June 25, 2020 was World Pride Day! It was a day to celebrate LBGTQIA+ individuals and the movement for acceptance. I was able to watch Toronto Community of Christ online worship ton June 28th which was focused on LBGTQIA+ awareness and radical hospitality. It was an awesome worship led by ministers who are LBGTQIA+ in the Community of Christ in conjunction with Harmony (non-profit organization focused on LBGTQIA+ advocacy and education to congregations in Community of Christ). You can check it out on the YouTube video below.
LBGTQIA+ individuals have historically been rejected and ostracized by faith groups for centuries causing deep pain and great harm to people. The inner conflict between beliefs which have been instilled in individuals and their own sexual orientation has caused significant turmoil to navigate. Some have found refuge in family while others have been rejected by those closest to them. Faith communities have often turned their back. Though the world today is slowly becoming a better and more safer place for those who are LBGTQia+ religious organizations tend to still be a place of division and pain for such individuals. Especially for those who grew up in one of the largest religious institutions who continue to not uphold same sex marriage and equal rights for those who are LBGTQia+.
This is one of many reasons why Topeka Community of Christ felt compelled to have a booth at the September 2019 Topeka Pride Picnic. They wanted to show support and give another perspective on religion and faith. To provide an open door for those who may want to talk about faith. Community of Christ was one of three faith groups who had a booth at the event. The community of Topeka has over 40 different religious denominations.
It was a wonderful event in which people were celebrated for who they are without any judgment. The members of Community of Christ said just being present at the event and talking with those who came by was a learning experience about how to be more welcoming as a church. It was a first step in creating an atmosphere were others can come and feel welcomed immediately and supported for who they are. They learned about the importance of using inclusive language, having documents and materials openly state the acceptance of all people, and clear visualizations showing all are welcome. Topeka hopes to participate further in Topeka Pride and be a safe place for all those who come through the doors.
Thank you to all those who are out there supporting and advocating for LBGTQIA+ in your communities. Keep it up!
This week connect with someone different than you. Listen to their story and learn something about who they are that you didn't know.
I have found God often speaks into our lives in a variety of ways trying to get our attention, we just have to be open to seeing, listening, and feeling that divine presence. They are often small nuggets of insight leading us to greater discovery of ourselves, others, and the mission of God.
One night many years ago I went to a parent teacher conference to assist a teacher in meeting with some parents about their kids behavioral needs. I pulled into the parking lot and headed into the school as I had done so many times before. As I turned down the hallway I noticed a table set up right in the middle, so no one could miss it. There were heaps of colorful, children's clothes stacked on top of the table. Taped to the front of the table was a little sign reading, "Help the lost find their home."
I was taken back immediately by this message. Of course I knew the sign was intended for parents to gather their kids missing clothes but it held so much more weight and meaning. Reading this made me think about the story of the lost sheep and in general people who do not have a spiritual home. The message was a reminder to me about the many people who have not found their spiritual home. Now I am not fond of the word "lost" in describing people. Despite this word nuisance I understood the challenge and call God has for us to nurture and guide others on their journey to finding a place where they feel welcomed, supported, and loved.
Let's explore the word home, how it is used in regards to faith journeys, and what insights this might provide for us in helping others.
Everyone's understanding and perspective of what home is comes from their experiences. Some people believe home is a secure, safe environment where people feel loved, understood, and cared for. Others may only see it as a location and physical place where they lay their heads. And for some home is something they run from because it has been unwelcoming, hurtful, demeaning, and traumatic. Its the place where the people who are supposed to care most about them do not and only create further anger and hurt. As much as I do not want to acknowledge this, I must because it is the reality that some people live. It is never right when someone is abused, demeaned or violated. If this has happened to you know that it is not your fault. I believe God is with you and has never left you not even for a minute. You have never been alone.
Whatever your experience was growing up or you are currently in I want to let you know home can be what you make it. It can be the place where you can be yourself. It can be the place you have always wanted it to be. It can be a place where love and compassion reign.
Spiritual homes are places where we can gather in community with others to experience the divine. Its a place to further our spiritual journey by deepening our faith and building relationships with others. The people and environment comfort us to be able to share and dive into deep questions about our faith and what we believe. This may mean challenging doctrine and long held beliefs to determine current views. There are also specific practices taking place focused on helping us connect spiritually. For the science behind spirituality check out this awesome blog article "The Science of Spirituality" by Catarina Lino.
Spiritual homes are essential for us to grow. However finding a spiritual home that fits our personality and needs can be difficult. What should we look for in finding a spiritual home? Here are some suggestions:
1. Welcoming Atmosphere - The environment and people need to be a place full of welcoming. A lot goes into welcoming others but essentially its about the atmosphere that we perceive and feel when are in this environment. This includes the unspoken climate right from when you walk in the door to when you leave.
2. Fits Your Needs and What You Seek - Before we search for spiritual homes an assessment of your personal needs should be done. What is the purpose behind finding a spiritual home? What in particular will help you grow deeper with the divine? How are you wanting to be challenged? Are you just wanting a community be a part of? Answer the questions about why you are seeking and you will have a better understanding of what you are looking for.
3. Diversity Not Uniformity - Spiritual homes need to be diverse places with a variety of thought. Churches are often comprised of people with similar beliefs and tend to not want to ask questions but seek uniformity. Spirituality is our individual connection with the divine and diverse community allows us to seek out ways to deepen that connection.
4. Spiritual Practices - Many times spiritual practices are things we do on our own but they can also be done as a community. Spiritual homes should have various ways you can practice your spirituality. This may be service to others in volunteering in your local community or meditation groups that focus on your inward journey. I believe the understanding that spirituality is a journey with others comes out of this collective group effort to deepen our faith. Check out our blog articles about spiritual practices if you are interested.
I hope that along your faith journey you can find someplace to call your spiritual home. A place that is welcoming, diverse, fits your needs, and helps you develop your spirituality.
I am grateful for those who follow this blog and want to invite anyone thats near by to join us for our monthly small group.
This week begin to assess yourself to get an understanding of what type of spiritual home you are searching for.
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.
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.
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