Content Note: Hope, joy
Hind Makki (Muslim blogger at Hindtrospectives): I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately and the more I think about it, the more I recognize that it’s connected to joy.
Where are some of the surprising places you’ve found joy?
Andy Gill (progressive Christian blogger at Andy Gill): Yes! Absolutely the same (regarding hope’s inherent connection to joy)! In the NIV version of the Bible, it says in Proverbs, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” And I just keep thinking about how I have somehow squelched, suppressed and deferred my hope and overall sense of passion (i.e. all that brings me joy) because of this…
But, to answer the question more specifically, I find joy in allowing my fire to burn, resisting others’ imposed desire for me to be less enthusiastic, passionate, vocal, justice-driven… myself.
Hind: I was at a book launch Friday night full of Muslims, POC, and White allies. We were treated to poetry, song, dance, as well as a reading from the author, Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer. As she was reading, a toddler was walking around the space, handing out little red bouncing balls to people, and then he gave the DJ a button and one dollar, which was hilarious and adorable. He’s oblivious to politics, oblivious to society’s view of him as a multi-racial, Black, White, and South Asian Muslim boy. All he knew was that he was having a good time, and he wanted to pay the DJ for his sick beats. Joy.
Galen Broaddus (atheist blogger at Across Rivers Wide): Oh my gosh, children can be such a good way to find joy.
Hind: Galen, I think you’re the only parent in the group — care to share some thoughts on children, hope, and joy?
Galen: I think just investing in children in any capacity — whether parenting, teaching, mentoring, or whatever — is kind of a radical act of hope. When the election hit and the hangover followed, I had to try and make sure that my own despair didn’t bring my two children down. Not that I didn’t want to let them know that we were sad about the election, but they deserved to continue to live without the fear of a hopeless future.
And yeah, they’ve constituted a significant amount of the joy I’ve been able to muster for certainly the last week and much further back.
Hind: Andy, I really love that verse you quoted. I especially love that part of the equation that leads to fulfillment, is one’s own action. Wallowing in despair and anger, will never lead to joy. But being propelled by righteous anger to challenge, let’s say, injustice, or being motivated by the hope of fulfillment to reach a personal goal – that is what leads to joy.
Galen: Is joy just about feeling fulfilled or about having a deep desire satisfied?
Andy: Galen, yes, both and, and much more I can’t articulate at this moment.
Hind: Joy, for me, is less connected to material things, while satisfaction is. I’ll be very satisfied when/if I finish my novel. I’m satisfied when a cake with complicated instructions turns out right. I have joy when I am reminded of the spiritual connection I have with all living creatures. I have joy when someone reads a piece I wrote and tells me they hear echoes of their own story in mine. Joy is metaphysical.
Andy: Hind, I agree, there is a deeper sense of joy I feel when true connection is there.
Galen: That’s an interesting distinction. (And I mean that in the most positive sense!)
Andy: In this discussion I can’t help but wonder though if there are going to be people who are triggered by this discussion, or, if not triggered, are put off by it…
Hind: Put off that we’re talking about joy in a time of hostility?
Andy: I mean, I say that because we live in such an interesting and very unique day and age where so many of us are put off by those pushing enjoy in such a time of despair — I say that just to empathize with the hurting, and to ask the both of you what you might say to somebody who is un-receptive to hope, and deferring it in order to avoid despair…
Galen: I can personally identify with this, actually. I had a big victory earlier this month — I won a federal court case — and I legitimately felt guilty about celebrating a victory like that, knowing that the other shoe was about to drop.
Andy: I think this could be my evangelical wounds speaking from the past; in evangelical culture hurt and pain, far too many times, are met with pithy platitudinal thoughts and verses (e.g. the proverb I used above) and can come across as dismissive, triggering a response from one that causes us to shut down, dissociate even.
Hind: What I can say Andy, is that a few hours before finding joy in that toddler giving props to the DJ last night, I was on the phone with a Sudanese community leader, to set up a #KnowYourRights session with our local CAIR office. My aunt’s visitor visa application got cancelled. I was getting bombarded with stories of legal permanent residents and folks on student visas getting detained at airports and I was answering the questions of immigrants from Yemen and Sudan on the phone, via WhatsApp, and through FB. The hostility is real, and my community is one of many that is being targeted by the new Administration. I’m angry. But I’m trying to convert that into righteous anger, so I can do something about it. And in the doing, I find joy.
Andy: Yo, real talk, this gets me stoked; that is, people like you doing work like this, despite the opposition.
Hind: Warm fuzzies! This is not to say that I didn’t feel paralyzed with despair for a good part of November.
Galen: See, that’s the kind of alchemy I can get behind. And we can’t just be machines of fury; we need to find some glimpses of joy.
Hind: Exactly, I don’t want to grow into a bitter old activist who finds joy in nothing except tearing other people down because they don’t see the nuances in policy that I see.
Andy: So I met this guy a while back, at the camp I was working at, who was the Dean or Chancellor or something fancy at a local charter school in Trenton, New Jersey. Getting to know each other over the course of the weekend, we started talking about effective sustainable justice and he said that in his research he had been doing, he found that what causes effective sustainable justice is this thing called positive neural interaction (PNI) and that in essence we need positive moments of joy that are from meaningful projects, Moments, relationships that are all showing us that we’re making progression. Which all in all gives us what others might know as “momentum.”
With all of that said, is there a way for us to get more of this PNI, and create momentum to not just get us through the next four years but to create a lasting change for us all? Hind, you gave us some amazing examples of this; Galen, your recent victory coming into 2017 is HUGE! How can others, us normal peeps, make more of an impact and difference (to a lasting positive effect) as the two of you have? Do we need the access you two have been so blessed with, or is it just hard work?
Galen: Access and resources are so important, but so is the slow boring of hard boards.
Hind: Well, part of my Resistance Through Joy includes attending weekly dhikr (singing religious praise songs) events. There’s a teaching in Islam, “God is Beautiful and loves Beauty.” So I’m actively looking for Beauty in the world.
And, while we’re having this conversation, I just received news of yet another mosque arson in America. That doesn’t stop me from remembering the words of the 14 century Persian poet, Hafiz: “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.”
Galen: I think this is where I come back to the alchemy you described earlier, Hind. It seems to me that people can be frustrated by joy because they think that’s the end in itself. Get your own desires satisfied, and forget whatever else needs to be done. But the idea of joy as a fuel for change — or maybe how we in part keep ourselves charged up to make that change happen — is one that I think we’d all do well to keep in mind.
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