by Karl Malachut
This was the keynote address delivered at the 2019 Affirmation Chicago Kickoff Conference.
Before I begin this talk I would like to invite you all to come and meditate a moment with me:
I would like you if you are able to get comfortable within your chair, yes you have learned a lot today, you have processed a lot of information but now I would like you to close your eyes and just breathe. Breathe in, breathe, breathe in and breathe out. Continue to do that until you feel a place of comfort within yourself. Of peace. Bask a bit in that peace.
Now as you are in that feeling of peace I would like you to imagine yourself a beautiful grove, a forest. You are traveling to this grove because you are struggling with something. The thing you could be struggling with could be your sexuality, gender, the fact you just found your child is gay, or your spouse has recently come out to you as transgender. You don’t know what to do and this struggle to find yourself you have come back to nature just to seek some direction because it seems like everyone is trying to pull you into they feel you must do. This person could be a member of your family, a politician or just someone who randomly trolled you on social media. You want to end this struggle, so you have come to the grove to get back in touch with your center.
As you get to the middle of the grove watching the sun pass through the trees you sit down to do that one practice that centers you. It could be prayer, it could be meditation, or you could just be sitting down writing a prayer. As you begin that centering practice, all of the dark feelings come up upon you all those memories of the pain you feel you have caused others and the stress coming from all the people pushing you to take their direction.
Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, those feelings of pain, shame, and not living up to others standards of who they think you should be. They just melt away. You in this sacred grove meet yourself; who you are. This self that you meet could come in the form of how you view G-d or it could just be the better person you want to be. As you are meeting this apparition, tell it the things weighing upon your heart and just let them go in the peace of the moment in your own sacred grove.
Just rest in the peace that you feel in your own sacred grove right now. In this center, you have found your way past all the mess to feel the love just in this moment.
Now I would like you to slowly breathe in and breathe out coming back to join us all, don’t rush into it. Joining us all here in the room and open your eyes when you are ready.
Many of us have heard the story of Joseph Smith and the Sacred Grove but how many of you here have thought about how we live into the Sacred Grove daily? We are all people like Joseph Smith, just seeking meaning amidst a world of divisiveness that seems to only think of the binary as its answer that drives us into moments of intense at times even depressing emotions. Yet, I believe as individuals, we all exist between worlds all the time that world we are experiencing and that world of which we are drawn into of our transcendent exalted selves.
The thing is, in our day we have many more things seem to divide us than he did. That keeps us from our own sacred grove experiences. We have a rapid response media playing us off each other, politicians who tweet to appeal to whatever sensibilities may win our vote. This is not just happening here in America, but worldwide. Instead of finding our sacred grove, these divisive forces lead us to view each other as enemies instead of a common humanity, a common human family. We also forget at times the responsibility we have to be self-aware of these divisive forces affecting our shared existence so everyone can get to the sacred grove together.
The theme of this conference, “For Such a Time as This,” comes from the book of Esther where Mordecai reminded Esther that she is queen and can go before the King to ask for the salvation of her people. What some people don’t realize sometimes within the story of Esther though is how queer it actually is, I feel, and what it tells us of how can be better brought together as a common humanity.
What makes the story of Esther queer you might be thinking? And by queer, I mean something that we as an LGBTQAI community can find inspiration in and also something that challenges those divisive forces within our society to get us all to our sacred grove together. Allow me to reflect on these just a little bit.
First of all, sometimes I feel Esther and Mordecai are read within a lot of religious circles as perfect in their faith and the way they lived into Torah. I would say if you are a biblical literalist you might be surprised at some of the contradictions of their lives that don’t fit in line with some of the commandments found within the five books of Moses. Both Mordecai and Esther adopt the courtly dress of King Ashevarus. Never once does it mention Mordecai having fringes on the corners of his garments at all. The way they live their life is in stark contrast to the lives of Judah Maccabee and his sons which those of us in the Jewish community are reminded of before Purim with Chanukah who could be described as fundamentalist zealots. I would say Esther and Mordecai live their Judaism by just knowing it is who they are within themselves and being comfortable in their person. They save their people by being themselves they were not Jews like the Jews probably present in Israel during their time but felt enough identity with their people that they felt they needed to make a stand and support them.
I feel this need to take a stand in support with those of you are still within the church as someone out of the church, because, even though I am separate from the church, I cannot help but see a common struggle in hearing many of your testimonies over the last two months. It may seem as though we are divided labels are even employed such as traditional, liberal , conservative, former Latter-day Saint, Ex Latter-day Saint. Yet all of you in phone calls have given me the exact same testimony at times crying for each other. We share a common struggle, we just need to see it. I see it among those of us in the chapter and we should understand like Esther and Mordecai that we are standing together. This standing together may seem odd in a country so divided but why not? What is there to lose? Much more is to gain.
Second I was amazed to find in reading Esther the powerful ability of Esther and Mordecai in taking destiny into their own hands. Reminding much of my favorite song from the Church, “Do what is Right.” Each time within the story of Esther despite the positive or negative consequences of their actions they persevere. I’m reminded of a story from the Midrash, our Jewish scriptural folklore over him that being:
“One day, Mordecai went to look for a Wet-nurse, and couldn’t find any so he nursed Esther himself.”
I don’t want to apply our modern notions of gender onto Mordecai in saying they were nonbinary, but perhaps this reveals that Mordecai cared so much for Esther to nurse her themselves. We seem in our day to complain about and deconstruct things so often that we get stuck in our complaints and deconstruction. Not that they are not worth speaking about but everyone one of us now with social media has a public presence. Having a public presence used to be reserved for royalty and celebrities now we all have it. We can do a lot of good with it but all too often than not we get stuck in our public presence we forget the power it holds for real change.
I am the first openly gay person and person of another faith to live in the household I live in an intentional Christian community or commune that I relate to. When I first came in I complained a lot for what I thought they should have been.I wasn’t Jewish then, I became Jewish Later. You see, when I first came in they were just discerning as a community how they wanted to relate to the LGBTQAI community. I had to hear very hard words at times and I was a firebrand but as time went by in their discernment, I realized this radicalism wasn’t accomplishing anything. What did accomplish something though was the testimony of my own life that despite how some may say I was far away from G-d, I knew myself as a gay man G-d was never far from me. I definitely had a public presence from my firebrand nature but found real power came in just simply being visible. Humanizing myself in front of others by listening to them and sharing the struggles I went through. We must seek to use our public presence to bear testimony to the good we want to happen. This means as something we have affirmed within our mission statement in this chapter, “To not the past hurt that may have happened to us within the church or out of it but to see our personal narratives as strengths for each in our affirming of each other.” In order for others to see the revelations that many of us are having, we must use our presence to bless each other no matter how hard bearing our testimonies must be. My intentional community is both welcoming and affirming now of its LGBTQAI members now for opening the door to these hard conversations and existing in difference.
The divisive forces within society may seem like many but I encourage you to not feed into them. Last year around this time, my fellow Jews in the Squirrel Hill Suburb of Pittsburgh at the Etz Chayim Congregation were just coming into Shabbat Saturday morning just to pray and a man carrying a gun took the lives of many that day. The gravity of these divisive forces of indifference, slavery to the binary, and dodging any hard conversation that needs to be had. Lives are being lost because of our giving in. Whatever label you may give yourself, there is no higher label I believe then child of G-d .
Let us here affirm in covenant with each that we will bring each other in so that what happened to fellow members of my faith last year doesn’t continue to happen. Let us recognize those things, like the media or politicians, that cause us not to see each other in our highest calling that fuel the three evils I mentioned above of indifference, slavery to the binary, and dodging the hard conversations. We should do as Esther and Mordecai did, and recognize that we are crying together in a struggle affecting each one us, some of us more than others. Our struggle is together, and we should take the initiative, no matter how hard, to share our testimonies of our highest calling as children of G-d with each other. We should clearly listen and take caution to not disregard the experience of another because of the labels that are seen as dogma.
Where will we the pioneers within this room go as a chapter? What does our future hold? Well in December and January, definitely family home evenings throughout our chapter. In the Spring, a chapter-wide Nauvoo Trip, but there will be much more than that these things are just aesthetics. I believe, and it may be crazy of me to believe, that we are the catalysts for a new way of thinking within the Church over LGBTQAI people and bridge-builders for the Zion that we are experiencing right now. The grove that we are in.
With these words I say amen, but even though this is the end of my words, something we try to end every one of our chapter leadership meetings with our affirmations – I believe statements or I affirm Statements of what the Zion we want to experience within the chapter is. Now as a chapter leadership team, we would like to invite you to come and give your own affirmation at this gathering where we affirmed you, for it is our namesake, and you in your being help us build the temple of society you want to see today and all return to that sacred grove.