I Choose Subversive Joy


cara meredith -choose subversive joy3

Lately, it feels like voices of hate have been amplified.

I turn on the news. I log on to Facebook. I listen as fear strangles the heart of conversation around me.

Permission has been granted—maybe more than ever before, maybe for the first time in a long time—to hate, vilify and attack our fellow humans. I see this in the decision to end DACA. I see this when an eight-year-old, mixed-race little boy, with skin not unlike my own young sons’ skin, is lynched in a New Hampshire suburb. I see this when the United States begins to build walls with neighboring countries. I see this in surrounding events of racial injustice in Charlottesville and in Charleston, and I see this in attitudes toward the Muslim community in Myanmar.

I see it, and everything in me wants to run from the pain. Now, I turn off the news. I log off Facebook, and, in addition, I delete every social media app from my phone. I push tiny ear buds into my ears so I can’t hear, I can’t listen, I can’t engage.

I try my hardest to drown out the hate, but sometimes, all this pain feels like too much to bear.

I hardly think I’m alone.

“We are seeing history repeat in unsettling ways—violence, division, greed and exhaustion of our earth’s resources, to name a few,” writes Osheta Moore in her new book, Shalom Sistas. “Joy amidst all of this seems irresponsible …”

Yet maybe joy in the midst of pain and hate and ugliness is not reckless—for ours becomes a subversive kind of joy. Ours becomes a disruptive joy: a joy that pushes boundaries, a joy that stands for light in the midst of darkness.

Our joy is a troublemaker. And when this rabble-rouser enters the scene, y’all know that’s when things get lit.

When decisions are then made–be it in our churches, in our schools and in our governments—that we don’t agree with, that hurt the very fabric of humanity, we don’t just sit there with our hands tied behind our backs. We ask questions. We get educated. We stand up for the rights of every human being, simply because they’re humans. Humans, after all, bear the divine image of the best divinity-maker in the land.

A couple of months ago, I sat in the Jackson, Mississippi airport on the day that the Governor of Virginia declared Charlottesville to be a State of Emergency. I’d been there after spending time with my husband’s side of the family, including two days of interviewing my father-in-law for my upcoming book.

Prior to my arrival at the airport, feelings of intensity threatened to overwhelm me: talking about issues of racial injustice for two days straight is intense, especially, when, as a white woman, it’s oftentimes been my privilege to walk away from conversations, if I so desire. Reliving history with a man who stood up for the rights, not only of African Americans but also of humanity as a whole, is intense. Visiting family without the buffer of their son—my husband—is intense.

As I sat in the small Medgar Evars airport, the intensity hit a breaking point: tears streamed down my face as I watched a vitriol of hate pour forth from people who don’t look so different from me.

How long, how long, how long, O Lord?

How long will the fighting, the hate, the ugliness continue? How long will I fear for my husband and my sons, whose black and brown skin means that I can’t not think about this—I can’t not fear for their lives?

My heart pounds, just remembering. My eyes fill with tears once again.

But maybe, even in the midst of this ugliness and this hate, I do as Osheta reminded me to do in her book: I choose subversive joy.

I choose to be a troublemaker for joy. I do not negate or make excuses for the events that happened in Charlottesville—or that happen anywhere, every day—but I see the darkness and I see the hate. I absorb its bruising into my body, instead of ignoring its presence.

Then I take it a step further and I fight back. I put my boxing gloves on. I step into the ring.

This fight isn’t so much about blood and guts and knocked-out teeth. This fight is about shutting my mouth and listening to my brothers and sisters of color, to those who’ve been talking about this a whole lot longer than me. This fight is about learning and educating myself. This fight is about asking forgiveness and making amends and entering into lament. This fight is about acknowledging my role in the matter and begging the Holy One to give me eyes to see my role in its history.

And maybe, more than anything, this fight is about seeing Light in the midst of darkness, Hope in the midst of oppression and Joy in the midst of deep pain.

For this fight is about getting lit up through the grace of subversive joy.