Shaking a Fist(ful of Joy) in the Face of Despair
By Kristyn Komarnicki
This is the world I'm handing off to my young adult sons and future grandchildren? A nation where the merits of removing protections from select groups of humans is an actual subject of debate among its citizens? Where the body politic is crippled by an autoimmune disease called the two-party system? Where glacier funerals and burning rainforests are part of the global landscape? Where the daily news cycle washes an endless supply of demoralizing detritus into our hearts and brains, leaving us lurching between panic and numbness?
Yes. This does indeed seem to be the case. What is to be done? Anne Lamott recommends I focus on the alarmingly few things I have control over and never pass up an opportunity to enjoy chocolate. Brené Brown tells me to build a gratitude practice. My brother reminds me that Christ has already won the victory, so not to lose heart. All of these things are true, and even helpful to a certain extent. But I think I'm starting to realize that joy is my best weapon, and that I need to be cultivating it whenever and wherever I can.
I'm starting to realize that joy is my best weapon, and that I need to be cultivating it whenever and wherever I can.
So I decided to list just three of the things that are bringing me joy these days, and outline the hope that this joy gives birth to as a matter of course. Here's my short list, for this week anyway! I hope you'll share yours with us, too.
- Oriented to Love is the program I get to lead, helping lovers of Jesus lovers connect with, listen to, and begin to fall in love with the image of God in their theological, sexual, and gender "other." If I didn't witness it myself on a regular, ongoing basis, I'm not sure I'd believe it, but God has taught me that where the Spirit moves, there is life, and the Spirit undeniably moves through Oriented to Love. I see Christians of all ages, races, affections, and denominations set aside their biases in order to walk toward each other, in spite of their very real anxiety, in the hopes of turning adversaries into friends. The trust they put in God, their prayer teams, and their dialogue partners makes possible a series of small miracles as they move, step by step, into deeper understanding and deeper communion with their siblings in Christ.
- Diner en Blanc is an international, pop-up picnic phenomenon whose sole purpose is to celebrate the power of spontaneous community, the life force that emerges when human beings come together en masse to eat, drink, dance and rejoice in being alive. The fact that the location of each city's event is kept secret until the very last minute, and that it is held outdoors in rain or shine (guests as likely to show up in white plastic ponchos as in white tuxedos and gowns) cultivates a sense of childlike wonder, playfulness and delight. Diners get to experience the beauty of their city's public spaces in new ways and to connect with neighbors of diverse backgrounds over good food enjoyed in unexpected settings. It's a bit how I picture the great multitude depicted in Revelation 7. While the diners may not be gathered to praise God before the throne, I dare say they are entering into, unbeknownst to many of them, the joy and common grace that are present whenever humans connect to relish life together.
- Queer Eye is a redemptive version of reality TV, an unbridled, unapologetic celebration of an individual's unique personhood that is equally dedicated to that person's flourishing within community. The "Fab 5" bring holistic care to each person they work with, focusing on helping them live into their calling while caring for themselves and their loved ones in life-giving ways. When I see how this tight-knit group of friends facilitate a healing conversation between a single father who uses a wheelchair and the man who shot him, or how they help a gamer find the confidence and the means to build off-screen friendships, or how they empower a former soldier to take back the reins of his family life from the fear and depression he'd handed them to…I mean, I can't help but say (as my family will wearily attest), "This is church, folks!"
Bonus joy! Public libraries—that a public entity would entrust valuable books to candy-fingered children, debt-ridden students, distracted parents, and forgetful seniors, and that this trust would be requited, never ceases to amaze and delight me. Unlike some churches I've been to, all are welcome at the public library—Republican and Democrat, dignitary and reprobate, toddler story circles and homework clubs and craft gatherings…on most days at my Philadelphia branch, a homeless person can even snatch a brief nap behind the newspaper racks. For this reason, on my darkest days, the library seems to me one of the last bastions of mutual respect in this world.
As the poet Jack Gilbert says, "We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil." Amen to that. Let's praise God instead: Thank you, creator God, beautiful outlaw Jesus, and uncontrollable Spirit, for breaking through in these and countless other ways, every second, everywhere. May we train our eyes and hearts and minds on you.
What's getting you through these dark days of dehumanization, demonization, and destruction? What's your personal antidote to despair? Please share!
Kristyn Komarnicki is director of dialogue and convening for Evangelicals for Social Action. She leads the Oriented to Love dialogue program, helping diverse Christians build unity that is deeper than agreement.