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1207 Peabody Ave.
Memphis, TN 38104
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Sunday Worship–10:50 AM

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Friday evening service begins at 6:00 PM.

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I Choose Love

Posted on February 20th, 2019

By:  Rev'd Dr. Johnny Jeffords

The anthem sung by our choir last Sunday was stunning.  It’s a lyric written by Lindy Thompson with music composed by Mark A. Miller.  You know Mark Miller’s music even if you’re not sure you do.  His is the musical setting for communion we sing.  He wrote “Roll Down, Justice,” which served as a theme for our Lenten series back in 2017.  He’s one of United Methodism’s most gifted composers for the current age.  He also happens to be gay.  Mark has served the Church with his remarkable God-given gifts for many years, and the Church has received his gifts gladly even as it will not receive him in the fullness into which he was created.

I’m thinking about Mark and this particular anthem as I prepare to go to St. Louis for the Called Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church.  I’m thinking about parishioners I’ve served over the years who came to me in the sanctity of my office to share with me the burden of being gay but not able to claim it within their family and certainly not within their church family, and the shame they felt for living a lie.  I can recall the looks of pain, see the tears, and hear the fear in their voices of being found out, of being judged. 

I’m thinking about my beloved St. John’s family of women and men, those who are of the LGBTQ community and those of us who ally ourselves with them and their quest to be fully included in the Church they love.

I think about St. John’s journey, which is not completely unlike my own where the conviction that everyone belongs is assured, but the realization that such a conviction conflicts with the rule of the Church to which we’ve vowed our lives created a conflict of conscience.  So, many of us equivocated that conflict of conscience by living within the ambiguity of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  And maybe some of us thought of that was a forward living way to make sense of it all, or at least we thought it bought us some time hoping that something would change only to realize the change was that the harm done from not fully standing with the excluded was greater and the pain grew deeper.

But living among, serving alongside and loving those not fully welcomed judges “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Some of us needed to be ministered to by those whom the Church will not ordain to help us see that it takes courage to have courage.  It takes a “choose this day whom you shall serve” moment to see clearly what we’ve worked so hard to obscure, that at the end of the day what it all boils down to is something as simple as this – our marching orders do not come from The Book of Discipline.  They come from the commands of Jesus who tells us to “love God and all that God loves.” 

With it comes the realization that if the question of full inclusion is ultimately one of justice, then there is no middle way.  We either choose love or we don’t.  We either love people not regardless of who they are but precisely because of who they are no differently than any of us seeks to be loved, or we don't.  The choice to love is not dependent on those who agree with me.  The power of love, God’s love, is that agreement has nothing to do with it because if it did, it wouldn’t be love at all.  Love is to be given.  Love is to be received, freely and without reservation or condition.

And I’m freely and unreservedly willing to love the whole of the Church, including those within it  who would rather label me than know me and sneer as they say the word “liberal,” as if that’s a bad thing.   I’m willing to live with and among the very people who prefer to purge me and mine from the Church as if to do so is some purification rite. 
So Mark’s melody and Lindy’s lyric resonate in me today.  Written in response to the violence done by a young white man in the sacred space of Mother Emanuel AME Church to Jesus loving disciples:

In the midst of pain, I choose love.

In the midst of pain, sorrow falling down like rain,

I await the sun again, I choose love.

In the midst of war, I choose peace.

In the midst of war, hate and anger keeping score,

I will seek the good once more, I choose peace.

When my world falls down, I will rise.

When my world falls down, explanations can’t be found,

I will climb to holy ground, I will rise.

In the midst of pain, I choose love.

In the midst of pain, sorrow falling down like rain,

await the sun again, I choose love

I’ve been braced for this moment in St. Louis since it was announced.  It was the ground of my hope coming out of Portland in 2016 that there could be a way out of no way.  Over the last year, I’ve been all over the place – on the cusp of hope and the precipice of despair.  In the end, though, unless I’m choosing love, choosing peace and believing we will rise, I’m entering the proceedings with a heart of war, not of peace.  I’ve found an abiding peace that comes from the knowledge that “perfect love casts out fear.”  So, I’m not afraid, anymore.  I am persuaded that the balance of my life in ministry will be spent in the Light, where God’s grace is amazing and God’s love is real, where All means All, where we Let Love Lead.  The proceedings in St. Louis have nothing to do with whether or not I live in the “ethic of love,"  but hearing the call of Jesus and listening to voices like Mark's will.

Resources on The Special Session of General Conference

Details & Resourses assembled by The Memphis Conference:  here

United Methodist News Services:  homepage, Twitter, Facebook

Reconciling Ministries Network (with whom SJUMC is affiliated):  homepage, Twitter, Facebook

Live Stream:  here

Comments

fnaf: The poem is nice. It left me a deep impression of love.

Sarah Fitch: Thank you, Johnny. I choose love, also. Our prayers are with the conference!

Mary McDonald: Beautifully said, Johnny. And I am with you, wholeheartedly!

Jaime Winton: Yes! Thank you for beautifully articulating what so many of us know in our hearts to be true!

Shark apex az1002 review: All you need to do is gain confidence in God's love. It is enough to carry you through anything.

yahoo mail login: What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing!

Carol Wright: I stand with you also, I choose love!

Linda Mischke: I am in complete solidarity with you, Johnny.

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