Jill Scott’s key change moves us. We dance as this queen sings of long walks, of Surahs and Psalms, and of an ecumenical Defiant Black Joy.
Who are these people – these beautiful people – that dance amidst pain and suffering?
I, the minister, wearing Black and white tap my hidden foot beneath the table, concealing my love for my Philly sister Jill, or Jay when he comes on, or Kendrick or Biggie or Pac and all the lyrical saints pulled by the DJ - pulled by the Selecta!
This is the reception. We receive the newly married couple, but we also receive joy. Or has this joy always been inside of us? Defiantly refusing to get up and leave. Sitting in at the counter tops of Black existence while hate and fear pour ketchup on our heads. This joy is dying in at the crossroads of a perpetual diasporic revolution chanting “Black Lives Matter! And So Does Black Joy!”
I am blessed. Ordained to bear witness and perhaps let Divine power flow through me at these most precious moments of life. I love weddings and have blessed literally a few hundred couples. This couple generously paid for my airfare and hotel stay so that I may officiate their holy matrimony. Flown down south from Philly over my cradle in Baltimore down to Houston. Hard not to think of Queen Bey and my sisters getting in formation when I land.
Hard not to think of my birth sister Ami who also lives down here in H-Town.
She is 50. That’s 127 in Black Years.
I miss her. Talking to her rarely and seeing her even less. I spent the morning with my Ami before putting on my clerical stole for the wedding. She is mad. Not angry, but mentally ill. Diagnosed with schizophrenia. We don’t talk enough about mental illness in our communities.
She and I follow Jill’s exhortation and we take a long walk around a park near where she stays. My beautiful sister hugs me tight squeezing the sadness and grief out of me. “I’m fine, sweetie. I’m fine. It’s so good to see you Poopie” invoking an old family nickname. And I look in her eyes and still see it. Amidst the pain and suffering that her life of navigating a diagnosis of schizophrenia the last few years has brought, she still has it. That unshakable inner glimmer of joy. And I wonder, while walking with her is she crazy for having this joy? A prematurely ended career, broken relationships, moments of disconnect from reality. And she still has moments of holding joy? Is this her illness? Or is she as she says at her core – fine?
Happiness is different than joy. Happiness comes and goes. Certainly real, but momentary. Joy is a core thing that is deep within a heart. Joy is a mountain that doesn’t move no matter what kind of weather flies around it. Rainy days can be cold and muddy and miserable. But the mountain is an unshakable joy.
Happiness is a wedding day. Joy is a happy marriage.
I left my sister. Still grieving what has been lost, but thankful for her unshakeable soul. And I drive across Houston praying and repeating ancient words, “Dearly beloved…”
I arrive and the wedding begins. I stand in the blazing sun with sweat dripping down my bald head. I stand here for God, for the couple, and for the culture. A sister sings Luther’s “Here and Now!” I hear of both human love and Divine love in the words. And the congregation which is half African American Christians and Half Nigerian Muslims rises when the Bride enters the place. Flower girl eyes widen. A groom shakes his head in awe. And we all grab a hold and touch it:
Black joy. Amidst the madness all around us.
As I bless this marriage other clergy are burying Haitian bodies.
A Black man somewhere is getting pulled over and fears for his life because of the Black trauma we’re all carrying now.
A sister somewhere is holding back tears from her memories of being sexually assaulted, triggered by hearing disgusting words and confessions of assault by a Presidential candidate who thinks we all live in Hell.
Somewhere one of our cousins is doing a bid in an unjust system
or is trying to live in a post-colonial nation
or is dealing with more subtle daily micro-aggression
or is responding to a more blatantly racist email.
We don’t forget the madness. Not our current pain or the “stony road we’ve trod.”
But at the wedding and again at the reception we don’t let that part of our story drown out our joy. Justice and Joy and Love are the words of this day and indeed of all of Black History.
Who are these people – these beautiful people – that dance amidst pain and suffering? I ask myself at the wedding reception as Jill, and Jay, and Bey, and Big, and Kendrick come on?
Finally, after the wedding party and parents have all come in. The host tells us to get on our feet for the newlyweds. They themselves are Black excellence. MBAs. College Athlete. Spoken Word Artist. One the child of immigrants who made it in the new land. The other, descended from enslaved Africans who lived in the face of death. Both descended – or ascended – from kings and queens. Ase.
This Black-excellent couple enters the reception and we rise as the Selecta pulls Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang.
And that’s what we feel. Delight. A Defiant Black Joy.
I said a hip hop, The hippie, the hippie, To the hip, hip hop, and you don't stop…