Why So Angry?

I took a little summer break from blogging that turned into a big summer break. I have not blogged, nor have I read others’ blogs. I’ve missed them all, but this summer was the last one at home before our son Caleb went off to college, so, to use old biblical language, it was “meet” that I slow down, disconnect, and savor. Which I did. And now, after a bit of adjustment, it’s time to come back.

I was disturbed to see Kanye West jump up on the stage at the MTV Music Awards and take the microphone away from Taylor Swift. As most everyone knows by now, he rushed the stage and took her moment in order to say he thought the moment should have gone to Beyonce. No one knew quite how to respond at the moment it was happening, especially Taylor.

Serena Williams got in a bit of trouble the other day. The line judge calls a foot fault, and suddenly Serena is threatening to stuff the ball down her throat. When asked about it initially, she says she used to be a lot worse, that this little outburst was nothing. If threatening assault on a tennis judge at the U.S. Open is “nothing,” then I feel sorry for the poor souls who had to endure her in her more violent stage.

And by now no one needs to be reminded of Representative Joe Wilson, whose shout of “You lie!” as the President was giving a speech to a joint session of Congress bespoke an anger that could not be contained on the largest and most public of stages.

Most commentators are calling these incidences breaches of civility, and point to them as further evidence of our culture’s deterioration. The best of these so far was David Brooks’ op-ed in the New York Times on September 15 – http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/opinion/15brooks.html?_r=1&em

I think incivility is a symptom, however, of a deeper dynamic. All three of them, it seems to me, are angry. And I’m not talking about a passing, in-the-moment kind of anger, but rather a simmering rage. It is the kind of rage that will make an otherwise normal person interrupt a speech before Congress, move toward a line judge brandishing a ball as a threat on national television, and jumping on a stage to take a microphone from a nineteen year old girl who just won her first MTV award. These are not acts of incivility only, but of anger.

These very public events point to a larger dynamic throughout our culture as well. We are an angry society. Drive anywhere in most American cities, for instance, and it doesn’t take long to see the anger emerging in road rage. Watch or listen to political so-called talk shows, and they are usually nothing more than two or three or more persons trying to shout the others down. The churches are not immune, many of them filled with angry people taking it out on whomever they can, keeping many of our congregations constantly in conflict.

The facts are indisputable. The question is why.

I was taught in Psychology 101 that anger is nothing more than the way the body responds to fear. If that is the case, then our culture is filled with fear. We fear the fragile economy will take away our jobs and our livelihood and decimate all that we have worked hard to save. We fear terrorism at home and abroad. We fear changing neighborhoods, increasing diversity, and climate change. We fear crime. We fear sickness. We fear the unknown. We fear death. Turn on the television or the computer or open the newspaper and you will be bathed in fear. The news industry feeds on it and lives by it. It is inescapable.

The fear is manifesting as anger. We are much more comfortable saying “I am angry” than “I am afraid.”

And yet the time may have come for us to admit what we know deeply: we are afraid. For it is only when we admit this freely, when we take responsibility for our fear, that we who call ourselves Christians can turn to the One who overcomes all fear.

“There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out all fear.”

Love casts out fear. It is not easy, but it seems to be true. The more we love, the less we fear. The more we step outside the stifling confines of our anxiety and reach toward the other in love, the less power the anxiety has over us. The cross is the perfect symbol for the power of love in the face of fear and the anger it breeds.

It is said of Will Campbell he once told a reporter who asked him if he was afraid of the KKK members he spent time pastoring – even though he disagreed with everything they stood for -that “I’m too busy lovin’ ’em to be afraid of ’em.”

Love was on display when Beyonce gave up her moment so that Taylor could have hers back. The seeds of it are all around us in persons who refuse to allow fear to rule in their hearts. It is perhaps the truest hope we have for a return of civility in our culture.

Love. As simple, and complex, as that. Merely love.