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.
My in laws recently took a trip to Africa with Outreach International to learn about the culture and process Outreach has with people. Check out my earlier post “The Eyes of Love” talking about my experience with OI. At one village they got off of the bus to visit with their community leaders and see the progress they have made in community change. My mother in law vividly remembers stepping off of the bus and the real young kids immediately running in fear and crying.
Now of course this is where I insert any mother in law joke that comes to mind.
Joke - I am amazed that her reputation is not only known nationally but internationally.
Joke - I am assuming they were taking my strategy of not speaking to my mother in law. It's been two years, we haven’t quarreled, I just don’t want to interrupt her.
Joke - The kids had heard there were more vicious things than Lions they just hadn’t seen them until now.
Ok that’s enough! In all reality I have a great mother in law that is very respectful of boundaries and I received her approval before posting any of these jokes.
She said the kids ran because they had never seen this big a group of white people before. They were stricken with fear for something they had not experienced. As she thought about it, it became real to her that we fear what we do not know. Fear is a natural emotion we feel. It was in this moment she realized the importance of educating and teaching acceptance to overcome fear.
Acceptance allows us to see and understand others instead of letting fear drive our actions and behaviors. Too much of what we see and get from media or others today is fear. Fear others are taking our jobs, creating unsafe situations, or not practicing the right beliefs. But we have to find ways to not follow the fear but go to the source to truly understand what is going on.
So lets explore how acceptance impacts our spiritual journey's. Specifically lets look at what teaching acceptance is, a more in-depth look at why its important, and where God is in the midst of this.
How to Teach Acceptance?
Teaching acceptance is a process of eliminating fear from our lives slowly while embracing who others are. Culturally respecting others beliefs and perspectives is imperative for peace. Acceptance is not about coexisting but embracing others differences. Others' choices may not be our own but respecting who they are and the choices they make are vitally important for building community.
So what are some ways to help us teach acceptance?
Story Telling - Stories are essential ways for people to hear others perspectives. They bring emotional attachment to situations and problems creating more pull with people. Stories have a way of working into our heart strings and pulling them ever so gently.
Dialogue - Talking with others allows multiple perspectives to be shared so there is common understanding of all potential concerns and problems present. There is almost always two sides of every problem.
Let Go of Personal Stereotypes/ Judgments - We are not void of judgments as much as we try. But acknowledging our judgments and letting go of them creates an openness for others and ourselves to learn. Internal awareness of our own processes is some of the major work we can do.
Exposure - When we find ourselves with negative thoughts or ideas in our head about a certain group of people its important that we go to the source. Direct exposure tends to be the best and most accurate knowledge. Spend time learning for yourself what the group is about and who they are.
Culturally Diverse Books - Reading books about other cultures and by authors from different backgrounds can help us become more accepting. They are great way to educate us when we are too shy or timid about interacting with others. Check out our guest blog post "Diversity and Your Bookshelf" by William Ottens to read further about this.
Golden Rule - This applies as we imagine ourselves when we use the words we use. This is all the time not just when someone is around us. Positive thoughts bring more positive thoughts.
At the heart of personality is the need to feel a sense of being lovable
without having to qualify for that acceptance.
Tolerance Is A Dirty Word?
Some people believe tolerance is what needs to happen while others believe that is not enough. Where do you stand? Should we as society just be tolerant of others? Is tolerance a step toward acceptance? Or does acceptance need to happen for someone to be truly valued?
I tend to think its not about just being tolerant of others but accepting others as able and capable of making their own decisions. This means seeing the positive qualities and characteristics we can out of individuals. Below is a TEDx video by Andrew Sayer which talks about Tolerance being a dirty word. I thought it was an interesting perspective and wanted to share it with you.
Unity in Diversity
Community of Christ has an enduring principle of Unity in Diversity. It’s a core belief that our differences make us better and that those differences are needed for us to be whole as a community. I find when I really try to live by this principle, I become less frustrated with others, more open for help, and more willing to learn.
I think this enduring principle is also a goal. If we truly are to be one with each other we have to acknowledge and value the differences we find. This can be difficult but when we become more diverse we actually become more efficient and effective. As I have stated before more diverse work forces actually create better financial gains. Check out this article “Why Diversity Matters” for details.
Another example is just looking at nature! The diversity in the habitats of the world create balance and support systems. Look up the root systems of aspens, the pollination of bees, or the running of salmon to see how we are all integral parts of one another. Others depend on us and our unique roles in this world.
It’s about seeing the Christ in me and the Christ in you as parts of the whole. Without all of us in this together what’s the point? Without you alongside with me what really matters? Unity in diversity breathes the need for us to truly sit and be with one another. Bask in each other’s presence and love the person for who they are. So how do we live this as a community? Well how about we figure that out together.
Thank you for all those who are enjoying our posts! We welcome any feedback you have.
This week ask another person what is something that has been hard for them to accept. Truly listen to their perspective no matter how different it is from yours.
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.
Meet William Ottens our guest blogger this week! William is the Cataloging and Collection Development Coordinator for the Lawrence Public Library. William is also the author and creator behind the blog Librarian Problems which uses GIF's to humorously identify the funny problems Librarians encounter in their profession. We are super excited to have him share his thoughts this week. You can follow William on Twitter @williamottens
“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” - Malorie Blackman
My junior year at Graceland University, I took an author study course on Toni Morrison, led by Professor Emeritus Dr. Barbara Hiles Mesle. It quickly became one of my favorite classes I’d ever taken. There were no more than fifteen students, and we were tasked with reading and discussing seven of the author’s novels throughout the semester. Aside from the worksheets, tests and papers, it felt much like a book club.
I also appreciated this course because it was the first time I had done an in depth reading in an experience outside of the white, anglocentric focus that typically dominates required high school lists in the United States. It opened my eyes to the value of reading books by and about people who aren’t like me and the importance of the voices of the marginalized.
Toni’s first novel, "The Bluest Eye", tells the fictional story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who prays for blue eyes and blonde hair. With her dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes, she’s mocked by other children and knows she doesn’t fit in.
Because Pecola, and the other children, don’t have access to dolls, books, magazines, and other media that depict people who look like her, they’ve been led to believe that beauty means whiteness. Beauty means blue eyes and blond hair. This fallacy ultimately leads to the deterioration of Pecola’s mental health.
Moving Beyond the Single Story
"The Bluest Eye" was written published in 1970. Beyond beauty and whiteness, the novel addresses important questions about race, class and gender in a way that an author outside of the black, female experience would never be able to do to the same effect.
While society, media and the publishing industry have made some progress, there’s still a considerable lack of diversity on bestsellers lists and bookstore shelves. Though that’s not to say diverse stories aren’t out there; you just have to do some digging.
In her TED Talk, "The Danger of a Single Story", author Chimanda Ngozi Adichie explains that we risk critical misunderstanding when we hear from one perspective. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”
So how do you move beyond the single story? How do you read outside of your comfort zone? How do you find books written by diverse authors?
As I’m a librarian, that answer comes easily for me: your local library. Whether you live in an urban area or a small town, your public library should be able to provide you access to books (and other media) written from a number of different perspectives and experiences. They might even be able to curate a list for you.
Enduring Principle: Worth of All People
The Community of Christ upholds the enduring principle that “God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth.” It’s easy to claim this, but how do you exemplify this in your day to day lives? How could you uphold this through your reading practices?
Humans are creatures of habit, and we naturally stick to what we know and with which we are comfortable. Even if we aren’t intentionally exclusive, we gravitate toward the familiar because of that internal bias. As I look back at my own reading list, I see that, even with my job and the world’s resources at my fingertips, I’m guilty of this.
It’s not wrong to read what you like, but if you limit yourself to one perspective, how can you learn about and appreciate others? How can you fully know that those who don’t look like you, those who don’t believe the same things you do, those who come from different places, have worth? That is the value of diversifying your bookshelf.
Through listening to and learning about others’ perspectives, we can understand more fully that black lives have worth, that Indigenous lives have worth, that Muslim, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized lives have worth. And through lifting up and supporting those marginalized voices, we can demonstrate this enduring principle.
I want to give a big thank you to William for sharing his wisdom and experience with us about incorporating diversity into our reading. If you have any further questions or comments shoot them our way and I will be sure to have William respond.
This week identify an interesting book written by an author from a different cultural background. Buy it, borrow it, or find it at your local library and get started!
A few years ago I was in a worship service singing the song "All Are Welcome" by Marty Haugen in our new hymnal "Community of Christ Sings." Check out this video by Chris Brunelle if you haven't heard it. It's a beautiful song singing about the worth of all people and how everyone is invited into this space. I understood the message of the song as I read the words and sang along. However it didn't really resonate with me until my youngest son, who was two at the time, starting singing "All Welcome" days later. Even though his language skills were not developed enough for him to say the entire phrase I knew this is what God's love is all about. At two years old he got it! All are Welcome in this Place! Accepting people for who they are! Creating authentic relationships with others that uphold their worth! It also made me realize the power of the messages we give our children even in the earliest of days. At two years old my son is hearing a collective voice singing the words "Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live" and "All Are Welcome." I can only imagine how this message and others will impact his worldview and interactions with others as he gets older.
Our language is a major piece of welcoming others. The words we choose can be powerful and impact others in both positive and negative ways. What messages are you sending with your conversations? How has the language in your environment shaped who you are and how you see the world? In what ways is your language welcoming others into relationship with you and the God you know?
Language Impacts Thought Processes
In an article by Alan Yu with NPR titled "How Language Seems to Shape One's View of the World" he describes how the differences in language can change how we see the world. Language influences how we think and what we look for in interactions. You can also check out this TED Talk by Lera Boroditsky who reiterates similar findings of Mr. Yu in further depth. Enjoy!
Welkom, Bienvenue, Salve, Velkommen, Afio mai, Maeva, Bienvenido! This is just many ways to say welcome in other languages. Check out the translation of the word Welcome in other languages at Omniglot.com. How we use our language can help others feel welcome. However its important to remember hospitality is more than just our language but also the messages we send in all aspects of our lives. Here are some specific ways to be more welcoming and inclusive with our language.
1. Smile - Welcoming starts with our facial expressions. Non-verbal body language makes up most of our communication. If we greet each person with a smile we immediately send warmth and comfort.
2. Be Person Centered - Genuinely focus on the person by asking questions and getting to know them. Many people like to talk about who they are and what they are doing. Be active listeners allowing them to openly share and be thankful for them talking with you.
3. Avoid Excluding Others - Avoid using expressions or words that may exclude others or certain groups. This allows others to feel welcome and open to express their true thoughts and opinions. This can be done by using words such as we, us, or ours to evoke commonality.
4. Be Gender Neutral - This allows people to interpret the information in their worldview. In church settings God is often depicted as a father/ man though many people have had poor relationships with their father or other men. Using gender neutral language to express the divine gives others the opportunity to further their relationship in how they see fit.
5. Speak Common Language - Sometimes certain groups have acronyms, slang, or language which is used that others do not know. It's welcoming if we explain the language to those outside of those groups or to avoid the the use of them all together if we know there are outsiders there.
Language and Spirituality
What we say about our lives both personally and spiritually makes a huge difference! When we surround ourselves with welcoming language and intentionally focusing on making others feel included than as a by product we become more welcoming. In contrast when we are in groups that exclude others or limit various groups abilities we are as well impacted.
Church in particular can be a vital place for welcoming language to develop. Prayers, liturgies, responses, sacraments, singing, sermons, etc. all use language as a way to connect us spiritually with the divine. Many times it is through our words that we communicate with God. I know the hymnal referenced above was intentionally put together using peaceful and inclusive language. Language can be a spiritual guide helping us construct how our relationship with the divine is developing and maturing.
However I want to acknowledge that many have not felt welcomed, safe, or included at churches. I believe it is important for churches to use language and act in ways that welcome all people, stand up for the equal rights of others, and give opportunity for anyone to serve in any role. For all those searching and questioning, I hope you will find that welcoming community to further your spiritual journey.
How do you speak about your spiritual life and church?
What language do you use to welcome and accept others?
What spiritual practices or religious traditions evoke welcoming language?
What does the phrase "All Are Welcome" truly mean?
It is my pleasure to be able to write something that may be beneficial to you or others. I know it can be uncomfortable to comment but I welcome any and all thoughts to this article or the questions above. This week please reflect on the language you use to welcome others.
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.