Our guest blogger this week is Elder James O’ Neil DeAtley who is a native of West Union, OH. An alumnus of Morehead State University, “Neil” obtained a BA in 2013. Upon graduation, Neil began his teaching career where he taught 7-12 vocal and general music. In 2018, responding to God’s call, Neil began full-time studies at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, pursuing a Master of Divinity. Neil has served as a summer guide and museum intern at the Kirtland and Independence Temples. Currently, Neil resides in Washington DC and is the full-time invitation support minister for Community of Christ in the Chesapeake Bay Mission Center.
Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up. Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the bush burn up?” God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He said, “Yes? I’m right here!” God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.”
Exodus 3:1-5 The Message
Do you ever feel that there are simply not enough hours in the day? Do you find yourself stuck in the humdrum routine of attempting to accomplish the requirements of basic living? Between the daily tasks of work, commute, emails, school, and family life, many find themselves simply getting by, only to wake up and do it all over again. By glorifying busyness and placing one’s importance and self-worth on material gain, our culture has furthered this monotonous cycle. It probably does not take much consideration to think of instances where you have observed the ever-increasing societal emphasis on consumerism over community. In the midst of this life, the believer could reasonably ask, “Where is God?” “Is there more?” “Does God have a plan for me?”
The legendary and fabled biblical character of Moses could hardly be deemed as ordinary. Attributed with the authorship of the Torah, Moses is an iconic name in the story of Israel's escape from slavery in Egypt and the later transcendent reception of Ancient Israelite Law. The name Moses represents one who was a great teacher, leader, and liberator. Having fled Egypt in exile, the scriptures record that Moses took a wife, Zipporah, and started a family in Midian.
By all accounts, it would seem that Moses had settled into an ordinary life for a man of his time and place. It is during this phase of Moses’ life that we encounter him in Exodus 3 while he is tending to his father-in-law’s sheep. Going about his daily business, Moses was not seeking a miracle, and yet the Hebrew author documents that it was there that “the angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush.” What happened next is perhaps the most simple and important part of the narrative, “he looked.”
Is it possible that Moses could have walked past that bush many times before while shepherding the flock? Perhaps. Yet, in that moment something was different; Moses saw with new eyes. God saw that Moses had stopped to look and God called him by name. This prompted God’s divine invitation to Moses for an awakened life. The ordinary had been transformed by God, and in amazement of the presence, Moses removed his sandals. Amidst everyday responsibilities, the Holy One of Israel called Moses by name and he discerned God’s life changing plan for him.
This sacred encounter prompted a new life for Moses. A life full of adventure, imagination, and at times, obscurity and risk. In the busyness and monotony of daily life, do you take time to contemplate where is God calling you by name? Where is God longing to draw near to you? What is God inviting you to risk? In the face of a loved one or a stranger, in your commute to work, in your day-to-day duties, where is God longing to transform your ordinary to extraordinary?
As it was for Moses, this life changing adventure is yours for the taking. Will you expeditiously rise up and follow? Will you be full of trepidation and doubt? Or will you live in the nuance of both/and?
In the work Aurora Leigh, nineteenth century poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only [they] who [see], [take] off [their] shoes; The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
Will you, like Moses, stop and look with new eyes? In awe of the presence of God will you take off your shoes in admiration? How will you respond to the divine invitation to an awakened life?
A big thank you to Neil for being willing to share his thoughts with us this week! We wish him the best on his work in the Chesapeake Bay Mission Center.
This week find the holy ground you are being called to and take off your shoes!
This week we have the privilege of hearing from Dakota Matthes as our guest blogger. Dakota is a first year seminary student at Graceland University which is associated with Community of Christ. Dakota loves animals and especially his dog Bowser who he takes everywhere. Recently he moved to Falmouth, Maine taking a job as an LPN at a retirement community. We wish him the best of luck on this new adventure as Dakota and Bowser get acquainted with their new patients and friends. Big thanks to Dakota for being vulnerable and sharing his story with us!
Thinking about my faith journey through the 50 years of my life thus far, I have so much gratitude for where I am right now! I am currently in my first year of Seminary in the Community of Christ Seminary through Graceland University Online. I have reconnected with the fellowship of disciples in the Community of Christ, and my cup runneth over with love and peace as I journey on. It hasn’t always been this way, however.
I started my life out in the Catholic tradition, being christened as an infant in 1969 at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Boynton Beach, Florida. My maternal grandmother was Catholic, and so my mother and her siblings and all of us kids/cousins started out that way too. Unbeknownst to me then, but as I would much later realize, the presence of addiction, alcoholism, mental illness and dysfunction plagued my family-of-origin. I suppose like most children I thought my childhood was normal, and that everyone else’s lives were the same. I began to see in adolescence though, that my home was anything but normal.
Suspected in adolescence, but really discovered in my adult years, I learned that Mother had many symptoms of bipolar 1 disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and covert, gaslighting narcissism. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of neglect, confusion, and abuse as the years went by. We converted to Lutheran when I was 5 years old. Then at age 9 we converted to RLDS (after hearing about the church through my Aunt Anne). As it turns out, the RLDS—now Community of Christ—was my saving grace through adolescence and early adulthood.
The only escape I had from my home of chaos and insanity was in my mind. From about 14 on I would get up before dawn, when the house was quiet, and read my 3-in-1 (Inspired Version of the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants). I calculated what I needed to read each day in order to complete the three books in a year. I read them each year of high school. These quiet, priceless moments with my God and Higher Power/Higher Self were the source of my thread of hope to survive. I desperately wanted to serve God during these years and had dreams of being in the priesthood one day.
At 15 years old in 1984, women in the priesthood passed the World Conference vote and I was elated! Our church was joining other Christians in leading the way toward egalitarianism. The big fear for me, even after this historical passage, was that I would still be rejected because of my identity and orientation. Having been born and assigned female at birth, I felt excluded from my dreams of serving in the priesthood when I was 14 years old. And even though I was elated the following year, when women were accepted to be a part of the priesthood of the church, I was carrying a big secret that I was sure would continue to exclude me—I was LGBT. Not sure of the words to describe myself I struggled with my identity, my gender dysphoria, my transgenderism, and my romantic attractions.
I had been hiding my feelings for several years already. I knew it was not okay to talk about it at home. Feelings of any kind were mocked and shamed, but worse than that was anything to do with homosexuality. That was vehemently made known to be evil, disgusting, and perverse. Anyone with feelings of this nature was going to hell, was spawn of Satan, and did not deserve to live freely among the righteous, as was told/taught by Mother herself. I heard no positive reviews of people like me in church, school, or community either, so I assumed my mother was right. Although I felt like a loving, decent person that did good in the world, I believed I was judged as disgusting and unlovable, doomed to hell and disfavor in the sight of God. This made me inexorably sad, and I fell into a deep depression. I wanted to die, even wished for it to put me out of my misery of complete and utter loneliness and despair. I lived every day of my life inauthentically and carried huge guilt for lying so much. So were my days until I reached college.
My freshman year at Graceland College I fell in love with another woman who was a senior and a leader on campus. I now found joy in my life amidst the fear and shame. Still very difficult to manage such conflicting emotions to do with my self-worth, I was unable to reconcile being a lesbian with being a faithful servant of God. So, at 22 years old, after coming out and being disowned by my mother, I dropped out of church too. Not officially, as in renouncing my baptism or anything like that--I just fell by the wayside and became like the prodigal son for the next 25 years.
During those years I fell into alcohol and drugs, unprotected sex and many unhealthy relationships in which I accepted emotional abuse because of my low self-esteem. I became angry and rebellious. I decided God didn’t exist, because I didn’t believe in a God who would judge me. I fell into atheism, eventually coming back toward agnosticism, then eventually realizing I had a huge, gaping, spiritual hole in my soul. I had thrown the baby out with the bathwater when I left church and denounced God. I had lost spiritual connection and was more unhappy than ever. It was then I began slowly, seeking out spiritual food for my life. I did meditation and some chanting. I read books on Buddhism and Hinduism. I did yoga and qigong. I discovered what my gender dysphoria really meant and that it could be treated. I began to see doctors and started the process of transitioning to male.
I sporadically attended churches like the Unitarian/Universalist one, the Unity ones, and an occasional Catholic mass or two (I liked the ritual). Then I found myself slowly drawn, stronger and stronger, back to the church of my youth. Before I returned, I desired to get healthier and so I quit the vices I had started after college. I sought out 12-step programs to help me, and the spiritual guidance I received there put me on a path to self-love. I believe it is this that finally led me to follow my urgings to enter the doors again of my beloved church, now called the Community of Christ. I was not sure I would be well received. What I didn’t know before I entered was that the church officially accepted the LGBTQ community in 2013 through the World Conference proceedings and we could now be called to priesthood and be united in civil unions.
What joy was mine in 2017, when after being clean and sober for nearly 5 years, I entered the congregation in Leavenworth, Kansas, was met with love and gladness, and found out all the new growth and change in the church since I had left in 1991!! I was elated!! To learn of the enduring principles and the mission initiatives of the church, to hear talk about the worth of all persons, unity in diversity, and all are called: it’s like every ounce of the pain of my isolation and rejection and exile was gone in an instant. I was loved! I was seen! I was welcomed back into the fold with open arms! I have experienced nothing but love, kindness, welcome, and appreciation ever since, and it is the greatest blessing of my life.
Big thanks to Dakota for sharing his heart with us! I'm always amazed at the journey's people travel to find acceptance and love.
This week hug someone close to you! Let them know they are loved by you no matter what life situations present to them.
Our guest blogger this week is Steve Hensley! Steve is a talented Comedian who was the former House Manager at Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg, just outside of the Chicago area. Steve is incredible at finding ways to make life become humorous. His impressions of George W. Bush, Denzel Washington, and Matthew McConaughey are amazing and can be found on his Youtube channel. Steve also hosts BedroomNews which is a political satire show exposing the humor in today's political arena. You can find his video posts on facebook or on Youtube. A big thanks for Steve sharing his thoughts with us this week.
I am a Christian Comedian?
“Are there any other catholic survivors here tonight?” This is an opening line I’ve heard on several occasions. Often times I feel like the earth is splitting under me and I have to choose to jump to the comedy side or the Christian side. This post is about finding similarities between the two.
All Are Welcomed on Stage and in the Church
“You’re welcome to join us on stage tonight as long as you don’t do something sexist, racist, or homophobic.” This is something you’ll hear at almost any performance opportunity in Chicago. In the Community of Christ I’ve heard on several occasions, “Come as you are.” We’re all a bunch of freaks. Yeah, especially you! Freaks are welcomed to both the stage and to the chapel. All are welcomed.
Allowing Ourselves to be Vulnerable
Comedy allows us to be vulnerable, which makes us relatable. We try so hard to be normal, so when we hear a comic say something off the wall that’s relatable, it’s a relief. “Yes, I’m not the only one!” You just can’t help but laugh, because you can relate. In the Community of Christ Mission Prayer it says, “Grant me courage to risk something new”. The best preachers and performers I’ve met are vulnerable, which makes them relatable. This is how we become more comfortable with ourselves and other people. This allows for us to build a closer more accepting community.
Justice is Served!
When thinking of justice, I like to think of the time when Jesus comes in to the temple and starts flipping tables and calling out a bunch of thieves. “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers.”
I’m currently working with a group of comics on a show I host called Bedroom News. We are a political satire group that often times like to poke fun at things that are unjust. Like most sketch groups, our general rule is to punch up and not down. For example, we won’t make fun of someone with a disability, but we will make fun of someone in office doing something unjust. It’s our attempt to say, “Hey, that’s really messed up, and people need to understand that.”
We are a Joyous People!
I feel like Kevin Bacon over here trying to relate art to religion. God, wants us to feel full of joy. As the Community of Christ has said for years, “We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.” The comedy community is a safe place for a lot of us. It’s our time to escape, play, and laugh with each other. I like to think back to teaching improv at some Community of Christ camps. It was a recipe for happiness. The kids were loved, physically active, and spiritually focused. Then they came to my class and we got to play and laugh. I’ve never been happier.
Good comedians want the audience to have a good time, even if they’re poking fun at an audience member. When people don’t like our set, we say we bombed. We feel awful, because you (the audience) didn’t enjoy yourself. However, when we “kill it” we feel full of joy because we made you laugh. Just like a minister, we want to help people.
Bringing the Two Communities Together
I think a lot of comics feel judged in some church settings. A high number of comics drink, swear, write edgy material, and etc. Many Christians may not agree with these actions, but it’s not a good enough reason to close the doors on them. Most of the people I’ve met at comedy clubs are kind and loving people. And I believe love is the root of our belief. Comedy community, you’re not off the hook. If we’re sensitive to things that are racist, sexist, and homophobic, then maybe we can work towards being more inviting to religion. Both communities will thrive in common ground. I’m done hiding part of myself, because like many, I belong in both communities. In the words of Kevin Bacon I say, “Let’s Dance!”... And laugh!
A big thank you to Steve for helping us tie comedy to faith! Sometimes laughter is the best way for us to sense and find God in our lives.
This week incorporate humor into your daily life with a joke, smile, or just laughing with someone. Also please follow Bedroom News on Facebook!
Our guest blogger this week is Emily Hartford! Emily lives in Lawrence, Kansas and is a mother of four awesome kiddos. Emily is a member of the Lawrence University Congregation and Midlands Mission Center. She is currently participating in the Spiritual Formation and Companioning Program produced by the Community of Christ to learn more about spiritual practices. Emily is a member of Lawrence Babywearing and an avid swing dancer. She is also finishing up her training as a Birth Educator from Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations. A big thanks for Emily contributing her depth and knowledge to us this week!
"Listen in the Silence listen in the noise
Listen to the sound of the Spirit's voice."
- Community of Christ Sings
#153 (Listen in the Silence)
As a mother of four kiddos, and one fur baby, my house is always filled with noise. Sometimes the laughter and squeals of delight of my children playing with neighborhood friends. Sometimes the tense arguments over who did or said what to whom. Sometimes the chatter of a dinner table shared with friends become family. Sometimes the barks of our dog, as she and kiddos run around the backyard chasing a plastic jug.
Sometimes the heavy, deep breaths of truly restful sleep, or the sound of a little hand falling off a blanket as relaxation sets in. Sometimes the bounce of springs as one child spends time reveling in the magic of their body under a big blue sky. Sometimes bubbles being blown into cereal milk, or the squeak of the dryer as it dries another day’s adventures.
This past fall I began to regularly practice Holy Attention as a spiritual discipline. At the time, my life felt as though it were falling apart. Nothing was as it should be, and everything felt exceptionally hard. My mind could find the negatives so quickly, I could've been an expert. My practice began with superficial noticing's. Things I'd been directed to look at closely.
But, the more I practiced seeing God’s incredible creation, the more readily I found it. I began to notice the softness of my daughter’s hand as she reached up to stroke my cheek. The way the sun highlighted the magnificence of my son’s curls. The way my daughter’s body moved as she danced to music. The way my son’s eyes crinkled like his Pa’s when he smiled.
The more I noticed, the more I noticed. And the more I noticed, the softer my heart became. I began to find the beauty in the difficult days, as well as the easy ones.
My house is noisy, with occasional moments of silence, just like my life. And so I listen, in the silence and the noise, for the Spirit’s invitation to marvel in the beautiful that we co-created with God.
Again a big thank you to Emily sharing her thoughts! Please leave any comments or questions for Emily here.
This week stop and notice the moments where God is blessing you and those around you!
Meet Justin Delong our guest blogger this week!
Justin is a Seventy serving as the Mission Center Invitational Support Minister in the Bountiful Mission Center. Justin attended Graceland University which led to a summer internship in Chattanooga where he lived for 5 years. After returning to Ohio, he responded to a need in the community by starting a new church plant that was active in reaching the LGBTQ+ community.
We are excited to have Justin share his thoughts and experiences with us!
Following the mission of Jesus can often be difficult and uncomfortable. We live in a world that is divisive, hurtful and oppressing to millions of people. In the community surrounding the Portsmouth Welcoming Community, we see a community that is often disowned by family, condemned by churches and oppressed by society. Those who identify as LGBTQ+ often grow up hearing how worthless they are and how they are an abomination. Their dignity and self-worth are often questioned and damaged; leading to a lifetime of fear, poor self-esteem and pain.
As the church, we are called to recognize the worth, dignity and sacredness of all of God’s children. We are called to pray, study and seek understanding. We are called to dive into the scriptures to understand the context of what we are reading. So many people are hurt and condemned by misuse of scripture; especially in the LGBTQ+ community.
Live the Mission We Preach
The Portsmouth Welcoming Community formed to help bring hope and new understanding to those who have lost trust in Christianity but are seeking a spiritual home. As I meet with people who have been kicked out of their church, disowned by their family; those who have contemplated or attempted suicide; people who are living with the pain of hating themselves and do not see their value, I am reminded of the church’s call to live the mission that we preach.
If we truly follow Jesus, we will seek ways to bring healing and to restore wholeness to the lives of others. We do our best to not get caught up in Sunday morning rituals of what we typically see in church, but seek ways to build relationships with others despite where they are at in their journey.
We are often called to step outside of the box that makes us comfortable to reach those who are seeking a community of hope, love and support. We are called to reach those who fail to see the value of their lives and those who are living through hell in this life.
A Diverse Community
The Portsmouth Welcoming Community isn’t a congregation just for the LGBTQ+ community; its a welcoming congregation to everyone who seeks to live in community with others and celebrate the diversity among us. We try to stand against injustice and walk hand in hand with those fighting for their self-worth and dignity. This mission that we represent calls us into all arenas of life that seek to bring justice and wholeness to society.
Creating Safe Space
Our call in our community is to create a safe space for those who are seeking to build relationships. We adapt to meet people where they are at in their journey by hosting Coffee and Conversation about topics that are important to bringing justice in the community. We offer LGBTQ+ support groups for those who need love and support in their life.
For those seeking a spiritual home, we offer Welcoming Church specifically designed to nurture the spiritual path of those yearning for a spiritual home while at the same time celebrating diversity. We offer educational workshops and book studies that bring awareness to LGBTQ+ issues, racism, addiction, homelessness and religious diversity that helps to educate and bring awareness to the community.
Bringing Wholeness to Creation
We live in a world that needs more Jesus. We need the real Jesus that calls us to live radically by reaching those on the margins of society. Jesus lived his life challenging systems of oppression that marginalized God’s children. If we follow Jesus, we must live the mission that Jesus lived. That mission will be uncomfortable and unpopular. It will challenge your faith and will require sacrifice.
As you extend your hand to reach those needing your love and support, you will catch a glimpse of God’s vision for creation. You will gain understanding to what really matters in life. As you build relationships, you will recognize God’s love for his children. As we risk to try something new, a real difference can be made in the lives of those who need to hear the redeeming message of Jesus that seeks to restore their worth and bring wholeness to the whole creation.
A big thank you to Justin Delong for sharing about the Portsmouth Welcoming Community and the welcoming mission of Jesus.
This week sit down with someone different than you and listen to their story! Also please pray for the Methodist Church Family and the hurt taking place over their recent decisions.
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting. They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation. They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response. They support sacramental ministries by preparing people for baptism and/or confirmation, presiding at sacramental services, and performing most sacraments. They promote community by inviting individuals, households, and families to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship. They promote justice and peacemaking by inviting people to experience all aspects of Christ’s peace through active discipleship. They create ministry partnerships with mission center officers, apostles, elders, and evangelists.
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.