Using a Smile as an Act of Resistance

(Note: Every Tuesday I write a “Tuesday Meditation” and send it to a list of people who have indicated interest in receiving them. Once in a while I write one that I hope and think will be appreciated by a wider audience. This is my offering to you today.)

R

            I do not remember where I saw the picture of the young Palestinian man who had lost everything he owned as a result of violence meted against him, his family, and his neighbors. He had also been beaten and to be quite honest, he looked bad. He had to have been angry but in this picture, he was smiling, and a reporter asked him why he was smiling, given all that he and so many Palestinians had lost in their fight for freedom in the West Bank, he said, “My smile is an act of resistance.” 

            I had never thought about smiling in that way. Smiling usually means someone is happy, at peace, glad to be seen and heard, relief, joy…but resistance? 

            I paused and thought about the many times I have been irritated by people claiming to love Jesus yet practicing hatred. In too many reports, I have seen them smile at a reporter who has asked them questions they did not want to answer. I have seen them smile as they lift up the name of “the good Lord,” a lord, it seems, who is OK with their practice of hatred. 

            Could it be that those smiles have been intentionally offered as acts of resistance against a political situation or criticism of what they do to other people in the name of religion?  

            Is a smile that powerful? 

            It is difficult to smile when the machinations of government are working against you, pushing against you at every turn as you fight for dignity and justice. I remember now seeing pictures of young Black people – many of them children – smiling as they were led to police paddy wagons after having been attacked by dogs and firehoses. I don’t recall in the pictures I have seen over the years, seeing anyone being taken away from their posts of protests with frowns or even looks of sadness. No, they have been smiling, resisting evil and the active work to destroy their lives and their spirits, with a smile. 

            The capacity of people to do evil – and then claim a first-person, personal relationship with Jesus – has always troubled me, but I wonder if we, in the fight for justice, have smiled our way through some of our most painful moments? 

            I read the story of a man named Harry Merica, who suffered from muscular dystrophy. When he was a child, his mother would carry him to the school bus stop every day because he couldn’t walk that far. He recalls his family being very poor, so poor that they could not afford to buy many new things, but one thing they were able to purchase for him was paper and pencils.  

            It happened that one day, after he had gotten on the school bus, that one of the boys took one of his new pencils and broke it in half, right in front of Harry. I can imagine the pain he felt; the pencil was the only new thing he had and this kid had taken it upon himself to break it. Harry began to cry, feeling his loss, and the other students on the bus started laughing at him and calling him a crybaby. 

            I wonder what his conversation was with his mother when he got home after school on that day. I imagine that the pain was so raw that even talking about it brought up the tears, but I wonder if his mother taught him how to resist evil. (Resist the devil and he will flee from you! James 4:7) and I wonder if she told him, during that painful and necessary conversation, that nobody could break his smile and that the way to fight evil was to laugh with those who worked intentionally to hurt him and thus, fill his spirit with that which the world did not give and which the world – no matter how racist or sexist or bigoted in general – could not take away. 

            Many people today are angry because of the overt lying that is being done about the election and about the fact that a group of angry white people felt it their “patriotic” duty to storm and damage the capitol building of this country. People are angry that voting rights are being attacked and are angry that neither lawmakers nor the United States Supreme Court is working to protect the right that resulted in so many people being beaten, arrested, and murdered. 

            We fight against powers and principalities which have gone hog-wild in slashing the rights of certain groups of people, and it hurts, in a different way yet strangely, in the same way as did the dogs and the water from firehoses, and the dogs, and the batons that were cracked over so many heads in the 60s.  Their goal was to intimidate those who protested into submission.

            But it didn’t work. In the fights that those who have worked for their rights as human beings have endured, they have never stopped moving toward their goal. They have never stopped resisting the evil that wanted to cut them down and cut them out. 

            Whatever the evil was, they resisted.  

            They bled, they cried, they fought feelings of hopelessness, and they smiled. The smile was an act of resistance, saying, in essence, that “your desire to destroy me is not greater than the God who created and loved me.” 

            Incredible. 

            A candid observation …

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