Like many Americans, I am fearful for our country. I am angry—at the so-called president, at the people he’s choosing to fill his Cabinet, at his executive orders, at my fellow Americans who voted him into office—especially those I count among my friends and family.
Some anger is good, I think. Perhaps a little more righteous anger might have prevented a whole host of tragic historical events, from the Holocaust to that darkest period in American history that allowed an entire race to be enslaved.
At times I feel I need an anger translator—the kind comedians Key and Peele provided for President Obama—who will help me compartmentalize my emotions.
During the Christmas season, I was particularly angry at evangelical Christians, 81% of whom voted for a man who represents none of the values of Christ (as he demonstrated in his remarks at his first National Prayer Breakfast). I was so angry at those who share my faith that I wrote in a blog post,
Evangelicals don’t need the Baby Jesus this year.
They don’t even need the Jesus of the cross.
They need, above all, the righteously indignant Jesus who storms into a house of worship and knocks over every object in his path, his anger aimed squarely at the religious leaders of his time—all men.
But I also worry about what our anger is doing to us. Whenever I comment on social media in a way that seeks to understand the people I count among my friends, but who voted for Trump, I invariably get a storm of replies from liberal friends and acquaintances who are angry at me for not being angry enough.
At such times, I think of theologian Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister I admire. At one of the angriest times in my life, I printed out this passage from his book Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC and put it in a frame over my desk:
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.
I ask myself on a daily basis these days how I can find a balance between righteous anger and inner peace. I want to make a difference. But I don’t want to become the skeleton at the feast.
Many wise people warn of the dangers of anger. The Dalai Lama, probably the world’s most well-known Buddhist, says this:
Whether we will be able to achieve world peace or not, we have no choice but to work toward that goal. If we allow love and compassion to be dominated by anger, we will sacrifice the best part of our human intelligence—wisdom, our ability to decide between right and wrong. Along with selfishness, anger is one of the most serious problems facing the world today. (How to See Yourself as You Really Are)
Literary giants, too, have warned us about anger:
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. (Mark Twain)
Angry people are not always wise. (Jane Austen)
Anger…it’s a paralyzing emotion…you can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling—I don’t think it’s any of that—it’s helpless…it’s absence of control—and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers…and anger doesn’t provide any of that—I have no use for it whatsoever. (Toni Morrison)
As a Christian I remind myself that the Christ I seek to follow achieved that balance, though even he sometimes found it hard. The Gospel of Matthew describes him as so “grieved and agitated” that he went up on a mountain and threw himself on the ground to pray. The Gospel of Luke describes him as praying in such anguish that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” But when he came down from the mountain, he had found a divine peace that helped him hold on to love in the face of unspeakable hatred.
I have to remind myself that even Christ, in his lifetime on earth, did not achieve the justice he sought. But he never gave up his humanity. He never became like the religious leaders who hated him. He was never the skeleton at the feast.
Perhaps I, too, should take more opportunities to walk away from the madding crowd and find my way to the mountain to pray. I can’t stay away too long, but perhaps I’ll come back more ready to go on.