Is the world getting scarier, or are we just paying more attention? It’s hard to know. It seems like every time I lead worship, I have to add some special acknowledgment of yet another spate of violence or hatred. In the face of despair, we certainly need moments for quiet sorrow, for reflection, for expressing our fear. We also need fierce joy.
Last month, I attended the GALA Festival of Choruses. This is a huge gathering of LGBT choruses from all over North America and the world, and includes a week of concerts and workshops. There were many touching and inspiring moments, including watching the Orlando Gay Chorus walk in to the opening concert to a standing ovation. One of my favorite concerts featured LGBTQ youth choruses. It was beautiful to see teenagers and young adults living bravely into their authentic selves, whether that is gay, queer, trans, or as allies to those who are LGBT.
Their concert ended with all the youth choruses together performing a “mash up” of the songs “Will I?” from Rent and Walk the Moon’s 2014 pop hit “Shut Up and Dance.” It’s a strange pairing: the song from Rent is a haunting cry from HIV-positive characters at the height of the AIDS crisis: “Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?” “Shut up and Dance” is a pop celebration of turning off your worries and dancing.
Their director explained that while this may seem odd, they wanted the contrast. They wanted to communicate that the youth know the history of gay people and gay choruses, and while they weren’t alive during the early 90s, they honor those who died in the early days of AIDS as well as those gay choruses who sang at funeral after funeral. They also know that LGBT/queer youth face their own despair and challenges today. Knowing all that, they still embrace joy and the power of music.
Explanation done, the choruses launched into the performance. Many of us in the audience wept at the opening lines, and then gradually rose to our feet in what became a raucous all-theater dance party. It was a moment of celebration for how far we’ve come, acknowledgment of fear, and defiant hope, all at once.
Alice Walker wrote, “hard times require furious dancing.” I don’t always remember that, but it’s true. We need to dance, sing, laugh, create: we need to recreate the beauty and joy that hard times seek to extinguish.
So in a scary world, acknowledge your fear. Mourn when you need to.
And then dance.