An anger that burns without consuming can be the fire and the energy for action, for organizing, for creating justice.
Protesters, including UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray and other Unitarian Universalist clergy, demonstrate in the Hart Senate Office Building as Catherine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Today, as the Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court in spite of women’s testimony about his abusive behavior, the image most clear in my spirit is the burning bush. The burning bush was the form God took to speak to Moses, to tell him that God had heard the suffering cries of the people and asked Moses to lead the people to freedom. The image at the heart of this story is a bush on fire, yet not consumed.
If you are angry, if you are not okay right now, that is okay. I am angry, and I don’t feel okay.
Years ago, the organizer Ernesto Cortés Jr. introduced me to the concept of cold anger. He said that anger is the legitimate response to the pain of having your body, your values, your humanity, your family, and your dignity violated, dismissed, or denied. I heard these words many years ago and they have stayed with me.
Anger is a legitimate response.
I needed to hear that then. I need to hear it now. Anger is not an emotion we women are taught to have or value. Instead, we are taught to swallow it or push it aside. I am done with that. We need our anger. Yet we also need to know how to use our anger so that it does not consume or destroy.
At Kavanaugh hearings, UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray joins protesters affirming Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.
The Kavanaugh hearings have been painful and infuriating for so many women, so many non-binary people, so many survivors of all genders, and for the people who love and care for them. My anger stems from seeing a brave woman be mocked for sharing her painful experience of sexual assault. My anger is compounded by a process that in both the language and demeanor has been assaultive. Whether senators used the language of “ram this nomination through” intentionally or unintentionally, it revealed their clarity that this process was never about credibility, getting to the truth, or the consent and support of the American people. It was, from the beginning, rooted in cultures of domination, patriarchy, and white supremacy. The voice of women and the majority of American people never had a chance.
Anger is the legitimate response to pain, but it can become destructive. Turned inward and swallowed, it can consume us with shame, self-destruction, and despair. Turned outward, it can be explosive and violent. But when we understand the concept of cold anger—an anger that burns without consuming—we understand that anger can be the fire and the energy for action, for organizing, for creating justice.
Our anger is a gift when we use it in service of liberation.
The image of the burning bush is in my heart today. It is an image of an embodied spirit of God that burns with a fire for the cries of the people yet does not consume the life of the bush. It gives light and beauty and power without consuming and it calls us to bring that force to the work of justice. Part of the process of getting to that form of cold anger that we can use is about recognizing the real pain that systems of inequity, cruelty, and injustice create—and recognizing we have common cause with others to dismantle those systems and build just ones in their place.
As elections approach, Unitarian Universalists work to register voters, promote criminal justice reform, and re-enfranchise 1.5 million people in Florida.
If you are angry, if you are heartbroken, if you are not okay today, it’s okay. I am with you. I feel it all, too. And I am going to use that energy to strengthen my commitment to organizing for justice.
If you are looking for ways to act, here are some ways that the Unitarian Universalist Association is working for voting rights, justice, and liberation:
First, we are working on the midterm elections, because elections matter. And we remember our ancestors who fought, who went to jail, who faced violence and death to earn people of color, women, and those without property the right to vote. Let’s use that vote: It is one piece in how we put our cold anger into productive service.
In Florida, we are supporting the get out the vote effort for the Second Chances amendment, which would be the largest re-enfranchisement of voters since the Voting Rights Act. We’ll also working in Ohio to support Issue 1, which will reduce criminalization. And we are also supporting organizing for the #BlackFridays campaign as we continue to say clearly that we #BelieveWomen and #BelieveSurvivors.
A version of this essay first appeared on UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray’s Facebook page, October 6, 2018.
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The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray is the ninth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). She was elected in June 2017 to a six-year term after serving congregations in Phoenix, Arizona; Youngstown, Ohio; and Nashville, Tennessee. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray, and their son, Henry.
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