Meet Christianity’s “John and Paul”: Meet “Justice and Joy”
I have had some amazing moments of joy in my life. Kissing the love of my life for the first time! Making a half-court shot in a basketball game! Watching my son, Wes, take down the number one tennis player in his district. Watching my son Sam’s Legion baseball team win state! Listening to my daughter, Cassie, nail her opening solo for her show choir’s competition set! Watching my son, Ben, sing in an acapella quartet where he arranged all the songs! Watching my grand-daughter, Emerson, climb on the bus for her first day of kindergarten! I mean I have had much joy in my life. But that personal joy is somehow different than the communal joy I once experienced when the Vermillion First UMC, a church I was leading, became the first church in the Dakotas to become a Reconciling church. At that moment I was overcome with something that exceeded the depths of any joy I have ever experienced. There was something so different about this joy than these other joys. I almost want a different word for it.
Years later, I continue to ponder just what made that joy so deep, wide, intense, and different, and I think I’ve whittled it down to two things: This joy was connected to a larger, global community, and this joy was connected to a reversal of a terrible injustice.
Let me explain. For years, the LGBT+ community had been left out, put down, misunderstood, and vilified by my United Methodist Church (I’m sorry I don’t know how else to categorize that disturbing phrase in our Book of Discipline: “incompatible with Christian teaching”). And now, at least just for a moment…there amid this great injustice…was one community willing to do something to reverse that injustice. True joy and justice are always connected.
And because of this reality, every justice organization, in order to survive, needs to know how to do joy! Why? Because justice work, of any kind, is heavy and arduous work! And if you don’t have joy…if you don’t take time to celebrate every moment of victory with a leap and a shout…you will eventually lose your spirit…your salt…your light-ness! Joy is a vital component of any and every “church and justice” group, inside or outside of our walls! And, as we make our way through this pandemic and out into a world of injustice, I am convinced that it is “joy” that will bring us to a new place.
Not a fake joy! Not an inauthentic shout just to say we did it. Not a pew, sitting toad wave above our heads. Not a glitzy mask of a pretend smile. But a deep, guttural, salt-of-the-earth joy that comes not from the vocal cord, but instead from the deep, abiding belief that we are forever grounded in a God who at God’s very heart wants to turn this world right-side up again!
Sometimes I don’t think we realize how radical worship is. When we worship, we aren’t just, rubbing the sleep dust out of our eyes, slipping out of our PJ’s, in order to sing a couple of club camp songs! We are proclaiming a radical and life-changing reality. We are proclaiming that the powers of this world, however powerful, are not the primary source of OUR life…but instead, that LOVE is! We are proclaiming that the powers of this world who continue to take life away from the most vulnerable may have a foot hold in this world, but NOT IN OUR HEARTS! There is a joyful defiance in our songs! We sing not just into an empty cavern, but into a world that is confused and worn down by too many voices that want to put us down and “cancel” our authenticity. And into that confusing and broken world, we joyfully announce a new kin-dom. Our hymns aren’t just praise, they are protest songs…that have as the very center two profound partners: Justice and Joy!
One of the songs we are singing this Sunday in worship is a song sung all over the world when Christian’s celebrate holy communion. It’s called ONE BREAD, ONE BODY. Here are some of the lyrics:
ONE bread, ONE body, One Lord of all; ONE cup of Blessing which we bless
And we though many throughout the earth; We are one body in this one world.
Gentile or Jew; Servant or free; Woman or man; NO MORE!
Folks this is not some contemplative, “personal holiness” elevator music. This is a radical protest song meant to be sung with every ounce of justice and joy we have! It’s songs like these that turn this world right-side up again because they combine both justice and joy.
Your friend and pastor, challenged by the partnership of justice and joy, Brook