Be Angry--the Commandment Most Ignored
I was talking over lunch today with Nancy, a wise friend and collaborator of mine, who worked with many special needs' children, as a reading specialist, for 30 years. As usual in our conversation, issues related to justice-seeking and conflict in the church came up. I told her that one of my greatest concerns is the discomfort with anger, which so many seminary graduates have told me nobody ever dealt with even in seminary.
"No wonder it's difficult to abide with conflict," I also wrote in an email to my pastor this morning, after last Sunday he'd so eloquently addressed anxieties going on here in Lawrence, Kansas, in the community of faith right now because of divisions about how to set priorities and spend massive amounts of money: some seeing no better way than to double the size of our county jail thru increased sales taxes, which are already oppressively-high and do not even provide mercy to the poorest among us by exempting food!
The mercy, as this crowd sees it, is in building a royal hotel to lock up and "treat" criminals, along with a much smaller project to provide mental health services to a community that does not have a single bed in any institution devoted to inpatient mental health in this entire "progressive" community that is indeed progressive compared to rest of the state of Kansas. Those of us in opposition want far more money spent on prevention and early intervention, including children's programs, working the front end of the problem to stop the "babies being thrown in the river." That's true justice, as we understand it.
The people on the streets that I ran into for hours yesterday in the most poverty-stricken side of town, regardless of their color, are so furious! So furious, in fact, that I was surprised to find most of them, having registered to vote, and up in arms, vowing with certainty they are not going to stand for the building of what they see as luxurious living quarters to lock up their loved ones along with a lot of hardened criminals while they also suffer, many living in little more than "shacks" that I stood in front of, while visiting with these dear souls.
These folks, many who may not have darkened the door of a sanctuary for decades, understand well what it means to "Be angry and sin not." This verse in Ephesians 4, they have lived; and they testified to such, some telling me stories of speaking repeatedly to the powers that be--not about the need for more jail beds, but the need to stop locking their loved ones up for petty crimes, in a form of "justice" that operates like a debtor's prison because poor people do not have even the $150 that was required only last week of three young offenders awaiting trial for non-violent offenses.
It's not easy listening to the heartstrings of people like this. Yet when you've done it as often as I have, in both public health and mental health nursing, I know how to do so with empathy while maintaining a healthy sense of detachment that allows me to also respond with empathy and humility, pledging to do all I can, along with thousands of others in a faith-based group here in Lawrence, known as "Justice Matters."
Unlike the citizens I spoke to yesterday, few congregants understand that we Christians are actually called in Ephesians 4 to be angry, but to do so appropriately. That's also a mental health principle, understood quite well in the secular world of mental health, that brings immense discomfort in the "peace-loving" community of fear that we like to refer to as "the community of faith."
I'll never forget the look on the face of a very young, recent seminary graduate (female) who looked at me with consternation when I spoke of this. She said: "You mean you get angry?" as if this surely could not be true. I smiled, then laughed, resisting the temptation to say: "You mean you don't?" I figured it was something that might better be left to sink in over time
Yesterday, my friend Nancy said something that stunned me just as much--something I'll be thinking about for a long time. "I've never seen you angry--many times passionate, but never angry." While I have long known that my passion and anger are intermingled, I find it very difficult to believe that anyone who knows me as well as Nancy would not have interpreted my heart-felt emotion of anger as primarily that at times.
That led me to later wonder if I should possibly be showing my anger more than I am comfortable doing. All leading to a blending of our hearts and thoughts, once again, to note how often anger gets projected onto someone when the internal feeling may be passion. And vice versa, as we live into the moment, waiting to see how it all plays out in the upcoming referendum in a very practical way, where it's closest to home.