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!