Marshaling our joy
David R. Weiss – October 9, 2009
This essay follows the August 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, where the ELCA voted, though with plenty of timid ambiguity—to allow churches that wish to do so to bless same-gender relationships and to ordain qualified candidates in same-gender relationships. Beyond that particular context, its message is pertinent for all who work for LGBTQ justice—and for any other expression of justice.
We have our work cut out for us yet. Every step forward, toward recognizing the full equality and practicing the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in church or society, unleashes a new wave of fear, anger, confusion, and resistance. And I wonder at times, what else can we do?
Well, I remembered something important recently in a train station in Belguim. Okay, I wasn’t there myself, but thanks to a YouTube video I did get to see an extraordinary moment unfold. (You can view it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkBepgH00GM)
On April 25, 2009, 200 dancers, both children and adults, performed a stunning bit of public theater in the central train station in Antwerp, Belguim. Beginning with just two, then four, then eight dancers and ultimately all 200, they dance to the infectious song “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. What makes this performance so inspiring is that, while clearly well-planned, it is also just as clearly unannounced and unbounded, and a very public performance of participatory joy.
Bystanders are first confused, shocked, surprised, curious, amused, but gradually—and within seconds—drawn in. Almost all are drawn in with their attention and more than a few with their movement, some joining the dancers while others move in place from where they stand. In four short but wholly sacramental minutes the atmosphere for everyone present is transformed from the mundane to Joy. When it was over life resumed “as usual,” but I bet everyone there, both dancers and bystanders, talked for days about those minutes in which they opened up the ordinary to Something More.
This is instructive for us in our work for justice. Yes, there is intellectual and emotional work to do: ideas to relate and stories to share. But there is something profoundly transformative about participatory joy, about creating an experiential glimpse of the Goodness of justice. And I think it is worth using our best creative energy to imagine ways we might create events, moments, rituals, occasions that become public invitations to spontaneous participation in joy.
I recall a day, some 20 years ago, when I was part of a civil disobedience action in protest of US foreign policy in Central America. As we were being arrested I became keenly aware of the beauty of this moment of holy resistance. I remember thinking to myself, “we need a string ensemble playing beautiful music right now to help those around us see the beauty of what is transpiring here.” We hadn’t planned on music for the day, but I knew in my heart that somehow music in their ears could’ve opened their eyes and hearts in a transformative way.
I don’t know exactly what this would look like for us today. (Truth be told, my gift is with words, not public theater and certainly not dance!) But I believe it is possible. Because I am convinced that the Justice we anticipate for our church, the justice we already know at least in part among ourselves, is not just powerfully compelling, it is also profoundly joyful.
Honestly, those who oppose us can ramp up the righteous indignation to new heights. They can appeal to anger and lure to lament, leveling allegations that we have betrayed the Lutheran Confessions. They can yet fan the flames of fear by marshalling their texts of terror. But this is what they cannot do: they cannot marshal joy.
This belongs to us. And although we are all prone to all manner of prejudice, tempted to ground our identity and secure it by separating ourselves from others, the deepest truth of our God-given natures is that we long to be connected to one another in powerful ways. We are hungry to engage in meaningful activities that help us grow, that make worthy contributions to community, and that build relationships with others. And, whenever possible, we like to experience joy in the midst of this. Not simply in the sweet taste of victory, but in the very midst of struggle. To live—right now—with daring imagination and to anticipate what can be in our zest for living today.
Because joy lives at the heart of justice, we can marshal joy. So find your train station, pick your tune, practice your dance, and set justice—and joy—loose in your midst.
David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (Langdon Street Press, 2008, http://www.davidrweiss.com). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace, David lives in St. Paul and is a self-employed speaker and writer on the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. You can reach him at https://tothetune.wordpress.com.