What is your frontline work? What makes you angry enough that you are willing to control and conserve that anger, transmute it into energy, and convert it into a power that will change the world?
I see a lot of anger, but much less frontline work these days. Doing work is hard, and doing what Gandhi advises - controlling, transmuting, converting, changing - is sometimes all but impossible. It’s so much easier to flail around in our emotion, lashing out, bottling up, but not really committing to working through anything.
These two concepts - anger and work - go hand in hand, today perhaps more than ever before. Christ's example invites us to have our hearts broken for the world, and then to do the work of sacrificing our power and giving voice to the voiceless. Many of us are brokenhearted at the systems of injustice we see playing out on the world stage. We’re justifiably angry at the racism, homophobia, xenophobia, violence, terrorism. But are we doing the work and showing up on the frontline?
Same, Same but Different
Before we can show up, we need to figure out what our frontline is. Yes, our work is to subvert systems of oppression and follow Christ in laying down our lives. How we do that requires discernment. It requires an understanding not only of our call to live as Christ, but also of our gifts, of the needs of our community, and of the anger we seek to control and transmute.
This is going to look different from person to person.
My frontline is not in protesting and civil disobedience. I say this having thought deeply about it, and struggle with guilt in honestly admitting this is not where my heart is. That’s not to say that I don’t support these actions, or that I would never march or sit or protest. But my anger, transmuted into energy, does not manifest well in protest.
My frontline is education. My anger, transmuted into energy, manifests itself in writing, teaching, and preaching. But even as I believe this to be my calling, believe this to be where I can move the world, I am not always sure how.
In cultural moments of pain, death, and suffering - which we are certainly having more than enough of - does my frontline work really matter? Is it enough?
Without transformation, no: my work does not matter. On my own, no: it will never be enough. Even when we’ve “found” our frontline, we haven’t arrived. We never have the option of letting our anger peter out, not if we want to turn it into a force that can change the world.
I took a class in seminary on preaching for social justice. We were repeatedly reminded not only to convict people’s hearts with our message, but to provide opportunities to put conviction into action. After all, faith without works is dead. If we are truly allowing our hearts to be broken by the brokenness in the world, if we are allowing the resulting anger to transform into world-changing energy, then we come to our frontline as changed people. We come to our frontline with something relevant to say and an expectation that we will say it.
And this pushes us. It scares us. It is an awesome responsibility. I know this, because I have felt all these things about my own frontline work and the violence we bear witness to.
Am I going to be the chaplain who lets people off the hook for their own ignorance of privilege, or am I going to name that privilege and call people to action? Am I going to be the professor who sidesteps Biblical narratives of oppression, or am I going to dig in with my students as they name ways in which they are oppressed and have oppressed? Am I going to assume my friends of color are fine, or am I going to put myself out there and make sure they know I’m their ally?
Are we going to step up to our frontline the same way we normally do, or are we going to do the work of transformation and transmutation, believing that the resulting power can change the world?
Thought she be but little, she is fiercely joined by a cloud of witnesses
I'll be the first to admit: on my good days I might think it may be possible for my transmuted anger-energy to strike a chord somewhere and make meaningful difference in the world. Lucky for me, it isn't only about my energy and my effort and my possibility.
When I engage my frontline work, faithfully transformed, seeking to harness world-changing power, I join others who are making this same commitment. And lucky for us, we join a power already moving in the world.
God's spirit of love is asking us to join in the work of bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice. Even with divine energy supporting us, it will require work, it will require frontline transformation, and a commitment to moving the world.