15 November 2012

Anger

Our Institute receives great news: accreditation is renewed!
We know how to celebrate.
Read Micah Bales on "Holy Anger"--he's making me think deeply about a subject I'd rather avoid, because at the moment I'm furious, and I'd like to think it's righteous.

Here's an important definition from "Holy Anger":
Anger is a gift from God. It is an alarm bell, alerting us to the presence of conditions that we should not accept. Before we can even consider how to speak tenderly to those who are taking advantage of our people, we must first know that wrong really is wrong.
This "alarm bell" metaphor makes a lot of sense to me. It tells me to pay attention, to respond, to pass on the alarm, to engage in ethical conflict with the cause of the alarm--and then to let go. Anger can be spiritual adrenaline (to risk another metaphor), giving us strength and focus just when we need it for our own sake or the sake of others facing injustice or outright danger. Sometimes we direct anger at ourselves--why was I so forgetful, so blind, so distracted!!--and that, too, can be useful if it leads to reflection and correction.

But anger should pass. Do not sin in anger; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Adrenaline and anger are both addictive. They're both deceptive, fooling us into thinking we're stronger and more righteous than we are. Worse, they obscure the larger context, the secret that the principalities and powers hope we don't notice: often we and our apparent enemies are actually on the same side of the Lamb's War. In Micah's example--predatory real estate investors--those investors are caught in a false reality, playing out cruel parts in a rigged game that will ultimately poison their souls. If we confine our understanding of the evil to these individual players, demonizing them with satisfying invective and objectifying them just as they objectify vulnerable owners and tenants, we're also trapped. We need to confront those predators with a brick wall of reality, through solidarity with those in danger, through demonstrations, lawsuits, and other tactics, but the rigged system is the greater enemy.

How do we let anger pass? The single most effective way I know is to pray for our "enemies" and "persecutors".... This is is of course straight from Jesus. My late friend and spiritual father Gordon Browne really cemented this principle in my heart when he told me about a persistent critic, a weighty Friend who seemed unable to receive anything Gordon said or did in a positive spirit. I knew who he was talking about and it wasn't hard for me to imagine this person being a proverbial snake in the grass. I had a moment of delicious anticipation of solidarity with Gordon in disliking this person. Oh, I'm sure you would have disliked him, too, if you knew what I knew about his loud narrow-mindedness. Gordon stopped me short by saying that he became a prayer partner with this very person. Gordon began a practice of praying for him daily. Well, that gave me pause! There was a part of me that finally grew up at that moment. The thing is, I've tried this same discipline many times since, and it works. It's not nearly as fun, but a lot more satisfying.

Some occasions of anger are fleeting, some are persistent or cyclical. For example, I remember speaking to the board of a Friends institution in Kenya, an institution with a checkered history that included being looted by local Quaker leaders. That board was coming back to Friends United Meeting and asking for more support. At the time, I spoke with some anger, but emphatically not from a position of North American superiority--Friends United Meeting was still binding up the wounds from a terrible U.S.-based scandal, the corruption and collapse of our National Friends Insurance Trust. Dealing with that prior scandal was one of the worst years of my working life, as I had to go hat in hand to various hospitals and providers, begging for discounts as we tried to take care of our employees whose health care coverage had been compromised. So as I spoke to that Kenyan board, I was vividly aware of the betrayal represented by corruption in the church wherever and whenever it might occur. Mostly I quoted from one of the angriest prophets in the Old Testament, Ezekiel. I read all of chapter 34, including this part:
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
But Friends United Meeting and every church institution and bureaucrat (me included) needed to hear that chapter, because corruption is nearly always a case of mutual complicity. The church's "shepherds" neglected the lambs and stole their food in the context of a ruinous leadership vacuum. In another overseas situation I was forced to impose a new administrator on a protesting local administration in what must have looked like high-handed colonialism. A local leader who was honest and knew the score looked me in the eye and said, "You can do this just once, and having done it, you must not now go back to your prior passivity and non-involvement."

What do you do when the occasion for anger stretches on for year after agonizing year? That's the situation I'm in right now, along with many, many others who agonize far more directly. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has flared up again on the world stage, but in reality the daily humiliations, the walls and checkpoints, the economic strangulation of Gaza, the threats of missiles in both directions, the diversion of water and chopping down of olive trees, the hateful rhetoric, never ever ease up for ordinary people. I can barely stand to open up e-mail from Christian Peacemaker Teams, and I'm just a distant reader, not a victim. How do you cope?



"The 15 most wanted 'Church leader' list" "... a sea change in how the Holocaust and Israel can and can't be used politically in the United States."

"The religious right after Obama." One of the more interesting compact analyses of the many I've seen in the last week or so.

... and a different take on the same election: "The Meaning of a Do-Nothing Election." "Here are things not to expect: a major move to rebuild the country's tattered infrastructure; the genuine downsizing of the American global military mission; any significant attempt to come to grips with a changing planet and global warming; and the mobilization of a younger generation that, as Hurricane Sandy showed, is ready to give much and do much to help others in need, but in the next four years will never be called to the colors."

"Your thank-you to veterans is welcomed, but not always comfortably received." I wrote about this thanking-soldiers issue from my own viewpoint a couple of years ago (scroll down) and was interested to see at least part of my dilemma addressed from a completely different point of view.



Ruthie Foster, "Death Came a-Knockin' (Traveling Shoes)"

2 comments:

Joanna Hoyt said...

Thanks for the questions. And the reminder of the importance of praying.

I guess that's how I cope, when I do. Praying for the people I'm angry with and the people who are being mistreated in a way that angers me. Doing what I can to help the situation, if I can. If not, praying about it but trying not to fixate on it, to put more of my attention where I can see some way forward.

Anger specifically is also apt to simmer down in me when I take a hard look in the mirror and see in myself the roots of the behavior that is angering me in someone else. Though then i can fall into anxiety or despondency, which are probably less helpful than anger, which at least carries a charge of energy that has some hope of being rightly used...

Johan said...

Maybe we can couple that mirror-looking with a suspension of judgment for a time, at least. If we can change the dynamic (the flow of anger out toward the "enemy"), maybe we can also make some compensating promises to ourselves: (1) We won't automatically turn the anger inward; (2) We'll suspend shame and judgment long enough for the Holy Spirit to minister to us. For me this is hard to do, because I tend to be so immediately reactive: the guilty party (whether it's the vile ENEMY or it's just ME AGAIN!) must be identified and punished right away. Our souls need time to reacquire balance; it's hard for me to grant that time, but that's the work I have to do.