Saturday, April 06, 2013

Why are we so angry?

Why are we so angry?

This is the question I posed at the end of my last post. I don’t know how one would gather data on such a subject, but it appears to me that there is a lot more palpable and visible anger in our culture in the past 10 years, especially when it comes to the arena of politics.  Why is this? What’s the root of it? Who is responsible?

The Republicans, Gays, the NRA, Obama; take your pick.  We can find anyone on which to pin the blame for our anger, reasoning out that things would be so much better if (fill in name of hated entity) would just shut up and go away.  That’s how anger works. It has an uncanny way of allowing for rationalization of an opinion.

It’s easy to point the finger at the supposed culprit and justify our own position against the actions of another.  But this is what Jesus was especially good at uncovering.  He had a way of showing that the starting point of all inquiry is self examination.  Take the log out of our own eye before removing the speck out of our neighbor’s eye. Good advice like this is not always heeded. And there is a simple motivation why?

We are angry because we love being angry.

I do believe there is a reason Jesus spoke of anger as his very first point in his first recorded sermon.  Anger is a powerful, natural response. It is a call to personal action.  When hurt or wronged, anger provokes the soul to action. But think of it as a starting point, not a destination. Anger should be moved beyond, not wallowed in.

One of the first bits of parenting advice I remember was to never discipline my child in anger.  It did not take long until I understood what that meant. When my kids did not do what I wanted, anger would flare.  And often it was for very good reason. If one of them showed disrespect, I felt immediately angry, but I had to move very quickly away from that anger into a reasoned, calm response. If not, anger would take over as the ruler.

Anger has a flip side, and it is sadness.  Show me an angry person and I will show you a deeply sad person.  Their sadness may be buried so deep that it’s hard to detect.  This is because its far easier to be angry than it is to be sad.  Anger produces a protective sense of power.  The feeling that stems from it is compulsive, and therefore indulged. In this way, Anger becomes an addiction.  This is why we are angry.  We love it too much.

Addiction is nothing more than the exchange of personal control for the promise of reward.  Alcohol promises relief and escape, but it ends up stealing a person’s self restraint.  Anger can do the same thing.  Anger can promise a sense of personal power, but leads to nothing more than unconfined rage if indulged beyond necessity. If you’ve seen the movie Fight Club, it shows this clearly.

Yes, I believe our society is angry because we love it, we indulge it and thus become addicted to it.  The only way an addiction is broken is when the addict becomes bored with or sick of the drug and sees that it offers nothing but a false promise.

Break this addiction to anger and you will change the world.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Awakening and Anger

Spring is at best a spiritual season. Its arrival speaks of awakening and renewal, of growth and flourish. Everything about Spring signifies hope and possibility. Its why the soul is stirred when the temperature begins to warm.

For no logical or obvious explanation, Easter felt immensely meaningful this year. Maybe it’s because I’m older and feel life’s fragility more acutely. Could be nothing more than the warmth of the sunshine. All I know is that my cup runneth over.

Part of my yearning for the power of the Resurrection stems from the frustration I feel about the current state of our nation. Politics, religion, economics, you name it. Everywhere I turn there seems to be turmoil. I’ve had to take a fast from news sources for fear that my frustration will boil into anger, and my anger won’t do anybody any good.

I’ve often felt that the two best Evangelical vices were Anger and Gluttony, at least that’s what I remember being easily justified as a I grew up. What Baptist didn’t like to eat? And there were sure plenty of disagreeing people to be mad at. I like what Anne Lamott says about anger. She says “You know you’ve created God in your own image if He’s mad at the same people you are.” I think of Anger as a vice because it is so easily indulged, much like Lust or Greed. 
I recently had an opportunity to ask Scott Horsley, NPR White House correspondent, what he thought about the polarization in today’s news media. He said that with all the extreme, partisan options available, people just tune into whatever source that reinforces their belief. And I would add, fuels their anger.

I haven’t been a part of The Church As We Know It in a long time, but I haven’t gone without a sermon to challenge my thinking. I can’t get past the first point Jesus made in his famous Sermon on the Mount.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

A lot of us remember the recent WWJD acronym that manifested itself in the popular bracelet craze. I certainly don’t want to downplay it, but have to admit I can’t pretend to know with any certainty what Jesus would do or say if he walked the earth today. I think it’s easy to assume He would agree with our point of view and come to our rescue in whatever issue we have deemed absolute and certain. I have one idea, however, that I ponder in my mind if I were to meet him face to face.

I picture Jesus as a shrewd, clever man. He would certainly be the world’s best poker player because no one could ever quite read him. He would change his tells at the point you think you’ve got him figured out and push all in. I like to think that he would be so confident in his game that he could get me to fold on two aces. And yet I wouldn’t feel like I’d been cheated or had.

The marriage equality issue is now at the forefront of our water cooler and social media discussions. And it’s the perfect issue that serves my point here. Regardless of what side you take on it, if you are a person of faith, it’s likely you have a defense for your position that Jesus agrees with. In this corner you have “The Bible tells me so” vs. the opponent “Jesus said to love one another and that includes same sex relationships.” The dukes are up, the bell is rung and the fight is on.


“Why are you both so angry?”

“WTF?” both fighters look at Jesus with a befuddled look.

“Yes, why are you both so angry?” asks Jesus.

I imagine this similar scenario in his first point in his first Sermon. The Pharisees who knew the law inside out were angry at those who didn’t keep it. And those who hated the religious establishment doubtless felt justified in their disdain. Jesus, on the other hand, bypassed the peripheral concern and went straight to the heart.

Yes, why are we so angry?