Carol Lynn Pearson’s Talk at the Affirmation 2013 Annual Conference (Transcript)

Carol Lynn Pearson
Carol Lynn Pearson

Thank you so much, I’m thrilled to be with all of you here. I just wish it wasn’t quite so early in the morning. You have been wake up called by our wonderful duet and forced on me to wake you up even more. Consequently I’m going to tell you a couple of jokes to wake you up.

This first one is a very gentle little joke that’s just going to start waking you up, you have to be alert. This is what I got from my granddaughter, so the past and the present and the future all walk into a bar, it was tense. Get it; past tense, present tense and future tense yes. Okay, now here’s one more joke and I’m going to assume that you’re all really really awake, and you got to be awake for this joke in fact because well…I made up this joke and it has three layers to it so you gotta stay alert.

What do you get when you cross Steven Cutty and the Vatican and Vogue magazine? You get the seven habits of highly attractive nuns. Aw and you gay would like that one. Especially those of you who remember fondly the uh sisters of perpetual intelligence in our own San Francisco, yes yes okay.
Well getting seriousness now which we are, I wanna pull a quote that ties into the first little joke that I told, is a statement that I recently found that I have grown to love a lot, by Huston Smith who tells us that the key to a good life is “infinite gratitude towards all the things passed, infinite service to all things present and infinite responsibility to all things future. It is not real easy for all of us to have infinite gratitude for all things past. All of us will have things in the past that, it’s pretty hard to just say “uh uh I’m so glad for that one” On the other hand, it is the past, however difficult it may have been for it to have brought us to this point, and this point is a wonderful point. And so it’s the present that is so much easier for us to celebrate and that is why we are here right now, to celebrate the present and of course plan the future.

I hope and I believe that everybody here is aware of what a remarkable present as gay and lesbian Mormons and your family and friends, that we are living in right now, it’s absolutely amazing. Erin here could have missed a number of things that you are personally experiencing, you’re observing, the less you know that the present that we have created out of the past is remarkable.

There are two little things in my very recent past, that show me the present that we are in, only a couple of weeks ago I was asked to speak at my sacrament meeting, my theme of the month was smoothing the path of others and the bishop asked me to specifically tell the story of my smoothing the path of my former husband, I’ve told that story often but never in a sacrament meeting, and I thought; this is a wonderful thing that demonstrates where we are right now in our church experience. And then just a few days before that, I had been invited to read a couple of poems at the wedding of a dear, very old friend of mine Kent, who was Gerald’s roommate back at BYU missionary, I mention him in [inaudible]. And after travelling essentially the same path that Gerald had, Kent now was being married in a legal ceremony to his partner of 25 years and he and I spent some time, there prior to the ceremony just reminiscing and acknowledging how astonishing it was and, that we would never had considered, as he, Gerald and I were hanging out in the 60’s, that these few decades hence there would be this kind of thing available to gay people.

And as I stood there watching this one man in a blue satin shirt and another man in purple sand shirt and right between them I was able to see in the Rotunda, a city hall of San Francisco, a beautiful bronze of Harvey milk, and I thought ahhh I love it that Harvey is here for this ceremony, and I like to think that Harvey’s spirit is haunting the halls and the Rotunda, of city hall in San Francisco, and I like to think that Gerald was there and that Gerald haunts and enjoys the kinds of experiences that you are all having this weekend.

So that is the present that we are here to celebrate. When Randal asked me to speak, he asked me to use the theme of his recent book “the heroes journey of the gay, lesbian Mormon” Which I wrote from the mapping that mythologist Joseph Kemble, set out as a general path that we are all called to in one way or another, but I thought, how I would love to just take that word that he wrote and offer it to my gay brothers and sisters, who have had a lot of words applied to them, general or not hero. But I am thrilled to have been able walk here with you here on this journey acknowledging that you indeed are heroes.

This is, to some extent, an outward journey, but more importantly it is a journey that happens inside and I would like to share with you one of my poems called Within. “I met a man once, who said that the kingdom of God was within me, but I never trusted such unlikely ground, I went out. I scoured schools and libraries, and chapels and temples and other people’s eyes and the skies and the rocks and I found treasures from the kingdom’s treasury but not the kingdom. Finally I came in quiet for a rest and turned on the light and there, just like a surprise party, was all the smiling royalty, Kings, Queens, court. People have been locked up for less, I know, but I tell you something marvellous is bordered by this skin. I am a castle, and the kingdom of God is within”. An amazing part of this is that each one of us has the kingdom of God within us. So that’s where we’re going to journey now to the inward places where the most important things happen. And I would like to review with you, walk along with you a little bit on this hero’s journey. And I would like to do it from the position of the end of the end of the journey. You know there are so many wonderful journeys that call us to be the change you wish to the see, or for something that we want to have or for something that we want to see, to own that so that we become what the end result will be, to move there and see ourselves as having accomplished what we want to accomplish along the way.
So we are going to be here at the last step, where the journey is, of course the journey is never over because it’s a circular thing and we will meet the same step and we’ll have different kinds of journeys, but let’s pretend that we all at the end of this particular journey, that we are comrades having gone through this journey, urging one another on, comforting one another, moving on another around the camp fire, able to reminisce, able to say “ahhh do you remember when this happened, or remember how felt when”.

So let’s be here together safely at the end of the journey, together and do you remember what Ross Kemble calls the first step? The ordinary world, remember when you were a little Mormon kid in primary, in that safe, warm Mormon world where you knew that Jesus loved you and you knew as you sang “I’m a child of God” that, that was true, and you knew that you as a boy you had a calling that would take you here, and you knew as a girl that you had a calling that would take you there –that was your first step of the ordinary journey, and then came the call to adventure and I’ll read it out to anybody here found it that way. When you first had the feelings, had the consideration ‘ahh, I’m different, I’m not following this map that’s laid out for me on the blackboard and the books here, I’m a boy and I like boys the way I’m supposed to like girls, or I’m a girl and I feel that I like girls when I’m supposed to like boys, this is not right, this is not good. But this is your call to adventure and the next step is refusal of the call and I’ll bet you that everybody here refused that call to adventure. I’ll bet probably everybody here did all the praying you could, all the fasting you could, did all the studying scripture you could to say no, that is a journey, I cannot take, I’m told that it’s fruitless, I’m told that is the way of Satan and so there was the refusal of the call.

The wise one of the try that walks beside you silently urges you forward, and the next step that Joseph Kemble gives is CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. Do you remember when you first fell in love? And those remarkable feelings were so overpowering, were so delicious and opened up a vision of some way of being, some way of feeling and relating, that was beyond anything you had ever imagined and you knew that it was far more than just a sexual kind of thing, that it was a thing of your entire being that called to you in a way that was profound. But then it was kind of like the Garden of Eden experience; do take the fruit, don’t take the fruit.

But having crossed the threshold of feeling, of understanding who you really are and your experience inside, you knew that this was the journey that you were being called to take, and the wise one walking besides you, promised you that if you take this journey well, you will find, at the end of the journey, the coveted elixir, the boon, the substance that is the cure for all ills and with that as a promise, you vow to do your best to walk this journey.

So there you are in a new world having just stepped out to, a territory that is very different from the territory you found in primary and this is what Joseph Kemble describes as the new world where tests are present, dangers are bound, their dark places, you don’t know who’s your friend, you don’t know who’s your enemy, you see things happening that do not feel right to you, perhaps you are tempted towards more materialism than you want, perhaps you see people using one another and perhaps you have that temptation yourself but beyond this difficult new place, you see a place of peace and of happiness, or you see people experiencing happily together, what you had a tiny taste of before…that’s where you want to be.
But before you can be there, you know that you have to go through something very very difficult. The step is the approach to the inmost cave and in that inmost cave is where you are going to experience this supreme ordeal. Do you remember your supreme ordeal? Perhaps you feel that this is exactly where I am right now. But in your mind and you experience that you are safe at the end of the journey with us and you can look back at that place and see it now for the step that it was, the essential step that it was. But here it is that you meet a shadow, here you…here again in your mind all the worst things that you have been told about, who you are, about what will happen to you, if you follow a journey of living life as a gay or lesbian person.

You are told that it would be better for you to lose your life than to shame your family, to lose your eternal salvation. The shadow here in this supreme ordeal, in this darkest cave, offers you a sword, a gun or pills and remember that you are brought to your knees. I’m going to read just a little bit as I put it here in the book “The shadow says to you, end it all now, You fall to your knees as you have a hundred of times, and you cry out as you have hundreds of times – dear God I have to know, am I a mistake? Are my desires examples of abomination in your sight, is there no place for me in the plan, weeping you remain on your knees and then you hear another voice; the answers it says, are inside of you. Listen to the spirit within as I ask you this – are you a mistake? You listen, then you speak; No, you say softly, I am not. Is the love you yearned for an abomination? Again you answer it; you listen for an answer within; No it is not. And the partner you yearned for, would you be capable of kindness, patience, sacrifice, fidelity and joy? I would.

“Seize the sword,” says the voice, you understand, you grasp the instrument of death, its blade glittering and you lift it high, posed at the shadow, “strike now,” you hear. “No” cries the shadow, I am the one who speaks the truth. Bear with you now, your ancestors who set out for new land, your friends and family in the home tribe who told you to believe in yourself, their courage speaks; “strike now”.

Moving closer the shadow cries out; “pitiful freak,” “there is no place for you and no reward than misery, end it all now.” You feel tears in your eyes and the light that was always within you grows so bright and warm, you believe your heart will burst. The words come now without effort, with clarity and strength, there is a place for me. I am light; I am God’s beloved child. And then with a force you did not know you had, you strike your fears, one strike and with a scream, the shadow splits and dissolves into smoke, revealing an opening on the other side of the cave, the brightness of blue sky appears. You run, and the next step is the reward of realising that not only have you survived but that you are able to thrive.
And now the wise one who has been accompanying you says that the next step is the road back, back? You say. I’m not going back there, I left that tribe because they never liked me, because they were not welcoming me, nevertheless, says your wise guide. You’re learning that not doing it for yourself; you’re learning that you’re doing this for the entire tribe, and so comes the step of resurrection, meaning that you’ve become purified and cleansed, and most of all, that you are able to forgive. Forgive those that who have hurt you, forgive because they know not what they did, forgive because you must be cleansed, because you cannot live the life that you want to, if you are burdened with resentment, with anger or with hate, and so you take that step and purify yourself with forgiveness. At which point you realise that you have found the elixir, the elixir being that substance that is the cure of all ills which of course is love.

That wonderful, final boon that will cure everything and which is yours, because you have heroically walked the journey and forgive him. And so you are able to return to the tribe bearing the elixir that you have found. And I would like to share with you a bit of the last section here; word spreads that the outcast has returned, those who have been saying loving prayers and calling angels to be with you, run out first and open their arms, your mother kisses you and says that in her heart you’ve never been away, friends and family crowd around you, “you are different”, says one “I am you see, that’s why I had to leave,” “no” the friend responds, “this difference is one that makes me forget the other difference.”
You smile for you understand, then the elders come along with your father who has cautioned you against the loss of your eternally condemned soul, “why are you here” asks one of the elder’s sons suspiciously. “This is home” you respond “I may stay, or I may not, but I am here”. Your father looks at you as if you were a marvel, and you are circled in his embrace. You take a deep breath and you and you feel the assurance of the light that is within you. You look around at the comrades around you, you have all travelled much the same terrain, but you have arrived at different points with different experiences and different decisions. You’ve studied them now, those who have become so dear to you, those who are in partnerships, they have the elixir, you can tell by the way they speak and the way they regard one another and the joy that follows them. The one who married in the way the tribe had told him was the only way, who went through the dark night of pain, and he emerged to restructure his relationships to allow more joy for all, he has the elixir, you can tell by the way he relates to his former spouse, and he is committed to his children, the one who married in the traditional way hoping for a miracle that never came, she had to choose between two sacrifices and remains with the family she craved, you observed that she too has the elixir, there is peace in her eyes and self-assurance and respect, a different kind of miracle.

The one who chose not to search for a partner and the one who’s searching was unsuccessful, they stand alone but they too have the elixir and they share it happily and generously, serving and shining in the lives of those they meet. And there is you; confident, capable and grateful, all of you are heroes. You survived the pitfalls of the strange, new world, you claimed your own light in the inmost cave, you purified yourselves and forgave and came home with the elixir. You know who you are and you will live and love without apology.

This is the way you share the elixir, the bright light of love, that transcends judgement and who’s source is God. You may or may not, choose to stay with the tribe, but the tribe is richer for your gifts, and in the words of Joseph Campbell “the seekers come home at last, purged, purified and bearing the fruits of your journey. You share the nourishment and treasure among the home tribe, a circle has been closed, you can feel it, you can see that your struggles on the road of hero, have brought new life to the land and as it ends it brings deep healing, wellness and wholeness to the world. The seekers have come home.

Then you look around at your tribe and to your surprise you see now in the eyes of many that you had judged as small-minded something you did not notice before, they had been on a journey that you knew nothing about, a challenging and sacred journey they were also called to by a wise one, some of them had been through their own supreme ordeal and had emerged from the inmost cave as heroes with the light of love and brought it home to share and you had been warned by it and had not even known. And then a new and unsuspected thought, is it possible that all…all our heroes in memory of, you look into the face of some of the elders of the tribe who have been studying you, and you see something remarkable, the look of the seeker, you can’t know for sure but it feels as if they are putting down an inner burden and hearing an inner voice and responding “yes” the ancestors said this is the place. But the place is very large, and the journey is never done.

I’m deeply grateful that I get to walk with each and every one of you and know that today we can now be grateful for all the things in our past, that have brought us to this good day together, that we can celebrate a present that is so splendid and that together we can create a future that helps those who go beyond, experience the journey with this pain with more love. What an awesome adventure that we have been and are on and I love you and thank you for walking with me.