At the back of the hotel ballroom, I stood shaking from my encounter with the Spirit. Outwardly composed, the pen I held in my hand betrayed my secret, resisting being steadied each time I tried to set it to the page.
I had just stood on the stage with simple straw basket and cup, and celebrated Holy Communion for the United Methodist Women as if my life depended on it, because in so many ways it does. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, as I tried to calm myself. Stepping out of the focus of this community of women so beloved to me, I found myself standing face to face with the core of what is at stake this month: This Table. This welcome. This meal. This family. This calling. This community. This life.
We can write and think and debate all we want about legislation and pensions and politics until we become safe and numb, losing all connection with the emotional and spiritual consequences of our actions. Losing all sense of the fact that families once said “I love you” across the breakfast table, and churches once said “Peace be with you” across the Table of the Lord.
At the end of the day, this is what is at stake: Will I lose my ability to serve at the Table of the Lord in the United Methodist Church simply because I have named that I know myself to be Queer?
I word that statement carefully, because this is not a question of whether I can serve at the Table of the Lord. The United Methodist Church does not have the authority to invite me to eat at the Table of the Lord, nor does it have the authority to invite me to serve at the Table of the Lord. Only the one to whom the Table belongs can give those invitations. This is the theology of my tradition. We believe that this is an open table; that our priestly task is merely to extend the invitation that Christ has already made to those that love God, repent of their failures to love, and seek to live in peace. It is my denomination that credentials me, but it is my God who called me.
It is possible that the strategies of those that fear us could rip my credentials from my hands, but they cannot put out the fire shut up in my bones, the coal that has touched my lips, or the lamp that shines from my eyes. Cowardice cannot quench the force of my courage. Hate cannot weaken the power of my love. The assumptions birthed in the dirty minds of patriarchal men cannot imagine away my integrity.
You should know by now, love never goes down without a fight, and justice never lets the oppressor define the terms of success or failure.
Justice is a beautiful and creative dance, and the clumsy steps of those who do not know how to sway to its rhythm will soon painfully reveal where each of us truly stands.
If the end of this month brings news that I, and my Queer sistren and brethren, have been barred from a Table, it will not be the Table of the Lord. No mortal has that power. Instead, we will stand shut out from the Table of Man. For a Table to which not all are invited, cannot be called the Table of the Lord. That is not Wesleyan theology, even if it was sadly his youthful behavior.
When we use the word Wesleyan to describe ourselves, which chapter of John Wesley’s life does our behavior emulate? Do we admire the young man, heart yet unwarmed, who barred Sophia Hopkey in 1737 from the Table for his own petty, personal and ego-driven reasons? Or do we admire the experienced leader, who in 1771 would break with church tradition, as well as the accepted interpretation of scripture on a woman’s role, to argue that women like Mary Bosanquet should be permitted to preach on the grounds of having an obvious and extraordinary calling?
As we think to our own future, let us remember in which chapter his ministry was destroyed by his arrogance, and in which chapter it was strengthened by his humility.
Let us be clear, if we choose to exclude from God’s table those whom we exclude from our own table, then we will have built for ourselves an idol in our own image. A Table, surely, but not the Lord’s.
Just as those before us have so often gathered their coins and trinkets to melt into a Golden Calf, those groups who have squirreled aside their coins, in violation of their covenant with the greater community, will have their moment to forge an idol to Man. Whether that idol will stand within the bounds of United Methodism, or outside of them is what we have yet to determine. Those who find themselves, at the end of the day, standing before that Idol, will continue to say the words, “We confess that we have not heard the cry of the needy” without ever facing the real crime: that they never truly tried to listen.
They have been too scared that they will find their heart strangely warmed, their attitude strangely shift, their mind strangely altered. They have been afraid of what love will do to the beliefs they hold so dear. I know well this fear of transformation, for as a child I was taught not to listen. All throughout those years, my little brain wondered every day: if what we believe is true, then why are we so scared that someone will change our minds?
That little girl with all her questions, has become a woman with the humility to know when she does not have the answers. A woman whose strength has been forged in fires whose heat no man who now stands against her could bear. A woman whose mind and heart have blossomed as she has aged, without ever losing her reliance on the vine supporting her, that is Jesus Christ.
So, when all this debating, and strategizing comes to an end, you will still find me at the Table of the Lord. Somewhere, perhaps in a United Methodist Church, or perhaps in the highways and byways, I will still take that loaf in my hands. I will break it as if our lives depend on it, and I will eat it together with those that hunger and thirst for righteousness…
and we will be filled.
and we will be loved.
and we will be welcomed.
and we will be whole.