We will need all our anger and all our joy right now.
“Your tone is so nice,” they say wistfully, “you don’t seem angry at all.”
Most of you know that one of my literary heroes is Madeleine L’Engle. In her famous book A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit says to our heroine, “Stay angry, little Meg. You’ll need all of your anger now.” If it’s been a minute since you read the book, this moment happens as Meg along with her brother Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin are headed into a rescue mission. The three celestial women who have guided them thus far can go no further and they are on their own now, three children facing the darkness to save Meg and Charles Wallace’s father and defeat “It.” Meg has spent most of the book struggling to contain and manage her anger or hide it or get over it but in that line, Mrs. Whatsit gives her permission to channel it into goodness and purpose right as she steps into the unknown.
Those of us who were once Good Christian Ladies™ have been told for so long that nice girls don’t get angry, we are completely out of touch with how it feels to acknowledge and work with our anger. And that has to end. Because our anger is a gift, a powerful force we can steward with care and intention.
This probably doesn't need to be clarified but just in case: I’m not talking about sinful and self-indulgent anger here, not at all. I think most of us know the difference between selfish and righteous anger, even if we will only admit it to the darkest corners of our most honest hearts.
No, I’m talking about the real soul-centred anger, the one that rises up at injustice, at any violation against the humanity that our God loves and values. I’m talking about the way your heart races when the latest stats of deaths from COVID-19 come through and you know it didn’t have to be this bad. Or when you hear about kids being torn from their parents at the border of the United States, when you hear a leader congratulated for their misogyny against women, when another Black life becomes a viral hashtag because of police brutality, when another Indigenous life is erased in a “wellness check,” when the planet is burning and climate change continues to fall lower and lower on priority lists, or perhaps when a group of evangelicals show up to “worship” at a protest while simultaneous disrespecting and ignoring local Black leaders and social distancing guidelines (looking at you, Bethel, please go read Amos 5 and take several seats). Maybe the anger rose up when you were ignored or silenced after speaking up against abuse. Maybe it was a Indigenous sovereignty being ignored - again. Maybe it was refugees being harassed in your neighbourhood. Maybe it was a kid being bullied for their sexual orientation. Maybe it was being tear-gassed at a peaceful protest.
Lately, I have heard from so many people who are angry. They are engaged in the real world thumping alongside of our missing-the-point programs and clubs and busy-work bubble-dwelling that we sometimes call “discipleship” and yet they are almost afraid of the anger they feel. It's anger at injustice, anger at bullies, anger at betrayal, anger at abuse. It is real, legit, righteous anger. They ask me for solutions, for prayers, for tips on getting rid of that anger.
“Your tone is just so nice,” they say wistfully. “Can you help me figure out how to not be so angry? you don’t seem angry at all.”
And they’re wrong.
Because I am angry.
I am PLENTY angry. I’d argue that if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.
But here’s the thing, I’ve learned to make friends with my anger and to steward it. Please don’t ever mistake a picture of a flower on my Instagram feed for disengagement or a conversation about good things to somehow mean I’m above being angry (what does that even MEAN?).
When we are people who walk with Jesus, when our lives are oriented around the Kingdom of God, I believe that the Holy Spirit actually often moves in that space of righteous anger, using that emotion to wake us up from the sleeping numbness of our culture, shocking us out of our nice little lives centred on avoiding conflict or inconvenience.
So I want you to do something different: I want you to pay attention to your anger.
But first a confession: I am not historically great at being angry. For those of you who do the whole Enneagram thing too, I'm a Type 9 and so famously out of touch with my own anger, it's legend. I can have whole fights with people in my own head for a year without them every knowing I was the slightest peeved. I can stuff and deny my own anger down for years in a misguided effort to keep the peace. My default is to deny my anger - you mix that up with the Church's historic nervousness about angry women, a Canadian culture that highly values politeness and minding one’s business, and you see that I have had some serious catching up to do.
I've had to learn that instead of distracting myself, instead of satiating or denying anger with numbing techniques like more reality television or food or a crammed schedule or “not my circus, not my monkeys” excuses or protestations of "I'm fine! Really!" I had to actually see my anger as an invitation from the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes it was an invitation to pray, to advocate, to learn, to become educated, to support, to push back the powers of darkness myself instead of waiting for someone else to do something. Our anger can be a reasonable, legitimate response to something which is also angering to God.
So don’t ask me how to not be angry.
Be angry. You should be angry. And I want you to pay attention to your anger so that you can steward it.
After all, we hear a lot about God's anger in scripture- and it's almost all of the same things that are stirring us up right now. Cruelty to children, to widows, to orphans, to the poor, to the immigrant, to the vulnerable. The triumph of evil or ascendence of the wicked. We're angry for good reason.
However, once I began to let myself be angry, I ran into the truth about anger's relationship to justice-work: anger can serve as a great igniter but it can be inadequate for sustaining us over the long game to actually change the world.
Anger is our starting point, sometimes she is our invitation, but it is Jesus who sustains the passion and directs it into life-giving transformation.
Our anger gets us engaged but it is love and hope, joy and faith, community and discipline, rest and contemplation that keeps us in the long game.
Because here's the thing: I want my passion to last longer than a viral hashtag. I want my work to be sustainable over the long haul. And I want it to do more than stir up more anger, I want that anger, that energy, that passion, directed right towards peace-making and shalom-building.
So that meant also learning to pay attention to my joy.
Yes, my joy. Imagine that! I had to begin to pay attention to the work and the people who brought me great joy and hope. And that intersection - the intersection of my anger and my joy - turned out to be where my calling was hiding.
For me, when I began to pay attention to that intersection, I found a great passion for justice, for women in particular being born in me. I cared about our voices and experiences, I cared about our global story, I cared about mothers being able to have their babies and raise them in the developing world, I cared about victims of abuse being believed. I loved to write books, I loved to preach, and I loved to work behind the scenes of incredible orgs who do work in these fields, too.
It was when I got angry over how un-shepherded those of us in the wilderness are that I began to envision Evolving Faith. It was when I got angry at how we were taught to be afraid of rethinking, of reimagining faith instead of seeing it as an invitation from the Spirit. But it was also where my joy was hiding - out there in the wilderness with a bunch of misfits who still loved Jesus against all the odds, who were disappointed idealists and hopeful cynics, doubters and dreamers alike. I loved them.
Don’t be fooled: it’s a scary thing, a life-changing, paradigm-shifting thing, to honestly look our anger and our joy in the face, hold it up to the light of the Word and the Holy Spirit and our community and say, “I need to keep caring about this. I need to stay with this. I need to do something about this.”
When you're angry, ask yourself if there is an invitation there for you.
When you're joyful, ask yourself if there is an invitation there.
And then welcome what comes next.
I used to think that changing the world would be a lot more sexy than it actually turned out to be. Also it takes a lot longer. After all, you know how I love what Eugene Peterson calls "the big nouns and the big verbs" - love! justice! peace! shalom! equality! wholeness! mercy! salvation! forgiveness! goodness! YAS!
When I was younger and more idealistic perhaps, all I wanted was to save the world and make things right. Even now, I love that instinct and I still want to participate in that sort of work - it's just that I had this rather wrong idea in my head of how that would look.
Because here's the hand-to-God truth: the most actual *literal* world changing stuff that I get to participate with is almost always decidedly not sexy. It is not public. It is behind the scenes. It is thankless. It is monotonous. It is sometimes disheartening.
And it's the best.
Because it turns out that we only get to those Big Nouns and the Big Verbs with all the little nouns and verbs, all the unseen and uncelebrated work....
Like writing letters.
Showing up prepared for meetings.
Making phone calls.
Having hard conversations face-to-face.
Running for the council seat or the elder board or the strata council or the board of directors.
Making a plan.
Holding the powerful accountable.
Researching the truth.
Training others well.
Writing policy and procedures to protect the vulnerable.
Tithing every single month in one direction.
Consistency of presence.
I could go on....I bet you could, too.
Lots of people love to talk the big game - Lord knows I still love it. We all want the Big Nouns and Big Verbs.
Yet grand gestures don't actually change the world anymore than grand gestures make a sustainable healthy marriage or friendship. People who roll up their sleeves and do the consistent steady good work, day after day, have a better shot of seeing at least a small bit of the justice, the peace, the mercy, the equality for which we are all crying out.
Nowadays my heroes are the ones who have their eye on the Big Nouns and Big Verbs, absolutely, but they are living faithful, steady, never-backing-down, never-sitting-down, hopeful, realistic, never-giving-up, burr-in-the-saddle-of-the-enemy lives.
Paying attention to the details of justice and love and mercy means that it might actually happen for at least one someone. That's why I always say that radical faith is actually just radical faithfulness.
Don't be afraid of getting down in the dirt. Of the hard work. Of hope. Of details. Of the long game. That's where the seeds for those Big Nouns and Big Verbs take root. I've found that the Holy Spirit is often most present there in that unsexy daily work of my life than on any stage or any grand gesture. And it is real lasting change. There is real challenge ahead of us in these coming months - we all see it. So with apologies to my hero:
Stay angry, stay joyful, my friends.
We will need all our anger and all our joy right now.
P.S. A reminder that all of the August Field Notes are open to all of our subscribers and to the wider Internet as a way of putting some goodness into our lives right now. If you do want to subscribe for the year, in addition to all future newsletters, you would also have access to the entire back catalogue of Field Notes including our other Wisdom from the Field conversations, exclusive essays, special devotional series, the book club, and lots more.
And in case you missed these Field Notes:
The Good Things of August - for everyone
Wisdom From The Field: How do you move out of survival mode - for everyone
My Fave Parenting Books + What I’m Reading Right Now - for everyone
Help, Thanks, Wow - a prayer circle for everyone
Do It Anyway - an AUGUST exclusive essay for everyone