Our guest blogger this week is Kyle Joyce. Kyle is a full-time teacher getting ready to go back to school this fall where he teaches restorative justice. He is happily married to Kristine Shipley. They both attend the Bethel Community of Christ congregation in Kansas City, KS. Kyle is a Seventy in the church. Kyle and Kristine live in Kansas City, KS with their three dogs, foster son, and very soon, their first biological child. We are very grateful to have Kyle share his thoughts and hearts with us today.
“Be patient with one another, for creating sacred community is arduous and even painful. But it is to loving community such as this that each is called. Be courageous and visionary, believing in the power of just a few vibrant witnesses to transform the world. Be assured that love will overcome the voices of fear, division, and deceit. Understand that the road to transformation travels both inward and outward. The road to transformation is the path of the disciple.”
~Doctrine and Covenants Section 161:3c-d
“Listen carefully to your own journey as a people, for it is a sacred journey and it has taught you many things you must know for the journey yet to come. Listen to its teachings and discover anew its principles. Do not yearn for times that are past, but recognize that you have been given a foundation of faithful service, even as you build a foundation for what is yet to be. As a prophetic people you are called, under the direction of the spiritual authorities and with the common consent of the people, to discern the divine will for your own time and in the places where you serve. You live in a world with new challenges, and that world will require new forms of ministry. Do not be discouraged. You have not been promised an easy path, but you have been assured that the Spirit that calls you will also accompany you.”
~Doctrine and Covenants Section 162:2a-c, 3a
Being a disciple in the 21st century means that we are invited to embrace tension.
Whoa! *Embrace* tension? Mostly we try to alleviate it, quickly come to a resolution, run and hide from it, and/or pretend that it doesn’t even exist. Whether we like it or not, tension is and always has been part of our existence and, without it, we don’t learn or grow. Tension is a natural and historic part of our faith movement. So, it is not a matter of whether there will be tension or not in our lives – it’s a given that there will be – the question is how will we live in it and how will we use it in positive ways.
Tension exists within all aspects of our lives: in our relationships, our jobs, our communities, our nation, our world, our faith movement, and beyond. Tension arises out of the gap between our current reality and our desire or vision. As disciples, we have a natural inclination and motivation to resolve this tension.
This gap exists for each of us as individuals and as a faith movement full of prophetic people. Think about the boldest dream or vision you have or have for the church – now compare that with our current reality. I’m betting there is quite a gap? Can’t you just feel the tension already? Maybe even disappointment, frustration, anger, annoyance, or even sadness? Think of another disciple that you know. Think of the commonalities and differences between the two of you. It becomes a lot more complicated, doesn’t it? Cue “Unity in Diversity” and “Blessings of Community” sermon.
Personally, I have many applicable examples of tension around church topics. However, one example most of us can relate to and understand is our recent World & National Conferences. I can testify that God has big dreams for Community of Christ. The tension that I frequently encounter is how quickly I feel that we should move towards Zion when others believe we are already moving too fast. I believe we are moving incrementally toward Zion (but would like to move faster) while others may feel that we are moving further from Zion. Whew, talk about tension! Cue “Faithful disagreement” sermon.
How do we live in the tension between what is (what we are doing right now) and what we envision could be (what God is calling us to become)? One way we could deal with the tension is to limit our vision. That would reduce the gap and therefore reduce the tension, but it also reduces what we might attain. That is certainly a strategy we disciples often adopt, because tension can be uncomfortable and even painful. The alternative is to change our current reality and move it closer to our vision or desire to reduce the tension in a more positive direction. Tension is a process or structure for promoting change between what is and what could be.
I truly believe that is what God desires of us. This is how we create and achieve Zion, Heaven on Earth. God desires that we use the tension to grow and use tension in creative ways to promote good outcomes. God knows that we live in the tension all the time – and God lives in it, with us, too. God is in every moment and every event in all of creation and so God is in our tension, too – not just as observer, but as inspirer, guide, partner, and collaborator. And in our struggle with the tension, God always approaches us with an attitude of immense love, compassion, and forgiveness. God is an immensely present force in our creativity, in our expressions of love, our preaching, our prayers, our meetings/gatherings (even online), and our pursuit of peace and justice.
Look at what we can learn from the early Christian church and even our very own church history. We are WHO and WHERE we are today because of a history full of disciples in tension. Disciples of the past worked with and through tension with blind hope and faith that the future would be better because of it. Was it difficult? Were there some uncomfortable conversations? Was there a lot of passion when they spoke? Did people go home mad, upset, angry, and believing that they were right and the other person was wrong? I’m certain all of those situations occurred, even among the best disciples.
You all should know that I believe Jesus (fully human and fully divine) was very political, subversive, and even socialistic. To me, Jesus was all about turning things upside down. He overturned cultural norms, challenged the authorities, undermined the establishment, and generally shook everything up. He was a (good) trouble-maker, a dissident, and a thorn in the side of the establishment. His stated mission was to bring an upside-down Kingdom that would be good news for the poor and oppressed (Luke 4:18).
Can you imagine the tension with following Moses because he claimed that a burning bush told him that God would free you from slavery? As slaves, it wasn’t wise to upset Pharaoh! You don’t just confront corrupt systems of power without paying for it...sometimes with your own blood.
Can you imagine the tension with being one of the 12 disciples and following this radical man and his teachings during that time? Watching Jesus practice civil disobedience (Mark 2:23), associating with socially marginalized (Luke 5:29-32), modeling upside-down economics (Luke 3:10-11), preaching non-violence instead of militarism (1 Maccabees 13:49-51 & 2 Maccabees 10:1-8), and consequently his death as a dissident which changed everything...forever. Again, you don’t just confront corrupt systems of power without paying for it...sometimes with your own blood.
Can you imagine the tension in following Emma Smith into the reorganization after her husband was murdered and the church fell into disarray? Emma knew that you don’t just confront corrupt systems of power without paying for it...sometimes with your own blood.
It’s not always easy or comfortable. But it is worth the effort. Conflict and tension hold within themselves the possibility of blessing and of new outcomes not previously envisioned. Tension requires an openness to the Spirit of God, difficult conversations, restorative practices, and the ability to compromise. There is always tension. There is always the need to live with it and work with it respectfully. So, don’t run away from the tension – embrace it! Learn and grow from it. Lean into it and learn to use it peacefully, engaging with God, and in community with others.
“The Spirit of the One you follow is the spirit of love and peace. That Spirit seeks to abide in the hearts of those who would embrace its call and live its message. The path will not always be easy, the choices will not always be clear, but the cause is sure and the Spirit will bear witness to the truth, and those who live the truth will know the hope and the joy of discipleship in the community of Christ.”
~Doctrine and Covenants Section 161:7
Kristine and I have a foster son, whom we love dearly. He has experienced a lot of (too much) trauma in his short life. He constantly has large amounts of anxiety about what the future holds. He’s even said “I try not to think about the future because I cannot control what lies ahead.” Kristine and I are also expecting our first child (a little girl) sometime during the first week of September. What lies ahead for her? What will she have to look forward to? I don’t have anxiety...but worrying about their futures gives me anxiety.
As parents of both kids, Kristine and I don’t have a crystal ball and we can’t see the future. We worry about their futures. We want the world to be a much better place than it is currently. We hope there is more acceptance, more understanding, more peace, less injustice, more love for the environment, and less arguing over things that SHOULD be inherent human rights. Unfortunately, there are no street signs pointing to the best route on how to get there. We can’t see our/their final destinations. So, we will do everything possible to make their world better- regardless if it is marching for a cause or “flipping tables”, raising awareness on issues or challenging unjust systems, or preaching on Sundays or engaging in conversation with church leaders. Our children and their future are worth every bit of tension and struggle.
“Lift up your eyes and fix them on the place beyond the horizon to which you are sent. Journey in trust, assured that the great and marvelous work is for this time and for all time.”
~Doctrine and Covenants 161:1a
In 2018, Steve Veazey gave a powerful International Youth Forum (IYF) address. What he said, even to this day, spoke to my soul. In that address, he proclaimed: “People will try to discourage you from going beyond the seen horizon. Some don’t like new challenges, new understandings, and necessary change that come with increased clarity. They say ‘we’ve already arrived. There is nothing more to discover.’ I say ‘Don’t believe them!”
If I’m being honest, I frequently get caught looking “beyond the horizon” because I enjoy “new challenges” and “new understandings”, which can cause tension when some feel that “we’ve already arrived”. I welcome the tension to learn more about and work with those neighbors and how we can move forward together. To be a disciple in the 21st century requires and asks a lot of us. It might even cause some discomfort. We are called to create a better future that we cannot see, only imagine. There is no map, no instructions, and no promises. We do have each other, though, and that comes with the good and the tension. We can live harmoniously in the tension within ourselves, in our relationships, within our communities, in Community of Christ, and beyond. We are creating and leading the way.
God, the Eternal One, has been with us in our past, continues with us in the present, and already is waiting patiently for us in the future. My prayer is that we have the strength, discipline, and awareness to recognize it, even in tension.
A big thank you to Kyle for sharing his thoughts about discipleship and the need for us all to work in and through the tension of our lives. I ask that all of you keep their family in your prayers especially during this upcoming life change in September.
This week envision the future and what you want it to be..your spiritual life, church, relationships, etc. Notice the differences and decide how to move forward.
Our guest blogger this week is Kalene West. Kalene lives in Topeka, KS and attends the Topeka Community of Christ. Kalene grew up going to Catholic services as well as Community of Christ worship when her grandmother would take her. When she was 14 years old she decided to join Community of Christ as a member after an experience at Racine campgrounds in Southern Missouri. Camps have been a major part of Kalene's spiritual life and continue to be when she attends Reunion at Camp Chihowa. She looks forward to being a part of the community formed at Chihowa during family camp and is going to share her experiences with you today.
Attending camp has always been special for me! There I experience joy, fun activities, and the love of being in community with others. It is also where I meet God reflecting on my own spiritual journey. When I was 14 it was during a campfire, prayer circle where I first felt that quiet, peaceful connection to God. It was that spirit that transformed me. In that campfire experience I felt the need and desire to join Community of Christ. I talked with my father about the experience and he supported my decision to be baptized. I have never regretted my decision to further my discipleship in the Community of Christ since. This is just one of many campfire experiences I have had. Campfires are special because I get to sing and I love singing! I also get to hear all the sounds of nature. They are also special because they set the mood for the spirit to work within our hearts and souls.
Some of you may not know, but I was born with a small eye condition which resulted in me being blind and unable to see. Yes I would love to be able to see God's beautiful creation but I also recognize the benefit from the immense love shown to me through this disability. I believe I will see all of God's beauty in heaven. The School for the Blind in Kansas City helped me learn how to get around and learn about the world. It is through my eye condition that I have encountered and experienced the ongoing gift of love through others. I encounter this love even more when I am at camp.
The camping experience has continued to be instrumental in furthering my relationship with God. I now attend Camp Chihowa near Perry, KS. It is here where I experience the breath of God moving through my life through the community and love formed. I love reunion and wait patiently each year for this experience because of the variety of things that connect me.
Camp Chihowa has become a special place for me because of the amazing people I have met. Each year I am surprised at the love present and the kind acts of people to assist me. Because of the uneven ground and unknown environment I often have to remain close to the main lodge. However people go out of their way to walk with me. I remember two years ago 8 youth took me on a long walk around the campgrounds where I was able to get to know them and what is going on in their lives. This was the highlight of the week for me as they took the time to be with me. I also love going to sit by the peace pole and hear the chimes near it.
The morning prayer group is also something that stands out for me. Though its just a small group that likes to get up early, we have strength as we pray for the needs of the people and camp each morning. It is among this sacred space and people that I experience the spirit moving. Camp also has helped me form strong prayer partners that continue throughout the year until we connect in person again the following year.
Other highlights of camp for me are the talent show when I get to read braille and learn about the gifts of others. I also love going to class and participating in Don't Forget the Lyrics, hymn addition. It is in the variety of experiences throughout the week that I find God being fully present and alive with us.
I believe the community formed at reunion is as close to Zion as we can get. People need each other and throughout the week we recognize that need. We collectively allow ourselves to connect at a deeper level with one another and move ourselves out of the way so God can work. It's a week of fun, its a week of relaxation, but more importantly its a week of renewal. Its a week to allow God to be fully present in our lives not just individually but communally. I invite all of you to come to reunion this year and experience this Zionic community. I promise you won't regret it.
Our summer camp exploration continues this week with guest blogger Ashley Fields. Ashley is the Director of Camp Courage. She began as a member of the clean-up crew in 1999 which eventually progressed to counselor. Ashley grew up in Stewartsville, MO. She attended college at the University of Central Missouri, where she obtained a Master of Science in Communication Disorders. Since 2008 she worked for the North Kansas City School District in the early childhood special education setting. In January 2015, she completed her Doctorate of Education with an emphasis in Special Education. Through all this, Ashley has always made Camp Courage a priority. Ashley enjoys spending her time with her husband and three children, as well as cooking and serving the community with her church Platte Woods United Methodist. Ashley credits Camp Courage for influencing her entire life, including her career and faith. She loves to share Camp Courage with others because she knows the joy it brings to all.
“The camp for fun. The courage to care.” This is the motto for Camp Courage. The first sentence is one that applies to all summer camps! Like many camps, Camp Courage has lots of fun things to do including fishing, swimming, games, dances, and special events. We have campers jumping out of their cars on arrival day with excitement and joy on their faces. What makes Camp Courage unique is that everything is designed for adults with special needs. This four day, all-inclusive camp is carefully developed by volunteers each year to offer new experiences to this special group of people. Our campers bring with them their own unique set of abilities and challenges, and we have the blessed opportunity to meet them where they are and share in some fun.
This is where the second part of our camp motto elevates to great importance, “The courage to care”. I will be the first to admit I was scared when I first arrived at Camp Courage. I was fourteen-years-old. My mom woke me up and said, “Get dressed. You are going to go volunteer!”. Reluctantly, I got ready to go, totally unaware of what I would be walking into. I didn’t expect to be greeted by adults with special needs. I had never really met anyone with special needs, let alone an adult with special needs. I immediately started picking out the differences between myself and the campers. We talked differently, we walked differently, we understood each other differently, and absolutely did not have the same views regarding personal space! I hurried into the kitchen as a way to hide, and then I watched.
Over the next day or so, I continued to watch and observe. I noticed volunteers that didn’t see the differences that were so obvious to me. They were laughing together. They were gathering in groups and playing games. They were having fun together. That word, together, is what I noticed the most. The volunteers weren’t babysitters or merely supervising the campers, they were friends! They were enjoying camp together.
I remember wanting to stay out at camp longer and longer each day, until I too was enjoying the camp together with the campers and volunteers alike; and that’s when I knew this was something special that I wanted to be a part of. I finally had the courage to care and could see each camper as a person just like me.
Jesus calls us to serve one another; the least, the lost and the last. Adults with special needs are a group that often gets forgotten about. Camp Courage exists to do this in a unique way. We all want to be seen and loved. I think that is what makes this camp so different. It wouldn’t be the same if we held camp, offered these fun experiences, and activities but didn’t stop to actually experience them together. To connect and make a friend. To show with our actions that each camper is seen and loved as an individual despite what the world has told them in the past or what lies they tell themselves.
This is the message that Jesus spoke to us then and continues to speak through us today. When we stop to really see someone as a person, love and serve them, we share the love of God. We are lucky enough to share this with a population that, in my opinion, reflects love like no other group of people. It’s unfiltered, unbiased, love and appreciation. I think if you ask any volunteer at Camp Courage they would say that they feel like they get more out their time there, then they could ever put in because of this.
So, are we serving others like God calls us to to? Yes. Does it take a little courage? Of course! But most importantly we are making sure that everyone at Camp Courage is seen and loved. They come to camp for the fun, and thanks to the love that God first gave us, we have the courage to extend that love to others.
Camp Courage is a non-profit organization ran entirely by volunteers without any paid positions. Camp leadership makes every attempt to keep the cost down for campers by seeking donations of all kinds.
For more information or to help support this organization, please contact Ashley Fields at email@example.com, find us on Facebook at Camp Courage Missouri or on on the web at http://www.campcouragemo.org/
A big thank you to Ashley for sharing her incredible experiences of seeing and loving others through this camp! Please give your support in anyway possible!
This week I encourage all of you to take the time to truly listen and love the individuals around you.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.