Our text at Crossroads for this Sunday was Mary's song in Luke's gospel, when she meets her cousin Elizabeth, both of whom are pregnant. You might be used to hearing the song set to soaring music by Bach or Vivaldi, but it's actually pretty gritty stuff:
"And Mary said,‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’"
Did you catch all of that? That's a lot of subversive talk for a young pregnant woman in occupied territory. A lot of scattering of the proud and bringing down the powerful and sending the rich away. A lot of lifting up servants and the lowly and the hungry.
It's Christmas Eve, and soon I'll be off to church services with Leigh and her mom; and I'll be thinking of friends and family scattered all over the country, doing the same thing or maybe enjoying an evening at home. It's a night for rejoicing, and tomorrow the same (whether that means presents or prayers or Chinese food and a movie).
But I'll be thinking about Mary as I rejoice tonight. About joy not only "in the middle of" but actually "in the face of" the struggle and oppression and violence of the world. In the face of. As in, right up in the face of, staring it all down. Rejoicing, and making the brokenness blink first.
Last week I wrote a bit of a rant about the UMC and church trials. And after I wrote that, the UMC once again got itself some national headlines for the final verdict in our latest inquisition. (I mean, it made headlines in little known newspapers, like, say, The New York Times, so I guess it's not so big a deal).
I've seen friends and colleagues recently posting "Why I Stay" reflections, about staying in the UMC. And others have posted reflections about why they're not staying, why they're joining the ever-growing exodus out of a church that seems committed to judicial enforcement rather than, I don't know, grace or love or any of that baggage. (If only we had some sort of scriptural precedent to guide us in discussions of law and grace...)
For those who have left or are leaving the UMC: peace and love to you. I don't question your decision, nor do I question whether the Spirit continues to move in and through you and in all sorts of ways outside of the UMC.
Here is why I stay: Mary's song.
I am no Jesus, and no Mary. Far, far from it.
But I do try, in my own small way, to follow a paradoxical Savior who is born homeless, who constantly points our heads in the direction of strife, because that's where the message of Peace needs to be lived out.
I do try to sing along with Mary, and to rejoice right up in the face of the madness.
For some, that will mean leaving the UMC, because it has just become impossible to be honest and live out their calling in the context of this particular denominational construct. And it is that--a construct. Not an immortal or immutable truth.
But for me, at least for now, it means staying. Not just because of all the things that I love about the UMC--things like our Wesleyan theological heritage and our tradition of commitment to social justice and our hymnody and our diversity and our global reach (and yes, I will also go to bat for the appointment system and the ordination process).
Not just all of that. But because of the stuff that drives me crazy. The division and the church trials and the politicking and the ladder climbing. The broken stuff. I want to try, to take a shot at, singing a song of joy right up in the face of all of that.
You reading this might not give a fig about the UMC, which is fine. But whatever it is that you do care about, here's my Christmas Eve offering for you: get up in the face of the broken stuff, and sing. To do that might mean leaving a broken system. Or it might mean staying in the thing and fighting the good fight. We are different people and are lives call us and pull us in different ways.
But wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whether you are staying or leaving:
Do it singing.
Do it singing.