Beloved St. John’s community,
What place do anger and rage have, if any, in Jesus’ Way of Love?
I’m asking because this coming Sunday’s gospel reading is about Jesus making a whip and driving the animals out of the Temple, and overturning the moneychangers’ tables, in what surely does look like a display of anger—even borderline violent anger. I’m asking because on Monday, the trial of Derek Chauvin will begin in Minneapolis, and businesses are already boarding up their windows in anticipation of the renewed unleashing of pain, grief and rage in our nation over the unhealed wound of systemic racism. I’m asking because it isn’t “nice” to get angry. In fact, most big and intense feelings are not acceptable (at least, are not acceptably displayed) in mainstream culture. I can see a reason for that. We need good boundaries. We need kindness and respect. We need people not to get violent with each other. We need people to be able to empathize even when they have big feelings.
But on the other hand, the opposite of love isn’t hate or anger. It’s selfishness. Selfishness can often manifest as ignorance and indifference and apathy. The opposite of love can look very calm indeed. James Baldwin said this about the experience of many in the black community regarding anger:
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time. . . . It isn’t only what is happening to you. But it’s what’s happening all around you and all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most white people in this country, and their ignorance.”
— from “The Negro in American Culture,” a 1961 interview with James Baldwin, published in Cross Currents
Anger is an empowering emotion that can finally help a woman to leave an abusive marriage. Anger is perhaps part of what motivated John Lewis to encourage “Good Trouble” – which for him meant, when you see something that is really wrong, to say something! Not to stand there and let it happen.
Anger is, at least apparently, what motivated Jesus to make a whip and radically disrupt the system in the Temple in which people thought that through transactions they could buy the favor of God, instead of being embraced in the radical, overwhelming love of God that catches us up as we are.
Of course, we all know that anger can lead to violence and deep harm. We saw the result of unbridled anger on January 6 at the Capitol. And if we’re honest, each of us is capable of such anger, such violence—perhaps not in the same way or in the same context, but if we are pushed far enough, if we perceived ourselves to be wronged or threatened enough. We all experience anger, and even rage, when we experience enough frustration long enough.
A Lenten practice might be to sit with your own anger, if you can get in touch with it, or with a specific encounter with anger you’ve had recently. What is this anger saying NO to? What does this anger really want? Can you imagine a scenario that would make the anger unneeded?
I believe with all my heart that we are called to eschew violence—violence of thought, word or deed, violence of action and of omission. I believe we are called to courageously confront evil using the power of love, not violence (as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King taught and modeled throughout his life). As you sit quietly in the presence of God, opening yourself to a radical honesty about all that really is, what might God be seeking to teach you in your anger? How might the energy of your own anger be transformed into the power, not of violence, but of love?
Faithfully, in Christ’s love,