Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

Empty Chairs

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken

There’s a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.

Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me
That I live and you are gone.
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on.”

Friends have left and friends are leaving.
Why, oh why, am I so sad?

For five years, a good friend sat at my side as counselor to me, his bishop. Years later he came out.  No friends he could count on. Now, he’s gone.

My close siblings with gay children.  November came.  Now, they’re gone.

Ten years ago, a leader’s baptismal talk touched me. Passionate, poignant, & perceptive.  I still remember what he had to say.  Recently, hidden facts of history came out.  Now, he’s out.  His wife and he are gone.

Twenty-five years ago, I was bishop. A single man, returned missionary, came in to say he was gay.  My clueless counsel was to “keep coming”.  My clueless action was to take none.  Every Sunday, I watched for him.  Any Sunday I saw him, my heart melted with joy and relief.  He’s still here!  For twenty-five years he managed to stay. November came. Now, he’s gone.

A former bishop & his wife, members most of their life. Hidden facts of history came out. Now, they’re out.

This weekend I saw an old friend from 20 years ago. History came out, her husband’s out. Out of the church, not the family.  She stays for her kids.  But, for how long?   I’m concerned that like her husband, she’ll soon be gone.  Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere for her to discuss, and for that she longs.

Several more examples, I could give, of friends and family who have left. And, left in just the past 2 years, many since November’s veer.

Why does it sadden me?

That they have chosen a lesser path?  No, I don’t believe that.  If there is a heaven to get to, that’s exactly where my friends who have gone will go.  I wish them joy & godspeed on the road they have chosen. This is a happy thought for me.

But, tears well up.  I miss the days when they were reliably in neighboring chairs and tables. Chairs of instruction. Tables of counsel. Chairs of service. Tables of camaraderie, community, & cordiality.  Now, empty chairs at empty tables. My friends are gone.

Perhaps, I’m sad from seeing little done to help my friends stay.  Questions and doubts must be halted and hidden.  “A grief that can’t be spoken.”  Or worse, a grief dismissed as if merely token.  That is, if they muster the courage to be outspoken.

It’s definitely sad, that one’s orientation is better undisclosed. Love spoken for those closeted unknowns, is proscribed from our expression. After all, in the church none are homosexual.  Another “grief that can’t be spoken.”

It makes me sad that I can’t do more to ease the emptying of chairs at tables.

In reality, I am THE only part of the puzzle that I can direct and control.  My sadness is causing me to drastically reform my thoughts and actions.  Stand silently on the sidelines?…..No Longer!  I’m going to stand up for what I have been taught is right, all my life.  What I believe in my heart, is right and just and fair.

I’m willing to discuss, to empathize, to understand, to reach out.  I’m willing to follow Jesus and love unconditionally.  At least, attempt to love in His way.  More of my friends are going to leave. That’s OK. But, I want them to know that neither one of us has abandoned the other. We are still friends. Probably, better friends for having supported each other, wholeheartedly, in our respective journeys.

Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me
That I STAY and you are gone.
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on.

 

44 thoughts on “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

  1. your aptly chosen song from my favorite musical is now running through my head and out of my mouth, along with tears… You have given it a new perspective. thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Speaking as one who vacated a chair 11 years ago, I will say that I am grateful for those who stay that want to keep the lines of communication open. We ex-Mormons may have determined that the Church is not true and is not for us, but most of us understand why some choose to stay. And we love them too.

    We exmos don’t want you to be sad, but we understand that the teachings you subscribe to tell you that we are fallen and lost. Know that most of us are not lost. We are where our hearts have led us. We have not lost our testimony, we simply witness a different testimony. For me, it is the universalist Quaker way. For others, their new testimonies are various other human beliefs.

    We know some of ours are lost, and indulge in unhealthy behaviors. Know that we love them and try to help them find inner peace too. We just do it differently.

    I thank you for trying to build a bridge and continue our conversations despite those who would counsel you to disconnect from us. I hope you understand that our rejection of the Corporation does not mean we reject the believers. Maybe that is why we can leave the Corporation but cannot leave it alone. Thank you for not placing conditions on your love.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Hyrle, I love your comment. Thank you. But, I do have a small rebuttle.

      1) You are right that some in my church may subscribe to teachings that you are “fallen and lost.” I do not. You have followed your heart to a wonderful place. You are NOT fallen. I commend you for your testimony. It has much more in common with mine, than difference.

      2) “Counsel to disconnect.” I disconnect from that counsel. I have decided to follow the teachings of Jesus. His direction is to lovingly connect rather than to disapprovingly & judgmentally reject.

      3) ‘Hope that you understand our rejection of the Corporation.’ YES. I understand this rejection. I have big concerns myself. That you don’t reject the believers…good for you.

      4) “Thank you for not placing conditions of your love.” Sometimes I struggle with that. There are people who seem pretty bad. My love is probably conditional in many situations. But, that someone has left the church has no affect on my love. Absolutely none. At this point of my faith journey, it may even enhance the bonds of love.

      I’m so happy that you have found a wonderful way in life. I support and commend you for your decision.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am glad to see that you personally feel this way, Sam. I do hope your positive view will spread to others who are LDS and are struggling with the fact that some of us have made a choice to find something new for us. I agree with your rebuttal on all points except 4. I agree that I struggle as well. But I feel God calls me to love them anyways, even if I disagree with their views or behavior. He calls me to try and understand their world view and their concerns, even through the anger. He calls me to try and find some starting place to have a conversation and to come away uplifted from sharing our stories. Sometimes it is difficult, especially when someone else has an attitude that is very poisonous. But I am called to try. Thank you for understanding my decision and being happy for me. I am happy for you as well, for anything good and uplifting is of God.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sam I was singing the song with you.. My fave play of all time.. When we were taught to endure to the end most of us were young and did not have kids who were accountable… As we grew we started living the nightmares of their bad choices and probably concurrantly forgetting our own. Then further outrages afflicted our-families. and friends and we soldiered on… On until at times as we felt as if we were alone, were holding Moroni’s flag high like the soldiers at iwa jima … At times we felt alone. At times we were scared. At times we are totally incredulous…that the happiness was so distorted. But eventually the Gospel teaches us that which you concluded that we are responsible for our Choices.. And that we began to feel that ‘Hope Was indeed high and life indeed worth living…And that HE who descended below all things could and would redeem most of those whom you have spoken . I feel him with us Sam and I know he loves us for caring so much and for our learning to continue to extend that love as he has shown us… So to finish.. It seems to me that the small powers given to us will make a difference for them… Not on our own without him of course, but that we who manage to stay the course will be a small rock and an example of the light that indeed does exist from the Saviour through his lower lights. I promise that one day we who have sung ‘Bring Him Home’ for our loved ones, friends etc. will be rewarded for that Faith and the putting forth of pleading to God On High… And we will help reap for them, the promise of proverbs which tells us that: the effectively fervent prayer of a righteous [person] avail erg much. Moreover, we Will witness the sum of the power or the Congregation of Christ,having worked in Concert to assist The Lord. Will bring bring many back. Remember that the parable of the sower doesn’t just happen once it happens multiple times. Love Richard Morant

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Richard, Thank you for your amazing perspective. Your comment brought tears to my eyes. Last night, I read it out loud to Patty. Thanks for your long and great friendship. Patty and I, hold a deep love for you and your family.

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      1. Thanks Sam I didn’t know how to get here again to read and answer your post… Thanks for your articulation… And thanks for your comments on mine some years ago… One hand washes the other

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    1. At the sight of your name, my breath was taken away. My wife and daughter, asked at my gasp, “What’s wrong?”

      Thank you for your poetic words. “Beautiful sorrow.” I have never really associated those two concepts together. You’ve added a new depth to understanding my emotions.

      Over the years, I have thought often about the haunting story of you and your husband in Goodbye, I Love You. When I read it, I had no idea that the future held for me many related experiences. Your book prepared me to be more understanding & loving to my friends as they came out. Thanks for your courage to share your story.

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  4. Thanks for your post. If you’re friends with Carol Lynn Pearson you must be someone special. Certainly this post is special. I’m part of a closed Facebook group for those who are experiencing some sort of faith transition or crisis of faith, who want to stay engaged with the church in a positive and constructive way. There are bishops and ex-mos alike. It’s a very positive and faith promoting place, but not for the orthodox. You may find the dialogue you are looking for in A Thoughtful Faith. You will certainly find a nuanced perspective. I’m sure the Mods would be happy to chat to see if you’re a good fit. I urge you to have a look.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Laron, Thanks for your very kind comment. I’m actually not friends with Carol Lynn Pearson. Although, she did comment on this blog post. Have no idea how in the world she found it. Over the past couple of months, I have requested several time to join ATF. No avail, yet.

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      1. Sam, thank for your words. I’m literally tearing up right now. This is powerful. I requested to join ATF, and I thought I didn’t get a response, but I actually did get a message which was hidden since it was from someone who was not a friend. Perhaps that’s what’s going on. . . Although, I did ask to join another similar group, and I’ve never gotten a response.

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  5. We have not stopped seeking truth.

    When the search leads those we called brothers to shun and reject us, why occupy a chair?

    When that seeking leads to an understanding that the very organization we held highly was, in fact, based on no more than fable and myth, where is the value in staying?

    When we recognize that those who we trusted led our brothers and sisters to pain, where is the value in following?

    When we find better ways of knowing truth, and are told to ignore them, why listen to the counsel?

    When we have found love and joy outside the walls after being taught fear, why not share?

    Do not mourn out passing, for we have found more than we had. Join with us. The tables have food and drink aplenty. We have chairs here waiting for you, and warm rooms and joyful words.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I tried for years to shelf my historical and scientific issues and just rely on my faith. I stayed as a multi-generational Mormon who enjoyed the community. I left because I believed it was no longer a net positive in my life and I felt tarnished by the injury I saw happening to others. My morality became incompatible with the faith of my family tradition. I would love to see a retreat from some of the policies I see as harmful but even with that I wouldn’t return. I can’t but all the genies back in the bottle or repair the broken shelf.

    I read quite a few of your post. Keep writing and keep dancing.

    Cheers from Utah!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jacob,
      “I felt tarnished by the injury I saw happening to others.” That is exactly how I feel. Thank you for putting MY feelings into words. I have already used this phrase with a few friends and plan to more. All my best on your journey. You are on a good path, my friend.

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  7. Hi Sam,
    Thanks for your beautiful post. It reminded me of a poem I wrote six years ago after having been excommunicated over a decade earlier, and when I still believed in a “coming back”.
    Your post helps me see that the exodus will be ongoing, making my poem nostalgia.

    Do They Miss Us?

    Sometimes I wonder
    Do they miss us
    In the chapel on Sundays
    Our voices
    Mingling with their voices
    Singing hymns as one?

    Do they feel
    How we were wrenched
    Out of their guts
    When they sent us
    On our way
    Alone and in pain?

    Do they miss
    The furtive corner of human desire
    Carved in our hearts
    Conveyed through our eyes
    That was always part of the whole
    Now gone missing?

    And when they look in our eyes
    Do they know
    Somewhere in their hearts
    That we are theirs
    Longing to be embraced
    Back into the congregation?

    We harden and grow apart
    Strange lands are now
    Almost familiar to us
    But exile is temporary
    There is no home, nor rest
    If they miss us.

    Craig Watts
    August 11, 2010

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    1. Well, that’s pretty darn beautiful, sad & gut-wrenching. I hope you have found great happiness where you are at. All My Best!

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  8. Beautifully written, it sums up what I dread the most. I will stay to fight the fight from within. Thank you for using my favorite play, I will hear that song and think of your words.

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  9. Three years of aching, soul-wrenching grief came after my beautiful (then 18 year old) son came out to me as gay and I knew I would have to choose my boy or my church. I lingered at the table for a while, hoping to find strength in sustenance served there, but when, through my tears, it became clear I would not be fed, I stood and sadly pushed in my chair. My grief still fills me every time I see another standing, every time I hear another empty chair sliding in and under, with no one at the feast calling “Enough! We will make room for you. We love you and want you here.”

    So many chairs stand empty now. More and more are being moved as far back into the corner as possible, because there are no homosexuals in the church.

    Please allow me to share my thoughts in poetic format with you. I don’t think my poem needs any explanation or reasons why. I believe your own artistry and understanding will provide all the introduction it needs.

    Absolute Truth

    He lived
    in rooms of rules and truths;
    brought, taught
    by those who knew.

    He had to be kept,
    safe from straying.
    He must stay away
    from absolute truth.

    He, grown,
    puzzled truth that wouldn’t spin
    into absolute rooms.

    What kind of a place was this
    …for him?

    S. Nielson

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  10. “Enough! We will make room for you. We love you and want you here.” Eyes brimming with tears.

    Thanks for your beautiful words and poem. Amazingly poignant.

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  11. Thank God, thank God, thank God – for you, this article and other wonderful human beings who have posted here in response. I’m “no longer sitting in the chair – and have begun the long slow walk – and picking up steam- away from the table (which has become odious, gray, senseless and sour to me). People like you could at least cause me to pause. Again, thank God in heaven that there are still decent people in this culture who simply want to live decently.

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  12. Thank God, thank God, thank God for this article, for you Sam and for so many who have posted replies here today! I’m one of those who is “no longer sitting in a chair at the table – and have started the long, slow march (but picking up steam) away from the table”. The serving on the table (so to speak) has become odious, gray, lifeless and sour. I simply cannot stand the heaviness of it any longer!. However, knowing that their are people out there like you (all) could make me pause.

    Again, thank God for decent people who just want to live life decently.

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    1. I get you, my friend & brother. I would love to pull up a chair at the table right next to you. Thank you for your kind words. Wherever your slow, accelerating walk takes you, whether it be away or back, you shouldn’t have to make it alone. There are people who will listen & care without judgment. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to find them. Certainly, I’m not perfect at it, either. But, I extend my hand in love and friendship. All my best!!!

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  13. When my son came out to me as gay two years ago (at 18), it never crossed my mind that I needed to make a choice: my son or my church. When the policy issue blazed into the news last November, I admit to a moment of pause, but I prayed a lot, discussed my feelings with my family, my friends, my son, and decided I would stay and advocate from within the church I love for change, tolerance, and understanding of God’s love for all of us. That said, my two daughters (his younger sisters) and all their LDS and non-LDS friends were extraordinarily supportive, and pretty much unfazed by the news that my son is gay. Church members and leaders in my ward and stake have shown nothing but kindness and love. They ask me all the time about my son, how he’s doing, and invite him to come to church when he’s in town and take part in our LDS community. He’s home from college for the summer and doesn’t attend meetings with us on Sunday, but he comes to some church activities and is always warmly welcomed and treated with respect. No one treats him like he’s gay. They treat him like the cool college kid he is. They treat him like they treated him before they knew his sexual preference. They treat him like a friend. Like a brother. There have been the occasional members who are uncomfortable and narrow-minded, but there are always others who are quick to jump in and set them straight (no pun intended). I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, but my wish is that it soon will be. Because I stay, my brothers and sisters at church can see that I am not ashamed or embarrassed or sad that I have a gay child. They see (and hear often) that I love him unconditionally, that I think he’s perfect just the way he is, and that I am excited for the day he brings home to meet the family an awesome young man he loves and wants to spend eternity with. If he’s good enough for my son, he’ll be welcome at our table. 🙂 Sorry for the dissertation. I guess I wanted to share that there IS change, there IS growth. And I’m SO glad I’ve stuck around to see it.

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    1. Dear cat, Thanks for your “dissertation.” It warms my heart to hear of your experience with members in your ward and stake. By and large we are a very loving people. I’m glad you have decided to “stay and advocate from within the church I love for CHANGE, tolerance, and understanding.” My emphasis on change. I am so with you. That’s the same choice that I have made. Thanks for framing our path so eloquently.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. How long does it take for a post to be approved? Maybe because this comment is not altogether complimentary it will not get published either.

    I’ll say it again: people are not pets, trophies, or object lessons. For church leaders or members to want people in the pews just to have them there is dehumanizing. Why is it more important for a bishop to see a young gay man in church every week than for that gay man to have a life with another man and family of his own? The church teachings and practices don’t allow for that. Why encourage gays to stay? As props? So “looooove” can be shown to them in a system filled with hate? I would be so resentful after 25 years if I were that once-young gay man who finally left the church.

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    1. How long to approve? Well about as long as it takes to read it. Publish it even though it’s not altogether complimentary? Absolutely! I support paths that people choose that lead them out of the church or that keep them in. What pains me is people wanting to stay but who are basically forced out. The gay man wanted to be in church, was looking for ways to stay in church. I think it was mostly for family considerations. I stood in awe that this man could stay regardless of our backward policies. But, he did. With November’s policy he was done. I fully support, understand and sympathize with him. And…keep in contact with him. I’m not encouraging gay people to stay. I want them to know that I love them period, no matter what. and that I don’t support LDS gay policy.

      In April and May I voted OPPOSED in the sustainings of the apostles and 1st presidency at all 3 conferences, general, stake & ward. My main issue was the November policy. The main driver for starting my blog was to both speak out and to reach out.

      Thank you, very much for having the courage to register your comment. It is welcome here, as are you.

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  15. Sam:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. I know Craig Watts and his family and enjoyed reading his heartfelt comments too.

    Speaking for myself, however, I wish you would not be sad that I left. Your grief is wasted on me. Having been where you are, I assure you that you don’t and can’t comprehend the view from where I am now. The world and the universe are so much more beautiful, magnificent, and awe-inspiring than when I was at the Mormon table. My own children said that when I came out and left the LDS church, it was “like somebody turned the gravity down” around me. I laughed more, loved more, was more relaxed, and was my genuine self all the time, I was no longer the “stressed-out” person they’d seen before. They like me a lot better, and having thought things through for themselves and judged things by their fruits, as Jesus said, they’ve joined me in leaving Mormonism.

    Don’t grieve for us. We’re far happier now. We know what you think of what we’ve chosen and what you think will happen to us as a result. With respect, we don’t believe you and we think your sorrow over us is a waste of your time and energy. Mormons are not “our people” anymore. We’ve found new paths and a new faith community where we fit far better, and where our views are invited and welcomed, not punished. And frankly, this new place and these new people have made us more genuine Christians than we ever were before.

    Please stop crying. Let us go. Please stop thinking of us as your people who’ve been lost. That disrespects the struggle we had to claim our freedom and our integrity, and it disrespects the greater happiness we’ve now found. We live our lives almost entirely free of any thought of or contact with where we were before, and we like it that way. So your sadness is wasted, really. Let us go. Let it go.

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  16. I would have cause to “consider” the words here, if it were only the Church today that came up with these directions. But as I read the words of the Old and New Testament, and I consider the idea and truth of evil spirits, and the Lord Himself advising us to “take up our cross” and follow Him…I guess many of us have a cross to bear in these latter days. Even though a “son” may be caught in the confusion and decide he is gay. I have to show and advise my son how much he is loved. But I also have to declare to him, that no matter how painful, apparently, the Lord wants him to take up this cross and follow Him. Not choose earth’s and man’s way. But God’s way. Abraham was called to sacrifice his son, and he would have done so willingly. Today, we would have members crying out that Abraham was mentally ill, or out of line to consider following through with this. Emma Smith was commanded NOT to accept Joseph’s counsel on plural wives, then the scripture tells us they were being tested like Abraham. The idea of the perfect man, Christ, being raised up on the cross and giving all…when NOTHING warranted the pain and humiliation…yet He took up His cross and did the unthinkable. Are our children, sons and daughters, and even ourselves, possibly being asked to do the same? Take up our cross, remain faithful to the gospel and our covenants, and stay the course even though we may not see the full purpose? I hope I can overcome my own weaknesses, and stay as close as possible. Sustaining the leaders and the Lord in the Restoration of His Gospel….take up “MY” cross, and encourage my son to do the same. Refrain, alter, exercise faith and know God loves him. But that the Lord “might” require of him. some great test, some great offering. That is how I see this issue at this time.

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