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It’s time to throw a party. It’s time to sing and dance and jump on a trampoline and bake a cake and throw confetti. It’s time to swipe a finger through the icing and wear party hats and eat ice cream. It’s time to rejoice. Not because things are good, but because they are most certainly not.
These last couple of years have been a slog. There’s a lot to be scared of right now, a lot to be angry about, a lot to grieve. In at least three different ways it feels like the world might actually be ending. But it is time to take Wendell Berry’s good advice and “Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”
I really like to consider the facts. I like my righteous anger and taking things seriously and staring straight into the darkness of the world. The darkness is my sweet spot (I’m an enneagram 4. Surprise!). Sometimes that is a gift. And sometimes I stay there because I am afraid to do otherwise. I am afraid that if I look away I might neglect the suffering in the world. I might somehow become more complicit than I already am.
In my fear, I imagine that my constant angst is somehow effecting change. But, it is not. It is actually just one more way that I pretend that I am God, which is the kind of bent thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. It is much more likely to immobilize me or to make me hateful rather than loving.
Some people need to work hard to look into the darkness. They need to gather up their courage and their faith to see the world as it is. For me, I need to work hard to look at the hope, the light. I need to work hard to remember that, while I am called to speak the truth, to love, to fight oppression, I cannot and will not save the world. That is Jesus’ job. Thank God.
So, I need to play. I need to celebrate what is good in this world and the good that is coming. I need to be joyful though I have considered the facts. There is certainly a time for the facts, and we can wrestle with the facts in whatever ways we need to. We can also throw a party to spite them, our joy declaring: “This darkness is not what is truest about the world. Our God Reigns. The kingdom is near.”
Martin Luther, in writing a letter to a friend who struggled with melancholy, advised this: “Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of [others], or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil.”
Luther, of course, had tons of problems, but he knew that our faith gives us freedom to laugh into the darkness. We fight against it and we also delight because we know the good that’s on its way. Our delight is part of our resistance.
“Strengthen feeble hands,” Isaiah 35 counsels, “steady the knees that give way… say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong and do not fear… your God will come.’”
My husband and I used to pastor a poor little church called New Hope. Every year we would enter a cardboard boat regatta put on by the local grocery store and I always thought that was some of our best witness to the gospel, even though we didn’t say anything or serve anyone.
The regatta teams were mostly made up of businesses or families who had often worked really hard on having a great boat. And there we were: a few old hippies, a felon or two, a grandmother or two, a blue-collar transgender woman who came out in her 50s (can you imagine?), an eccentric with a pet pig, and a couple of overly-educated, overly-naive pastors, along with everybody’s kids.
We dragged out our jumble of a boat and we laughed and played together. The police officers, standing guard on their boat, would regularly reprimand us for having too many people on our boat or for jumping off. Our boat usually sank. We were a community that no one would have expected, delighting in one another. The laughter of a community like that — of any community who struggles together, grieves together, and fights and makes peace, and still rejoices — is the sound of the darkness slipping its hold.
As the people of God, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope, and our celebrations can have the depth of those who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, but who trust in a good God to bring us through. We can clutch each other’s hands and stare into the yawning darkness of injustice, of oppression, of corruption, and loss, and fear. We can walk right in there, and we can sing, and we can feast, right in the presence of our enemies.
This is a joy I need right now, as the pandemic drags on and the winter gets long and there is no shortage of news. It is the rebellious joy of the hopeful. Be strong and do not fear. Your God will come. Let’s celebrate.
Header photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels
Jen, thank you for this beautiful piece. I needed it today!
Oh, I love this so much. Beautifully written.
LOL from this essay, Jen. So well written.
Thanks for this, Jen, on a day when I celebrate the birth of one feisty daughter while continuing to mourn the loss of her dear sister. I needed this!
Great to have you back.
Thanks for bringing to life that verse from the twenty-third Psalm, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Thanks for the reminder, “My cup runneth over!”
“Sin a little to spite the devil”
Dear Martin, I don’t know what that even means, but I know that’s one thing I don’t struggle with. Here’s to raising a glass tonight in a bit of celebration!
If there were room enough, I’d drop in the text of the final wall of a museum-like exhibition of artifacts that tells the story of Auschwitz, an exhibition we visited just last week. What’s written there is a long sentence penned by a survivor, asking all of us to sing, to dance, to find joy somewhere. Your “rebellious joy of the hopeful,” seems a verse from a similar chapter. Often it seems so much easier to be down than up. Thanks.
Oh my, thank you every day ‼️We taught our daughter that she will always have sadness, that she must not think of being happy, that she must not try to overcome sorrow in order to be happy. Rather she must sustain her loyalty to the great, rebellious, and often inappropriate virtue of joy. And she has. Me? I’m gonna go have a beer. Again thank you for your courage, and life-enhancing writing.
Thanks so much Jen! Love this: “Our delight is part of our resistance.” There is always reason for delight if we are willing to look.
PS – Can’t wait to someday participate in the cardboard boat regatta with New Hope!
Excellent. I’m reading this while on vacation in Cancun with friends, becoming rejuvinated. I’m the pastor of a church in Muskegon, MI, where melancholy seems to be epidemic. Thanks for the Luther quote.