I have been following closely the plight of Brittney Griner (known as BG), the WNBA star who was detained in Russia just before Russia invaded Ukraine in February. She has been in prison in Russia for months and months, and her loved ones were concerned that it would easily turn into years (I think her “sentence” was nine years). She was arrested for having hash oil cartridges in her luggage, totaling less than 1 oz. We could argue about the wisdom of carrying cannabis into Russia…but let’s not. No one deserves nine years for this and we all know that she was being used a political pawn by Putin. As a Black, queer woman, she was an easy target for an authoritarian leader, but as a famous athlete, her detainment got the US’s attention. And without a doubt, she suffered greatly.
We got the good news that she will be back home with her wife, Cherelle Griner, and her family soon. She was suddenly released yesterday after months of negotiating by the State Department. Her release was part of a one-to-one prisoner exchange and a very dangerous Russian weapon’s dealer was released in exchange for her freedom. I admit that makes me uneasy, but I am not naïve enough to think that this is the first time something like this has happened over the years. I am just grateful that she got her freedom and that she can now begin her healing process.
Of course, the right wing political machine went nuts yesterday. People were outraged that a weapon’s dealer was released (fyi: Trump freed thousands of Taliban fighters). People were enraged that a white man and former marine (who was dishonorably discharged), Paul Whelon, was not a part of the agreement. Some people said she was released solely because she was Black and queer, as if her identity is somehow privileged. I was disgusted by that rhetoric. It was cruel, and just plain dumb.
Over and over, Advent calls us into this gray area, into the both/are nature of God. We are people of the promise given of which we can celebrate with reckless abandon. We are also people of faith invited into partnering with God to see this beautiful promise fully fulfilled. We grow emotionally and spiritually when we sit intentionally in the ambiguity. We honor ourselves and the progress that we make when we find ways to lament and celebrate at the same time. Things do not have to align perfectly all the time (and, honestly, they never will). As the saying goes, “perfection is the enemy of progress.” Of course, we can never rest complacent until all people are free and our systems are rooted in equity. But we have to rejoice when we see some justice, especially when justice is served for those who reside on the margins of society. We are impatient and frustrated because it seems to never-end, but we turn these small victories into hope that feeds our depleted souls. We can rejoice and grieve at the same time…because if we don’t, we will never celebrate and in the end, we risk rendering the harm experienced invisible. Both/and not either/or. That is Advent.
Be well, friends. Be in the gray area this Advent.