It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Advent is for the Killjoys

I have a tendency towards sadness, which is why I think I like Advent so much.

When I say “a tendency towards sadness”, I mean that not in the sense that I like or enjoy being sad, but rather… it feels honest to be sad in this world and I feel the need to pay attention to that. Christmas matters to me because of the sadness that precedes it.

Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy.

I remember when I was doing Mission Year several years ago, feeling so much shame for my sadness. I felt like I was broken. I was suffering with deep depression, lingering feelings of childhood needs unmet, an enduring sense of loneliness that I could not shake off. I remember sensing that I have always felt this way. I have always felt sad– I just did not want to admit it to myself and I did not want others to see it. I wasn’t allowed by my family to talk about it. And, I do not live in a world that lets black girls express grief. And tiredness.

But, during Mission Year, I also I remember one of my teammates challenging me with this thought, when I expressed dismay and shame over my constant sadness, lamenting that I ought to never feel anything. I prayed for numbness. In response, he offered this: “If you never feel anything, if you decide to just be numb forever, you would be asking to not feel joy either. You can’t experience joy without experiencing grief.”

He said this to me, the first time that I ever heard this.

Since that time, I have been able to accept that this tendency towards sadness is okay and real.

Later, I have come to understand that this tendency towards sadness is not my fault. It is a remnant of my history on this earth; a reminder that a longing for justice has been worn into my brain and skin cells through my lived experience, this sense of sadness that doesn’t quite leave.

Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy.

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photo credit: rachelvirginiahester

A year prior, in my first year of college, I remember having my depression explained away. Someone in the college ministry told me that maybe there was something wrong about my brain and that I needed anti-depressants and that there was nothing wrong with me. It could just be how my brain worked, she assured me, and that I am okay, and that she cares about me. She knows that we don’t talk often but she hopes that this message doesn’t bother me.

I did not know what to make of this new idea, that some brains are just sadder than others. I could not imagine at the time that maybe, while there could have been truth in that statement, maybe there was more than just this simple explanation. She was not the only one who told me this. I remember always hearing about depression this way from my college-mates that did affirm the use of anti-depressants.

I didn’t want my sadness to be dismissed. So, I became afraid of anti-depressants*, because I had concluded that if my sadness came from no where, that sadness was something inherent in me, about the way that I was born. I did not want my sadness to be dismissed, to be contextualized, because I had been through a lot.

And this world is dark.

I did not want to believe my sadness came from no where.

I think about the Christmas story, the one that many Christians will be thinking about for the next month, and I think about the gift of frankincense and myrrh that the wise men gifted Jesus. I remember being told that these two items were given to him intentionally, because these were medicines used to cope with pain. (I don’t know what to do about the gold, so I won’t comment on that). But, I think about the life that Jesus would have, one where he would be spat upon, threatened and mocked by authorities and others in his society and I know that any sadness Jesus felt during his ministry did not come from no where. The kings must have known about what kind of life Jesus would live. One where he would be acquainted with sadness and grief.

As I’ve become more honest with my own experience in the world, I know that I can now attribute this pain to much of what is happening in the world around me, whether it is that which directly affects me or something felt by communities worlds away.

Advent is powerful for me, because I can live into the mystery of this season and the complexity of my emotions as I interface with a hostile society in a precarious global climate. Advent encourages me not to put complex emotions away, because Advent reminds me that it is okay to have hope that is grounded in reality. During Advent, I can resist the compulsion towards happiness without giving into sadness. It is a season where I feel more comfortable not shaming myself for refusing to feign contentment in a dark world.

Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy. A time that I think about The One Well Acquainted with Grief, the One that Befriended me. The One who Hopes for Joy After Grief.

Advent begins this Sunday.

*For clarity, this is not to be taken as a statement about anti-depressants, rather was what I was told to believe about them at the time. If you are considering anti-depressants, please talk to a professional who can be sensitive to your needs.

#BlackGirlPsalms: Psalm 55 — Who Is My Friend?

If an enemy were insulting me,
    I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
    I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God,
as we walked about
    among the worshipers.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
    let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
    for evil finds lodging among them.

16 As for me, I call to God,
    and the Lord saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon
    I cry out in distress,
    and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
    because they have no fear of God.

20 My companion attacks his friends;
    he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
    yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
    yet they are drawn swords.

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked
    into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
    will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.


Who can I call “friend” when friends begin to feel like enemies?

If the neo-Nazis out in the streets were to insult me, I could endure it, for I already know that the unabashed white supremacists who have shown their faces in Charlottesville, in Durham, and in the Bay Area despise me and my people whom have darker skin.

If a man were threatening to strike me with his hands or with dehumanizing words because of his fear of me and my love of self, I could hide because I have endured this violence before and have come to expect it. I am used to men’s misdirected and uncontrolled anger, whether in my family or in public spaces, like the streets, at university or in my inbox.

But it is you, someone who is supposed to be like me — someone who professes to be on my side– who is starting to appear to me like an enemy.  You seem to prefer your own comfort than to make sure I can live free from fear of state sanctioned violence. How can I call you a friend? How am I supposed to take seriously the claims you make that you love me?

You who claim to be my friend. You who I had used to go to church with: Remember when I used to go to church with you? And we would eat lunch or dinner after service? And you told me that you believed in my leadership, that I am powerful? That I reflect the image of God?

In the fellowship hall, you would say that you were happy to see me, we would laugh together among our peers who also profess to love God, too.

But now in your silence you go about carefree with your white life, your white problems and your carefree dates at the local brewery. You tell me that there are better ways to fight white supremacists than what I have asked the ministers to offer to our parish. You tell me there are better ways, because you do not trust what those who are ACTUALLY affected by white supremacist violence are telling you to do. You continue to choose “studying” James Cone, Michelle Alexander, mujerista theology and womanist theology in your white small groups because you’d rather tell me “not yet” and that there is a purpose for your studying. You’d rather keep “studying” forever than to eventually change policies that hurt the people of color that you call Sibling in Christ. As if “studying” keeps you from taking concrete actions. You continue to start your own organizations with your blind-spots than to take the leadership of immigrants, Black Lives Matter organizers, and trans women who are fighting for their lives and know about their own needs better than you do. You believe that you know better. You refuse to acknowledge that your “knowing” better than the least of these is what got us to this dangerous political climate.

I see evil living in your home, in your homogeneous, fake-progressive places of worship– this evil of complacency. I see you enabling white supremacy and patriarchy, because you are too afraid to confront the injustice and patterns of dominance in your sphere of influence. You think that the problem of white supremacy is only the problem of of Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and Skinheads in Berkeley. You think the only misogynist to worry about is Trump. You excuse the misogynistic “jokes” from your pastor and friends. You cannot see the ways that you hurt me and my peers on the margins of society and neither do you care enough to see.

You shut yourself out from a healthy communion with me and those who suffer from state and policy violence, and it makes me wonder if you want to shut yourself out from the Kin-dom of God? Are you choosing to live in the realm of the dead? Or are you willing to sell yourself to the devil for the fleeting and empty promises that whiteness and patriarchy offers? Don’t you know that your silence and inaction in the face of injustice is killing your soul?

God! I cannot depend on those who say with their lips that they love me! So, I must call upon God for who else is there to turn to? Every single day, I feel afraid. I have too much anxiety to leave my home. Too much anxiety to face the world and to do my daily tasks. Sometimes too anxious and too depressed to eat, because the world around me despises and fears my existence. But I praise God, because God has brought me this far despite the violence of the white and patriarchal Church.

God saves me because the ways of  dominance and the promises of Empire never will.

There are too many who say that they love God, but they unknowingly hate the marginalized. They hate those who are crushed by the weight of Empire. They do trust the instruction and wisdom of the poor, the trans person, the black woman, and all those who are hated by society, because they do not fear God. They continue to elevate and center the powerful of this earth instead.

My fellow Christians attack me and those on the margins whom they claim to love and wish to protect. They silence us, because the truth of our lives and our pain sound too harsh to them. They use words that are smooth like butter, writing declarations of their condemnation of white supremacy for their organizational and church websites. But their words feel like swords — they inflict wounds on me when their smooth words are followed by no commitment to me and those others among me who are suffering.

God will show them how wicked all of this posturing, apathy and inaction is. God will show that there are consequences to their lack of humanity towards the marginalized of this world. Those who turn their backs on the undocumented immigrant, the trans person, the black woman — they have blood on their hands and cannot be called friends. They are thirsty for blood, though their smooth words would say otherwise. In this way, they prove that they are deceitful and cannot be trusted.

I trust that God will take care of this wickedness. And I trust that God will help me through another day, for God is my friend when the Church is not.

#BlackGirlPsalms: Introduction

It doesn’t surprise me that I love the Psalms.

Not just any of the Psalms. The dark ones. The sad ones. The ones heavy with lament and questioning.

I have always been one to gravitate towards sadness.  Instead of running from my emotions, I wade through them. I’ve listened to music thick with emotion for most of my life, from the R&B of my younger years, to the metal-core of my adolescence. Unlike the white boys who dominate heavy musical genres such as metal, much of my sadness is connected to my experience in the world as someone silenced because of the identities I embody. When I read the Scriptures, I find my sadness reflected back to me in the words of the Psalmists, as well as with other books in the Bible that navigate the waters of heavy emotion.

When I read the Psalms, I find a container for my sadness as a black girl. A queer black woman. Someone living within the margins, rendered invisible by intersecting systems of oppression. Someone living with depression and anxiety. Someone estranged and struggling to make peace with her mother and father. Someone who passionately loves God but at times feels failed by God.

Life within a racist and sexist society has made it that I often feel that no one sees or cares what I am going through. Often, it can feel as though my sadness is only seen by the Psalmists. It comforts me to know that there has existed a community of people before me with such complex feeling about their experiences in the world, and their relationship with God. It is liberating to know that I am allowed to feel these things as a Christian, and that my feelings are even canon, for what that’s worth.

 

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photo by Rachel Virginia Hester

A peer of mine recently told me that there are no citations for Psalm 44. As someone who lives so regularly with sadness this surprised me that others have not written about this Psalm. Psalm 44 is a difficult Psalm with a voice that sounds resentful, perhaps betrayed.

Though it may seem like a sign or lack of faithfulness to God to live in deep feelings of lament, anger, doubt and sadness, I’d argue that it’s not. We are reminded that Jesus, the main example of our Christian faith, was a man of great sorrows himself, deeply despised by many and experiencing complicated emotions such as rage and distress and doubt throughout his ministry on Earth.

Jesus knows this black girl sadness. Jesus understands this black girl despair –this despair that looms over me when injustice towards Nabra, Philando Castille, Charleena and many unnamed people happen all in the same week. Jesus sees this black girl rage.

Christ sees your sadness, despair and rage, too. And Christ does not run from it.

It is said that we cannot fully experience joy if we are not willing to embrace sadness. So often, the mainstream (read: white) church runs away from lament. Jesus, too, is removed from his accounts of lamentation, with narratives of a victorious Jesus dominating the American church’s liturgies and hymnals. The powerful within the Church seem afraid of these raw emotions. So much so that they leave Psalms like Psalm 44 without commentary.

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#BlackGirlPsalms is about community– community created through the vulnerability of lament, of expressing despair and dissatisfaction with the unjust world, with a hungry and gruesome empire, and with the apathy of those who claim to love us. It is important for those associated with darkness to interpret the Psalms.

May you find community in sharing your grief. In sharing your rage. May your grief serve a purpose and not be consumed by the gaze of power. May you find a God who cares. And may you also find a people and a Church that will hold you in this grief, so that you may be delivered towards a more faithful embodiment in the world. May #BlackGirlPsalms provide such a space.