“Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.
By Rich Keys
I’m writing this while watching the Mt. Kilauea volcano erupting on the Big Island in Hawaii. According to Hawaiian legend, Pele, the goddess of fire, created those islands. It’s her land and people build their homes and live their lives on it knowing that she can reclaim what is rightfully hers at any time. Timothy Trun, a local farmer who built his home on the volcano, is being interviewed after his evacuation. In the midst of all the earthquakes, toxic gas, and molten lava, he matter-of-factly says, “It’s not much of a surprise. We live on top of an active volcano, so you really have to agree with that before you come here. I’m comfortable with this kind of thing happening, so it wasn’t really that shocking to me, because, at the end of the day, Mother Nature is in charge.”
So calm, so laid back, so Hawaiian.
Many years ago when I visited an LDS ward while vacationing in Hawaii, I was wearing the standard Mormon church uniform—dark suit, white shirt, and tie–but I was shocked to discover that I was the only one obeying the official dress code. All the local male members wore a Hawaiian shirt—no suit, no white shirt, no tie; just a Hawaiian shirt and pants. I also noticed two gigantic open windows at the top of the walls in the chapel; their “air conditioning” system. As the trade winds gently cooled the building, two birds suddenly flew into the chapel during sacrament meeting and kept flying all around, doing loop-the-loops, nosediving, and other tricks for a full five minutes until they flew out the other window. Through it all, the meeting kept going uninterrupted, the speaker didn’t miss a beat in his talk, and no one looked up except us tourists. It was no big deal.
Compare that with a more recent experience in my life. Just after I realized I was gay but before I came out, I wanted to test the water, so I asked my by-the-book bishop if it would break any rules if I wore a shirt other than white in church. I thought he’d get the joke, but he took it seriously, thought about it, and said, “Let me research that, and I’ll get back to you.” In a controlled panic, I reassured him, “Bishop, I already checked. There’s nothing in the handbook saying you have to wear a white shirt to church.” He finally lightened up and said it was okay. The next week I started with pastel blue—nothing drastic—then slowly worked through green, yellow, a soft violet, and, finally, pink. The world didn’t end, the building didn’t collapse into rubble, no one complained to the bishop, and life went on as usual. I even got a few compliments.
I grew up believing in an Old Testament God—a God of judgement and approval rather than love, who looks for reasons to punish us, and who loves only after we’re obedient and worthy of it. Now I believe in a New Testament God—one of unconditional love and mercy, who would rather turn sin into a teaching opportunity than punishment, who looks for reasons to bless and help us, whose trust increases as we follow His lead, but who will never withhold His godly love from one of His children in need.
The scriptures tell us the Lord will unleash His wrath and fury in the last days, and when things appear totally hopeless, He will finally return. When He descends from heaven, surrounded by angels, and appears in the middle of all that chaos and calamity, I’d love for Him to be wearing a Hawaiian shirt—and just let that sink in for a minute, and give us Earthlings one more chance to reconsider what’s really important and what’s not—and then declare to all his children:
“I’m not causing earthquakes and wildfires and tornadoes and hurricanes and volcanic eruptions and wars and rumors of wars just because you wouldn’t wear a white shirt to church. What ticks me off is you kept worshipping that golden calf you call a handbook instead of following my lead. I already fulfilled the law. I sweat blood from every pore so you could wear any color you want, even pink, even Hawaiian. I even got rid of all those thousands of laws and rules and regulations and whittled it down to just two commandments: Love me, and love your fellow man, and you still couldn’t get it right. You kept judging others with your policies and prejudices in ‘my name,’ but I never told you to do that. You’re supposed to love others. Judging others is my job, not yours, because it takes a God to judge righteously, with a godly wisdom and a perfect love, knowing where their heart is, and you ain’t there yet.”
Okay, it probably won’t happen that way, but it’s my blog, and the Lord knows where my heart is.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.