Last night on Twitter I was asked a question: "What do you do with the anger?" She went on to explain, "Anger at family, anger at injustice...so many things to be angry about, but a pastor has to be about so much more."
How do I handle the anger? My first thought was to respond, "Not well! Just ask my friend's about the text messages they get!" My second thought was to respond, "It depends on the day." Anger, despair, and cynicism are things I struggle with almost daily. I have by no means figured this thing out.
I think that anger can be healthy and helpful, especially for people who have been marginalized. And it is legitimate to be angry when people are being hurtful. I don't want folks to read this post and hear me saying that anger is bad or that you should never be angry; I don't believe that for a second. But the person who posed the question was right at least when it comes to me. I, especially as a priest, cannot live in that space of anger forever. Eventually something has to shift. For me, part of that shift has been to recognize my calling.
I believe that some people are called to stay where they are to fight the system from the inside (think people who stay and try to get ordained in denominations that aren't welcoming to LGBTQ ordination). That is a special calling from God that allows you to stay and still work for change in healthy ways. If someone is called to that work they can offer a reasoned critique, they can stay in the fight without losing themselves. The people that are called to this work are vital. The trouble is that if someone is not called to that work, they cannot work for change in healthy ways. If someone is not called to that work and they stay anyway they will be hostile and defensive, angry and hurt, they will burn out and burn up.
When I started my ordination process I was pursuing ordination in a mainline denomination. And I was angry at how much the process cost, about the injustice of a psychological testing system that discriminated against trans* people, about the lack of support for people who were called to church planting. I was angry that even if I managed to get through the ordination process it would still be a struggle to get a place at a church or get permission to start a church.
I have been angry as book after book and project after project of tired apologetics about gay people and the Bible has gotten published, as organizations doing mediocre and boring work got funded, as people kept trotting out the same tired stuff instead of doing better work.
I've been angry at how often churches try to reclaim their glory days instead of thinking at the future, how they are more concerned with people who have the money than they are with reaching the people who desperately need a community. I am angry at how they trade in the radical good news of Jesus for a watered down, uninspiring, boring, vague niceness.
Confession: I have lived in that place of anger for the better part of the last several years, because to be angry means that I care, right? If I didn't care I wouldn't get angry. But every bad article about queer Christians derailed me for days, every time a church made a decision that I didn't agree with I fumed and ranted, every time I felt like I was being passed over and someone with less to say was given a platform I got angry and hurt (this is a confession, so I have to be honest). And as I have lived in that place it has sapped my energy and turned me into someone I don't want to be. I am not called to the work of changing institutions. I have tried that work and it exhausted me, depressed me, and stole my joy.
My calling is to create instead of react.
And when I finally tried to live into my calling I felt things shifting. I am learning to shift my posture and to create instead. To use the anger and the hurt to fuel my work for creating something beautiful. I cannot live in that place of reaction; it just eats my soul. I am trying to create work that feeds me and will hopefully provide a respite for others who are also tired and weary of fighting. I'm trying to create spaces and writing that shift conversations out of the same old loops and put us on a new path.
It's this breaking point; this exhaustion with continually reacting, the hopelessness of railing at the system, that pushed me into creation.
See, the thing with reacting is it lets the other person set the terms. If I am reacting to the latest hurtful article then I am saying that person has a point and I am letting them control the conversation. If I write an article or plan a program that is in reaction to something a church did that hurt me, I am letting them control (and thereby narrow) the vision of what can be possible. I don't want the people who are doing bad work, who are hurting the communities I am in and a part of, to be able to control the conversation. Nor do I want to allow them that much of my brain's bandwith! They don't deserve to have me on the defensive. Instead I want to put out a new conversation; one that centers the experiences of queer and/or trans* people. I want to cast a new, exciting, and more hopeful vision for what church and theology can be in the world.
I started House of the Transfiguration because I wanted a place where I could experience both the ritual I crave, the music I love, and a push to really transform my community. I started Camp Osiris because I wanted a space for people to come together to talk about the ways that their sexualities and/or gender identities inform and strengthen their faith. I wanted a place where we could operate from strength instead of apology, where we could share life-giving stories and resources for changing ourselves and our communities. Brian and I started Queer Theology because we wanted to share theology with people that gave us life! We wanted to be a part of a conversation filled with joy and hope and power. We wanted to be in conversation about how to live intersectional lives of solidarity, realizing that there is power and grace on the margins. These are not reactions, they are creations. They are the manifestation of the realization that if we want a better future we have to create it. We can't build on broken foundations and expect to have stronger buildings.
What are the things that are making you angry? What are the systems that you spend your time railing against? Are you called to work within them or is that burning you out and making you exhausted? If you are called to do that work in those structures then may God grant you strength.
But if that's not your calling? Put it down. Walk away. Leave. You have permission to stop fighting. You have permission to create instead!
Will it be easy? No. Will there be enough funding or support? Probably not. But even though I have had to hustle more in the past year than I ever have before I have never been as at peace and fulfilled in what I am doing. Even when it pushes me so far out of my comfort zone I can't even see the zone anymore. And the best part? I know that I am creating what God is calling me to create on no one else's terms! I am creating spaces and materials that people are desperate for.
What is it that you are being called to create? (If you want to really be bold, share it in the comments, otherwise you can send me an email.) Is there anything I can do to support you on your journey out of reaction and into creation?
Final thought: what do I do with the anger? I feel it. Deeply. And then I transform it into fuel and use it to create.
We can all build something better.
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