Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kim's Story

On Sunday, March 25th, 2012, Kim was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for being in a same-gender relationship with her partner, Lyn.

When one among our MoHo community is excommunicated from the faith, it’s easy for them (and those who love them) to want to go to a place of negativity, and hurl back the same kind of insensitivity and lack of compassion that we feel has been directed at us. And, at the same time, it’s in these moments when we must exercise the most caution to ensure we don’t respond in that fashion—we must, more than ever, respond with the same kind of peace, compassion, and love our Savior would grant to His accusers. After all, we in the MoHo community can’t ask for compassion, equality, and understanding from our leaders if we’re not among the first to grant those same qualities to others.

Kim has a keen understanding of this principle. Even though she was excommunicated just days ago, the love and compassion she holds for the Church and her leaders is evident. She has walked through this with dignity and strength—she stood for herself, but not against her fellows. And most important, she has walked through this with her Savior by her side, her testimony of Him unwavering.  After all, her relationship with her Savior belongs only to her—no one, independent of title, can strip her of that.

Here is Kim’s story. 

Me: How long have you been Mormon?
Kim: My family was baptized into the church when I was six. They were converts to the church, and I was baptized when I was eight—I’ve been a member all my life. I wanted very much to serve a mission for the Church, and in the late 1980’s when I was 21 I was called to the Ohio Cleveland Mission. When I arrived, I shared with the Missionary Training Center (MTC) President that I’d recently had a gay experience. The MTC president didn’t really know what to do, so he contacted the General Authorities (GAs) to ask what to do with me. The GAs decided I was to be sent home—to my parents’ home in South Dakota—where I was subsequently disfellowshipped at the age of 21.

As a backdrop, my oldest son is 21 now, and when I think about that kind of event happening to someone that young, I’m horrified that we would respond that way to someone of that age.

A year after I returned to South Dakota, I’d gone through what was required of me and was returned to full membership status. I tried a second time to go on a mission, and during the interview process the Stake President advised me that I should bypass serving a mission, and instead focus my energies on pursuing marriage and a family. At the time, I happened to be writing to a young man who was serving a mission (which is traditional for many young women), so I genuinely believed that getting married at 23 and starting a family would be the right thing for me to do.

I was married for 10 years…it didn’t go very well. I was gay, not straight, and being married didn’t make me any more straight. It made it difficult for my husband and I to have a close intimate relationship in a way that was rewarding for both of us. I had three children whom I love deeply, and am still very close with.

Me: When did you know you were gay?
Kim: Even though I had my first gay experience at 19, I assumed it was a phase—in large part because I knew how badly my Mom wanted it to be. My Mom’s mother was a lesbian, and at that time she viewed my grandmother’s life as very sad and difficult, and I think my Mom wanted to save me (and in some ways, herself) from having that kind of difficult existence. So, I went along with the idea that it was simply a phase and believed that it was something that I could—and should—overcome.

When I was 27, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. For the first time, my own mortality stared me in the face and I wondered what it would be like to meet my Savior, and it occurred to me that even though I was living my life externally perfectly—living the law of chastity, going to church, being a wife and mother—I felt unworthy to face my Savior. When I did the introspection to uncover why that was, I realized that I was still intimately attracted to women, not men—I felt as though I hadn’t worked hard enough to overcome this challenge. I wasn’t “cured.”

When I recovered from cancer, I underwent deep therapy to help me overcome being gay. None of it worked—I’d have moments where I felt I could do it, but it was an unchangeable part of who I was.

Me: How does your family view you?
Kim: That has changed over time. I just told my Dad I’d been excommunicated. He was sad, and disappointed that he was just now finding out about it—he loves me, and always will, and I know that. At the same time, he still views acting on my orientation as a sin—but as my Father, is supportive of what I do even though it might not be the choice he’d like me to make.

My siblings are mixed—for the most part they are kind, but with the exception of my brother (who is also gay) most of them don’t understand. It’s difficult to watch my brother struggle with his own orientation inside the church—he wont’ accept the Melchezedik Priesthood because he feels like he will eventually fail, and then will be in the same position as me.

My Mom passed away in 2010. When she first learned of me being gay, she was very homophobic especially in light of the difficult life her own Mom had as a lesbian. My Mom believed she had been, at some point, molested by one of her Mother’s partners, so she had a pretty horrified view of homosexuality. When I came out, she was very upset and just couldn’t be affirming or supportive. Later, when my brother also came out, I think my Mom viewed this as a ‘second chance’ to understand this issue, like it was no mistake that so many people she loved were gay. Over time, she grew from being someone who disliked this part of me intently, to being one of my biggest champions. When she died, she was starting to question what she thought she understood about LGBT issues that she had learned from the Church, and a big part of her growth in this area was spurred by watching how the church treated me and my brother because we’re gay.

As for my children, my oldest hates the fact that I’m gay; my middle daughter thinks we should all be allowed to choose, while at the same time thinks that being in a gay relationship is an immoral choice; and my youngest thinks that while it’s not wrong to be gay, it is wrong to act on it. All of them understand that being gay is not a choice—yet think that acting on it is a choice, and also a sin.

Me: What are the events that led to your disciplinary council?
Kim: When my Mom died in July, 2010, I started shifting spiritually. Actually, I had started shifting a little before that. I had been living under the doctrine as we understand it today—conforming to the law of chastity, and as such, living a celibate life. But I couldn’t live like that anymore—I don’t know how closely related it was to losing my Mom, but I began to be honest with myself and realize I needed more intimacy as a human that what I was allowed to have under our policy.

A few months later, I had a girlfriend. At the time, I held a current temple recommend and taught Relief Society, and I knew my Bishop would probably not want me to do or have those things if I were in a gay relationship—so I met with him and told him where I was.  He took my temple recommend from me, and released me from my calling. Then he would ask to meet with me every few months to see where I was.

That relationship lasted about a year, and then I met Lyn. When my Bishop asked to meet with me again a month ago, I was honest once more about my life. When I told him about Lyn, the first question he asked me was, “Is she married?” Even though Lyn is separated and their relationship has been platonic for close to a decade, my Bishop was really stuck on the idea that she was, by law, still married—and in fact, called me an adulterer in the meeting. When I tried to explain the details of her situation with her soon to be ex-husband, those didn’t matter to him—what mattered is that, in his view, I was an adulterer.

In this same meeting I also explained some of the deeply spiritual experiences Lyn and I had shared as a couple, and he seemed confused—as if we were not entitled to feel the spirit or to have companionship of the spirit because of what he viewed as the sinful nature of our relationship. “You’re telling me, that as an adulterer, you’re still having spiritual experiences?” he asked. I maintained that we did—and that we do—but he acted as if that wasn’t possible.

He told me then that we’d need to have a disciplinary council to determine my membership status.

Me: How did that make you feel?
Kim: Unlike many MoHos, I didn’t feel singled out. There had been a man in my ward about a year ago who’d had an affair, and he was excommunicated. But, he was able to get married again and return to church with his new wife. But I don’t feel persecuted as a MoHo—in fact, if I hadn’t taken the initiative to tell him personally, he probably would have taken no action. But I wanted to live authentically, and I think it was the right thing to do.

Me: One of the things we tell ourselves is that these disciplinary trials are designed to bring people closer to the Savior. Do you feel that was the case for you?
Kim: I don’t at all see how the council or the process would bring anyone closer to their Savior; it just doesn’t make sense to me. And I think that’s a statement we can make for anyone who undergoes church discipline, gay or straight. Excommunication isn’t the answer—in many ways I feel it nullifies every other part of my life, and I think that’s true for straight people as well. When I have the courage and fortitude to come forth and say, “This is who I am—I am gay and I can’t change,” I don’t think we should be excommunicated for that. It doesn’t feel like the right answer.

That said, I will also say that even though the design of the process can’t bring someone closer to the Savior, I definitely felt His comforting presence—but believe it is because of the difficulty I was going through. He loves me, and He wants to support me through this. When the decision came in that I was stripped of my membership, I felt very at peace—and still do. I did not feel an abundance of the spirit because of the process; I felt an abundance of the spirit because of what the process put me through emotionally. My Savior loves me, and He wants to help. He’s been at my side this whole time—but it’s because that is who He is, not because the process is an effective way to bring people closer to the Lord.

Me: So what has been the impact on your testimony of your Savior?
Kim: My testimony of my Savior certainly hasn’t been negatively impacted. Being out and open about who I am has been very freeing. I love my Savior as much as I did yesterday or at any time before this took place. My testimony of Him was there before, it was there during the process, and it’s there now. It is never going to change, despite what might befall me here.

Me: One of the things I admire about you is how you’re able to go through this with such dignity. How does this process affect your understanding of the church?
Kim: I don’t feel like anyone, at any time in this process, had ill-intent. I don’t feel like they were out to get me. When I was in the room with them, I felt that these men genuinely did love me and that this was a difficult decision for them to make.  Yet, I felt like my Bishop was really hooked on the idea that Lyn was married, and he felt compelled to follow our social norms, and therefore pressure to excommunicate me.

He did get frustrated with me a few times during the process. Once, he asked for Lyn’s full name, address, and the name of her Bishop, and I refused to share those details with him. Then, he asked what I felt when I read the scriptural accounts about adultery, to which I responded, “You mean the ones where the crowds wanted to stone the adulteress, and Christ withheld judgment and encouraged humans to do the same?” “No,” he responded exasperatedly. “The ones where say we’re not supposed to do it.” I didn’t answer him, and he just moved on.

Me: How has this impacted the testimonies of those you love?
Kim: My roommate is very active in the church. She has been a leader in Young Womens, served a mission, and a life-long Mormon and has never questioned her testimony. She shared with me that watching this process, though, has brought her to the point of questioning it. She asked me how I keep from becoming bitter and angry, and I said I really don’t know—I think it’s because my Savior is drawing so close to me through this because He loves me, and He knows I need Him right now.

I tell people who are hurt by this that this isn’t a personal attack on me, but that the church leaders feel compelled to excommunicate us simply because they don’t know what to do with us. It’s like we’re stuck inside this broken machine, and our souls are the pieces that get pulled into the gears. They didn’t come to get Kim—it was pretty clearly something they felt they must do.

My Son asked me if I was going to return to church someday—I told him I never left. Just because my name is not the formal record book doesn’t mean I’m not part of it. I can and will still share my testimony with my friends, my family, and those in my life. I don’t want MoHos to be or feel abused and compelled to leave—I don’t think we should. I think those of us who want to come back should do so, and do so publicly. I want us to show up in droves, because I think our Savior wants us to demonstrate that we all belong here, even gays and lesbians—whether or not we’re acting on our feelings. I’m not about to let a group of imperfect humans in an imperfect process tell me I can’t have the sources of comfort, love, and peace in my life that come through having a relationship with my Savior and a relationship with my partner.

Me: What’s next for you spiritually?
Kim: I plan to keep going to church and doing what I can there. I will continue my relationship with Lyn. Lyn, her soon to be ex-husband and I, will be speaking at groups and events about the challenges of mixed-orientation marriages and dealing with homosexuality inside the church. I want to tell my story—I know it can help. And that’s where I want to focus now, on helping others. I love this church, and the reality is MoHos are traditionally treated poorly and it affects us deeply—we need to change that. Spiritually, there isn’t much change for me. I have always lived my life in accordance to what I understand my Savior’s will to be—and I plan to keep doing just that.

As I closed out this interview, I realized something: I had come into this conversation afraid. Not fearful of my own fate, but fearful for Kim’s. I see so much angst, heartache, and grief when it comes to the issue of how my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters struggle to find their place within our faith, and I have moments where I feel like I can’t bear another story that tugs on my heart, or pulls my soul into the painful reality of how we grapple with this issue.

I think Kim’s story also highlights an important point—the cultural aspect of excommunication. Nowhere, in our doctrine, does it say that homosexuality (or adultery, or anything else we determine as a sin of a sexual nature) automatically qualifies for excommunication. There is no doctrine or law that mandates that outcome. Instead, there is a great deal of latitude granted to local leaders to determine the fate of those they serve. Being excommunicated for being gay (or being in a gay relationship) is not doctrine; it has simply become something that we culturally do as a faith—perhaps, as Kim says, it is because our leaders simply don’t know what else to do with us.   

I want to offer Kim my own gratitude—I felt the spirit as strongly speaking with her tonight as I have in any church meeting I’ve attended. It simply emanates from her—the kindness, the compassion, the long-suffering—all of these are Christlike qualities that Kim demonstrates in the face of what would make many of us buckle. There is no anger, no resentment, no hostility. Kim has, in fact, done what our Savior would do: Find a way to stand for herself—but not against her fellows.

We are our Father’s children—exactly the way we are. And He loves us for exactly who we are.

Of that, I have no doubt.

You can learn more about Kim and Lyn and their journeys by following these links. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Testimony through Personal Revelation

Last week, friend and member of the San Francisco Stake High Council, Matt Mosman, delivered a great talk to the Golden Gate Ward here in San Francisco. With his permission, I share it with you here.

Brother Mosman’s assignment was to talk about testimony—how we share what we know to be true about the nature of our Savior. What I found intriguing was the way Brother Mosman approached the topic of testimony—through personal revelation.

Personal revelation, for Mormons, is a cornerstone tenet in our faith. After all, it is the primary way our Savior makes His will known unto each of us individually. And more importantly, it is incumbent upon us to seek that knowledge of His will for us--not from other humans, but directly from our Savior himself.

As an openly gay Mormon, this facet of our faith has become the foundation of developing a healthy, integrated view of myself as my Father’s son—I am whole, exactly as He made me. I am not “afflicted” or “suffering” or “struggling.” I do not have an illness that requires my soul be mended.

I have, over the years, encountered those who have been convinced otherwise—and tried to convince me otherwise, as well. But when it comes right down to it, living my life by what I understand my Savior’s will for me to be just makes more sense to me than letting someone else’s will run it.

Kudos to Brother Mosman for encouraging all of us within the Mormon faith to understand that seeking our Savior’s will is an individual process, unique to each of us. And for encouraging us to remember that we, as Mormons, don’t hold the market on communication with the divine: “God is no respecter of persons, and loves all His children equally well. He is not a Father who would give a stone to any of His children who ask for bread.”


Matt Mosman
March 18, 2012

Good morning, brothers and sisters.  I'm delighted to be asked to speak in the Golden Gate Ward, which is now my assignment on the high council.

I had the chance to speak with you for a fifth Sunday combined Priesthood and Relief Society a couple of months ago, but it’s actually been quite a long time since I’ve spoken here as a regular part of my high council speaking assignment rotation.  For some reason, I seem to keep drawing the Spanish units in our stake.  I don’t speak Spanish, so that seems a little odd to me since we probably have six or seven high councilors who do.  I asked Bishop Moran about that a few months ago, and he told me that it is in part because I speak slowly, so I’m easy to translate for.  To be honest, when he told me that it made me feel a little like some kind of a slow-talking yokel.  I think maybe I’m hypersensitive to that, since I grew up in northern Idaho, where you’re always just a little worried that people will find out that deep down you’re a dueling-banjos, Deliverance-type backwoods hick.  I think the full name of my high school is something like “The Moscow Idaho Center for Larnin’ Them What Don’t Read Good,” so you can see where my sensitivity comes from.

We've been assigned to speak today about testimony, a topic which could hardly be more important.  It may be that the single most important challenge in coming to Christ and being perfected in Him is learning to hear, recognize and follow the voice of the Lord.  The ability of individual members of the church to receive instruction and testimony directly from heaven for their lives is central to the gospel plan, and was one of the critical insights to emerge from the Sacred Grove.

I'd like to discuss testimony by talking at some length about personal revelation, which is a core part of testimony, and specifically I’d like to go over some of the basic tenets of our belief in it.  I'm trying to sort of get us all on the same page with respect to this important topic.  To that end, I'd like to talk briefly about who can obtain revelation, then about the principle of stewardship in revelation, and then I'd like to spend a little more time on just how personal revelation and testimony are received.

To whom can God reveal His truth?  We should never delude ourselves into thinking that the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are the only people on earth to whom God communicates.  It is in fact central to the growth of the kingdom of God on earth to allow for anyone to receive guidance from the Lord -- else how does anyone join this church?  Don't they need revelation?  Of course they do.
Obviously, our entire church history hinges on the ability of those outside of the church to receive revelation.  Our prophets have honored the hand of the Lord in guiding reformers like Martin Luther, and of course young Joseph Smith’s heart was powerfully touched by the Spirit as he was encouraged to pray in the Sacred Grove.  It's important to note that at that time he was of course not allied with this church, nor with any other.

We shouldn't think, either, that the only time that anyone outside of this church can receive revealed truth from the Lord is when they are investigating the church.  God is no respecter of persons, and loves all His children equally well.  He is not a father who would give a stone to any of His children who ask for bread. 

I am concerned, sometimes, that we put limits on God: “He would never say this,” or “He would never do that.”  As we'll discuss later, it is important to recognize that His ways are not our ways, that He will do whatever "seemeth (Him) good."

It's equally critical to understand that inside of the church, revelation is the province, and even the duty, of all.  It is not the particular duty of church leaders.  We'll talk about stewardship in a minute, but for now we should note that we not only have the right to personal revelation, we actually owe it to ourselves to seek it and receive it from time to time to guide our lives.  

Joseph Smith said: "Reading the experience of others, or the revelations given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject."  This sounds to me like we're obligated to seek out revealed truth, in order to understand our condition and true relation to God.

Now: Before we talk of anything else, we should understand what can be called the principle of "stewardship in revelation." Our Heavenly Father's house is a house of order, where his servants are commanded, in D&C 107, to "act in the office in which [they are] appointed." Only the president of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop.

Individuals can and do receive revelation to guide their own lives. But if a revelation is outside the limits of their stewardship, you know at least that you are not bound by it.  Many of us know of cases where a young man told a young woman she should marry him because he had received a “revelation” that she was to be his eternal companion. Elder Dallin Oaks recently pointed out that if this is a true revelation, it will be confirmed directly to the woman if she seeks to know. In the meantime, he says, she is under no obligation to heed it.  She should seek her own guidance and make up her own mind. The man can receive revelation to guide his own actions, but he cannot properly receive revelation to direct hers.  She is outside his stewardship.  Period.

Now let's discuss now how the Lord reveals His will to us.  After the prophet Elijah contended with the priests of Baal, he had to flee for his life from the fury of Jezebel.  He was led to a cave on Mount Horeb, where he learned a great deal about personal revelation in this passage from 1 Kings 19: "And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."  Elijah evidently recognized this as the voice of the Lord, since in the next verse it tells us, "And it was so, when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering of the cave."

Another example from the scriptures will teach us about personal revelation: In the Book of Mormon Laman and Lemuel rebel against their righteous father and brother at almost every turn.  Finally, Nephi is told by the Lord to build a ship, and his brothers not only mocked and ridiculed his efforts, but openly opposed him.  Nephi had finally had enough, and in 1 Nephi chapter 17 he berates them, and in the process says something very interesting about personal revelation: "Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time, and he hath spoken to you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words..."

There is an example commonly used in the church about personal revelation that I think has caused us, in some ways at least, more harm than good, and I want to talk about that.  It is the experience of Oliver Cowdery with his efforts to translate the Book of Mormon.  While he was serving as scribe to the prophet Joseph Smith during the translation of the Book of Mormon, Oliver had the desire to also have the gift of translation.  The answer to his request is located in Section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and I'll want to pay attention to that in a minute.  In Section 9, we learn that Oliver had a difficult time with translating, and it is there that we run across the most-used scripture in the church with respect to personal revelation: "But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.   But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings."

I've watched this scripture turn, too often in my mind, into something akin to sign-seeking.  I want to make sure you understand me correctly: I'm not finding fault with the scripture, I'm saying that our almost obsessive interpretation, or maybe our application,  of that scripture doesn't work well.  The "burning bosom" becomes for too many members of this church the singular way in which the Lord speaks. 

We should make this clear: the Lord will speak whenever He wants, to whom He pleases, He will say whatever fits His purposes, and He will do it in whatever way suits Him.  He will speak sometimes in the whirlwind, in the earthquake, in the fire, in the still, small voice, or in the burning bosom. 

But, as Elder Boyd K. Packer in particular has been pointing out lately, mostly He will speak to us in promptings.  In thoughts and in feelings.

Going back to the Oliver Cowdery story, we learn that he was told this from the beginning: In D&C Section 8, when he asked to be allowed to translate, the Lord gave him this instruction: "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.   Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation."  And even in the "burning bosom" section, remember that Oliver was told what the result would be of that manifestation: "therefore, you shall feel that it is right."

Why am I focusing on thoughts and feelings, on the still small voice of revelation?  First, I do it because this is by far the most common form of revelation, the way that the Lord mostly speaks to us.  Second, I do it because a singular focus on less subtle, more grand manifestations can harm us.  I taught Sunday School for high-school-aged kids for a number of years, and one of the most common issues they faced was simply, "Do I have a testimony?"  I've known a number of kids whose entire lives are a testament to their belief, whose every thought and feeling tells them that the church is true, who still wonder... because angels have not been gathering outside their bedroom windows.  Let me be clear here with especially the young people of this ward, but really with anyone who wonders about their own testimony: what you have become over time, and what you have come to believe in your heart, are a powerful testimony.  You know what they say: you don’t think your way into right living; you live your way into right thinking.

Remember what Oliver was told: "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart...this is the spirit of revelation." We learn this very powerfully in D&C 121, which tells us: "Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven."  Dews do not appear suddenly; they form in the right conditions over time.  Charity and virtue create the conditions for testimony.  The rest is just the passage of time.

As it is in the physical and mental realms, where we simply cannot wake up one morning and run a marathon or turn in a finished PhD thesis, so it is in the spiritual realm: One prayer does not typically bring us spirituality, one grand act of charity does not make us a saint, and one morning of scripture reading does not bring us scripture mastery.  But long hours of prayer, coupled with the kind of actions that bring us closer to God, produce over time a deep knowledge that really does "distill upon (our) souls."  This knowledge is revelation, just as surely as a visit from a heavenly messenger is.

How could that be, though?  How could it be that our missionaries can go out and have with their investigators tangible and sometimes spectacular spiritual experiences, while good young men and young women have the same doctrines “distill on their souls” in less obvious ways?  I think there may be a lot of explanations, but I'd like to point out just one with some history:

When the glorious vision of D&C 76 was given, which is the amazing vision of the three degrees of glory, it happens that several men, perhaps as many as a dozen, were present in the room at the time.  Sidney Rigdon, the prophet's counselor, actually saw the vision at the same time.  Joseph Smith's close friend Philo Dibble recounts the scene as follows:  

"Joseph would, at intervals, say: "What do I see?" as one might say while looking out the window and beholding what all in the room could not see. Then he would relate what he had seen or what he was looking at. Then Sidney replied, "I see the same." Presently Sidney would say "what do I see?" and would repeat what he had seen or was seeing, and Joseph would reply, "I see the same."

This manner of conversation was repeated at short intervals to the end of the vision, and during the whole time not a word was spoken by any other person. Not a sound nor motion made by anyone but Joseph and Sidney, and it seemed to me that they never moved a joint or limb during the time I was there, which I think was over an hour, and to the end of the vision.

Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, "Sidney is not used to it as I am.""

I think it may be like that for those of us who have been long-time members of the church.  Having spent our lives being taught by the Holy Ghost, we are quite used to it.  We are like people who have spent our lives in the sun, so its rays are not blinding to us.  If we had just crawled out of a spiritual cave, our experience with the spirit would be quite different: the same sun that is warm and comforting to a person who has been out in it, is incredibly bright to the cave-dweller.  As it is, though, we recognize the spirit through warmth and comfort and assurance.  Elder Packer says about this whole topic: "this burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation.  It is more like a warm light shining within your being."   A "warm light" sounds a lot like how I feel all the time with respect to this church.

But this presents us with a problem: if revelation will typically come to us through thoughts and feelings, how am I to know that what I am thinking and feeling is from the Lord, and not just arising from the storm of thoughts and feelings that comprise every day for me?  Let me suggest a few simple ways:

First, revelation from God will be in harmony with what you know about God and His gospel.  Even when Nephi is compelled to raise Laban's sword against him, it is to support a fundamental gospel principle.  In our more mundane experience, we can simply know that we are receiving God's will when it agrees with what we already know of the gospel.  I suppose it's possible for the Lord to reveal to a young missionary that he should go home a year early to marry his girlfriend -- like I said earlier, God can do whatever He wants --, but the missionary's starting point should probably be that while it’s possible, it’s not likely that God would reveal such a thing to him.

Second: Probably the best test is: Does this edify me?  Am I a better man or woman, girl or boy, because of this?  In D&C Section 50 we are told: "That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness."  So it's worth asking: Do these thoughts and feelings lead me to do good, and bring me closer to the Lord?  Do they bring light and truth, enlightenment and understanding to my mind? 

Third, while I suppose it's possible to receive personal revelation that accrues to our personal gain, or glorifies us somehow on this earth, I would wonder about such a thing.  There is a difference between the giddiness of having had a course of action "confirmed", in quotes, that benefits us personally, and the warm and calm assurance that the Lord is well pleased with us. 

Fourth, experience with the Spirit will teach you when God is speaking to you, and the best way to gain experience is to act.  In Exodus 24 when the Israelites get the Ten Commandments and promise to obey God, there is an odd word ordering in their response: “All that you have said we will do and hear.”  Wait: do and hear?  Not hear and do?

Some biblical scholars say that this is just a scribal error, and of course it’s possible that I’m reading more into it than it deserves.  But I prefer the rabbinical explanation: Many rabbis have taught that we can’t really hear what God is saying, or let it sink into our souls and beings, until we have tried to do what God is saying.  The practice precedes the belief, and not the other way around.  Rabbi Joshua Herschel wrote:

We are asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought.  We are asked to surpass our needs, to do more than we now understand in order to understand more than we now do.

Finally, the absolute best advice I can give about distinguishing between our personal thoughts and feelings and the thoughts and feelings prompted by the Spirit is: if you want to hear the still, small voice, turn down the noise.  Spiritual noise can come from sin, disquiet, anger, contention, tiredness, stress, irreverence, or a hundred other things.  All of them get in the way between us and the quiet promptings of the Spirit.  President Eyring accurately suggests: our problem is not to get the Lord to speak to us; our problem is to hear.

We talk often in church of things like reading the scriptures, and having fervent prayer.  We joke with each other about how scripture reading and prayer are the correct answer to almost every question asked in Sunday School.  Why is that, though?  Could it be as simple as this: that doing those things is a critical way to calm our inner noise and put us in a position to listen to the still, small voice?

There is a traditional Christian hymn that summarizes, I think, how we need to feel quiet in order to hear the Lord's voice:

"Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire
O still, small voice of calm."

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.