For immediate release: Christmas Season Interfaith Service Embraces LGBTQ Families in Salt Lake

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On Sunday December 20th, 2015, a Christmas interfaith service will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (261 S 900 E) to affirm the dignity and worth of all people.

The service, titled “Seeing Christ In Every Child,” was prompted by ongoing spiritual isolation and pain expressed by LGBTQ people of faith. Organizers of the service hope it will provide healing to those who suffer as a result of being forced to choose between their families and their faith tradition.

The service welcomes people of any sexual orientation and gender identity to worship this Christmas season, reminding everyone of the need for seeing Christ in every child.

“Religion is more about faith than fixed certainties. There is no place for cruelty or punitive action in a church whose top priority must be following the example of Christ’s love,” says Unitarian pastor Tom Goldsmith of Salt Lake City.

The devotional comes at a particularly challenging time for many LGBTQ Utahns who are disinvited to holiday family gatherings, a pattern that devotional organizers say is too common in Utah’s family-oriented social culture. “The Jesus of the New Testament sought out people who had been marginalized in society. He didn’t add new policies to ostracize special categories of people,” says J. Seth Anderson, co-organizer of the event.

The devotional is scheduled to begin at 5 pm, and will be a one hour service. For additional information and inquiries, please contact Michael Ferguson (maf378@cornell.edu) or Seth Anderson (sethanderson81@gmail.com).

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Welcome to the United States…if you’re Christian

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The fact that Republican contenders for the office of United States President curry favor with their base by threatening the lives of non-Christians demonstrates widespread spiritual sickness and disease in the Republican party.

When Jeb Bush says that he would allow Syrian refugees to enter the United States who prove that they are Christian, it sounds far too close to the spirit of crusaders from Dark Age infamy who would end lives for the crime of believing differently in God. The Tea Party boils over at the idea of Islam being forced onto society; then turns around and proposes a religious condition on the right to life.

Are we really this depraved as a nation? How can we tolerate basic human rights decisions being made on the basis of such personal factors as how someone does or does not worship? Is it not enough for zombie-like social conservatives to legislate sexuality? Now they seek mind control in addition to body control? A bedrock premise of conservative America’s anger is the belief that evil liberals and humanists are conspiring to suppress religious conscience. Observing conservative Christians today begs the question: is it a cruel irony of human nature to become the devil you claim to hunt?

Fear not: thou didst them unto me

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refugeesThe strangers at your gate are the gods, in disguise.

This is one of the most ancient and recurring wisdom secrets in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible. YHWH was so irate with Sodom for their treatment of strangers, that he leveled the city and crushed it into non-existence.

Ezekiel declared the sin of Sodom in no uncertain terms:

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

There is tragic irony that the states in the US with the highest levels of cultural diseases–homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia–are the ones whose populace and politicians cling most tightly to their literalist and shallow readings of their holy books.

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Woe unto the American south, full of Sodomites who stay their hand from helping the distressed. Woe unto the governors of the American midwest, and to the mountain and desert states who consistently let brown skin and foreign tongues serve as exclusion criteria from seeing the image and likeness of Divinity in each member of humanity.

Fear for personal safety and security is a normal human response. However, in non-trivial ways, do we not invest in the security of the future by working together to create a cooperative global environment? How does one cultivate security by turning away perishing masses in their time of greatest need?

Quoting from a beloved Mormon hymn:

Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew–
The Savior stood before my eyes!
He spake, and my poor name he named:
“Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
“These deeds shall thy memorial be:
“Fear not: thou didst them unto me.”

 

Science Unlocking the Secrets of Spirituality and Brain

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The research study I co-designed and conducted on members of the LDS faith is being featured on Saturday, November 14th by Al Jazeera America on their program “TechKnow.” We are pleased by the results of the study, as well as the warm reception given to it.

More details about our results will be forthcoming as publications clear the peer-review process for scientific journals.

Thank you to everyone who has been interested in The Religious Brain Project up to this point. We look forward to increased reporting on our findings, and also to extending our research into other populations to more thoroughly explore psychology and neuroscience of religion and spirituality.

Latter-day Seawitch

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Once upon a time a princess of the ocean wanted to explore the worlds beyond her family’s kingdom. She had heard about other kingdoms, where people lived differently than in her world, and she was curious.

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The princess visited the border between her family’s kingdom and the strange world beyond. She found the people interesting, and wanted to know what it would be like to live among them.

So the princess asked what she had to do to be part of this different, other world. Two visitors showed up to her door with a very special message. They told the princess that there was a special type of agreement necessary to make before being part of the beyond world. The two visitors, though, said they didn’t have the proper authority to officiate the agreement with the princess. She would have to go to someone with more powerful magic than them.

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The princess, following her curiosity, went with the two messengers to meet someone unlike any person she had ever met. It was a Seawitch–or in other words, a person who specialized in the magic arts of the deep ocean.

The Seawitch was happy the princess wanted to make the agreements necessary to be part of the world beyond. But then the Seawitch explained the nature of the agreement, and the princess got scared. For you see, the princess would have to disavow her family if she wanted to be part of the new world.

disavow your family

The princess realized that disavowing her family meant saying she believed her family was evil. But the princess didn’t believe her family was evil. In fact, she knew they weren’t.

But the Seawitch told the princess if she wanted to be part of the new world, this was the rule.

The princess asked if there was any other way. The Seawitch assured her, “There is no other way.”

So the princess made the agreement and disavowed her family, even though she knew it wasn’t right. As she did, she felt her truth leaving her.

stealing truth

The Seawitch cackled in delight as truth left the princess’s body, and the Seawitch took control of the princess’s truth to hold and use at the Seawitch’s own whim.

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What the princess didn’t know when she made the agreement is that the Seawitch was going to use more deep ocean magic in a way that would harm the princess. For you see, when a Seawitch owns another person’s truth, they can use that truth like a magic curse, and cast a hypnotizing spell on other people to make them believe things that aren’t true.

The Seawitch used the princess’s truth to make everyone think the Seawitch was beautiful and good. And for a while, other people fell hypnotized to the spell. And they thought the Seawitch was the most beautiful presence in the land.

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But it didn’t last forever. For, you see, the ugliness of the Seawitch came from deep within. It came from her willingness to hurt other people for her own selfish agenda. And that is an ugliness that no amount of magic can cover up forever.

latterdayseawitch couldn't hide her ugliness forever for the ugliness came fromwithin

When the Seawitch realized everyone was starting to see through the falseness of her spell, she became furious. She started to swell and make herself look bigger and more powerful than she actually was. But this, too, was just a trick.

Seawitches are full of tricks.

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The Seawitch got so caught up in her display of power, that she didn’t notice there were others who saw how dangerous she really was. Thank goodness that when other people realized how dangerous and yucky the Seawitch was, they started to drive ships right toward the Seawitch’s belly.

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It was a very nasty thing to see the Seawitch be impaled by other people driving their ships into her. But it had to happen. The Seawitch had a long history of hurting people. And it was better for one Seawitch to perish than for untold future generations of princes and princesses to dwindle and perish in the spell of her falseness and magic.

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The moral of the story is that if you are a prince, princess, or any other ocean royalty, beware of anyone who tells you they can give you riches and blessings in exchange for you giving up your personal truth to them. It will never turn out well.

My human rights sermon in the Kirtland Temple, delivered October 16, 2015

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The following sermon was delivered inside the historic Kirtland Temple, the first Mormon temple constructed under the direction of Joseph Smith, Jr. The occasion for the gathering was a hosanna shout and devotional for LGBTQIA human rights.

Stranger in a strange land

Lyrics from Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” come to mind for me as I stand at this historic pulpit: “Something is stirring, shifting ground—it’s just begun. Edges are blurring all around, and yesterday is done. Feel the flow—hear what’s happening: WE’RE what’s happening.”

Some formalities to get out of the way so that we can understand one another and speak the same language: when I refer to God, I will refer to them in the plural. The Hebrew word Elohim that is translated into the English word “God” in the book of Genesis is a plural word. The pluralization as I use it is to denote the grandness of that which we call “Gods” and as a signifier that they cannot be contained by the overly simplified personification of God as a single anthropomorphized individual.

By referring to God in the singular, we usually in our culture make the error of defaulting to a male gendered reference to Them. As far as gender is concerned, Gods must either be all gendered or no gendered.

I’m going to start off tonight by talking about sin, and sins that probably all of us have either committed or are committing right now in our own personal lives.

From there I’m going to move on to overcoming the sins of this world through the application of principles called the Yogyakarta Principles. There are 29 of them in total, but tonight I’m just going to focus on two of them.

How long we have wandered as strangers in sin

The allegory of the fall introduces to the Biblical reader the idea of sin as separation from the Gods. It was sin that severed Adam, everyman, and Eve, the mother of all living, from the presence of the Gods in the garden place, where they walked together and talked face to face.

adameveserpentThe original sin that separated Adam and Eve from the Gods is different than many of us often think. The original separation from the Gods came—yes—from yielding to the hissing of that old serpent called the devil. This is true. But the nature of the sin, if I may suggest it, was yielding to the impulses of shame and hiding our true selves. It was not anything that the Gods did, but the proactive efforts of Adam and Eve to hide themselves that created the first actual interruption between the communion of Gods with their children. This sin—succumbing to shame and hiding ourselves—is the sin that directly causes us to wander as strangers to one another—to brush shoulders and sit next to each other every Sunday, yet operate without truly knowing our neighbor.

So many of us grew up under the crushing psychic weight of shame for who we are; shame for who we are drawn to emotionally and sexually; shame for our bodies and how we feel toward them. In true ripple effect, the impulse of shame that caused us to hide ourselves led an even more serious sin of omission to aggregate around us. You see, the master teacher from Nazareth instructed us in the way of our discipleship when he taught that the greatest two commandments are to love our Gods, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But, how can we love one another if we do not know one another?

aspBy succumbing to the whisperings of Satan and allowing our spiritual bodies to soak in the venomous poison of shame, we inadvertently became complicit in the work of personal destruction. Many of us created a closet—a bubble of hiding—that we carried around ourselves everywhere that we went. In some cases, the shame was reinforced with emotional and physical violence, and the shame became enmeshed with self-preservation and fear. In so many painful ways, we hid our light under a bushel. And in so doing, we got lost, and have wandered alone for far too long, as strangers in the wilderness.

Eve, in the Book of Mormon, is portrayed in a different light than she is in many more misogynistic interpretations of the garden allegory. In the book of second Nephi, a prophet named Lehi teaches us that Eve—as a type of Christ—foresaw that it was better for her to know the bitter so that she could more fully appreciate the sweet. In other words, the Eve of the Book of Mormon knowingly plunged herself into this sin soaked, shame soaked world of existence with a purpose in mind: Eve took the fruit from the tree of knowledge so that she, her helpmeet, and her posterity could become wise.

Wisdom. It is portrayed often in holy literature in feminine pronouns. The Greek word for wisdom, “Sophia,” is a fully personified woman. So compelling is wisdom in sacred literature, that we may say rightly that is it one of the hidden faces of the Gods. In the 19th-century, a young Joseph Smith Junior heard the sermon of a traveling preacher who read from the book of James in the New Testament, chapter 1 verse 5, which says frankly that if any of you lack wisdom, to ask of the Gods. For the Gods give wisdom liberally, and will not upbraid or punish you for seeking it. Joseph was so moved by the clarity of this promise, that he took it with him into the woods behind his farm house, and had a spiritual outpouring through prayer that has come to be known in Mormonland as his First Vision.

It was wisdom among all other riches of the world in the Old Testament that filled King Solomon and won him immortality in the pages of Hebrew writings. To draw his people ever and ever closer to the mysterious embodiment of this cherished gift from the spirit, Solomon drew up plans for a temple that would mark the spiritual center point for the devotional life of Israel. The holiness of the temple, and the return to the temple as the center point of supplication is a pattern that we follow tonight in gathering together in this devotional space. For we, too, like Eve, like Solomon, and like Joseph Smith, desire to overcome the shame, the wilderness, and the void that has separated us individually from the fullest measure of our creation.

We, the queer, live in the in-between places. It’s our noble birthright to be the intermediaries—the spiritual priesthood that takes humankind by the hand and escorts them from the mundane, across the in-between spaces that separate earth from heaven, Egypt and the promised land, and lead all souls to the paradisiacal realms of eternal spirit. This is the power we seek in our gathering here tonight—the ability to move between spheres, to move between garden to wilderness, heaven and earth, spirit realm and mortal body, and back into a new and enriched garden space, and to escort others into that enriched garden space and lead them there with us.

Yogyakarta principles

In 2006 in the city of 059angelexpYogyakarta, Indonesia, a series of principles were written in a gathering of scholars, legal experts, and international leaders to articulate the applications of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. The principles affirm that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity.

Principle 24: The right to found a family

Everyone has the right to found a family, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Families exist in diverse forms. No family may be subjected to discrimination on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity of any of its members. It us up to us to make sure that states shall take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure the right to found a family.

sethdevotionalI can’t think of the phrase “founding a family” without thinking of that great Old Testament patriarch Abraham. He is revered across thousands of years and by billions of human beings as a father of nations. The literalness of the fulfillment given in the spiritual promise to Abraham in the Old Testament is mind-boggling. Abraham is, like it or not, a father of nations. It is safe to say that Abraham represents a quintessential archetype, which is another word for pattern, of founding a family. And it is likewise safe to say that in following our own desires given to us by Gods to found a family of our own, we are following in the spiritual likeness of Abraham. Founding family is so deep in our spiritual marrow, that it shows up repeatedly across our revered scriptural stories and holy books. The depth of its importance to the human soul underscores the cruelty of denying and impeding queer people from founding a family for themselves.

Principle 23: The right to seek asylum

My favorite title for Christ in the gospels may be Messiah. It a term that has come to be associated with the role of a deliverer. In the Christian spiritual cosmology, asylum is what each of us are offered under the gracious wing of Jesus as we read of him in the gospels’ text. I think of the image of the Hunchback of Notre Dame holding Esmerelda the gypsy into the air on the rooftop of the cathedral and proclaiming, “Sanctuary!” The cathedral throughout the middle ages was traditionally the sacred place of asylum. No matter the crime or sin, if the individual soul took sanctuary in the cathedral, they were granted safe asylum. We pride ourselves in the United States quite brashly sometimes as being a “Christian nation,” and a city on a hill. What kind of holy land can we be if we do not extend asylum liberally and generously to those who seek it?

Faith to move mountains

So why are the churches in bed with this type of evil? As a historical point of comparison, let us consider the war fought out in the churches in the United States over the issues surrounding slavery. Arguments both for and against slavery were fueled by faith and religious conviction. What if the progressives had not utilized the pulpit to diagnose and treat the body of Christ when it was ill and fevered by the ongoing subjugation of human beings as property and capital? Who knows how much longer slavery would have persisted in this country, or—chillingly—if it would have ever been abolished at all. Likewise today, we cannot let those who work fulltime and overtime for the continued spiritual dehumanization of queerfolk be the only ones using the weapons of their faith in this culture war. And make no mistake—it is spiritual warfare with lives hanging in the balance. That is not prose. It is not poetics. It is cold, bloody fact. Whether it’s the fifteen year old gay young man in Orem, Utah who goes home early from church and ends their life by their own hands, the trans women of color in this country who are murdered with blood curdling frequency, the lesbian in Jamaica who is “correctively raped” in the streets and left to fend for herself, or the uncounted souls in Russia who live every day of their lives in fear of being found out lest state-sanctioned police brutality breaks open their head to make an example out of them. We as queer global citizens are in a war that we did not begin, but that we must finish.

veilWhen Jesus of the Gospels was crucified for the sins of the world, one of the spiritual manifestations of his victory was witnessed in its effects on the veil of the temple in Jerusalem. The veil split. It was rent. What does this mean for us? In what ways can we participate in the spiritual power of resurrection and tear open the veils around us and in the world? Tonight we call on archangels and the better angels of our nature to help us find insight, conviction, and guidance, that we ourselves may participate in the work to rend the veil over the earth. Gabriel, the messenger of strength. Michael the archangel who binds the cruelty and injustice of Satan. Raphael the healer. Uriel the light giver. We call on the better angels in our nature to rend the veils around the earth and make haste to escort others into the heavenly paradise shown to prophets and dreamers of the ages.

Hermetic poem

A spiritual tradition from which Joseph Smith drew as he crafted his expression of Christianity is Hermetics. It is based on the name “Hermes,” the Greek messenger god. Perhaps the most common Hermetic phrase is the couplet, “As above, so below.” Its spirit is captured in the Lord’s prayer: thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I would like to share a Hermetic poem in closing that I hope reflects the straight arrow we must draw in the pursuit of universal human rights as both a physical and a spiritual imperative. It is entitled “I am a comet.”

I am a comet, shooting toward the sun,

Eager to rejoin a burning cauldron

                Like the one from which I came

                And unto which I am destined to

                Eventually rejoin.

I am a comet shooting toward the sun.

                The combination of my own inertia

                And its gravitational pull on me

                Hasten and accelerate the moment of our collision.

I am a comet shooting toward the sun,

                And maybe one day the elemental gifts I bring,

                Acquired from my own unique, queer journey

                                Through the universe

                Will combine in just the right way

                To eventually unlock a new secret

                To a new way of life when the sun itself

                Goes supernova and scatters,

                Burning, glittering stardust outward,

                Outward.

                Ever outward.

                And forward.

                Forward.

                Ever forward.

In the grand procession that we did not create,

                But in which we have the great honor to participate.

Yes, I am a comet shooting toward the sun.

In the names of the Mother, the Word, and the holy communities. Amen.

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Orthodoxy of Inclusion

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I am still riding a wave of spiritual ecstasy following the Kirtland Sunstone weekend and the Human Rights devotional in the Kirtland temple (the first Josephine temple in Mormonism’s expression of Christianity). In addition to the devotional for Human Rights, there was also a Sunday morning devotional led by Jana Riess. Her comments, in concert with sermon from John Hamer served as dual witnesses to the orthodoxy of inclusion.

Representing the Latter-day Saint tradition, Jana spoke eloquently and convincingly about the call of Paul for radical incorporation of all members in Christ’s body. Reading from 1 Corinthians 12, she eviscerated the sins of exclusion and rejection. “The eye cannot say to the foot, ‘I have no need of thee.'” No member on account of their differences in form and function has any right to tell another member of the mystical body that their gifts are unwelcomed or unwanted in the Body Spirit. This includes members whose identities are LGBTQIA, and members whose opinions and thoughts are inclined to reformation of the status quo.

John Hamer, drawing on Galatians, reminded us in the Human Rights devotional that divisions in the body of Christ based on identities in this world are anathema to New Covenant spirit. For participants in the Mystical Body, there is neither Jew, Greek; black, white; male, female. Paul already superseded nationalist, color, and gender divisions by the all-consuming unity of Anointing (i.e., Christ). This isn’t a modernist Liberal invention. Paul’s words directly provide haven to those whose exile from the Body were perpetrated based on this-world identities of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This coming weekend in Salt Lake City, there will be a wonderful Inclusive Families conference, organized under the inspiration of these Orthodox principles of inclusivity. We have an Eternally Inclusive Parent (or Parents, pending your personal theology). Why should we not intentionally practice similar inclusion in our homes and families? By practicing the principle of inclusivity, we magnify the Orthodoxy of Inclusion that we are called to embrace by New Covenant. If you are in the Salt Lake area this coming weekend (October 23-24, 2015), consider joining the instruction and learning, so that we can all model and secure the righteousness of inclusive families in Utah’s culture. Lives and hearts need us; and we need those who are on the margins of the fallen society we inhabit.

Information about the Inclusive Families conference may be found here: http://inclusivefamilies.org/

“If ye are not One, ye are not Mine.” (Doctrine & Covenants 38:27)

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