Advent, Healing Justice, & Cake

Yesterday was the third Sunday of Advent yesterday and I’m sitting in an Episcopal church in Carmel, Indiana.  98% White.  Scripted prayers (not bad, but scripted nonetheless) and out of this formal setting, the first reading:

“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.  For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense…”

We sit there, respectfully following along in our bulletins.

And I ask myself, “Who are they?”

The image in my mind as the passage is read is my POC brothers and sisters who lament and know what systemic oppression looks and feels like.  Who keep on lamenting, trusting, and hoping in community because that’s the only thing that brings dignity in daily life.

Who clings to the faith of their ancestors, who survived slavery and lynching, and still believed in Jesus, in their desperation.  Who believed that they were the crucified ones.  That maybe if Christ could say, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” they could have the courage to forgive those behind their daily experience of multiple oppressions.  That they could find their voice even in the midst of white supremacy.

We in white culture like to sanitize the Christmas story.  We like to make sure Jesus’ skin tone was white and that all the animals were behaving in the stable and that kids look cute in their choir concert.  Truth is, Mary and Joseph were poor and they had a dangerous journey to Bethlehem.  Mary had to have her baby outside (no health insurance).  Jesus was a refugee who barely escaped genocide.  (Good thing Joseph believed the angels in a dream!)

We in white culture have a hard time sitting with the Christmas story as one of multiple oppressions.  Then we have to take seriously the fact that we oppress, directly or through silence.

I believe that people of color will repair the ruined cities.  They have the persistence that I don’t yet have.  They know that lament and joy are always intertwined.  Healing must be grassroots work and be collaborative.  I believe that people of color are finding ways to practice healing justice, to find ways to heal the devastations of many generations, while still taking care of themselves and their community.

A big part of my job is to get out of the way.  To amplify the voices of color and learn from them.  To take an honest look at my life and see ways that I oppress.  (A big shout out goes out to Faith Matters Network and Mystic Soul Project for the work that you are doing.  Thank you for allowing me to see faith from a different vantage point.)

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I also wanted to write about ways I’m smiling and laughing this Advent.  I’m waiting for my smile to return and I’m doing small things to recharge this month, rather than scurry around like crazy.  Yesterday, I made a cake, along with the help of my roommate.  If you have food allergies, you know how hard it is for cake not to taste like cardboard.  Well, this 6 layer-cake with layers of an Oreo cookie crust, chocolate cake, and chocolate mousse did not disappoint! It’s also gluten and nut-free, so if you want the recipes let me know!

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Letting James Cone Speak

“Such personal suffering challenges faith, but social suffering which comes from human hate , challenges it even more.  White supremacy tears the heart to pieces and turns the heart away from God.  The more I believed in God, the harder it became to sustain any faith.  White supremacy was so pervasive that everywhere I went, it was there staring me in the face -in the North as well as the South.  If God loves black people, why then do we suffer so much?  That was my question as a child; that is still my question.”

-James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

 

There’s not much I want to say in this post; this quote speaks for itself.  I want to be quiet enough, so I can let it sink in.  As a white person, I’m wanting to pay more attention to how I’ve read the Advent story in a sanitized way.  How I’ve been encouraged every Christmas since I can remember how I could respond like Mary, like Joseph, like Elizabeth, like the shepherds, like the wise men.  How we haven’t considered deeply that unless we, the white church, are willing to give up our power, we are Herod.  We are continuing to harm Christ Himself, in the form of our marginalized brothers and sisters, who are banding together to humbly lead us if we are willing to follow. And likely lose our life as we know it, so we can actually find it.

The Waiting of Advent

 

My melancholy side naturally resonates with Advent on the Christian church calendar.  Waiting.  Longing. Questioning.  How long? Sitting in pain without knowing when it will stop.

If I make it more personal and actually ask myself the question,

“What are you waiting for?” there are so many answers I could come up with.

All would be valid.  None would be wrong.

I want healing for my body, for our nation, for division to stop, for pain to end, for all those who feel forgotten would be welcome, for the lonely to find meaningful community and friendships.  The list could go on and on.

What is at the top of my list though is:

Silliness.  Laughter.  Adventures. My smile.

I miss these parts of myself that have been suffocated by grief.  I miss the parts of my personality that have changed drastically in the process of illness.

You see, when I was 14, I was the happy-go-lucky kid.  It’s hard to believe that now.  I was silly.  I smiled and laughed all the time.  Yes, I was young and not so rooted in the world’s pain, and yet I miss her.  I miss the part of me that wasn’t so acquainted with grief, with pain, with fatigue.  I miss the girl who was always trying to make someone’s day just a bit brighter.

I know she’s still there, trying to emerge.

Some people today compliment me for my smile-and say, “I never would have known that you live with a chronic illness.  You make it look easy.”

I take this compliment for what it is, and yet in the back of my head I’m also thinking, “I miss my old smile.”

My smile now isn’t forced, but it’s weightier.  I can actually feel my jaw using more effort.  There’s more resistance now.  It doesn’t come quite so naturally.

One day (hopefully in the near future), I will write a book with a title something like this:  When Your Personality Changes Overnight: Chronic Illness in Your Teens and Twenties.  I will talk about that weighty smile and the laughter that seems to come with a small hesitation.

I’m back in therapy right now reprocessing trauma, helping my neural networks to find another route in my brain besides fear.  That seems to be the route most traveled.  Because of the length of my illness, and several traumas piled on top of each other, I’m spending this Advent season coming to accept the fact that I have a minor form of PTSD.

Living with PTSD is a humbling experience.  Learning to heal from PTSD is a stretching experience.  It’s taking all of my drive to go even deeper, to heal just a little bit more.  To be patient and kind to myself, as I mess up, as I cry (yet again!), as I long so deeply to be well, that I think I just can’t take any more pain.

Simple things make me profoundly happy.  A card.  A compliment.  An unexpected text. A drive down Meridian to see my sister.  On Saturday, we went to Winterlights at the IMA and it was wonderful.

Lightshows.  Bantering about why we hate taking pictures.  Going the wrong way into the Lilly House and being told we had to go around.  Watching kids run and teenagers dance to the Nutcracker.  Trying to find a place to park.  Deciding that we didn’t want $4 Swiss Miss and going to The Best Chocolate in Town 10 minutes before it closed to get Ghiradelli in our hot chocolate instead.  Laughing about how we should have brought in bags of our own marshmallows to sell so we could have made money for all those people wanting the perfect Christmas outing roasting smores at the IMA.

My night was a whole lot lighter because of laughter.  That’s what I’m waiting for this Advent.