by Carla Christopher Wilson
When I came out in 1996 I went on a crash-course epic journey of lesbian fashion tropes. I spent a sweaty New York Pride season in high femme rockabilly, a festie folk Pride in rainbow-striped bandana head wraps and bohemian skirts with ankle bells, and a Pride in gayboy sidekick mode looking like a misplaced Anime character. “Shame on You” was the anthem of my blue jean Pride summer. Retro t-shirts, faded denim, and the inevitable Birkenstock sandals didn’t matter that year as much as the music. Those years in the late 90s saw movement in creation care and planet activism, immigration as a human right touchstone, and a resurgence of feminism in a Womanist reconceiving that embraced Black and Latinx women and femme voices (or at least finally started trying to).
The song “Shame on You” was the lesbian song of the summer, not because it unabashedly celebrated the hard work and divinely sparked humanity of undocumented immigrants while highlighting their contributions to American life, but because it was “a bop”. The song is joyful, upbeat, and imminently singable. It’s infectious, pop-flavored beat is inviting, playful, and irrepressible. Today, in the year of rapid-fire apocalypse aka 2020, I realize how prophetic that vibe was for a sustainable revolution.
In Nehemiah 8:10 we read “The joy of the Lord is your strength” and know we are called to live in such a way that we bring pleasure and joy to God, but think of those who you love in this life. Your partner/s, your care circle or family, your children, and dear friends…what can they do that makes you the happiest? What makes me happiest in my relationship is my spouse’s happiness. Her smile, her playfulness, her relaxation, her satisfaction, her JOY is my joy. If joy comes from love and love is of God then is our rampant, wanton, wild joy perhaps amazingly pleasing to God? Does God giggle and spontaneously clap with a delighted bounce when we are filled with joy? I think it is Biblical to believe so. In Psalm 65, 96, 98 (and countless others) the same earth that God clearly claims as good sings and shouts for joy. God “delights” in the prophet Samuel and King David. Our God is a HAPPY God, and at no time does that make God any less powerful or capable of miracles.
Pride was, and must continue to be, a revolution. It is a deliberate stand against the status quo and a blatant refusal to alter our personal truth for the comfort of those perpetuating or being complicit in our oppression. We are doing powerful and serious work. As the public demonstrations just in 2020 have shown us, from vigils to shut down immigration detention centers, to marching for healthcare as a human right during a pandemic, to standing with Black Lives Matter, there is still a lot of work left to do. If we approach the intersectional and myriad struggles of this broken world without joy, how sustainable will we be?
Pride is a revolution, and no less so because it is also a party. We WILL free slaves with Moses and Miriam and Aaron and then, like them, we will have a karaoke dance party to celebrate it. We will praise God in a revolutionary way by naming and affirming the beauty of God’s creation, namely, each other. We will look at each other and say “It is good”. We will, like Amy and Emily of the Indigo Girls, tell our immigrant siblings “they shine like the sun” AND we will fight for their freedom. We will wash off our sins in the river even as the river playfully sings “lalala”. We will confront police brutality, gentrification, internalized shame and identity struggles just like The Indigo Girls do AND we will wear fabulous clothing, dance, and spend time with our beloved friends like they do in the same song.
Our joy, in a world that actively seeks our oppression, is a defiant act of resistance.
Take Sabbath, be happy, practice love of self and others. It’s Biblical. It honors the saints of Stonewall. It’s healthy self-care for a sustainable movement. It’s, simply, fun. And that is good. Let’s pray.
God of every good thing, thank you for the gift of joy, echoed in creation and Pride anthems. Strengthen us for generational journeys toward equality, that our memory and music will be an inspiration to generations. In the beautiful name of Jesus, Amen.
The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson (she/her) is a redevelopment pastor serving a congregation in Lancaster, PA. Also the co-chair of Lower Susquehanna Synod’s Racial Justice Task Force, Carla is a queer femme Black (and a little Latinx) warrior for self-care and mental health. A former Poet Laureate of York, PA and a published writer, Carla continues to side hustle as a poet until her latest book, Black Catechism, is released later this summer.