Our guest blogger this week is Kyle Joyce. Kyle is a full-time teacher getting ready to go back to school this fall where he teaches restorative justice. He is happily married to Kristine Shipley. They both attend the Bethel Community of Christ congregation in Kansas City, KS. Kyle is a Seventy in the church. Kyle and Kristine live in Kansas City, KS with their three dogs, foster son, and very soon, their first biological child. We are very grateful to have Kyle share his thoughts and hearts with us today.
“Be patient with one another, for creating sacred community is arduous and even painful. But it is to loving community such as this that each is called. Be courageous and visionary, believing in the power of just a few vibrant witnesses to transform the world. Be assured that love will overcome the voices of fear, division, and deceit. Understand that the road to transformation travels both inward and outward. The road to transformation is the path of the disciple.”
~Doctrine and Covenants Section 161:3c-d
“Listen carefully to your own journey as a people, for it is a sacred journey and it has taught you many things you must know for the journey yet to come. Listen to its teachings and discover anew its principles. Do not yearn for times that are past, but recognize that you have been given a foundation of faithful service, even as you build a foundation for what is yet to be. As a prophetic people you are called, under the direction of the spiritual authorities and with the common consent of the people, to discern the divine will for your own time and in the places where you serve. You live in a world with new challenges, and that world will require new forms of ministry. Do not be discouraged. You have not been promised an easy path, but you have been assured that the Spirit that calls you will also accompany you.”
~Doctrine and Covenants Section 162:2a-c, 3a
Being a disciple in the 21st century means that we are invited to embrace tension.
Whoa! *Embrace* tension? Mostly we try to alleviate it, quickly come to a resolution, run and hide from it, and/or pretend that it doesn’t even exist. Whether we like it or not, tension is and always has been part of our existence and, without it, we don’t learn or grow. Tension is a natural and historic part of our faith movement. So, it is not a matter of whether there will be tension or not in our lives – it’s a given that there will be – the question is how will we live in it and how will we use it in positive ways.
Tension exists within all aspects of our lives: in our relationships, our jobs, our communities, our nation, our world, our faith movement, and beyond. Tension arises out of the gap between our current reality and our desire or vision. As disciples, we have a natural inclination and motivation to resolve this tension.
This gap exists for each of us as individuals and as a faith movement full of prophetic people. Think about the boldest dream or vision you have or have for the church – now compare that with our current reality. I’m betting there is quite a gap? Can’t you just feel the tension already? Maybe even disappointment, frustration, anger, annoyance, or even sadness? Think of another disciple that you know. Think of the commonalities and differences between the two of you. It becomes a lot more complicated, doesn’t it? Cue “Unity in Diversity” and “Blessings of Community” sermon.
Personally, I have many applicable examples of tension around church topics. However, one example most of us can relate to and understand is our recent World & National Conferences. I can testify that God has big dreams for Community of Christ. The tension that I frequently encounter is how quickly I feel that we should move towards Zion when others believe we are already moving too fast. I believe we are moving incrementally toward Zion (but would like to move faster) while others may feel that we are moving further from Zion. Whew, talk about tension! Cue “Faithful disagreement” sermon.
How do we live in the tension between what is (what we are doing right now) and what we envision could be (what God is calling us to become)? One way we could deal with the tension is to limit our vision. That would reduce the gap and therefore reduce the tension, but it also reduces what we might attain. That is certainly a strategy we disciples often adopt, because tension can be uncomfortable and even painful. The alternative is to change our current reality and move it closer to our vision or desire to reduce the tension in a more positive direction. Tension is a process or structure for promoting change between what is and what could be.
I truly believe that is what God desires of us. This is how we create and achieve Zion, Heaven on Earth. God desires that we use the tension to grow and use tension in creative ways to promote good outcomes. God knows that we live in the tension all the time – and God lives in it, with us, too. God is in every moment and every event in all of creation and so God is in our tension, too – not just as observer, but as inspirer, guide, partner, and collaborator. And in our struggle with the tension, God always approaches us with an attitude of immense love, compassion, and forgiveness. God is an immensely present force in our creativity, in our expressions of love, our preaching, our prayers, our meetings/gatherings (even online), and our pursuit of peace and justice.
Look at what we can learn from the early Christian church and even our very own church history. We are WHO and WHERE we are today because of a history full of disciples in tension. Disciples of the past worked with and through tension with blind hope and faith that the future would be better because of it. Was it difficult? Were there some uncomfortable conversations? Was there a lot of passion when they spoke? Did people go home mad, upset, angry, and believing that they were right and the other person was wrong? I’m certain all of those situations occurred, even among the best disciples.
You all should know that I believe Jesus (fully human and fully divine) was very political, subversive, and even socialistic. To me, Jesus was all about turning things upside down. He overturned cultural norms, challenged the authorities, undermined the establishment, and generally shook everything up. He was a (good) trouble-maker, a dissident, and a thorn in the side of the establishment. His stated mission was to bring an upside-down Kingdom that would be good news for the poor and oppressed (Luke 4:18).
Can you imagine the tension with following Moses because he claimed that a burning bush told him that God would free you from slavery? As slaves, it wasn’t wise to upset Pharaoh! You don’t just confront corrupt systems of power without paying for it...sometimes with your own blood.
Can you imagine the tension with being one of the 12 disciples and following this radical man and his teachings during that time? Watching Jesus practice civil disobedience (Mark 2:23), associating with socially marginalized (Luke 5:29-32), modeling upside-down economics (Luke 3:10-11), preaching non-violence instead of militarism (1 Maccabees 13:49-51 & 2 Maccabees 10:1-8), and consequently his death as a dissident which changed everything...forever. Again, you don’t just confront corrupt systems of power without paying for it...sometimes with your own blood.
Can you imagine the tension in following Emma Smith into the reorganization after her husband was murdered and the church fell into disarray? Emma knew that you don’t just confront corrupt systems of power without paying for it...sometimes with your own blood.
It’s not always easy or comfortable. But it is worth the effort. Conflict and tension hold within themselves the possibility of blessing and of new outcomes not previously envisioned. Tension requires an openness to the Spirit of God, difficult conversations, restorative practices, and the ability to compromise. There is always tension. There is always the need to live with it and work with it respectfully. So, don’t run away from the tension – embrace it! Learn and grow from it. Lean into it and learn to use it peacefully, engaging with God, and in community with others.
“The Spirit of the One you follow is the spirit of love and peace. That Spirit seeks to abide in the hearts of those who would embrace its call and live its message. The path will not always be easy, the choices will not always be clear, but the cause is sure and the Spirit will bear witness to the truth, and those who live the truth will know the hope and the joy of discipleship in the community of Christ.”
~Doctrine and Covenants Section 161:7
Kristine and I have a foster son, whom we love dearly. He has experienced a lot of (too much) trauma in his short life. He constantly has large amounts of anxiety about what the future holds. He’s even said “I try not to think about the future because I cannot control what lies ahead.” Kristine and I are also expecting our first child (a little girl) sometime during the first week of September. What lies ahead for her? What will she have to look forward to? I don’t have anxiety...but worrying about their futures gives me anxiety.
As parents of both kids, Kristine and I don’t have a crystal ball and we can’t see the future. We worry about their futures. We want the world to be a much better place than it is currently. We hope there is more acceptance, more understanding, more peace, less injustice, more love for the environment, and less arguing over things that SHOULD be inherent human rights. Unfortunately, there are no street signs pointing to the best route on how to get there. We can’t see our/their final destinations. So, we will do everything possible to make their world better- regardless if it is marching for a cause or “flipping tables”, raising awareness on issues or challenging unjust systems, or preaching on Sundays or engaging in conversation with church leaders. Our children and their future are worth every bit of tension and struggle.
“Lift up your eyes and fix them on the place beyond the horizon to which you are sent. Journey in trust, assured that the great and marvelous work is for this time and for all time.”
~Doctrine and Covenants 161:1a
In 2018, Steve Veazey gave a powerful International Youth Forum (IYF) address. What he said, even to this day, spoke to my soul. In that address, he proclaimed: “People will try to discourage you from going beyond the seen horizon. Some don’t like new challenges, new understandings, and necessary change that come with increased clarity. They say ‘we’ve already arrived. There is nothing more to discover.’ I say ‘Don’t believe them!”
If I’m being honest, I frequently get caught looking “beyond the horizon” because I enjoy “new challenges” and “new understandings”, which can cause tension when some feel that “we’ve already arrived”. I welcome the tension to learn more about and work with those neighbors and how we can move forward together. To be a disciple in the 21st century requires and asks a lot of us. It might even cause some discomfort. We are called to create a better future that we cannot see, only imagine. There is no map, no instructions, and no promises. We do have each other, though, and that comes with the good and the tension. We can live harmoniously in the tension within ourselves, in our relationships, within our communities, in Community of Christ, and beyond. We are creating and leading the way.
God, the Eternal One, has been with us in our past, continues with us in the present, and already is waiting patiently for us in the future. My prayer is that we have the strength, discipline, and awareness to recognize it, even in tension.
A big thank you to Kyle for sharing his thoughts about discipleship and the need for us all to work in and through the tension of our lives. I ask that all of you keep their family in your prayers especially during this upcoming life change in September.
This week envision the future and what you want it to be..your spiritual life, church, relationships, etc. Notice the differences and decide how to move forward.
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.