Elizabeth L. Windsor, DMin. May 17, 2020 The Sixth Sunday of Easter Deuteronomy 30: 19-20 John 15: 12-17
What’s Anger Got to Do with It?
For the past few weeks, we have been sharing together our “Building Blocks of Faith” project. I hope you have had the opportunity to view the hymn presentation on the Eliot website. Our current assignment is to share with one another the things that give us hope. Thanks to those of you who have sent me your musings and images of hope. I “hope” more of you will do the same this week!
I confess that I have been struggling to find anything hopeful right now. As the flowers bloom and the temperatures (hopefully) warm, there has been something between me and the hope made visible in front of me. Prayer, meditation and reflection have forced me to name what this is; anger. There is a vast and deep anger in my soul – and it feels to me that I must face that anger if I am ever to hope again.
Our Christian tradition cautions each of us “to turn the other cheek,” to go “the extra mile” and “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” These verses and others like them, lead us to believe that anger is NOT an emotion good Christians are supposed to feel.
But there is another experience of anger in the Christian tradition: Prophets angrily warn God’s people that their failure to live according to God’s ways brings wrath and death. Jesus angrily turns over the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. Righteous anger has its place in the Scriptures and so it must have a place in our souls. So – How did we come to ever believe that anger is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins”– a doctrine mentioned nowhere in Scripture?
In an essay entitled, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” Christian ethicist Bev Harrison tackles that exact question “We Christians have come very close to killing love because we have understood anger to be a deadly sin. Anger is not the opposite of love. It is a feeling signal that all is not well in our relations to other persons or groups or to the world around us. It is always a vivid form of caring. . . Anger is . . . a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the morality of the social relations in which we are immersed.”
These are a mouthful of words, yet they call us to explore the role anger plays as we practice our faith. Harrison’s naming of anger as a “feeling signal of vivid caring . . . of resistance in ourselves to the morality of the social relations in which we are immersed” eloquently describes the state of my soul – and maybe yours too.
Covid-19 exposes the “morality” – or rather the “immorality” of the social relations in our nation. It is the poor, the vulnerable and human beings of color who bear the brunt of our disordered relations with one another – those forced to work in essential services who have no other choice if there is going to be food on the table, those who cannot afford medical care, those in prisons and detention camps, those who live where nutritious food and housing are scarce resources, and in environments with air pollution and impure water making them more vulnerable. In the richest nation in the world, children go to bed hungry while adults literally work themselves to their deaths in the close quarters of meat packing plants. If that weren’t enough, there are small, easily manipulated, but vocal and well-armed, groups who understand their “liberty” to mean that they can do what they want no matter how it impacts the rights and humanity of others.
We are Christians – called to love our neighbors, not through feeling benevolently toward them, but acting with and for them. Eliot Church “practices what we preach,” generous with both time and money. Some of our frustration right now is that we cannot do the hands-on mission work we have always done. Yet we find ways to continue walking for hunger. We still work for fair housing and immigration reforms.
The evils of systemic dysfunction have been laid bare before us during this pandemic. It can overwhelm us and be a barrier to our hope. But that is where our anger can save us. Our anger reveals just how deeply we care about those who are the victims of our society’s disordered moral relations. And it compels us to work for the justice of God’s Kingdom.
Bev Harrison concludes her essay on anger with these words: “Chief evidence of the grace of God – which always comes to us in, with and through each other – is this power to struggle and to experience [anger]. We should not make light of our power to rage against the dying of the light.” In anger’s power, the seeds of hope are nurtured. Amen.