We are often cautioned to be wise and careful with our words, lest the blade of our tongue deal out death rather than life. But especially in times when words cannot capture the death already playing out in the world, even with insufficient words, we must try to voice the groaning of our souls to the only God who can hear us.
“FUCK THIS SHIT, oh Lord. This is my tired advent prayer. Fuck this shit indeed. Amen."
This was a line of the Advent psalm/poem by Micah Murray titled "Rend the Heavens" that I shared with my friend Jason. It so captured what I had such difficulty articulating, like the cry of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible screaming, "How long, O Lord?"
My fellow troublemaker and colleague, Reverend Jason Chesnut, and I were disturbed over the multiple police shootings of Black men and women. I told Jason that I was waiting for the global trumpet sound from the eighth chapter of the book of Revelation at any moment, to signal that God had had enough of it all and would bring apocalyptic justice to this broken world.
Murray's poem expresses the current-day equivalent of crying out to the Lord and upon reading that line, we knew we weren't the only ones feeling this way. I reflected on the repeated modern-day lynchings and wrote to Jason, "Fuck this shit that's happening." That's when Jason came back with a reply: "Right. Fuck This Shit: An Advent Devotional." And in the birthing pains of communal lament, #FuckThisShit was born.
I think it is Spirit-led that #FuckThisShit was born in Advent, a time of anxious anticipation. Yes, Advent is normally associated with the upcoming arrival of the Christ child, chocolate calendars, and a candle wreath. But there is something more to this time of waiting, wondering, and hoping.
Advent is a time when the Christ child enters into our fleshy and broken humanity to save us. It is also a time when we deeply yearn: for the second coming of Christ to set this distraught world on a different path to the wholeness and completion of what God fully intended for creation; for a glimpse of the Holy Spirit; for justice. As Christians, we are a people of both death and resurrection, of lament and joy, expressed through the rhythms of the liturgical calendar spanning from Advent to the time after Pentecost. This yearning of Advent could almost be in preparation for Lent, to acknowledge that we are a people of a Savior who was both broken and victorious.
When Jason and I had that conversation, I remember feeling something between abject terror and giddy excitement. Yet deep within my bones, this felt like such a calling. We knew that taking on a devotional with such visceral language would come with a risk to our own ministries. Within one day, news of the devotional went live on Twitter. While there was intense criticism from some, we received overwhelmingly positive responses from people who hadn't attended a Bible study in 15 years, to agnostics, to those yearning to have an authentic relationship with God. With such a response, we knew we had to continue with this work.
At the same time, I could feel the anxiety rise within me. Anger is not something I easily access because growing up in my household, I never really got to be in touch with the full range of my emotions. If I would ever feel anything outside the realm of happiness, particularly feelings of sadness or anger, my parents desperately wanted me to push those emotions aside.
They would always ask, "Beti (Hindi for daughter), why can't you just be happy?" I never wanted for anything material in my childhood. I always had a roof over my head. More than enough to eat. Nice clothing to be shown off to the other Indian families. But I felt that I lacked an emotional and spiritual connection with people, especially my parents. Even with a new Nintendo or all of the books that filled my to-read lists, there was still a yearning to connect with people and not objects.
As immigrants, though, objects seemed to be what defined my parents' success and happiness of integrating into American culture. Because I yearned for a more authentic and full relationship spanning many emotions, they were confused over my sadness and anger. If I felt anything outside the realm of happiness, gratitude, and joy, that meant that they failed at providing for my well-being in the midst of their sacrifices to provide for my brother and me. So began the exercise of pushing my feelings deep down into my being with a smile plastered upon my face.
That plaster began to crack when I was in college, then outright shattered when I was in graduate school. When I moved away, I didn't realize those feelings I suppressed for years had moved with me. Day after day, I was being gnawed from the inside out physically, spiritually, and emotionally. My schoolwork and social life went into a tailspin. It was a struggle to find rest, and I wrote and rewrote papers seeking a perfection that I thought was expected of me.
Because I didn't have the childhood experiences of feeling and metabolizing my emotions, I went into a downward spiral of anxiety and depression. It was to a point where I had to seek medical attention, see a therapist, and take medication, because I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety rooted in obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I was terrified to tell my parents of this development in my life; when I finally confessed to them the truth of my inner turmoil, I did not receive the hugs, caresses, and care I saw exhibited by white families on television. I instead heard the sting of their words as my parents asked me if I would lose my academic scholarships if I was in therapy at the campus health center. I erupted. I lashed out. I finally wept, then slept for days.
As dark as those times were, this was when I finally came to know the power of experiencing anger in my emotions and in my body. I could not believe that I could say "Fuck this shit" and somehow live to see another day by God's grace and still be in a relationship with my family (albeit a fucked up relationship in my eyes). That cathartic anger — something other than programmed joy — was terrifying because something new had been unleashed, but it was also liberating that I could be more honest about the range of emotions I could feel at any given time.
What would life have looked like if I had the opportunity to experience anger as a child? Perhaps I would be more emotionally integrated, finally being that happy and whole beti my parents always wanted? Perhaps I could have saved time and money and wouldn't feel emotions as wildly as I do today.
As a pastor who is still learning to feel and express her emotions in her own body and out into the world, I felt a call to find ways for Christian community to experience not just gratitude and joy, but also the depths of human emotions in a crucified God. As someone who deeply cares about the Word made Flesh, I have been on a journey of finding appropriate words to express the feelings of anger and sorrow that I spent much of my life disregarding, especially in the context of a fractured world waiting for Christ to come again.
With society's disregard for Black and Brown bodies coming to the forefront in recent news paired with the vicious presidential campaign rhetoric of xenophobia and racism, I found that I could only express myself with raw and visceral words to reflect the injustice I saw
Communicating such a deep emotion cannot be accompanied by flowery and polite language; anger comes from a rawness and a sense of being figuratively torn open. There is a desire for God to rend the heavens, like the heavens being torn open in Mark's Gospel at Jesus' baptism. Or like Christ's flesh being torn at the crucifixion. It comforts me that Jesus still bears those scars in the resurrection, a validation of our yearning and anguish.
Jason and I didn't use #FuckThisShit to be edgy or radical or simply to be "cool" and attract young people to the church. We used these words because they are troubling and unsettling to move us out of places of complacency.
These are words of anger over the injustices being wrought over oppressed populations, but also at the same time, these are words of deep lamentation wondering where God is in the midst of chaos and confusion. For me, #FuckThisShit is honesty in weeping over the bodies broken by oppressive systems and naming what is happening in the world around us. #FuckThisShit is a proclamation of protest for the overt racial violence that has become permissible following the close of the presidential election.
In this devotional, we invited others to be unfiltered and bare before God. Only by expressing to God the depth of our heartbreak can we then powerfully yearn to be in restored relationship with God and explore how God actually laments with us. We read in Scripture that in anger Jesus turned over the tables in the Temple, and that Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" If an almighty and merciful God could not handle the use of four-letter words, then I would have to seriously question if this would be a God who could accept me for the entirety of who I am created to be, anger and all.
The language of our faith has been sanitized by the dominant Puritan narrative that has powered so much of how we interpret Scripture and relate to God, thereby silencing the brokenness of the world and the brokenness we experience in our own lives. But if we cannot express the deepest and darkest aspects of who we are — in all its ugliness and offensiveness — to God, who else can we turn to?
"Fuck this shit" were the words I screamed out into the world and at God when my father died. The prophets of old also used scathing words to profess their desperation for justice. If their words could be translated to today's language, they could very well proclaim ... Fuck this shit.