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Thursday, December 16, 2004

'Counterintuitive joy.'

From a sermon about "counterintuitive joy" preached this past Sunday by Beth Stroud, the United Methodist minister defrocked by the denomination for her open lesbian relationship in spite of her own congregation's support:

Early last week, I got an e-mail from a member of this congregation who had gone to the mall on Sunday afternoon to do some Christmas shopping with his daughter. They were both wearing their “Beth is my pastor” badges. A young couple at the mall recognized the badges from TV and angrily took issue with the view they represented: that Christianity has room for gay and lesbian families. Now, this is a person who has a temper. I’ve been on the receiving end once or twice. But on this occasion, as he felt his anger rising, he did the Christian thing and walked away, not even responding when the couple called out after them, shouting a very un-Christian antigay epithet. When I read his email, I was amazed at how this heterosexual man’s simple expression of solidarity with his lesbian pastor had become so much more, as he literally made himself vulnerable to the same suffering gay and lesbian people experience and fear every day. Perhaps the trial helped members of this congregation enter into a deeper solidarity with one another, truly sharing one another’s hurts as the church is called to do.

Here’s what I think makes me appreciate God’s sense of humor the most: Listening to members of this church talk about their experiences over the past two weeks, I realize that if Fred and Melody and I had worked for six months to come up with a plan to force you to talk about your faith and your congregation in your schools and workplaces, we couldn’t have done any better. This experience of the trial has made evangelists out of all of you, and you don’t even like the word “evangelism.” How funny is that?

I could give you more examples, but these will give you some idea of the window God opened for me in the middle of this trial, and the counterintuitive joy God gave me.

I can see God’s future as clearly as if it had already happened, even though it is clearly still very much under construction. I see a United Methodist Church that could be a meeting ground for people with different experiences and theologies, rather than a battleground. I see sacred space for real, deep, true, compassionate listening to one another, which can lead to conversion and transformation. I see the possibility of the kind of growth and vision that we experienced when FUMCOG became a Reconciling Congregation, only on a much larger scale, through which some of the very people who have the most questions might become the staunchest advocates of a fully inclusive church. I can see the day when people will recognize that God blesses all loving families. It might not come today or tomorrow, but it will come.

Four years ago, when Chris and I had our commitment ceremony, Patricia Pearce, the pastor of Chris’s church, reminded us that Jesus commanded us to rejoice. She told us:

“You see, people for the most part don't care much for alternate realities. They like what they're comfortable with, and because of your relationship you will challenge some people's comfort level and elicit their disapproval or even hostility. There is only one thing you are commanded to do when that happens. Go out dancing. Or partying. Or gather together in the company of friends to share a meal and laugh together. Celebrate your relationship. Rejoicing in the face of persecution is the ultimate subversive act, because it is the way you reclaim the truth that you are blessed and that you are not alone.”

After the trial, we did that. We obeyed Jesus’ commandment to rejoice. The night of the verdict and the penalty vote, my family and I went out to dinner with a few of the people who had given literally days and weeks and months of pro bono work to craft my defense. It was an evening of eating great food, telling family stories, and laughing together as we shared our various experiences of the trial. Fred was with us, and as we gathered there was such a spirit of joy and optimism in the room he said, “If this is losing, what does winning feel like?”

I won’t say I haven’t felt sad, or frustrated, or disappointed, or angry. But through it all God has also given me a sense of counterintuitive joy. My prayer is that you can experience that joy as well, and this joy will be a source of strength and hope and perseverance for all of us.

(Thanks for the link to Michael Povey's Rector's blog, via Mrs Philocrites.)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 16 December 2004 at 10:21 PM

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