Roller derby is a whole world unto itself. It’s not quite like anything else we’ve known, ever, and it’s constantly changing because we’re making it up as we go along. And yet there are values, which are not quite like rules but which guide the growth of this world in ways spoken and implied, and which are so counter-cultural that even we fail to live up to them sometimes. And I believe they have the power to change the world.
Who are you, really? If outsiders know anything about derby, it is derby names. More than nicknames or “fake” names, derby names are an opportunity to be exactly who you want to be – who you feel called to be. I am Bruise Almighty, and I have grown into that name as I have grown physically and mentally tougher. When a big, jock-y Parisi coach can see the fire in my eyes and call me Bruiser without a hint of sarcasm, I grow stronger and more determined in a way that “Kate” just doesn’t capture.
There’s a place for you. Over and over I’ve heard from skaters, it doesn’t matter what you do out there, it just matters what you can do with eight wheels on. And even if you can’t skate, you can coach, or you can ref, you can take photos, or you can do stats/penalties/timekeeping, you can mascot, you can be a superfan, you can announce. And there’s a place in the derby world for you if you just show up and claim it.
By the skater… The phrase is so ubiquitous we almost don’t know what it means anymore, but however you frame it, this is our sport and we have made it what it is. It is about empowering people who have no idea what power feels like, and it is about making something awesome happen out of almost nothing, and making it better and better while not losing sight of where we’ve been.
And when something is wrong, you speak up and fix it. We made this up, and we can make it better. In the real world, we spend a lot of time waiting for permission to do things. We sit around and wish the world was different; wish the government weren’t so corrupt and bureaucratic and tied up with corporate interests, wish racism weren’t still alive and well, wish women and queers were free to behave as poorly as white men get away with…. But in derby, if something is wrong we have the chance to step up and fix it.
Power in derby does not look like power in the rest of the world. Power here is internal strength. Power is something claimed for yourself, and nothing that can be given or taken away. Leaders come from among us – those who have claimed the authority and self-possession of the amazing person they were created to be, or those who want the chance to grow into it. We have different gifts, but we all have the opportunity to claim them and let them shine.
And that’s a threat to the world out there. A lot of people are invested in the way the world defines power – the hierarchies and bureaucracies and the “power” that is earned by trampling more vulnerable people under your feet and hoping desperately that no one points out your own vulnerabilities. People who question that sort of power end up dead, whether by assassin’s bullet or execution (crucifixion).
Because Jesus preached that the kingdoms of this world have no authority over us. We are invited to be citizens of something greater. A world where all the f-cked up things are made better, made good, made whole again. And that kingdom is “at hand” – it is not just close, it is within our grasp, and it is within our power to make it real, here and now.
And the kingdom of God is full of paradoxes. It is the tiny seed, the yeast growing like a fungus until it takes over, the weak becoming powerful, and the sick, the blind, the despised, being healed and discovering a strength they never knew they had, healed by their connection with God and one another, and together being a new thing. It is that little germ of a vision, an experience of the divine that creeps out and starts bleeding into all parts of life until it takes over.
Which sounds a lot like roller derby – that secret identity you discover on the rink and claim and grow into until becomes you, until you are Amelia Dareheart or Harper’s Fury or Marie Antoithreat or Spinal Snap or Mariah Scary in every corner of your life. That strength fills your bones and you’re not the same person you used to be, because you are strong and you are full of God, of your own power, of the skills and passion you never knew you had.
And we screw it up sometimes. A lot of the time. But we can try again. And we can constantly say to the “real world” that this is not how we want things to be, not how God wants it, not how it should be, and we’re going to build something different.
The kingdom of God is at hand, and we can make it happen. We can reach out and grab it, incarnate it in any old skating rink or abandoned warehouse or big corporate convention center. We have a vision of a new thing, and we are going to make it happen. It will be imperfect, it will come in fits and starts, but we are going to try. We have discovered how strong we are, and there is no stopping us now.