In 2006 I spent the summer in Australia with World Service Corps. It was an amazing experience learning about another culture and being introduced into what it means to be present with others.
The 15 hour flight had us arrive first thing in the morning in Melbourne. Our hosts met my world service corp partner and I at the airport and let us know it was better for us to stay up as long as we could that day to help us adjust for the time difference.
Our schedule was busy orienting to our new place, learning and playing the sport footie, and attending a scripture study that night in a members home. By the time we got to the scripture study it was almost 7:00 at night. The people were excited to meet and entertain us for the evening. They welcomed us with much joy and made us feel right at home.
I have no idea what scripture we studied but half way through my eyes shut. Good night folks thats all there was! The back of my eyelids were just too hard to resist. Luckily I don't snore and hopefully I didn't drool. Someone eventually woke me up and I was welcomed to have dessert with them. No matter how tired you are, you can always eat dessert! They pulled out this amazing trifle which I scarfed down before traveling an hour back to our hosts home.
Thinking about this funny memory makes me laugh. Now obviously the people knew my circumstances but even if they didn't I don't think it would have mattered. The people were genuine, gracious and loving. Welcoming was part of their nature even if I hadn't acted in my best form. It was something they had chosen and strived to be well before I knew them.
There are so many ways to welcome others. Despite the method the meaning comes through. You openly offer what you have and who you are to others without reservation or condition. What can we do to show hospitality to others? What is the welcoming nature of God? Let's explore this further.
Hospitality and Hostmanship
Hospitality is the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. This definition indicates it is an action but I also think it is a mindset we can choose everyday if we wish. Hospitality is all about welcoming others with an overwhelming grace. We do not have to be perfect, or have everything in place. That's not what its about. We must remove all of our expectations and conditions. Its about understanding the needs of others and meeting them where they are at. If we can do this we will truly be hospitable and welcoming to others.
Jan Gunnarsson from Sweden talks about Hostmanship in his Tedxtalk "How To Make People Feel Welcome." He lists qualities of a welcoming mindset (openness, curiosity, non-judgment, humility, sensibility, respect, presence, and dialogue) which I really like and goes on to state it really starts with us as an individual. Its a call for us to be present in the moment. Not thinking about the next task, our own intentions, but merely listening to the person whose face we see in front of us. Enjoy the short Tedtalk!
The Welcoming Nature of God
Community of Christ believes God's divine self is best revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus' message and actions speak to the welcoming nature of God. Jesus loved those he came in contact with unconditionally. His radical love crossed cultural boundaries, gender stereotypes, and religious laws. Children were asked to come unto him as he welcomed their presence. Matthew 25:35 says "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."
Jesus welcomed the stranger, the poor, the unholy, and the sinner into his life without hesitation. He saw the worth in them even when they themselves did not. Jesus engaged them with his presence, listened to their stories, and called them a child of God. You too are part of his fold no matter what has happened. Jesus understood God's love has no boundaries and it was through these acts that he was to teach us the true nature of God's love and welcoming spirit. We are called to find this characteristic in ourselves, in our time and place? It is through our self-reflection and choice in which we become more welcoming and present with others.
If Jesus was here today who would he welcome to teach us? Who is it in your life that you need to welcome? Taking the time to be welcoming allows us to take a breath and live in the moment. We open ourselves us to allowing God to work instead of always trying to get back to our own agenda. It takes us out of the equation and puts our focus on others and the moment we are in. We can allow welcoming to be apart of us if we let ourselves.
Let us each take the steps toward a welcoming mindset so that we can live the love of Jesus in our lives.
I appreciate the comments and positive statements on all of our social media posts. Keep them coming!
This week take a breath and give the next person you meet your undivided attention.
Many churches make bold claims about God, Jesus, heaven, hell, and various other Christian terms. It's awesome to have a belief system that helps you navigate the roadways of life. However when those belief systems cause division, point fingers or break down relationships then maybe its time they are questioned.
One thing my family and this faith community, have taught me that its ok to say “I’m not for sure” or “I don’t have it all figured out.” It's a freedom in knowing I do not have to have all the answers. The notion throws away rigidity and rightness and declares questions and lack of knowing as a natural process of our faith. With this sigh of relief people are allowed to lean into the divine being a mystery to which we are all discovering. Knowing any encounter can be the spirit breathing further understanding of God in our lives.
So why do some of us feel the need to be right and believe we have all the answers? How can our faith grow with the openness of not knowing?
Much of peoples need to be right comes from our own personal biases. A bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. When we specifically look at faith much of our beliefs come from what we have grown up knowing. We hold biases based on the belief system that has been engrained in us. Now this is not bad, its just important to be aware that how we see the world and what we believe about the world may not be the entirety of what there is.
Chaehan So talks specifically about selective perception in regards to confirmation bias, self-serving bias, and hindsight bias. The ones he goes over is just a few of the 50 cognitive biases he states there are. It's a great Tedtalk informing us about our own internal processes and how many times we are wrong. Take the time to check it out as I promise he is entertaining and has good information.
So what does this information about biases mean for our unique faith journeys? Well we all might use this information differently. It informs me that I need to continually be open to listening and hearing ideas that are contrary to my prior judgements or beliefs. For others it may mean that exploring faith and other denominations is ok because its about figuring out what is right for you instead of holding onto potential bias.
Faith Growing By Not Knowing
Now many of us hate not knowing. I mean google is at our fingertips and with a few strokes we calm our fears by finding the answer. Uncertainty can be a beast in our lives. Researchers have found uncertainty is correlated with stress. The article "Why We Hate Not Knowing For Sure" indicates the more someone knows what will happen the less stressed they are even it if is a horrible outcome. Its calming for us to know, and we seek out that feeling.
However on the other hand, in some situations we can feel like we are the only ones that do not know causing added stress. Think about new experiences you have had, or walking into a church for the first time. We put stress on ourselves because we do not know how it will be or what to do. The article "The Wisdom of Not Knowing" talks about the freedom associated with not knowing everything. Many times others have been in the exact same situation or don't know either. But it seems like it takes so much time to figure that out. That's why being vulnerable is so important because it allows us to be free.
With faith there is great benefits of knowing your beliefs. It becomes an internal and external moral compass for how we live. However knowing your beliefs can also create lines causing what is not on that side or challenges it, to be wrong. When we take on an attitude of not having it all figured out we open up the freedom of finding God in new ways. Now I'm not saying throw everything away. That would be demolishing and send us into a crisis. Your past faith experiences should be lifted up and held valuable. But just as there are two sides to every story we must figure out the rest of it for ourselves and what is right for us individually.
It is perfectly ok to be set in what you believe if that works for you. Just be aware of how those beliefs inform your actions and dialogue with others. Ask yourself if it hinders in anyway relationships from being formed or good deeds from being done? If we are to live like Jesus we need to eliminate the biases from our lives by being open to the spirit that leads us. We must see outside of our own perceptual lenses. It is in this task of opening ourselves up that we may actually begin to figure things out.
Our blog is continuing to see great growth. If you feel like you have something to contribute and would like to be a guest blogger please submit your information at our contact us page and we will consider it.
This week reflect on your own interactions. Identify biases you have and how you can make changes.
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.
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.