June 1, 2018
In the Gospel appointed for this Sunday, we hear about one of the times Jesus gets angry.
The context (Mark, Chapter 2) is that it was the Sabbath day and Jesus saw someone with a withered hand, and because Jesus had compassion on him, he cured him, even though that was against the rules:
"Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him."
We don't often think of Jesus getting angry. There's a version -- a corrupt version -- of Christianity that wants to maintain that anger is, by definition, a bad emotion to have. Or worse, that anger is somehow the opposite of love.
I was in a meeting of clergy a month or so ago when this issue of anger came up.
We were catching up with one another and when it came my turn to speak, after the usual pleasantries, I expressed my concerns -- and yes, my anger -- over the current political environment. Specifically, I was expressing anger over the purposeful polarization in politics, the stoking of distrust, and the sense of hopelessness so many people feel over what have become routine attacks on democratic norms and the rule of law.*
In response, one of the other Christian clergy, reacting to the fact that I was angry, said, "as Christians, we cannot respond to the world's problems with anger: we must respond with love." Then another Christian clergy person said, "As Christians, we are called to love our enemies."
I wasn't sure how to respond right away,, so I just sat and listened. Then another member of the clergy group -- a Rabbi -- said, "Well, as a Jew, I am not called to 'love my enemy.' I AM called to oppose evil with every fiber of my being."
My first (non-serious) thought was "Oh my gosh! -- I must be Jewish...!"
But as I thought about on the drive home, and since, it occurred to me that, no, anger is very much part of being a Christian.
Those Christian clergy seem to have fallen into a mindset that the antonym of "love" is "anger."
But the antonym of love is not anger.
The antonym of love is not even hate.
If I'm reading the scriptures correctly, the antonym of love is fear.
Or better yet, the antonym of love is apathy: a lack of enthusiasm, interest, or concern. Especially when you consider the root of the word apathy, which is a-pathos: literally, "without suffering."
Apathy is an unwillingness to enter into the world's, or the nation's (or another person's) suffering.
If you've ever felt that, you've felt the opposite of love.
"Anger is just love disappointed" the Eagles sang in "Hole in the World."
So yes, I feel anger over the current state of politics, but it's because I refuse to stop loving America and American values. I refuse to stop being disappointed. I refuse to fall into fear or apathy. I will keep getting angry, because I will keep loving.
*p.s., and an update: Thankfully, this is a group of clergy whom I know and trust, and we continue to meet on a regular basis. And we've had a chance to talk this through a bit more.
We may never come to agreement on the role of anger in Christianity. But we do all agree on what to DO about the issues I named.
Specifically, we agree that the antidote to polarization is a unifying vision. That the antidote to distrust is forming authentic relationships. And that the antidote to hopelessness is a working together on achieving some accomplishments that can be magnified and replicated.
I'm fully aware that no faith community -- be it The Falls Church Episcopal or any other church, synagogue, or mosque -- can change America all itself. We are not trying to take on the world, or even the nation. But we are all acting within our sphere of influence. And we are all confident that if we keep encouraging each other, change will happen. Throughout history, change happens when enough pockets of micro-changers discover one another and a macro-change occurs. I'm hopeful because our faith teaches that light -- what we Christians would call the Light of God's Love, Incarnate -- shines in the darkness, and no darkness can ever overcome it.