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.