguish, psychoses and neuroses, depression and mania. Crying, screaming, pacing, fighting, sleeping. Eyes glazed over, food dribbling out of the mouth, jerking muscles and facial ticks, raging and ranting and quiet sobbing. Hearing voices, and talking to the air. Fear. Broken minds, broken lives, broken souls. We wore hospital gowns and ate hospital food. Fifteen minutes outside each day. One hour a day for visitors. If they came. A broken chess set in the corner. A bucket of crayons and recycled paper. An out of tune piano without music. White walls, white floors, white beds. Everyone sitting in vinyl covered chairs, staring at nothing, waiting for nothing. Everyday the same. Wakeup, breakfast, medication, lunch, doctors, dinner, bedtime. Twenty days I waited for nothing, huddled on my chair with the others. We did not fear Death.

And now I know why Death was smiling. Because I do not fear Death. Because I should fear Death. Fear is the one boundary that staves it off, that silences its seductive call in the nighttime, that sicklies o’er the native hue of resolution. And now that I don’t fear it, it calls often. Suicide is readily there when all other thoughts grow quiet. Always in the back of my mind. Not because I want to die, necessarily, but because I no longer have a healthy fear of Death. In hubris, I thought myself its victor and now it haunts me, taunting and grinning. Waiting. And, I suppose, it shall always wait for me and shall at last claim me. Either, God willing, by the course of nature, or—most terrible thought—by my own agency. Now that there is no fear of Death within me, I must come to love Life, to fully embrace it, to engage it as my protection from the Nighttime. I must find a theology not of the post-mortal world, but of this one. Not a theology that preaches Death and Resurrection, but one that preaches Life. Here. Now. A theology that loves me in return for my Love. A Life that loves me fully, a Life I can fully love. A Life, a Theology, a Love on this side of the Closet.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whosoever will save his life shall lose it...

God is paradox. Or rather, paradox is the closest approximation we have to a comprehension of Deity. And that is how God works with us, bending reality and straining thought to make contradictions collide into a unity of meaning, of meta-meaning. Paradox cannot be grasped, cannot be touched, cannot even be thought, for the second we think of it, it disappears into infinite nothingness. It is only possibly because it isn’t. And thus is God: infinite, incomprehensible, fathomless, slippery. We say Deity is a mystery, but that’s only because we don’t understand what mystery means, and so it suffices to express our willful ignorance.

Theologians say that Christ taught in parables, but really, he taught in paradoxes. His life was a paradox, fully divine while fully human, perhaps divine because he was human. Infinite and yet clothed in a bonded tabernacle. Sinless and yet the bearer of the sins of the world. An immortal God who suffered death to live again that the dead might rise from the grave. He taught of two births and two deaths—a birth that brought death, a death that brought life, a death that was a rebirth, and a birth that was a crucifixion. Christ taught paradox because he is paradox, because he stands at the edge of infinity, the gate of absurdity, the portal to heaven. I’m not sure we are expected to understand, but we follow him, knowing that in him is reconciled the irreconcilable.

Perhaps being both Gay and Mormon, having my life split into two mutually hostile components has left me more sensitive to irony and paradox. And thus more sensitive to Divinity. I always felt that I had a secret fast-track ticket into Gethsemane. Here, I thought, was a very real crucifixion, a mortification of the flesh that would glorify the spirit. Life through death. I thought the irony would save me. But I failed to realize the most obvious point: paradoxes are only true because they are false; they are slippery things. The moment I thought I had found my reconciliation with Deity, it evaporated oblivion, because the whole point is the reconciliation of the irreconcilable. I had created a finite God, and that God rules hell, not heaven.

Now, on the outside of the Closet and of Mormonism, there is a higher, more complicated wisdom that informs my theology. Now, I seek an infinite God and I seek it paradoxically. I have come to understand that God allows competing theologies to exist, mutually hostile theologies, but theologies that are, ultimately, salvific. But that is not entirely right. Neither theology is salvific, but rather the tension between them is. Salvation is in the contradiction. They are salvific only because they are irreconcilable, because they each claim a monopoly on truth, and because they claim the other has no salvation. I find myself in that in between space. It is uncomfortable, agonizing, and alienating. It is true because it is false; it is real because it doesn’t exist. And here I have found a life because I lost it; here I am reborn because I committed suicide.

I leave Mormonism not claiming that the Church is untrue. Indeed, it must be true, or I am damned. I declare it to be true in every detail and declare also that I was right to leave it. And they must damn me; it’s the only way I’ll get to heaven. I believe the Church is absolutely true in every detail, even in its blanket condemnation of homosexuality. And, at the same time, I believe I am absolutely right in my embrace of homosexuality. The Church is right to claim a monopoly on truth, and I am right to proclaim a different, contradictory path. Indeed, my path only makes sense if the Church really is true. It is the competition of these absolute truths that can only be subsumed in the Deity that makes for an infinite God and an infinite Atonement. And it is the tension, the grinding of two millstones, the irreconcilable, that I must present unto Christ for reconciliation. But it is only irreconcilable if the Church really is true and if I really am right at the same time. Only then is God truly infinite. The ontologies of the competing theologies mean much less than that they conflict and yet are both true; the contradiction. For there is paradox; there is God.

And dear God, is that not a refiner’s fire? Is it not a crucifixion? But it isn’t my old conception, my false conception of deity. It is a much harder crucifixion, an infinite crucifixion. It is living with the impossible, enduring an endless night, trembling in the darkness and waiting for a dawn you do not expect to see. It is being drawn apart, having your very atoms torn and twisted and recomposed into something else. It is faith that breathes fire and freezes the soul, as though you suddenly have to fill the immensity of space with the smallness of your mortal frame. It is passing again through the birth canal, drawn fine, drawn into an infinitesimal thread. It is bearing the crushing weight of everlasting consciousness in a single moment of horrific lucidity. It is gasping your last and breathing your first, being born and dying, passing out of existence because suddenly you are all of existence.

That is Christ in Gethsemane. And I tremble as I follow him. For now, I begin to understand what awaits me. I understand because, finally, I acknowledge that I do not understand. I bow my head and say, “It is a mystery.” And I am grateful that I don’t comprehend the meaning of the word. I give my life that Christ may save it. And I enter into infinity to be subsumed into the Deity. Glory be to God.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Blessed are they which are persecuted...

Mormons like Martyrs. The core of Mormonism both preached and practiced is in this aesthetic of persecution and victimhood. While not precisely masochistic, still there is a certain longing for pain, for unjust assault and unfair reviling, a lust for the refiner’s fire. With longing we look back to the pioneers, the ones who were falsely accused, driven from their homes, beaten, and murdered. Those were the glory days of the Church, when the True Saints sought to establish Zion in the city of Babylon.

The terrible plight of the Mormons in the early to mid nineteenth century finds its mirror in the Mormon construction of ancient history and their fundamental doctrine of the Great Apostasy. Mormons hold that Jesus Christ personally established the pure form of His Church while on the earth. The apostles and early bishops valiantly defended the church against the aggression of the Romans and against internal corruption and dissent. They gave their lives; they suffered for the testimony of Christ. And then the Church fell. With the death of the apostles, it became corrupt; false Christians usurped authority, preached false doctrines, and transformed the Church into a Den of Thieves.

Then in 1820, God appeared to Joseph Smith, revealing that all Christian churches preached untrue doctrines and that their sacraments held no salvific power. Joseph Smith was to establish the True Church. And thus the story of Mormonism begins. And a pattern emerges.

The Mormons were persecuted; they fought strenuously for the right to worship according to their own doctrines and were scourged, murdered, and driven into the western desert. They embodied the same suffering aesthetic that characterized their own telling of Christian history. They became the martyrs, valiantly fighting for Christ against the legions of Satan. And there was internal dissent, rampant apostasy, and the usurpation of power. And Joseph Smith sealed his testimony with his blood. All according to plan. This was proof that here were God’s chosen people. This was proof that Christ’s Church had returned.

But eventually, perhaps unfortunately, the persecution stopped. And that is the dilemma of modern Mormonism. Are they still God’s chosen people if they cannot give their very lives to the cause of Christ? There too is a parallel in the ancient church, but an uncomfortable one. Eventually Christianity became legal and the persecution stopped and there were no more martyrs. How then did Christians define themselves if they could not suffer as Christ suffered? There were solutions proposed: asceticism, monasticism, mysticism, self-mortification, self-imposed poverty—all intent on the imitatio Christi. Self-martyrdom became the new aesthetic of the truly saintly, and those who endured the greatest (albeit self-imposed) suffering became the new saints, the new martyrs, the new soldiers for Christ. But these were on the fringe, and most Christians contented themselves by declaring that the kingdom of God had been established and there was no more need for martyrdom.

And so Mormons find themselves in a similar position. The kingdom of God has been established by the blood of the pioneers and there is no more need for martyrs. But when this happened anciently, the Mormons called it the Great Apostasy, the founding of the Church of the Devil, the Whore of Babylon. And the irony is not entirely lost on Mormons. They too crave the suffering of the early pioneers, seeing it as an imitatio Christi. The celebration of the pioneers is central to Mormon teachings and they seek desperately to turn modern struggles into metaphors of the physical hardships of the early saints. But sometimes it is hard to construct metaphors that don’t take on the form of parody.

So the Mormons celebrate tribulation, they glory in trials and pains and hardships, for it brings them closer to those ancient Martyrs, closer to Christ. Like the mystics, they seek for that dark night, for the stigmata to appear in the hands and feet, to suffer all that the name of Christ might be glorified in them, that they might be transformed into True Saints. In many ways they crave persecution. They divide the world into Us and Them, proudly wearing the name “Peculiar People.” They await the day with eager anticipation when Babylon shall descend upon the Saints of God and there will be new martyrs. And any who dare leave Mormonism are instantly labeled apostates, traitors, revilers and persecutors of the children of God. It is a grim irony that Mormon cosmology demands these very apostates, and thus is so eager to create them.

Hence the lust for the refiner’s fire. And I lusted after it, seeking pain, seeking glory in pain. I saw my “burden” of homosexuality as a gift from God to allow me to become one of His suffering saints. I spoke of it always in terms of the Crucifixion or of the Bleeding Savior in Gethsemane. Here was my bitter cup, my bloody cross. I would die for Christ and be taken up in Him. I would crucify the flesh and ascend unto the Father. I would be a martyr.

But somewhere along the way it stopped making sense, or perhaps the pain outpaced my ability to bear it. Perhaps I simply felt I could not drink that Bitter Cup, that I was unworthy to be crucified in imitation of my God. I think the crux was when I realized the impossibility of the task. I could not burn out the “gay” part of me without killing myself. For I was gay, and gay was me. It was and is an integral part of my identity, my way of conceiving the cosmos. It was my identity. And when I had realized that, I realized that I don’t want to be, I cannot be any different than I am. I want to take this with me into the next life, I must take it with me, if any part of me is to live beyond the grave. Without it, I am not.

I stand back in horror now. For I stood on the brink of martyrdom, not comprehending that it was really suicide, that the nails were real, that the cross was real, that death was real, that my soul would die. And that was when I gave up my dream of martyrdom, and without that I wasn’t truly Mormon anymore. But I suppose I make a good apostate.