Sunday, August 5, 2018

Jean Valjean just kept caring!

Yesterday I had the beautiful opportunity to watch my son perform as Thénardier in his community production of Les Misérables​. The story of Les Miserables is beautiful - a man, a thief, sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, gets released in squalor and works his way up to becoming the Mayor of his town. His nemesis, Inspector Javert, represents justice, constantly trying to ridicule and remove any of the good Valjean, who represents mercy, was doing for the world in the name of justice.

Despite everything Javert tried to catch Valjean in the act, Valjean kept caring. He was released from prison and devoted his life to God and to giving his life to others. He condemned the mistreatment of his workers in his business. And when one was thrown out behind his back he saved her from prostitution on the streets and took her in and cared for her, where they eventually fell in love.

He also rescued Cosette from slavery and trafficking by Thénardier, who I believe is as good a representation of "Satan", or an adversary, as it gets. Freely tempting and trying to purchase human beings with money and manipulate through money. He was the constant tempter. When Valjean noticed the mistreatment of Cosette by the Thénardiers he purchased her, at a great cost, and rescued her from slavery.

That was the theme of Valjean's life - constantly caring. Seeking out those oppressed by their captors and desiring to rescue them from the chains they were bound in. And Javert saw this and was constantly conflicted. Javert himself was bound by the chains of justice, and he couldn't escape those chains.

The time finally came for Valjean to rescue even Javert from his own chains. He saved his life. This caused a chain reaction of emotions in Javert, unable to handle the amazing mercy and constant caring and nonjudgement and gratitude of Valjean. Valjean never stopped caring - NO MATTER WHAT!

It fried Javert's circuits! (more on that later)

Javert was so overwhelmed at the constant giving and caring and charity of Valjean that he couldn't handle it and ended up killing himself to escape his bonds of justice, which he felt he couldn't escape. Let's hope this never needs to happen to others in this situation. Javer's lack of caring and cutting off of his own caring is where his grief was stored and it ended up in his own demise - oh if he could have only learned to keep caring like Valjean!

Is there someone in your life that you've cut off your caring for because they harmed you in some way, or you felt you could no longer care for them? Have you considered that the very thing you thought you were solving your grief with, cutting off that caring, could actually be the source of your current grief and be preventing you from being the real you that you are capable of being? Will you destroy that, and be like Jean Valjean and keep caring, despite the Javerts in your life? Will you start caring for yourself, and your inner Javerts despite what they've done to you?

Like Jean Valjean you have the capability in you to decide the trajectory of your life. Your opinions of yourself, and others, directly shape the world around you. When you stop caring for others it only hurts you from finding your true, authentic self and potential. What if, instead, the real you cared infinitely and never stopped caring, never stopped showing gratitude, and never stopped showing judgement?

Could it get any better than that?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Addicted to a Best Friend - Is it Codependency?

Let's talk dating again. And relationships. And divorce. And genuine friendship.

I realize, after an 18 year marriage - which honestly, was MOSTLY good - that I'm addicted to having a best friend by my side day and night. I have friends that never saw this in their marriages, so I really feel blessed to have a point I can look towards in determining my next relationship.

I always considered, especially the first 3 quarters or more of my marriage to be very happy and in fact blissful. She was my best friend for all that time. We did daily walks together. We went on weekly dates. We checked on each other regularly to see how we were doing. It was actually the things that distracted from that which probably led to the failing of the marriage. Quite honestly she and I are building that back again now as friends even though it's clear the marriage can't remain. I hope that continues.

I'm realizing it wasn't even the romantic elements of the marriage - sex, the physical, kisses, holding hands, etc, that are what I miss most (although those were very nice "icing on the cake" that perhaps I focused on too much during the marriage) - that I liked most. It's the genuine friendship and connection, almost 24/7, with an individual that wanted the same with me for almost 18 years. I truly, truly miss that. She'll always have that place in my heart. So I have almost 18 years with an individual I can set as the standard - the bar - that any future mate needs to meet.

I'm currently reading the book, "Codependent No More", which has been fascinating. It talks about the idea of not wanting to control other people in your life in areas you really can't control. Have an alcoholic spouse (I didn't)? Stop trying to control them into overcoming their alcoholism! Married to a porn addict (as most marriages are)? Stop with the control and instead look within on how you can protect YOURSELF and take care of yourself. Is it the porn that's the issue, or some other element within that is preventing the strong connection of your relationship from blooming? Or do you need to detach entirely to protect yourself? You get the point.

I'm realizing this desire for this 24/7 connection with someone again is somewhat an addiction for me. I'm going through withdrawals. Not as much as they used to be, but they come back here and there. I keep seeking friendships - I've recently realized they don't even need to be romantic - but in those I begin to want that connection 24/7 with the friendships with an individual when they may not have the same feelings for me, even as just a friendship. Sometimes it's overwhelming for them. And that's codependency.

So perhaps this is a conversation. Are there other divorcees out there that have experienced a wonderful friendship for most of their marriage and have seen this similar withdrawal? How have you coped? Is desire for 24/7 friendship a good thing (it certainly was for me when I actually experienced it)? Or do we need to stop relying so much on friendships and instead figure out how to get along by ourselves without these close friends by our side?

I'm genuinely interested in your thoughts - please feel free to start a conversation below!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Smells Like Nirvana. Or Is it Teen Spirit?

Let's talk dating as a mid-single adult. Honestly, I've kind of had it. I figured out Tinder and online dating apps. Those all seem so inauthentic though and it's truly a numbers game to find someone truly compatible there. My best relationships have been from Facebook and through real life friends. I've met some really amazing women through both methods, TBH.

But what am I getting from it all? What's the cost/benefit ratio?

The cost is, especially for a guy, a lot of money spent on people you barely know (I'm a giver naturally so I usually don't mind that - I really do love to give, to anyone, guy or girl - see my last Facebook status update), a lot of time spent on things that aren't really growing you, except a few rare cases, meeting people that just, much of the time (but not all - I truly have met some really amazing women), not much of a match or intellectually stimulating enough to me as a sapiosexual (I like long, deep, mind-bending intellectual conversations, and the most amazing women I've met I've connected on an almost metaphysical level where we can almost read each other's minds and we could talk into the early morning if we allowed ourselves, just like teenagers), and a lot of risk both emotionally and physically.

What's the reward? A one-in-a-million girl? Sex (don't let me get started with the risks there - honestly, I'm really liking the idea of waiting longer for sex more recently)? An occasional make-out session? Good friends? I have plenty of friends. Is it physical touch? I'm actually exploring a lot of Buddhist philosophies around reducing the *need* for physical touch - I think that's a learned societal behavior. I actually think, maybe when my kids are older, I might see if I can spend some time in Thailand as a Buddhist monk to explore this further.

Honestly, I'm just not seeing a lot of benefit for dating. If the right girl comes along and everything just clicks? Sure. In my new relationship with God and Christianity, the whole symbolism of relying on God to give and guide things to you is a powerful one, as it removes codependency on humanity and places it solely on God - that God can be a real thing, love, feelings, freedom, or whatever you want to symbolize it as, but the key is killing the codependency on humanity. And that's what I'm doing.

So if you see me attempting to outwardly date kick me in the rear a bit. That's, in many ways, codependency (I HIGHLY recommend the book, "Codependent No More" - more on that later). Time to just "Let Jesus/Buddha/Allah/God/etc Take the Wheel" and let karma do its job in guiding my life.

In Buddhism, removing these worries and outwardly "needs" for human connection, touch, and things removes codependency and ultimately reduces suffering. That's the exact place I want to be.

Honestly, it's starting to feel like Nirvana!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Celebrating MY Independence Day - My Peter Moment

Wednesday was Independence Day. I spent it visiting friends in the LGBTQ(IATP) community in Provo, Utah, who in today's world, still don't have the same freedoms that us heterosexual men and women do. It was during this event, and subsequently Provo's Stadium of Fire, where I spent a lot of time contemplating Freedom, and what that means to me. 3 years ago from Wednesday, on Independence Day, I submitted my resignation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was MY Independence Day! I was liberated - this was my first Independence Day. My 2nd Baptism.

Leaving the LDS Church was a soul-harrowing experience. I literally lost everything from the experience. I was literally homeless, living on a suitcase out of a hotel at one point. I spent 6 hours in jail amongst homeless people and Heroin addicts for crimes I didn't commit and were dismissed entirely later. For the first time in my life I was truly experiencing what my Savior Jesus Christ had experienced. In Mormonism I was so sheltered, and so filtered and controlled that I was oblivious to what losing everything could actually mean. And at the same time, I lost my faith in Jesus. I lost my faith in God. Entirely. I thought the experiences of old were simply just shadows on the wall of Plato's cave, and in today's knowledge in many ways they were. I KNEW NO OTHER GOD!

Fast-forward to today and I came across a new form of freedom I completely wasn't anticipating. I've been fortunate to have a very dear friend and mentor who grew up Christian, joined Mormonism, left Mormonism and rejoined Christianity, help me rediscover my own spirituality and faith in Jesus Christ. Let me explain what happened, and what this means to me!

This friend of mine had such a firm belief in Jesus Christ after leaving Mormonism to the point that every time I was around this friend I was enamored in trying to figure out why, and how they could come back to faith after an environment where faith was all-or-nothing, with so many rules and boundaries (perhaps I'll write more about that later). I remember this from the first time I met them.

A few months ago as this friend and I were talking it hit me an experience I had on my LDS mission in Thailand (yes I speak fluent Thai) that I've never shared with anyone but this person and my ex-wife before. I'm actually going to share it here, because in my new faith and belief system this is something I think NEEDS to be shared with the world! Why keep something so important so secret??? Here's what I wrote in my mission journal on November 6, 1998 (the experience was on June 11, 1997):

"I need to tell about a spiritual experience I had while I was in Thonburi. I'm still not sure what it was, because it wasn't a full manifestation. One night I was praying after a really spiritual day. I began to have a desire to know Christ more. I don't know how crazy this seems, or if it was my imagination, but afterwards, I asked with sincere faith to see Him. I remember this tremendous feeling of joy coming over my body, and then I saw some form, in the resemblance of Him. Now, I'm not so sure about it, because scripture from what I know now, does not quite support it, but I gain great joy whenever I think of that experience, and know that whatever it was, it was from God."


In my journey out of Mormonism I couldn't figure out who God was. Science simply didn't support Him. It still doesn't. I couldn't figure out what spirituality was. I read Bart Ehrman, Spong, and others suggesting most of the Bible stories simply aren't literal nor historical, and they're still right, quite honestly. But I had completely lost my spirituality and this experience brought everything back to me helping me realize something I was missing that I had forgotten I missed.

You see I had a very close relationship, besides this experience, to Jesus as a Mormon. From a young age I prayed to God daily. I told God I loved him every single day. I had conversations with my God. I truly believed he was there, listening to me. I did all I could to learn more about him. For this Mormon it WASN'T all about Joseph Smith and temples and Priesthood, although I constantly found those as barriers to the relationship I wanted with MY God.

In addition to this I saw MY God speak to me in ways I just couldn't deny as I relied on him. I saw a boy get up and walk after being lame and receiving a blessing from me through faith in Jesus on my mission. I saw my life literally be saved because Jesus (Mormons call this the Holy Ghost - no, it was Jesus, and the same feelings, although more limited) spoke to me as my dad felt a prompting from God that he needed to pray for me while I was in Thailand. I saw healing after healing (I'm, quite literally and psychologically, a healer I've found) through my lifetime of giving blessings through Jesus. I saw miracle after miracle. Whatever it was, even if it was something like a "Hyperfrontal"-induced dimension as mentioned in the book, "Stealing Fire", they happened. And I gained a real, personal, 2-way communicative relationship with MY God.

MY Jesus.

But even then it was clouded with religion, "The Priesthood", and the way my church wanted me to have a relationship with my God. So when that went away I couldn't figure out what was left.

At least at the point I shared this experience with my friend I realized I was missing something I had forgotten about. But I didn't know how to find it. With that in mind I started seeking things that reminded me of that experience I had on my mission. THAT experience was Jesus Christ to me! I don't know if it was real. I don't know if it was just a figment of my imagination - perhaps it was - but I knew WHAT I FELT WAS REAL! And that feeling I craved. Oh, I craved it!

Then, MY Independence Day hit again. I actually didn't quite realize what was happening. This friend, through a series of circumstances, made an entrance back into my life (Mandino's "The Greatest Miracle in the World" comes to mind - this person is my ragpicker!). Just yesterday, 3 days after Independence Day, I was experiencing a negative energy I just couldn't explain. I wanted to cry. I couldn't figure out why.

The topic of Christianity came up again. My friend wanted to get Baptized to reshow a commitment to God. In traditional Christianity, as contrast to Mormonism, Baptism is an outward ordinance of physical devotion to God and happens any time an individual wants to outwardly show their personal commitment to their God. It's a big celebration, full of pomp and circumstance, and prayer and incredible rejoicing to Jesus.

I sort of wanted this too. I realized I was missing it and I didn't know what it was or how to get it or even if it was something real or why my friend really embraced these things in such a scientific and literal world. My friend is really smart and already gets those things, so why this strong belief and what did it mean to them?

My friend shared with me the video below. I already had a VERY open mind at the moment, so if you watch this, please approach it with an open mind, thinking back to the most spiritual experience you ever had (and don't worry if the experience is literal or not - that doesn't matter). Then, think of Jesus in this as THAT experience! It doesn't have to be literal. It CAN, but it doesn't HAVE to be (Spong, an Episcopalian minister, suggests Christians take the Bible way too literally). Now watch with that open heart, and feel, putting yourself in the place of the individual dancing with Christ:

At about 3:50 I broke down, feeling everything I had just been through the last 3 years. And everything I had been through as a Mormon. I realized Jesus, whomever he is, whatever he is, has been trying to find me ever since I was a baby. He was walking on water, fighting the forces of nature, to rescue me, Peter, who was drowning in the water. I was being held back by forces of Priesthood, control, and religion the entire time I was Mormon. I was being held back by the forces of not realizing there could be a God outside of that. I found my way out but even then I was still fighting for my life, and he was fighting back to come and find me. My emotions let go and I bawled, quite literally, like a baby - this was me after seeing that video:

All of the sudden I GOT IT! I KNEW this man, whatever he or it is that I had a very personal relationship with inside Mormonism, was! And HE found ME! I don't know how to describe it. It was greater than anything I ever experienced inside Mormonism. Even greater than my vision of seeing him in person, at least in my heart. It was like a big, warm hug in such a real way. Instead of just seeing him I FELT him!

That scene in the video of Jesus fighting for her, getting in and even fighting back her enemies and all the different forces that were fighting against her. Then getting her up, cleaning her off, doing a dance with her and just embracing her. Just loving her. Just holding her. That was something I never felt inside Mormonism! I felt a genuine, genuine love for Jesus, perhaps more than many Mormons, but never like this. This was like that embrace at the end. A huge, warm hug holding onto me saying, "I'm here."

I'm bawling as I write this, feeling it all over again.

Today I went back to a nondenominational Christian church for the second time. The first time I was still Mormon, tainted by the controls I was subject to there preventing me from full clarity of my God. This time I went back unfettered. And boy was it an amazing, incredible, and another life changing experience! The songs resonated like never before, something I never understood as a Mormon. The messages resonated in a very personal way I was finally allowed to apply MY OWN interpretation to in any way I chose. After all it was MY relationship with Jesus!

This was, once again, MY Independence Day. And it was my 3rd Baptism. And I'm oh, so grateful!

If you could only feel the feelings I'm feeling right now. I will never go back to anything that controls me and my relationship with MY God again! I know that HE is there, fighting for me, embracing me, and every decision I make moving forward is going to be through him.

For my Atheist and Agnostic friends who have also left Mormonism - Jesus doesn't NEED to be a literal, "magical" being. Jesus is something inside you. He's something symbolic of love. He's symbolic of FREEDOM. But most of all, the Jesus OUTSIDE of Mormonism is one YOU get to decide what he means! You can do that - you can have spirituality back. You don't have to believe in fairy tales either. But you CAN have that relationship with YOUR God back. Try it, and see what else comes!

What else can I achieve after THIS???!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Are We in a New Era of the LDS Church Leadership?

I saw something really significant this last week. For the first time EVER, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held an open press conference, where its newly called President and counselors stood in front of the Press taking open, live questions translated live into most of the major languages. Never in the Church's history, since early pioneer days pre-David O. McKay (who instituted "correlation" to control the messaging of the Church), has the LDS Church opened itself up, unfiltered, without Correlation. For the first time since Hinckley (who stayed, with his wife, with my grandparents, very nervous, the night before his infamous CBS Mike Wallace interview) the LDS Church has a leader, speaking to the public, unfiltered, truly representing the Church. This change is HUGE, and should be noted, whether you like the man or not!

I mentioned on Facebook that for the last decade or more Thomas S. Monson has been "sick". Some say he had dementia. It was enough to prevent me from getting anyone in the 12 or First Presidency (the top leadership of the LDS Church) to directly participate without correlation on social media. I used to preach, when I worked there, that the advantage of this "New Media" era was to "open up the covers" and bring back the times, like in the days of Joseph Smith, when members of the Church could talk to its leaders and those leaders could talk back, unfiltered.

I remember ordering copies of BJ (one of the premiere authorities on user interface design in a social media era) and Linda Fogg's "Facebook For Parents", and Robert Scoble (A man who eats, breathes, and sleeps the idea of "opening up the covers", sometimes quite literally! He's also a good friend.) and Shel Israel's "Naked Conversations" for each of the 12 to teach them this concept. I used to share stories of a man in the Book of Mormon named King Benjamin, who would preach as far as the ear could hear and they'd share it to their friends (you can see my presentation at LDS Business College where I shared a portion of this story here), and how social media now allowed the LDS Church's leaders to do this, having a true conversation with its members, one-on-one, unfiltered as in the days of Joseph Smith.

So this press conference was significant. And they messed up in how they responded on the issue of women and gays. Of course they messed up. It was unfiltered. I expected that when I shared these ideas with the Church. And that's okay. That's the point - there will be mess-ups. Now the responsibility of the LDS Church will be to listen, reiterate, and keep responding, one-on-one, unfiltered like they did at this press conference in as many places as possible. This move was unprecedented, and I'm absolutely tickled to see it happening. This is what I was waiting for when I had that really scary conversation with Michael Otterson about 6 years ago. So that event was huge. Especially for me.

There's one more really significant thing I've noticed however.

Since the changing of the guard in Public Affairs in 2016 and Richard Turley taking over the reigns from Michael Otterson (I actually adore Michael - he had a huge responsibility ahead of him during the Romney era, post-Prop 8, and other situations, despite some of the ways he ran Public Affairs that I disagree with), there have been no notable excommunications of public members losing their membership as a result of the Public Affairs department investigating individuals in the Church. When I worked there under Otterson I knew of several under investigation. I provided notes to Public Affairs about John Dehlin, JoAnna Brooks, Mike Norton, Helen Radkey, and others in that administration. And we know of very public excommunications like John Dehlin (they even responded publicly here) and Jeremy Runnels and Kate Kelly happening as a result of those Public Affairs investigations. I sometimes wonder if my own issues with my local leaders squeezing me out were a result of top brass at the Church talking to them (my Stake President wouldn't say where the screenshots came from).

I think this move as well is significant. Is the Church opening up more? Is it being more okay with disagreements from local members? Is it starting to allow open conversation and disagreement and handling it better? There are some very open conversations happening right now that I think are very healthy for the Church. Many around women and the Priesthood. Questions like the one Peggy Fletcher Stack, an active Mormon, asked the top leader of the Church just this last week. And frankly while I don't like the full answer, I like the love he tried to show, and that he at least attempted an unfiltered answer.

Side note: President Nelson knows my family as well and something like the response he gave to Peggy would mean a lot to me - he and my grandfather were friends, and served in the General Sunday School Board together. President Nelson if you're reading this, "Hi! Leave a comment or give me a call - always happy to chat and recollect about my grandfather!" (Now this will be an interesting test...)

I think something major is happening. Will they dig in their heals deeper on issues like gay marriage and women and the Priesthood? I can almost guarantee it based on my experience there (maybe I'll write more about that later). But one thing I think we can count on - they'll do these things openly, boldly, and there will no longer be any doubt on the LDS Church's position on these matters. No longer will the Church messaging come from the Gospel of Mormon Newsroom. You'll hear it from the top person's and First Presidency's mouths themselves, in real time, unfiltered. And you can also guarantee you'll see more listening as a result.

In the end that's HUGE, and a really good thing! Transparency always wins.