Saturday, July 23, 2016

Community, Communion, and a Vision of Zion

     This blog post is part two of my Community of Christ World Conference Impressions.  To read the first part of this blog series see here.

     This post is going to center on the most spiritually uplifting part of the conference that I personally attended.  This session was the Sunday Communion Service.  Videos have been added of the service for those who wish to watch them.  At the service there was a large group of tables with bread and grape juice set up on the stage at the front.  The sermon was done by the Presiding Evangelist David Brock.  This Sermon I think helps to explain the idea of what the Sacrament means in the Community of Christ. In the LDS church it is a renewal of baptismal covenants and a demonstration of the willingness to take upon oneself the name of Christ.  The Sacrament in the Utah Mormon tradition is to be taken by those who are worthy to receive of the emblems.  Both the Community of Christ and LDS church believe the emblems of the sacrament to be a representation of Christ's body and blood. The sacrament in the Community of Christ from the little that I have observed appears to represent a uniting of the church as being one as a body in Christ.  It is viewed as a act of reconciliation with one another that promotes a oneness in the diversity and sometimes fragmentation that individuals within the local and global community can have.  David Brock says if much better than I can, here is the Communion Service Sermon below.

      Before the passing of the communion there was a Reflection on the Communion Emblems.  This video gives an artistic as well as unifying view of what the Sacrament represents to those gathered. The communion table in the Community of Christ/RLDS tradition is an open and welcoming table for all who want to come into Christ's peace and be a part of the community of believers.  This is an open communion, members and non-members can partake of the emblems.  A video on the reflections of the communion is below.

      After the Reflections on the Communion Emblems, the part of the service that I found to be the most profound was when the communion sacrament was passed to the congregation.  What I found particularly moving was the diversity of people who passed the communion.  The Sacrament was broken by the leadership of the church.  From there it was passed by a large and diverse group of people.  The people who passed the emblems were both men and women, they represented many different races, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, dress, and sexuality.  While they passed the communion the congregation sang hymns of unity, oneness, and justice.  The Pacific Mission Choir also provided a ministry of music during the service.  It truly was profound in the symbolism of community and equality that it gave.  For me personally it seemed to represent a vision of what Zion would be like.  It was an incredible experience and one that is hard to describe.  It truly was a different experience from the sacrament experiences I had in the LDS church, although profound in its own way.  I saw a divine mission in the service that I participated in and a vision that Zion could actually be a possibility.  The service seemed to represent a vision of Zion where differences in beliefs, dress, race, culture, sexuality, and gender identities are respected and expressed authentically. Zion seemed to me then to be a place where everyone is held together by the spirit of community, equality, and selflessness that would pervade a Zion like society.  I cannot adequately described what I felt and experienced at that time.  I never knew a religious experience could feel and be presented in this particular way. It was a stark contrast to my previous experiences in the LDS church and actually changed the ways I view spirituality and my relationship with the possibility of God's existence.
       The music was provided by the Pacific Mission Field Choir. Here is a video of some of the singing that was provided by this choir during the passing of the emblems.


      I hope you enjoyed this blog post and my representation of this service. I tried to make it authentic to my experiences knowing that others may have felt and experienced things differently than what I had.  This may be my last post for a while on my experiences in conference and in general.  My schooling is about to start again and will probably be one of the craziest semesters I will be experiencing so far.  Hopefully I can post something during the upcoming semester.  Thank you everyone who has been reading my blog since I came out more than three years ago.  It truly has been a roller coaster of emotions and experiences.  I appreciate you all joining me on this journey.  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Need For Spiritual Safety

My heart has grown heavy once again this year over recent deaths that have occurred from the Orlando mass shooting tragedy and also in the LDS LGBTQ community with news of more suicides.  Lives with so much potential were taken from this world.  Each one of them with their own hopes, dreams, talents, and gifts, senselessly snuffed out in acts of violence.  Whether that violence comes from a person armed with hate and a gun or from a pulpit that expresses moral justification in its condemnation of LGBTQ individuals, they all have one thing in common.  Each one of them dehumanizes and degrades people based on how they love, making it easier for others to feel justified in harming them.  Whether it is with misled good intentions mixed in with a feeling of moral superiority or evil intentions that only seek to harm, the result is still the same.  Heartache, sadness, broken families, and in the worst cases the death of these precious individuals who deserved more than what society ultimately gave them.   To all the people who may read my blog who have lost someone due to suicide or some other way I am truly sorry for your loss and I know that my words won't change what has happened.  I hope that my post can help others understand and have a greater capacity to empathize with others that may be suffering.  It is my hope that some day children growing up will not experience the pain that I and so many others have experienced at the hands of those who may not understand them or what they are going through.

Not only can violence be physical, it can also be emotional through abuse and neglect, it can be verbal with speech that seeks to degrade, harm, and diminish the worth of others, and it can be spiritual.  Spiritual violence is most often, in my own experience, used unknowingly by the person using it.  It can be a sermon or a lesson in Sunday school.  It can be a side remark or comment that may be said out of ignorance.  It can be a doctrine or set of beliefs that exclude certain groups of people, making individuals into inconveniences in what some want to be a static and unchanging belief system.  Ultimately, I think the most damage comes in an LGBTQ context when someone is outed leading to religious authorities, parents, and friends who do not understand them to use religious terminology to shame or to harm in order to change the person sexual orientation.  These type of messages although maybe well intentioned most of the time harm rather than help the child.  These words and actions from loved ones and trusted authorities can lead to isolation, depression, and sorrow which can tragically lead this person to take their own life.  What messages are we sending to children who are confused and hurting when over the pulpit LGBTQ people are derided as a menace to public safety and that acceptance of gay and lesbian children somehow will bring about the destruction of the world.  What messages are being sent when children whose romantic orientation doesn't fit a specific mold are told that they shouldn't exist in a church.  What is happening when that child grows up and falls in love and then is told that the love that they feel is sinful and evil.  When parents shun them and religious leaders condemn them this is spiritual violence and tragically this has led to many suicides of young LGBTQ children throughout the years.

How do we combat spiritual violence and protect those that are victims of this violence.  In some ways it first takes introspection on our own part on how we view the God that we say that we worship.  Is our God a homophobic God, a God that encourages rhetoric that leads to the deaths of children from suicide?  Does our God delight in children being thrown out of their homes by their parents and told that God does not love them? Or does our God that we worship truly express love for everyone?  Does he see everyone as equal in his sight and does he express sadness at the offense that is committed against one of his children?  Do we see the Divine in the diversity of human relationships and how people express their love for one another?  Does our spiritual community seek to build up and welcome all people or does it place a caveat at the door that says we welcome all except for those that we find unacceptable?

I have the utmost respect for those saints who have continued to attend the LDS church after this past November.  Who have seen the bad fruit that has been wrought by the rhetoric and policies directed at the LGBTQ Mormon community and have still moved forward in seeking to be place of refuge in the church for those who need it.  For me the pain became to unbearable and I couldn't stand staying.  However, although I am no longer in attendance I have realized that simply standing on the sidelines is not an option.  I truly felt this after speaking with so many other former gay and lesbian Mormons at the Community of Christ World Conference and hearing of the near universal stories of heartache and spiritual violence that they experienced.  As individuals with shared experiences it is my hope that we can find those spiritual refugees, those individuals that have been so harmed by the rhetoric that all too often is still being used.   My hope is that we can meet them where they are and provide them a space to heal and a space to once again branch out and reach their potential whether outside or inside organized religion.  It is my hope that  hearts will be softened toward those that are different.   That spiritual safety will be found for those children who fall in love with a person of the same gender.  It is my hope that everyone born can have a place at the table.  That all people may be welcomed into a place that recognizes their true worth.  It is my hope that we all can come together and create communities that seek after peace where every child has the right to belong.

Below is a hymn that has really touched me over the past two months since I have heard it.  It is a hymn that truly embodies for me the type of spiritual community that I feel can be possible.  The lyrics and the video are posted below.

"For Everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead,

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace, dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that's fair,

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong,

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live,

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free,

and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
 of justice, justice and joy!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

World Conference 2016 - One in Christ

    This past Weekend I attended the Community of Christ World Conference in Independence Missouri.  Getting off the plane in Kansas City, I was both excited and apprehensive because I did not know what to expect at the Conference.  Luckily we met up with some other conference attendees at the airport and so were able to catch a ride with them over to Kansas City.  While in Kansas City we visited a couple of places and monuments including the National WWI memorial and museum.  The memorial provided us with a surprising starting point on this weekend conference trip.  

 Kansas City from the WWI Memorial

     When we entered the museum we walked over a glass bottomed bridge that overlooked an artificial meadow of poppy flowers.  Each flower represented 1,000 lives that were lost during that devastating and tragic war.  While still at the museum we had the opportunity to speak with a tour guide who found out that we were heading to a religious conference.  This prompted him to talk about how religion was used on both sides to justify the sending of many men to this war.  It reminded me of today and how religion is still used to justify violence against those considered the enemy or the other.  As I look back now while writing this I am struck with how poignant both the museum and the man's statements were as I embarked to a conference focused around peace and unity in Christ. 

WWI Memorial Kansas City, MO 

     After checking into the apartment that we were staying at, we took our first Uber ride from south Kansas City over to Independence where we were dropped off at the Community of Christ Auditorium.  The Auditorium is kind of like the conference center for the Utah Mormons.  It is a place where most of the legislative sessions, large meetings, and worship services take place.  Fun fact Harry Truman announced the United States signing of the United Nations Treaty at the Auditorium in 1945.  To commemorate the signing 50 years later a fountain was erected close to the Auditorium. 

Community of Christ Auditorium Independence, MO

     The first conference event started off with the Eagle Staff Ceremony on Friday afternoon where the non-geographical First Nations congregation sang and chanted.  An Eagle Staff was placed next to the stage as a way to honor the native peoples of the United States during the conference.  It was a very nice gesture of recognition for those Native to the land the conference was being held on.  It felt very appropriate and very sensitive to the history of the area.

     After the ceremony I walked around the Community of Christ Temple.  For those who may not know about the purpose of the Temple in Community of Christ theology, here is a quick explanation.  The use of the temple is modeled after the Kirtland Temple.  The temple is a place where special meetings and the temple school are held.  A daily prayer for peace is given in the temple as well.  There are no private ceremonies or ordinances performed there except for communion, priesthood ordination, and administration to the sick.  The temple itself is dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.  Everyone is welcome to enter into the temple and the sanctuary, I am not a member of Community of Christ and was able to enter.  


      Before I entered the sanctuary I was greeted by an etched glass depiction of the sacred grove.  The place where Joseph Smith prayed for God's divine guidance.  As I entered the main entrance I encountered artwork with deep spiritual meanings. The lights were dim as I placed my first step past the doors and onto the worshiper’s path.  Step by step I encountered prompts and artwork that challenged me to mediate on the symbolism that was presented.  This was my first time in the Temple and I didn’t know what to expect.  But as I slowly walked, I kept my mind open, meditating on the words and the imagery that I was being presented. Almost imperceptibly the path grew brighter until it opened up into the main sanctuary.  The sanctuary is designed like a Nautilus shell which drew my gaze upward as if I was looking towards heaven.  At the edges of the spiraling ceiling, windows allowed for natural light to completely illuminate the room as if it were glowing. An organ and stage were at the front of the room with pews facing toward the stage.  The space was very peaceful and provided a wonderful place for mediation and prayer.  During a service there that same day.  I was able to sing hymns with other conference attendees and as I sang I felt the divine pervade my heart as our songs seemed to reach toward heaven from that sacred and beautiful place.  

Temple Sanctuary Ceiling

    My first day at World Conference was significant and moving to me as I observed attendees from all around the world meeting together, singing, and greeting one another.  I didn't know it at the time but over the next few days I would truly gain a deeper understanding of the profound mission of the Community of Christ church.  I will be writing about my impressions about this meaning and the significance I feel it has in my next post.  Thanks for reading.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Stay Tuned for More to Come

     After finishing my first year of Medical School, I have finally been able to refocus my energy on updating this blog.  Over the past few months I have been preparing to go to an exciting event.   Thanks to my twin brother, we will be attending the weekend sessions of the Community of Christ World Conference in Independence, Missouri this coming Friday through Monday.

     I am curious in seeing for myself how this conference differs from the LDS general conferences that I have witnessed in the past.  From what I have read and learned, Community of Christ conferences are very different compared to LDS General Conferences.  A big difference is that the members who attend the conference are mainly elected delegates from congregations and Mission Centers (Stakes) all around the world.  The conference is run like a legislative session where common consent or dissent is practiced in regards to new revelation and church policy.  There are also opportunities for friends of the Community of Christ who are not members, members of the Community of Christ, and people who are interested to attend and listen without being a delegate.

     Along with the legislative sessions there is also a planned First Nations Eagle Staff Ceremony, Celebration Village, and other performances, events, socials, and opportunities to network with service oriented non-profits.  The conference lasts for about a week and a half.  If you are interested in learning more about the schedule and events see the event app here.  There will also be a live screening of the events here and the world conference website here for more information on resolutions and agenda items.

     After attending the conference I am planning on writing a few blog posts on my impressions, thoughts, and experiences of the conference with you all.  I want to do this for those who may have an academic interest, general curiosity, or an interest in spiritual exploration of the conference.

                                                           Auditorium Independence

     Moving away from the subject of future blog posts, I wanted to share the experience I had at the
Washington DC Community of Christ congregation last weekend.  At this service there were two baptisms, confirmations, and an ordination performed.  One of the baptisms was of my twin brother who made the decision to join the Community of Christ after attending services and events for about a year and a half.  As I spoke to the individuals and families who attended, I could definitely sense a spirit of community and support.  Many of the people who were present traveled from previous congregations that my brother first attended when he left the LDS church.  Along with the outpouring of support from the members, beautiful and inspiring hymns were sung including the old Irish Hymn Be Thou my Vision at the beginning and the more contemporary hymn For Everyone Born at the end.  The spirit of community also reached across the Atlantic to my brother's boyfriend who was skyping into the service from Italy.

     As I have continued to attend this small church community I have been both inspired and humbled by the gracious members and the spirit of a group of people who have felt a call to develop Zion-like communities.  I was truly honored to have attended a beautiful service and to be in the company of people who have truly embraced me and my family with open arms during the heartache of the past several months.  I am definitely looking forward to the world conference and the new opportunities for me to experience something new and exciting in the restoration movement.

I posted two of the hymns that were sung at the service below.

Be Thou My Vision

For Everyone Born

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Picking up the Pieces

       After the recent news that the LDS church's policy toward the Children of same-sex parents was actually a revelation instead of policy.  I found myself once again in a class feeling pain and sorrow at this pronouncement.  I had previously posted on my initial reaction to the policy here.  I thought I had moved on from my pain and was steadily progressing once again.  It turns out that years and years of hiding and denying my full identity as a worthy and loved child of God is hard to move on from.

       As I sat there I wondered, why do I still feel pain, why am I still fighting this same battle within myself.  I felt pain and longing for the many good  memories I spent in the faith of my family.  Dwelling on the what ifs and the has beens.  I also remembered the not so good times and how much I tried to change myself to reflect what I believed was God's only acceptable plan for me.  The pain and the anguish that I experienced and the thoughts of ending it all still sting as a painful reminder to a childhood spent in fear and loathing.

       Over the past few years especially around the time when I first publicly came out with this blog.  I have been growing and maturing in my faith and relationship with God.  Recent events have been quite a challenge to this previous foundation and has shattered what I had previously thought I had known without a doubt.  Although in hindsight I realized that many of those things that I professed were in a blissful ignorance of the infinite complexity that is God and the history of those seeking His will.

       I started questioning everything.  I pondered on the meaning of faith and the personal experience that is religion.  I also pondered on the possibility of being non-religious at all and not associating myself with any religion as a way to both protect myself and my future family.

       As I pondered and wrestled with these thoughts I was presented with an experience that brought peace to my heart.  A few Saturdays ago I went to a Potluck dinner at the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) congregation that I have been attending.  While there I found that the main room that makes up nearly all of the small building was filled with kids from the neighborhood.  The doors were open to everyone that wanted to have food to eat, fellowship, and fun.  The congregation that I have been attending is in a neighborhood where there are many different issues associated with poverty.  As a way to address the needs of the community, this congregation opens it's doors to all families to take part in food and fun in a safe environment.   I learned that many of the kids that lived in the local neighborhood come very hungry with many of their families struggling to make ends meet.  It really moved me how safe and happy the kids appeared there.  Many of them had no other family members there besides themselves.  It touched my heart the service that was provided to these children by the congregation.

       It was also the first time that my husband attended the congregation as well.  When I introduced him he was welcomed completely by the members with no looks or words of disapproval even from the older members. This experience made me feel even more welcomed in this community where I can be my authentic self without risk of judgment or ostracism.

       After the potluck my husband and I were driving home.  While heading home we saw a man in a motorized wheelchair on the street.  We stopped and turned on our hazard lights to see if the man needed help.  It turned out he was a veteran that had just been discharged from the hospital.  Someone had stolen his money and he had a friend who was checking on a nearby motel too see how much it would cost for a room.  Heading over there we found out that the women who was his friend didn't have enough money to put him up for a few days until he could find housing.  My husband and I are both students on a tight budget and weren't able to give the sum of money that was required.

       Thinking about the incredible charity I had just witnessed at the Community of Christ, I contacted the pastor and asked if he could help.  He listened to the situation and said that they would be able to take care of the rest of the motel bill for the man.  We were able to make the payment for the motel and we talked to both the women and the man.  The women had recently been living with a mother in law because her house had burned down a few weeks before.  The man had had one of his legs amputated and had bed sores on his body.  This man was in need of help and we were able to answer that call thanks to the charity and love of of the members of the Community of Christ.  They were willing to give freely to this homeless man who needed a place to stay while he looked for more permanent housing.  Even without meeting him they were willing to share of their bounty.  Peace entered my heart as we drove home.  I felt at home for the first time in a long time.  I felt like I had found a place that truly wanted and accepted me as me not some idealized version of who I am expected to be.  A family that saw worth in every person no matter who they are.

       A prayer for peace was given at the temple in Independence Missouri.  I wanted to share it with you all.

"I seek a heart that is attuned to listen to the sounds of human life - the murmurings of pain and struggle, the babble of confusion and doubt, whispered yearnings, the ecstatic outburst of joy and delight.
I seek a heart with an interior vision that sees beyond the surface.  I seek the peacefulness of a life well spent.  I seek the prayerfulness of the quiet, the agony of the fearful, the loneliness of the complainer.
I seek a heart imbued with feelings that can penetrate closed walls: walls that shut out closeness, walls that restrict friendship, walls that choke out life.
I seek a heart that is other centered, motivated by love of God, freely giving, joyfully surrendering selfish whims, peacefully touching life with beauty, gently walking in God's way."

        Although everyone's path is different and will have twists and turns along the way.  I am glad to know that for now, at this moment, I am in a place where I can have a greater capacity to serve others.  I hope and pray that everyone can find a place where they can express their true, authentic, and divine identities in a way that brings light and joy to this world.

       Thank you for reading and I hope that the spirit of Shalom or peace follows you in your travels.  And that this new year is filled with joy and wonder, where every experience whether sad or good brings you closer to a place where you can feel whole and appreciated.

Thanks for reading!