The Necessity of Joy in the Work of Justice

It's a fairly common scene here in Oakland: a line of police, strapped with frowns and weapons, stares down a group of angry protestors who are shouting their legitimate grievances and pain-filled epithets. This is the public face of the fight for justice in this Town (though much work is done when the cameras are off and KTVU goes home).

What one does not see very often in the pictures of protests that get published in the papers are subtle moments of joy: the glance of solidarity between neighbors on the line, the celebratory songs filling our lungs and the streets, the laughter around a table the night before as friends make signs together. And if you haven't seen (or noticed) these moments of joy, you could be forgiven for thinking that justice is a purely solemn work, a job for people constantly soaked in pain and the consequent lament and anger...not a job for the joyful. But, respectfully, I think you'd be wrong. 

Dr. King, in his sermon on Matthew 10:16, A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart, tells us that a tough mind is required for the work of justice. We must be able to cut through false "facts" and rhetoric meant to control and oppress. We must have a steely resolve in the face of potential suffering for the sake of others.

"But," he says, "We must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind. The gospel also demands a tender heart. Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one's life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer. What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?" 

I believe that our capacity for joy is a mark of our tenderheartedness. Even in the struggle for justice, can we see what we are struggling for? Can we take joy in the thought of that imagined future? Can we celebrate the ways we see it breaking into the present?

We desperately need joy as we work toward all kinds of just goals, because joy reminds us, in the most poignant way possible, of who we long to be: people who live in a world set right enjoying its beauty, abundance, and love.

Easter is a season that recalls us to our joyful selves, reveling in the promise of that world that will be. Join us on Sunday as we continue our series of conversations called Cultivate Joy.



Photo via Matt Lemmon on flickr Creative Commons