Archive for the 'Anger' Category

Christians and “American Rage”

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Grassroots politics in our country just keeps getting angrier. The anger has simmered for years, fueled by opportunistic politicians and talk-radio commentators. In this election season presidential candidates across the spectrum are fanning the flames. Unfortunately, they appear more interested in transforming the anger into votes than in finding lasting solutions to the issues generating the anger. “American Rage”, an Esquire Magazine/NBC News joint survey, asked a diverse group of 3000 Americans their views regarding a wide range of current issues. I encourage you to read this study in detail, to consider its implications for our life together, and of course to raise questions where warranted.

“American Rage” identifies three main factors shaping our collective anger:

  • Experience of unfair treatment–70% of blacks, 48% of women, and even 21% of white men expressed anger about the way they are treated in this country.
  • Empathy measures our concern about how others are treated. Blacks and Hispanics surveyed reported the most anger about how various other minorities are treated, while Whites reported the least anger about the treatment of other groups.
  • Expectations refers to disappointment and frustration with regard to one’s current situation and future prospects: “Are you disappointed? Do you feel stifled and shortchanged and sold a bill of goods? Then you’re probably pretty angry. Consider the white men and women in our survey: From their views on the state of the American dream (dead) and America’s role in the world (not what it used to be) to how their life is working out for them (not quite what they’d had in mind), a plurality of whites tends to view life through a veil of disappointment… we see the anger of perceived disenfranchisement—a sense that the majority has become a persecuted minority, the bitterness of a promise that didn’t pan out…”

 How do Christians relate to this collective anger? Some of us ignore it and hope it goes away. After all, politics isn’t very “spiritual”. And didn’t Jesus say anger was pretty close to murder? “You’re familiar with the command of the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder.” (Matthew 5:21-22 MSG) So let’s not even go there. We’ll suppress it, repress it, deny it, ignore the anger of “those people”. anger 3

Some of us plunge into the fray and choose up sides that fit our theological and/or political views. Decades of experience have taught me that church people can fight as dirty as anybody—even politicians! Still, we may feel some guilt about mixing it up with folks. We have a dim memory of that Bible verse: “Be angry or do not sin.” Then somebody reads us the real thing: “Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4 :26 NKJV) Now we’re confused! Aren’t “anger” and “do not sin” mutually exclusive? How—in God’s name–can we hold them together?

Another translation says (and continues), “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.” (Ephesians 4:26-27 MSG) Anger and other feelings are neither good nor bad in themselves. We may express feelings lovingly or unlovingly, healingly or hurtfully, etc. It’s not the anger. It’s the poisonous hate festering deep inside; our careful nurturing of resentment; our targeted hate that identifies the person with whom we’re angry with the issue that divides us. “Be angry and do not sin.” Address the issue—promptly, clearly, lovingly (well under 100 decibels!). Speak your piece and be sure your neighbor knows you will listen to him/her/them as intensely as you have spoken. Be angry over the issue and be equally clear that the other is, like you, a beloved child of God—no matter how maddening their recent words or deeds!

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Anger without sin

  • Does not dehumanize, demonize, disrespect, diminish, label, or stereotype the other. It recognizes each person’s full humanity and treats him/her/them as we would expect to be treated if the situation were reversed.
  • Is not all about me. It seeks God’s will, not my self-justification. It seeks the best outcome for all.
  • Isn’t a winner-take-all fight-to-the-death. Its goal is collaboration, constructive action, community-building, and reconciliation.
  • Willingly listens to differing perspectives. It knows that mutual understanding and respect are the foundation for consensus or at least agreeing to disagree agreeably.

We who follow Jesus can offer a unique witness in our angry, polarized society. Father Richard Rohr’s writings express the shape of this witness. His Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico organizes its life around Eight Core Principles. Two of them especially fit this discussion. No. 1–“The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point.” Yes, anger is close to murder. Our murderous heart wants to obliterate that other person, we just haven’t acted on it. “The teachings of Jesus” also include “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Love your enemy…”, and others that make it hard to stay (self-)righteously polarized.

Core Principle No. 3 states, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.” In fact, the more “oppositional energy” we generate, the more we lose sight of the most vulnerable people in our society. This principle challenges us to follow another way. Instead of playing down to the opposition’s level, let’s raise our game and challenge others to live and relate at that higher level.

In the first century Paul called Christians in Rome to “the practice of the better”: “If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do… Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:18-21 MSG)

“Be angry and do not sin.” What does that look like in your family; your workplace; your neighborhood; your church? How will you pursue “the practice of the better” where you live your life?