Proclamation of Joy

Mission Center President Kim Naten
Opening Worship Address “Courage to Dance”
Mission Center Conference 2022: Courage

My comments this morning start with a story.  A Love story.  Near the beginning of the 3rd grade, a classmate of mine, Regina Hoag, and I began ballet classes together.  I have no recollection of how that came about, but her mom was able to take us to class and I think my mom picked us up, but however it came to be, we started ballet classes at the big green ballet school on the corner of 175th and Aurora, The Giglio Theater School of Dance!  Mr. and Mrs. Giglio and their daughter ran the school, and Mr. Giglio was everything you’ve ever read or seen in the movies as to what a Ballet Master was.  Stern, perfect posture, a walking stick tapping out the counts as we plied, releved, ronde de jombe’d . . . His daughter, Cleo, was the children’s teacher and was a little less frightening, but between them, they conveyed – at least to me – a seriousness and a discipline for dance that somehow stuck.  And I fell in love.  Ballet and tap dancing became the first things outside my family that I truly loved, that was something I could do and experience that brought a sense of JOY.  I’m not sure my mom shared that same sense of joy as she was the one sewing ribbons, straps, and tulle skirts onto the many costumes I wore over the years, but for me – dancing became a magical world of grace, elegance and joy expressed through movement and music.  Like many little girls, I dreamed I’d dance right into adulthood and a career as a professional dancer. 

Toward the end of my 3rd year of lessons we moved out of the area and thus ended my presumed career path.  I don’t think I realized it at the time, but over the years I would recognize that those 3 years of dance lessons instilled in me a love for all types of dance.  As a student at Graceland I was thrilled to be able to take tap dancing as my PE credit; and later in life I took Western line dancing and Salsa dancing classes just for fun.  And if you know me at ALL, then you surely know my nearly lifelong affection for the Disco dancing!  And SOMEDAY I think I’ll learn ballroom dancing.  And keep dreaming that one day they’ll do a season of Dancing with the Stars but call it Dancing with Regular Folks and I’ll try out and get a spot, and win the Mirror Ball trophy!  I’m guessing this is a part of my life story that few of you knew.

So right about now you may be asking yourself, WHY DID SHE DRESS UP LIKE THAT JUST TO TELL US A STORY?  And I may be asking MYSELF, why am I standing here in a none too flattering get-up sharing this story?  It’s not to be cute, or entertaining WELL, here’s why:  wearing this outfit brings me joy.  Just buying it and breaking in these toe shoes, sewing on the ribbons, all of it brought back the joy of dancing. 

Our theme this morning is COURAGE TO DANCE:  HOW DO WE CLAIM OUR JOY IN COMMUNITY TO EXPRESS OURSELVES FREELY WITHOUT FEAR?  I’m sharing this story and dressed up in an outfit that brings me joy because I am not afraid to be my authentic self in this community.

We claim, as members of Community of Christ, to promote communities of Joy, Hope, Love and Peace.  The teachings, words and actions of Christ himself affirm this, and we have countless scriptures from both the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants that guide and direct us to be a loving community where all are welcome, all are of worth, and all are called.  We claim unity in our diversity and compassion, forgiveness, justice and mercy; we affirm that there is a place at the table for everyone born!  So if that’s the Community we are called to create, and long to live in, shouldn’t this community also be the place where we are free to be our unique, quirky, silly, vulnerable selves?  In a world that seems to thrive on judgment, criticism, and ridicule, shouldn’t our faith community be the one place we can be ourselves without fear of that judgment and harshness?  Theoretically, our families provide that place for us as well – but not always.  Our faith community, what we always called our Church Family, however, is a chosen family, a welcoming, accepting and loving bunch of people who want the best for one another.  Or at least in my mind, is what it should be. 

And so the fact that I’m standing here in this little outfit that brings me joy and helps tell my story, speaks volumes about THIS community.  I can walk in here proudly and uninhibited because YOU, my friends, are my people, my safe space, my sanctuary.  You love and accept me, you provide space for me to risk and experiment, and grace for me when I falter.  I can be my authentic self with you.  And isn’t that what we ALL want to experience in community? And what we’re called to create for others? 

To answer the question then, perhaps we claim our joy simply by having the courage to be our authentic selves, believing that our chosen community will accept us and love us without judgment or ridicule.  Maybe I’m being naïve or viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, but really – if we all just quit hiding behind masks, saying and doing what we think people want to hear and see, and chose to live joyfully and without fear, what a community we could create, huh?  And when WE claim our joy, we are giving others permission and courage to claim theirs, and it goes on and on. 

Being in Christ-like community with one another SHOULD be a joyful experience! So joyful that we want to dance and sing and laugh and know that everyone in our community is free to do the same.  My own experience as teenager confirms my belief in this.  Growing up, as a teen, I felt like I was living 2 lives:  the Monday thru Friday Jr. High and High School Kim, and the Zion’s League/”church” Kim.  The person I was at school bore little resemblance to the person I was with my church friends at Zion’s League events and camps.  I found my safe space and knew that when I was with THOSE friends, I could be myself and not have to fit in with any particular group or act a certain way to be accepted. I was fortunate to learn early in life that my chosen faith community was a safe place for me to learn and grow and make mistakes and be silly and be joyful.  My school friends knew that I was very involved in my church youth group and accepted that about me, but we simply didn’t have the same kind of friendship that I had with my church friends.  And having those friendships in my youth shaped me and formed me.  I don’t just mean my peers, I have to include my friends’ parents, the other adults around, the older kids – the village.  The village that raised me and provided me with loving guidance, boundaries, compassion, forgiveness, and the freedom to express myself freely and joyfully, without fear.  That is the kind of community I hope we are striving to create, for one another, for our kids and youth, for the strangers and the seekers searching for a spiritual home. 

Our scripture text for this morning comes from Doctrine & Covenants 161:1, and inspired me to have the courage to stand here like this today.  I hope that it brings encouragement and hope to you as well.

A. 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.

B. Claim your unique and sacred place within the circle of those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ. Be faithful to the spirit of the Restoration, mindful that it is a spirit of adventure, openness, and searching. Walk proudly and with a quickened step. Be a joyful people. Laugh and play and sing, embodying the hope and freedom of the gospel.

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