14 December 2008

For what do we wait?

Ian Doescher

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them." The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

—Psalm 126

For what restoration are we longing? For what do we wait? During Advent, the time is ripe for thinking on those things we await, those promised things that are yet to come. For gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual, queer and questioning people—and their allies--, Psalm 126 must speak a true word about waiting, about expectation, about hope.

There are a couple of ways to read this psalm, and both are possible given the text. One way is to assume that the first three verses—about God's restoration—refer to a past event (usually thought to be Israel's return from exile). The second way to read it—and the way I first read it—is to view the first few verses as a hope for the future, as in "this is what it will be like when God restores us." The justification for this second reading is verse 4, which states a very present need: "Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb." So I ask again: for what restoration are we longing? For what do we wait?

Growing up, I went with my parents to the very conservative Church of Christ. When I was in high school, I started noticing the things that were said in church—Oregon had an anti-gay ballot measure on the ballot in 1994—the infamous Measure 9—and I can remember someone at church passing out "Yes on 9" pamphlets, and my friends in the youth group talking about how they had vandalized someone's "No on 9" sign. Is this what church is supposed to be about? That question led me to the Presbyterian Church. A friend who knew I was unhappy with the Church of Christ invited me to her church, and I immediately felt more comfortable there.

In the thirteen years since then, four of which included a divinity school degree, I have joined the Presbyterian Church and subsequently put my Presbyterianism to the test. I have wrestled with the tradition, learned to love parts of the polity, and cried as the church upholds decisions I find difficult to accept. This is probably a familiar feeling for many of us: we have both loved and been challenged by our denomination; we want it to be what it is and we desperately want it to change. We are in a sort of exile, looking forward to the time when God will restore the fortunes of Zion.

Now, I too look forward to the day when our church and our society are fully welcoming, when laws like Oregon's Measure 9 and California's Proposition 8 and the Presbyterian Church's Amendment B are a memory. "Restore us, intimate God," I find myself praying, "Bring us the day marriage for gay and lesbian couples becomes a reality. Restore us so that all are fully accepted for who they are. Bring the day when the church ordains those most fully called, regardless, and asks forgiveness for the decades and centuries of wrong done in Christ's name. In that moment, when the Lord restores to wholeness the family of God, we will be like those who dream! Then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy. Then it will be said among the nations: 'The Lord has brought them justice!'"

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