15 February 2009

Promises of Psalm 30


I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my
foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you
have healed me. O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored
me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. Sing praises to the
Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For
his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping
may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. As for me,
I said in my prosperity, "I shall never be moved." By your favor, O
Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face;
I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made
supplication: "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the
Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!" You have
turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and
clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
—Psalm 30

Two things have converged for me in an odd way this week. Thing
number one: I am in the interview process to be the stated supply
pastor at a PCUSA church nearby where I live. I had lunch with the
Clerk of Session yesterday, and in the course of our conversation he
made it crystal clear that he is against the ordination of gays and
lesbians, and that the church has considered breaking away from the
denomination. ("Why?" my spouse, who is an Episcopal priest, asks.
"The Presbyterian Church isn't even that progressive yet!") I
remained silent, to my shame, and let him assume what he wanted to
about my beliefs. Since I am a man married to a woman, he was happy
to assume that I am also against gay ordination, and have similar
concerns about the fate of the Presbyterian Church. (I may have my
concerns about the fate of the PCUSA, but only if it doesn't start
allowing gay ordination and blessing gay unions!) I've since learned
that this man is on the far-right fringe of his church, and that
although the Session briefly discussed leaving the denomination—in the
course of a larger conversation about another church in the Presbytery
that is doing so—there is no general talk around the church about
leaving the denomination. That said, though, I also know this is a
self-described "conservative" church. I am a Candidate ready to be
ordained and am unhappy with my current job, which is part of what
makes me so interested in this stated supply position. But I have to
stop and ask myself: would I even be considering this church if I were
already ordained and had a good job, given the difference between
their theology and mine?

Thing number two: Valentine's Day is here again. Oh joy. I read
recently that in 2006 people in the United States spent about $13.7
billion on Valentine's Day. If you've ever seen the promotional video
put out by the Advent Conspiracy (www.adventconspiracy.org), you know
that it is estimated that it would cost $10 billion to provide clean
water to everyone in the world who needs it. $13.7 billion on one
year's Valentine's Day in a single country, or $10 billion to solve
the world's water problem? Sure, clean water isn't nearly as sexy as
chocolates, flowers and lingerie. But it does make you think. And in
the midst of the commercialism and the idealized (and hopelessly
unrealistic) images that Valentine's bring us, I also just watched the
video put out by the Courage Campaign (www.couragecampaign.org) in
which gay married couples in California ask simply that they not be
"divorced" by Ken Starr's hateful legislation that would invalidate
the state's 18,000 gay marriages. On the one hand, we have the
perfect (heterosexual) images of romance brought to us by Hallmark,
DeBeers Jewelers and Godiva Chocolates, and on the other hand we have
committed and hurting gay couples asking simply that we not separate
them with bigoted laws.

In the midst of this complex week, Psalm 30 speaks to me with a fresh
voice. The psalmist sings "I said in my prosperity, 'I shall not be
moved.'" We have all been there—on top of the world, at the height of
our game, at the point when nothing can go wrong—until it all comes
toppling down: "you hid your face; I was dismayed." The promise of
this hope, though, comes for me in two lines, the first that "Weeping
may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning." The
psalmist is not dishonest about pain, about suffering. But the
psalmist also believes that with God there is always hope. It reminds
me of the line from the hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness" in which I
have taken some solace in hard times: "strength for today, and bright
hope for tomorrow."

The second promise of Psalm 30, of course, is that God will turn
"mourning into dancing." What a beautiful image, and what a profound
hope. My prayer—in the midst of my own discernment, in the midst of
this wreck of a saint's feast we call Valentine's Day, and in the
midst of arrogant and spiteful attempts to break apart those who love
each other—my prayer is, "Dearest God, God of the lover and the
Beloved, turn our mourning into dancing." Amen.

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