An angry advent essay.

I am angry.

This is a complicated emotion for me. I would much rather saturate myself in peace, in pleasing. I have spent the past month (five years) sitting with this relentless rage, working to examine it from every angle, hoping not to see my reflection in its faces or lose myself in its clutches.

I keep trying to hand it back, like a hot potato — I don’t want to be caught with it in my lap when the music stops. I thought that with enough walks or gulps of water or journaling or deep breaths it would leave my ribs, that I could flush it out through sweat and tears, in private, and then I could wash my face and smile for you.

It has persisted. 

I hate it.

But it has caused me to wonder if, in this moment, anger is the only plank sturdy enough to build the bridge that peace requires, that my reaching for poetry will not serve others right now. Maybe only plain words will do as we make our way over the coursing chaos below, grasping the side rails of mercy in our sweaty palms. 

I selfishly want to protect myself, hold these words close, leave this to someone who has less tender skin, more protection around their soul. What I have to realize is this: these words are not for me, they are not my manifesto or defense. They are for those who wake with the same pain in the dark night, the ache to make sense of it, the jolt of no longer recognizing our surroundings, arms stretched in the murky black, trying to find a familiar shape.

These words are for those who feel they belong nowhere.

And so, here I am.

I’m the one who has stood in front of many, overcoming a body full of fear to speak as loudly and clearly as I could to advocate for the rights of women and their born and not-yet-born children because I believe there is a more spacious way to empower mothers than a system that narrows her choice to life or death.

I have studied and tried to follow the teachings of Jesus well for my entire life. In my own humanity and personality, my faith journey could be described as earnestly trading one form of legalism for another throughout the seasons of my thirty years.

I grew up under my mom’s failing heart, knowing my own birth was a story of survival and surrender. 

I am enormously grateful to be alive. 

I am the minority in our family, the only biological child and sole white daughter in a family of six children.  I grew up alongside a brother with critical emotional and physical disability; alongside black and brown sisters and brothers whose stories of loss, grief, rage and joy are their own to tell.

I spent my childhood on Navy bases in large cities and several years near Canada in a tiny, gorgeous town. I was home educated and graduated from a large state college. I have worked exclusively for nonprofits, serving adults with disabilities, mothers, women, children.

And even with this diverse upbringing, there is still so much I don’t know; my view is still so restricted by privilege and perspective.

I will never know what it is exactly like to be you, right now, where you are, what unique, beautiful, wrenching life experiences you bring into the world.

I do know this: I have been a good girl my entire life. 

But today, I am a very angry good girl. As a woman, as a Christian, anger has not felt acceptable or attractive. I have already been called the names forming on your lips—self righteous, inauthentic, uninformed, gullible, aggressive. I have already tasted the murky broth of disapproval and it is the exact poison you imagine it to be.  I am afraid that by revealing my rage I will be instantly discredited for not obliging the sensibilities of comfort and complacency — but I do not know how to quiet the storm in my soul any longer.

This is what haunts me: we are losing so many.

Because of the overwhelming support of an inhumane leader in the name of freedom and faith, people are walking away from us. In the name of rights and liberty, we are allowing anti-life rhetoric to flood our already broken nation.

Women, children in detention centers, assault victims, refugees, black people, indigenous people, people with disabilities, healthcare workers, people of color, the elderly — where is their worth? Where is their protection? Their imago dei? Can we see that they are wildly vulnerable in this cultural moment?

What metric are we using to measure humanity?

How can we present an entire sermon on racial tensions without once mentioning how millions of black bodies arrived in this country, how men and women and children were exported as property?

Why do we keep saying unity when what we mean is conformity, what we we mean to say is that minority groups must continue to fold themselves into the shape we have created for them to survive?

How can we demand freedom that will cost others their health and lives without considering that compromise, creativity and compassion may be what this moment demands of us instead?

“This is what I require of you: to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

How can we nod as we read where scripture says “for freedom you have been set free, don’t let anyone put the chains of slavery back on you” (Galatians 5:1) and yet continue to enslave ourselves to nationalism and prosperity as ideological bunkers?

Why does the idea of turning the dial, of listening to a perspective other than the one that makes us feel safe or righteous or elite seem like an impossible—or even evil—task?

Who are we? 

And who are we compelling?

Jesus said the world will know us by our fruit. I’ll admit, the scriptures can be complicated and difficult to dissect, but this list is not: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These are the marks of those who follow him.

This is the thing I turn over in my mind again and again: if we knew the disorienting pain we were causing, would we reconsider, would we pause, would we listen, would we begin to claw at the insulation in our echo chambers with a wild ferocity?

Do you want to know what my most consuming fear is?

That maybe we do know. We see the pain, the confusion, the rage.

And we justify it, as if those with more questions than answers are the ones diluting our tribe, as if we are relieved to see them go.

As if those of begging help my unbelief don’t deserve to press their hands in his warm, jagged scars.

As if grace is a scarce commodity, and we have cornered the market.

Do we see the ones who are losing a chance to encounter the beauty of Jesus because they cannot hear over our chants, our demands, our outrage? 

Do we see those who have loved both Jesus and the American church for their whole lives who are now having to untangle the two — like a surgery without sedative?

Do we see those who feel the sharp pulse of spiritual homelessness?

I guess what I’m asking is: 

Do you see me?

I know that the loudest voices aren’t the only ones, I know many of you are just as broken hearted— but if we do not confront the raucous among us, who will? 

If we do not do it now, then when? 

I know how it feels to be outside the club, how easy it is to fall from our graces. When I advocate for the unborn, we cheer. When I insinuate that the unborn’s mother should have education and a livable wage and housing and food and birth control, the cheers wane.

Is this who we want to be?

When God gave us our freedom, we raised and waved our arms. When he asks us to use our freedom to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13), to consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), to look after the orphan and the widow (James 1:27), to pursue justice (Isaiah 58:1-14), to lift up the poor (Proverbs 28:27), to do good things in silence without parade or fanfare (Matthew 6:4), our zeal deteriorates.

This isn’t easy work. I am not doing it well most days either. I worry I am still getting it wrong, gaining nothing except another system of legalism to cozy myself inside of, a different fire of outrage to warm myself next to — God, help me.

These are the fears that keep me silent most days. If I am doing that even now, I pray you can forgive me, that you choose to see past the weakness and pain that is clouding a clear view. I pray that you can consider the person you know me to be. If you cannot trust the voices out there — would you be willing to consider trusting my shaky one?

I just want to say one more thing, the thing I came here to tell anyone who reads these scrawny words.

In this dark night, in this unexpecting field, in this midnight hour: God is here.

I want you to know that he is real and near and in the wilderness, too. The exact moment you take a single stumbling step toward him, he comes running: loping toward earth, toward a manger, toward a cross. 

Toward you.

I think we could do without the buzz of sequins or champagne or shopping malls this season. This story is enough. This simple stable, this young mother, the chaos and stars and shepherd boys — it is enough to hold the weight of everything you are carrying. 

Of everything I am carrying.

May we set it all down in front of our young, vulnerable, dusty king — this savior who looks nothing like the power or politics we worship. May we learn justice here. May we taste the first, spacious breath of grace.

And maybe, if we quiet just enough, we can hear the bones of earth groaning in relief.  Maybe we can hear the stars rejoicing.

Maybe it was anger that was brought us here, but it is mercy that soaks us now.

When we are ready, may we lift our faces, may we sing along, through the tears and tension and trial:

“Truly He taught us to love one another; his law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; and in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise His holy name.”

God with us. Even here. Even now. Emmanuel.