Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Thanksgiving Alphabet Game

One of the gifts I try to give myself is regular doses of gratitude. I find that when I cultivate this kind of mindset, life becomes richer—I see hidden blessings all around me, and I’m much less inclined to focus on what I don’t have when I look at what I do have.

In the moments when I feel most defeated, I try to make time to play a game I call “The Thanksgiving Alphabet.” The rules are simple: For each letter of the alphabet, name something you’re grateful for. To go a step further (and to make it a little more interesting), it helps to provide a brief statement of why you’re grateful—like I’ve done below. It’s silly, childlike, spiritual and amusing—all things that bring me back to my center.

The great thing about this game is you can play it wherever you are: In the office, in the car, at night in bed before you fall asleep. Or, you can play it with someone you love—each of you taking a letter and stating something you’re grateful for.  It can inspire some great conversations, and heartfelt intimate moments.

This Thanksgiving, I’m sharing this game—and my list—with you. I hope it sparks in you some ideas of things you’re grateful for that you may have overlooked, and maybe even gives you a useful tool to break out of your own defeated moments.  At the very least, I hope you’ll find a chuckle or two.

My list is by no means comprehensive—just because you don’t see something on this list today, doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for it. It just means I’m saving it for the next round. 

Enjoy—and Happy Thanksgiving.

A. Acceptance. Recognizing that there are things in this world that I am powerless over—but that being powerless doesn’t mean being helpless. I can accept things the way they are because I know I have the opportunity to respond to them in a way that makes me happy, and keeps me close to the kind of person I (and my Savior) want me to be.  And with that, I am a little more free to be me. 

B. Bishop Don Fletcher—my Bishop here in San Francisco. Seldom have I met someone who was so deeply spiritual, kind, and thoughtful, yet held onto a great sense of humor through both the good times and the challenges. By having the opportunity to work with him, I learn how to be a better leader and a better human. Through me, he learns all he can handle about MoHos and TMZ. A fair trade? You decide. 

C.   Cats: Or more specifically, Roscoe. This little four-legged ball of allergens worked his way into my heart within the first 90 seconds of knowing him. He slept by my side every night, laid on my desk during the work day, and was the champion king of head-butts. He may no longer be mine, but the home he built in my heart still remains.

Erika and Jensen: Mormon teeth.
D. Dentists. A gratitude list for 2011 just wouldn’t be complete without a tip of my virtual hat to my Bay Ward peeps, which is chock-full of dental students. Of course, that just supports my other theory about “Mormon Teeth,” so take a quick read of that post for an additional holiday chuckle. And then don’t forget to floss after dinner. 

E. Exercise and weight lifting. These are my sanity breaks—my opportunity to turn off my head and simply “be” in my body. When I take time to clear out the mental cobwebs through exercise, I am more centered, think more clearly, and am better able to handle whatever life brings me. Plus I just plain feel better! 

F. Feminist Mormon Housewives. You know who you are, and you know why you’re on this list. ‘Nuff said.

G. Being born gay. Being gay hasn’t always been an easy road, but I suspect it wasn’t supposed to be. But I have learned that those of us who are gay are made that way for a reason—and that reason isn’t just about us. I’ve learned deeper levels of compassion, forgiveness, and patience than I ever would have otherwise. And I’ve see those around me develop unconditional love in a way they probably never would have otherwise. If we so choose, every one of us in the human family can see this opportunity as the gift it genuinely is. 

H. Humility. The ability to recognize that humility is not about humiliation is priceless. Humiliation is a position of weakness, of victimhood. And I choose to be no one’s victim. Humility, on the other hand, is a source of strength. It’s simply recognizing my rightful place as my Father’s son, with my fellow humans as my peers, right beside me.  

I. IHOP. (Closely related to the letter “W” below). Nothing says “angioplasty on a plate” like Cinnabon™ deep fried rolls smothered in butter and syrup, an omelet, and side of bacon. I think my affinity for this place stems from childhood, since among my favorite memories as a kid were meeting my grandfather on Saturday mornings to feed the horses—and he’d steal me a away to IHOP for a big plate of chocolate chip pancakes. Thanks, Grandpa! 

J. Jeanne, my sister. She’s walked this path with me throughout my entire life, and never have I genuinely doubted that she is my ally, confidante, and friend. Siblings by chance, perhaps. But most certainly friends by choice. 

K. Kirk—Captain Kirk, that is! James Tiberius Kirk was my very first TV crush, and I loved running home after school in the first grade to catch reruns of the original Star Trek series. And at that age, the b-rated special effects still looked pretty good—so it appealed to my inner budding sci-fi nerd as well as my budding MoHo! 

L. Living in the present. One thing that I’ve learned in spades over the past few months is how important today is. Planning for tomorrow is great, and looking back at and learning from the past is often helpful. But the key to a happy life is to not let yesterday (or tomorrow!) take up too much of today. 

M. My Mom:  Proof that hearts can change—and minds follow. This remarkable woman went from blaming everyone around her for me being gay, to being a staunch ally and supporter—and one of my best friends. A few years before she died, we sat on her patio and talked—and she admitted to me what a great blessing she thought it was that I—her gay son—had been brought into her life. She loved me for who I was, not who she wanted me to be. And like my Father in Heaven, viewed me as a whole person, designed by the master builder himself.  I miss you, Mom.

With forearms like that, who wouldn't listen?
N. Nehpi. Well, I wouldn’t be a very good Mormon if I wasn’t grateful for this guy. I think what I admire most about him was his ability to be in a family where his brothers constantly sought to tear him down. And while he admitted that it broke his heart, he still prevailed and was true to both himself and his Savior. I don’t think we could ask for a better role model for self-honesty. Oh, plus I had a non-Mormon friend refer to him as “Neffy,” once, and ever since then I’ve vowed to give that name to my next dog or cat. Classic.  

O. Other people’s cooking skills. I was not blessed with the ability to learn my way around the kitchen. Fortunately for me, I have friends who were. A few years back, I tried to make a cake for our Fourth of July party—my Aunt’s famous chocolate cake. Instead of 3 tablespoons of baking soda, I used 3 cups. It tasted like salty sweat socks covered in chocolate frosting. For the sake of all involved, I avoid anything that requires a stove.

P. Pops: My dad. We spent the better part of our relationship resenting one another, since I was not the son he seemed to want, making him the father that I didn’t want. But as we grew older, we both began to realize that what made us the same was far more important than what made us different. During his last days, I was working with him on some legal documents, and I felt compelled to stop and tell him how much I loved him, even though I hadn’t been the best in terms of showing it. He looked at me over the top of his glasses and said, “Well, I love you, too, son. You’re my boy!” Thanks, Dad. A son is never too old to hear those words from his father. 

Q. Questioning ideas and critical thinking. Each of us is blessed with intellect and mental faculties to guide our decisions in this life. When we toss those gifts aside, I think we offend our Father. Truth does not discourage honest, thoughtful questions—it welcomes them. After all, it is through questioning what we think we’re hearing that the veracity of any position becomes clear. 

R. My relationship with my Savior. What a great thing it is to understand that I own this relationship, that it belongs solely to me and my Lord. It is as unique as I am. No intermediary is needed to build and maintain this relationship—it is as deep and as powerful as I choose to make it. My Savior stands ready to be by my side—I only need reach out for Him. No one can—or should—do that for me. Knowing this inspires a powerful feeling of independence and confidence. 

Phantom of the bathroom?
S. Skin care. Fifty gay points for this one. One of the great things about having a beautiful older sister is learning all the techniques she uses to stay that way. One thing I’ve loved is Kiehl’s Rare Earth Masque. Not only does it give me that April-fresh glow, but it allows me to make ridiculous faces for the camera like this one—and sometimes instills in me the compulsion to scour my home to make sure there are no wire hangers anywhere to be found. (Thank you, Joan Crawford). 

T. Meditation time. Another self-care practice that I give myself. I’ve often thought of prayer as asking for guidance—and mediation as time to listen and receive it. This is a cornerstone of my spiritual practice, and when I make time to do it I have a level of serenity and confidence that I can get no other way.  

U. Underwear. Well, Mormon underwear, more accurately. I just find the attention that the general population places on what we may or may not be wearing under our clothes rather amusing (and, admittedly, slightly disturbing!). Laugh away, folks. I feel good all under! 

V. Vocabulary words. I’ll freely admit it—I am a word-nerd. I love finding the perfect word for something, or learning of a new word that’s created to describe something else. My favorites from this year include “MoHo” (Mormon Homos!) and “Modar” (gaydar for Mormons). Urban dictionary, here we come! 

W. My White Trash roots. Without them, I’d have no affinity toward Shake-n-Bake, Johnny Cash, and a secret desire to vacation at Dollywood. And no way to explain my seriously unsophisticated palate that to this day craves anything made by Hostess. Ahh, the sugary sponge-cake goodness of anything crème filled, made with vowel-laden multi-syllable unpronounceable words, and wrapped in a cellophane seal—certain to withstand a nuclear blast. 

Solving mysteries and looking good doing it.
X. The X-Files. When I was at Stanford, there was almost nothing better than taking a study break on Friday night to indulge in some sci-fi at its finest. Aliens, conspiracy theories, and humans that can shape-shift and crawl through twelve-inch heating ducts. Add in a dose of Scully and Mulder, and what’s not to love?

Y. Yesterday. I don’t have to live there, but I can recognize how all my yesterdays combined to bring me to this exact place in my life, and have molded me into the person I am today. And I have to admit, I like where I am and I like who I’m becoming.

Z. Zygosity. Yeah, okay, so it’s not a real word. But I once won a game of Scrabble by using it, so don’t tell anyone. And I think it was the only game I’ve ever won, so don’t take this away from me, dangit! 

Now it’s your turn. What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"The Cultural Hall Podcast" Interview

A few weeks ago, I spent a few hours with Richie Steadman and Lauren Johnson of The Cultural Hall Podcast.   

The Cultural Hall is the brainchild of Richie and Lauren, who both worked independently of one another in the radio and television business, but combined forces to form this unique venue to share Mormon related stories, history, and perspectives.

I will openly admit this was probably close to the most fun I’ve had with any interview. Both Richie and Lauren are witty, bright critical thinkers—and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. We ended up talking for so long, in fact, that we split the podcast into two parts. I’ve shared the links below.

And as is almost always true, it was the reaction of the listeners that was perhaps the most interesting. I think Lauren said it best on her blog, and I’m sharing her words directly with you here:

The amount of feedback and listeners we’ve received since posting Episodes 13 and 14 with Mitch Mayne show me just how many people are searching for answers when it comes to understanding our homosexual brothers and sisters. And Richie and I are among you—also searching and trying to understand. Brother Mayne has been a bridge, so it seems, to bring light to the world of being both Mormon and gay. I think that soon we’ll have many more members who act as bridges, but Brother Mayne will always be remembered as one of the originals. One who was willing to share his experience, his testimony, his hope for the future, and most of all—his deep and personal relationship with the Savior. And for that, I thank him.

I received a letter from a friend, who spoke about how Mayne’s interview moved him. He requested to remain anonymous, but said I could share his words.

“I was touched and enlightened by Mitch Mayne’s thoughts on “owning your relationship with the Savior.” This struck me powerfully. No one can dictate or control or even fully understand your relationship to God. And you alone have that unique relationship and can choose how you participate in it whether you are gay, straight, married, divorced, single, old, young, active, inactive, etc., etc., etc. I enjoy your light approach to our Mormon culture, but I was surprised how your guest started me–a straight, middle-aged, rather cynical LDS guy– thinking. This intelligent gay man inspired me and I felt moved to take some steps to alter my relationship with the Savior. Mayne taught me something about spiritual yearning and reminded me how powerful the spirit moves in each of us. This seemed all the more profound for me because he is gay. Thank you for this interview.”

Some people expressed disagreement in Mayne’s sexuality, strongly believing it was a choice. Some thanked him, because they too were gay and Mormon, and were attempting to collide these worlds in the way that Mayne had. But no matter the view, I don’t believe anyone can deny the spirit, or the strength that Brother Mayne carried as he spoke of his relationship with the Savior and his love of the gospel. Whatever we each brought away from this interview with our Brother Mitch Mayne, I hope that the one thing we can all agree on is a loving God, and that we truly are all brothers and sisters—here to care for each other and lift one another up. Mayne has lifted me with his sincere testimony.

I also know many more are talking, sharing, and many continue to listen. Please share your thoughts. Share what you have taken from this podcast, and let us know. No matter your view, it is worth sharing as we are all brothers and sisters. And we are all in this thing called life, together.


Listen in as we chat. Regardless of where you are on the issue of gay Mormons, you’re sure to learn something new. I know I did. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Leave it better than you found it

When I was a boy, my Father used to take me camping in the mountains of Idaho and Oregon. As kind of an awkward little kid, I genuinely enjoyed the outdoors, animals, and nature in general—they were much less quick to judge than it seemed my human fellows were. It was one of the few places I felt genuinely free to be myself.

My Father was a tried-and-true outdoorsman. I think what I liked best about his perspective was that in many ways, he regarded himself as a guest in the wilderness: there was no sense of entitlement, there was no sense of needing to master his universe. Nature was to be admired for it’s awe-inspiring beauty and enjoyed—and when we left, our responsibility was to leave it a little bit better than when we arrived.

In the moment, it was frequently difficult for me to appreciate this principle, because for me it often meant picking up not only my garbage, but sometimes the waste others had left behind before me. But in retrospect, it was a great lesson and an even better example—a goal to leave a place improved as a result of having been there.

As I grew and developed my own sense of this principle, I began to realize that it not only applies to nature, but to our fellow humans. When looked at through this lens, we begin to realize that, with every soul we touch, we have the opportunity to leave it a little happier, a little lighter, and a little bit better off. Likewise, if we fail to recognize this possibility, we can leave behind emotional litter, spiritual baggage, hurt and pain.

I like to think of the souls of those around me like a covering of freshly fallen snow on a hillside. When I walk through the snow, each action I take leaves an impression, a footprint—even the gentlest press of my hand leaves a mark in the blanket of white. If I run wildly and carelessly, I can kick up dirt beneath the surface, and smear the pure snow into an ugly brown slush. Or, I can tread gently, and leave behind a set of soft footprints that mark where I’ve been. And if I so choose, I can lay down, spread my arms and legs, and even make a snow angel in my wake—leaving behind an impression that will often make others smile.

Likewise, each interaction I have with others leaves an impression or a mark; and it’s largely up to me to define whether that impression will leave them impaired—or leave them better than I found them.

It’s easy to understand the impact this principle when we think of the large, life changing circumstances we watch those around us face, and we reach out to offer our support and love: a death in the family, a lost job or financial misfortune, a divorce or painful loss of someone loved. A more challenging—but perhaps even more worthwhile—application is in the small, every day interactions we have with others that, to us, seem insignificant or even meaningless.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see this in action. A friend of mine was having a particularly difficult day. It was, indeed, a day that would try the most patient of souls: On her way to take her daughter to school, the tire on her car went flat, and she had to call for roadside support. Her daughter was late, and my friend frenzied from the very beginning of her day. Later, on her way back from dropping off her daughter, she inadvertently ran a stop sign and received a traffic citation from a police officer. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, when she stopped for lunch at a small local deli, she realized that she had no cash or credit cards in her wallet when she went to pay for her lunch.

While she stood at the cash register on the brink of tears, from behind her she heard a calm, kind voice: “It’s okay, I’ll cover it. Let me do this for you.”

And with that, a day of frustration turned into a day my friend would quite possibly remember for the rest of her life. But instead of recalling the painful difficulties of her day, she’ll look back in gratitude at how another was willing to leave her a little better than they had found her.

The eight dollars or so spent by the stranger behind my friend was a relatively small gesture on behalf of the benefactor. The stranger had no idea of the kind of day my friend had faced, but simply saw a fellow in need—and stepped in to do something about it. Indeed, the eight dollars was a fairly small amount of money—but the impact felt by my friend was priceless.

Our gestures to leave someone better than we found them need not be grandiose; it is often in the little interactions where impact is felt most deeply. And those opportunities are all around us, each and every day—it doesn’t take a flat tire, a traffic ticket, or an empty wallet to leave someone better off.

All it takes is the willingness to pay a small kindness to another—a smile, a compliment, or simply holding the door open for the person behind you. And, when we focus on what we can give vs. what we can get, our whole perspective on life changes, and we become more grateful and generous—breaking free of the natural human inclination of doing kind and generous things in order to get something back. When we perform a loving act with no expectations—when we seek to leave someone better than we found them—we begin to reap the true reward of giving.

Today, I will put unconditional love into action, and seek to leave someone better than I found them. When I give freely, and expect nothing in return, I always receive more than I give. Every good and loving gesture I manifest soothes my soul, and contributes to a healthier human family.

And then, things get better for all of us.

Will you leave someone better than you found them today?