The Dance of the Advocate

Recently, I’ve had a few friends step into advocacy. I’ve also enjoyed more time with those who have spent their lives committed to advocacy. I admire all of them, from the newly inspired to the longtime devotee. Each of you advocate on behalf of others, representing your own unique perspectives and passions: fair wages, better public education, access to better foods, breast cancer research, poverty reduction, gay rights, fair wages, religious freedom, gender equality in the church and in the workplace, and so many more. The world is better because of you but I know it’s not an easy path. I hope to offer you some encouragement with this post.

The Dance of the Advocate

It’s that moment you doubt everything about yourself. You’ve experienced so many moments of vulnerability and you feel too exposed to be comfortable again. You want to crawl under a rock or move far away. This time this mountain just seems too big.

The wounds seem too deep this time. There are far too many. And this time they came from so many places you trusted. You thought you were safe. You are embarrassed that it took you so long to realize you weren’t.

You didn’t expect those closest would turn on you. You didn’t expect their words to be so cruel. They pierced you in an unexpected way. You fear these wounds won’t ever heal.

Then in your moment of darkness, just enough light peaks through. It allows you to stop focusing on the pain for a moment and shines on the parts of you that cannot be ignored. After those countless sleepless nights, you finally own up to who you are. There is no changing who you were meant to be.

You acknowledge your errors, whether it is the poor choice in tone or the stupid decision that undermined your message. You wish you could take it back; just a simple do over would ease the regret. But you accept it as part of your journey. Mistakes will shape you. It’s so easy for others to only see your mistakes and judge you by them. It’s painful. But you know that mistakes are necessary and only those who stand still avoid them.

You realize they will never know how badly they hurt you; they may not care. You accept that you can’t make them see. That’s not your fight. You aren’t who you are for them. Once again, you decide to live up to your own expectations and you refuse to foolishly chase theirs anymore.

So you pick yourself from off the ground. You brush off your knees. You stand up as straight as your beaten back will allow.

And you remind yourself they want silence because some of your words make them uncomfortable.

But you know that discomfort makes us better. Oh sure, embracing discomfort hurts like hell. You feel it every time you speak up when everyone else remains silent. However, the conviction that change will not come without discomfort always pushes you into that pain.

Some will fight it.They will hurt you to silence you. They will fill your world with angry words. They will attack your character.

But you will not be silent. Who you are will not allow it.

Because the advocate must speak.

You speak on behalf of the downtrodden, the broken. You speak on behalf of the rejected and disowned. You speak out for the marginalized, for those whose voices get lost in the majority.

You speak because you were one of them. Or you speak because you used to hurt them. Or maybe you speak because you love one of them. Whatever the reason that inspires your voice, it gives purpose to your passion and strength to your conviction. Today, you hold that reason a bit tighter.

You remind yourself that you don’t speak for the selfishly opinionated. You don’t speak for those holding tight to their privilege or those who believe everyone else should adapt to them. You don’t speak for those who reject progress, tolerance, or acceptance. You don’t speak for those who reject empathy. You hope your words might reach them, but you don’t speak for them.

Oh but when your words reach or impact just one…you feel an overwhelming peace for a moment. You tangibly feel the purpose of your cause. But soon after the turmoil will return, and you will need to speak again.

Because there is no greater calling than the belief you should sacrifice your comfort to advocate for another. There is no more noble or exhausting of a cause.

You’ve learned that your skin isn’t as thick as you hoped. You bleed. A lot. You scar. And those scars will serve as reminders of your pain, your mistakes, and your commitment.

And you will speak. Because the advocate must speak. Even when you make mistakes. Even when you fail. You will still speak.

And just know, no matter the cause, no matter the message, if you advocate on behalf of another…

I’m here listening.

Because we need you. I need you.

So please speak up a bit louder.

Why I Criticize the Church

Recently I was accused of being too harsh on the church on Facebook (I looked back three months, apparently 2-3 posts that challenge the church is too harsh.) It was a unfair remark surrounded by hurtful words from someone I had a great deal of respect for. But regardless of their misguided approach, it did make me realize that maybe people don’t understand this deep conviction I have. So rather than grow in frustration at their misinterpretations or hurtful accusations, I wanted to put to my blog why I, on occasion (and truly feel that I should more often), criticize the church.

First, let me establish that when I am talking about the church that I am referring to the Christian church and every person has a faith in Jesus Christ. This includes Evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics, and any other professing Christian. I’m nice and inclusive that way.

Second, let me say that I am a Christian. My faith is a profoundly deep part of who I am and it is fundamental in all of my passions and decisions. There are times in my journey where my faith is stronger, other times when it appears non-existent. But it is always present with all its questions, emotions, and experiences. When I criticize the church I am ALWAYS criticizing myself and never once exempt myself from the criticism.

Third, I am fully aware that the church is filled with people, therefore flawed. It is not a building; it is a group of people supposedly agreeing on one major thing… Jesus. He existed, he taught us lots of stuff, he died for our sins, and he rose again three days later. We seem to disagree on nearly every other thing, but we have that in common. Isn’t it nice to think how that one single life unifies us?

So why do I have this deep conviction that I should criticize the church? Well, let’s begin by removing any argument of semantics. Oxford dictionary defines criticism as, “The expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived or mistakes” It is also commonly used in art, literary texts, etc. for the “purpose of dating or reconstructing them, evaluating their authenticity, analyzing their content or style, etc.” Criticism seems best embraced in academics, where the purpose is to discover what you think, believe, or know. It is used in the political field to discuss what we have done and what we should do… or to figure out which party is doing it less wrong. Sometimes criticism is about our perception of something and sometimes it is about undeniable facts. You criticize that poor driver because you felt like he cut you off or because he did in fact cut you off. Either way, it certainly gives you something to discuss with that other driver.

But it seems that that in day-to-day life most people stay away from it. Yeah, sure, we criticize our significant other or children. We criticize our employees. We criticize that other driver. We seem most likely to criticize people that we feel we have power over. It’s why when we criticize the government and someone tries to silence us, we argue we have the authority… freedom of speech and all. It is our right, we have that authority in our country (and we all think the opposing politicians are stupid.) But it appears to me, we seldom criticize when we feel that we don’t have any power or authority. I’m pretty sure most of us who criticize a politician on FB would not actually do so to his or her face.

But why does someone need authority to criticize? Well, quite simply they don’t. We are just more comfortable taking criticism from someone who supposedly knows more than us.

Most people really hate receiving criticism. It’s uncomfortable. The feeling that our weaknesses are exposed is far too vulnerable for us. We typically avoid looking at our own weaknesses and we always try to hide them from others. So it makes sense that we don’t allow people below us to criticize us.

I believe this is why the people most angered by my criticisms of the church are pastors and older Christians. When someone young and…gasp… a female… comes along and offers criticism of the church, she is placing herself on the same level as a pastor or someone who has been on the journey for far more years than her.

But I’m not. I’m not saying I have the same knowledge of scripture or spiritual maturity. I’m only saying… I’m part of the church and I want the church to be the best it can possibly be. So if I perceive a fault or mistake, I feel that it is my responsibility to speak up.

Turn on the TV. Listen to some non-conservative talk radio. The church has a pretty bad reputation. Now, the new pope sure is helping to gain some points for the Catholics, but the rest of us are not perceived very well by everyone else. And it would be foolish to place all the blame on non-Christians and their ignorance. Self-reflection is necessary (you know… that whole verse about looking in the mirror.) We seem to come across as unloving and unmoving. Our political agendas make us seem heartless. I hear more Christians defend the death penalty than I hear them talk about redemption for the worst of sinners. Sometimes we, together, lose our way.

At 20, I loved Jesus with all my heart. I loved my Christian friends with all my heart. I loved missions and telling the world about Jesus with all my heart. But I did not LOVE like Jesus told me to love. I was too concerned about telling others how to live…what to wear, what to listen to, how to act, how to vote. I was in a bubble. A bubble that had me believing that I had it all right while everyone else had it all wrong. There is no one to blame for that but myself. I was on a journey and it could not be rushed.

Now, I’m not saying I am what every Christian should strive to be now. I’m not. I use more cuss words than Christianese (that is Christian language for you ‘non-believers” out there.) I often spend more time trying to live out my faith than developing my faith. I am too quick to speak and much too slow to listen. I’m so far from perfect. But you know what… that is why today I’m freer than I’ve ever been. Because I acknowledge I’m far from perfect. I recognize that I don’t know it all. I recognize that a long journey is okay and maturity doesn’t come overnight. I’ve had to learn how to repair relationships and how to let go of them. I’ve learned that some people will only see the worst in you and no amount of work will change them. I’ve learned that a black and white world does not exist for anyone but the most privileged.

But mostly I learned that for all of those very reasons… I have a voice in the church. Because of my unique perspective as an individual and as a card-carrying member, I have a right to criticize, maybe even 3 posts A MONTH of criticisms! I have a right to challenge other believers to follow the message of Christ as closely as we can. I have the right to criticize because I’m one of them. When I was 20, I didn’t know that I could help shape the church, I thought I only could live within the boundaries laid out for me. Then I met a man who corrupted me brilliantly. He was a pastor… and I married him. And I soon started a new journey of self-discovery, self-reflections, and most importantly considering other perspectives different from my own.

And now I love good discussions, debates, and even some good old-fashioned arguing about what it means to be a Christian (or really anything.) But I’ve learned a lot of people do not. And Christians have attacked me more the last six months than anyone else. Yep… those people who love Jesus just like me. They have said some of the most hateful, spiteful, condescending things to me. Many believe I can’t be one of them because I support gay marriage, I don’t think all Muslims are terrorists, and I am against the death penalty. I somehow lost my religion badge for those. Some believe I lost my way because I drink wine and use cuss words (I hope they don’t find out that I teach my son that actual words can’t be bad!) They want to disown me because I call myself a feminist (that apparently is the worst cuss word that I use.) But I’m okay with that because they too are entitled to their voice. I wished it would be a bit kinder sometimes, but I know mine is often far too harsh as well. So instead of trying to get them to look in the mirror, I’ll just go back to mine.

So I say all this to say, the criticism will not stop any time soon. But my posts highlighting all the beautiful people (many of them Christians) in my life will continue. But I’m sorry y’all (oh yeah…now I’m a Southern progressive Christian… and you thought that didn’t exist!) I’m still a Christian and I plan to use my voice so that others will know that not all Christians believe in one single voice. And my hope is one day, all our voices will get closer to that of Jesus.

It’s not fair.

“That’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair.”
“But I want it!”

This conversation is on repeat in the Blair household. Our son is currently training for his career in law using this method of argument. It’s not working very well, he never gets what he wants. We try to explain why this method is flawed, but alas, in his black and white world he cannot comprehend why fairness does not define circumstances. I remember this argument with my parents. I remember the very low tolerance for my pouting and the irritation with the insistence of my argument. I understand the annoyance now. It really is annoying. But I haven’t outgrown this argument. I still use it, just now it’s an argument with myself. I’ve matured enough to at least recognize that this argument is no longer socially acceptable. As an adult I know that life is not fair, right?

Wrong. Most times, I don’t know. I only seem to remember that life isn’t fair when my friend gets a new car and I’m driving a beater or when someone else finds the perfect job and I’m still performing circus acts to get potential employers to notice me. Or the most common reminder… when I’m wearing the same dress I wear to every cocktail party and my friend is in a stunning new dress that makes everyone in the room turn. Yep. Life is not fair. And if we want to get incredibly honest, I actually recall a moment sitting on the side of my bed sobbing because I had nothing cute to wear to an event. Choking through my tears, I turn to my husband and say, “it’s not fair.” Embarrassing, I know.

I remember when we were trying to get pregnant and after both miscarriages the number of “it’s not fair” thoughts I had. Well, maybe not the number, there were far too many to count. But I remember how hard it was to be happy for my friends when they got pregnant so easily and I was wondering why my body didn’t want to work. Life didn’t feel very fair. I cried a lot. I felt angry and entitled to have a fair life.

Yes, upon reflection I can see that wanting life to be fair is a childish endeavor. By shouting to God, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” I’m not going to convince him to give me the toy anymore than my son will convince me. (I would be a constantly annoyed if I were God, can you imagine the number of “it’s not fair” he hears?) But it seems to be my default response.

So now is where I should emphasis the point that life isn’t fair. And we need to be happy with the path God takes us on and give an explanation about how those miscarriages were a blessing because without them I wouldn’t have this amazing child. And yes, that is all true. But that’s not where I am.

I read an article in the New York Times today about a child who lost his parents to genocide in Rwanda. At six years old he was scrounging the dump and trying to survive. He and many other children were homeless and without a family. They were the “forgotten” children. But someone stumbled upon him. An American running an organization took him off the streets and got him into school. The child was incredibly intelligent and driven. He excelled and eventually won a full scholarship to Harvard University. From a dump to Harvard.

I grew up in middle-class suburbia and I never even considered Harvard. Harvard was for people who lived a far more “fair” life than me. Community college was for people like me.

Our fixation on this idea that life needs to be fair cripples us. We lose all perspective. This idea forces us to focus on only those with lives that we deem “fair.” So naturally we focus on the people with the best things happening to them.  And when the best things only happen to them and not us, “it’s not fair.” But the irony of it all is that there is someone out there looking at us saying, “it’s not fair” about us.

I live in a country with freedom, wealth, and endless opportunities. I was born to a middle-class white family and with that received a high level of privilege. I never went hungry or without clothing. I learned to read and write at six years old. I was taught to articulate ideas verbally and in written form. I had the freedom to decide who I was and what my place might be in this world. I was free to question, challenge, and debate authority. I could walk away if I disagreed with someone.

It’s not  fair. I did nothing to deserve any of that.

It’s not fair. I won the lottery in my birth.

It’s not fair. Another woman with darker skin was born another place. She was hungry and without clothing. She never learned to read or write. She could never articulate her ideas. She was never allowed to choose who she was or where her place is in this world might have been. She could never question, challenge, or debate authority. She could never walk away.

It’s not fair.