A Shot of Anger
It’s been almost 20 years since Columbine. I vividly remember the shock I felt on April 20, 1999 when I first heard about the school shooting spree at the high school in Littleton, Colorado that killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others.
After this week’s shooting in Parkland, Florida, Fox News host Shep Smith took to the air to read off a lengthy list of fatal school shootings in the U.S. since the 1999 attack at Columbine High. This is getting all too familiar. I admit that I’ve gotten so used to news like this that my sympathy only lasts for 24 hours at best. I have a full blown case of compassion fatigue.
The following is a quote from the LA Times: There have been 290 school shootings in the United States since 2013 — or more than one a week — according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control. Its tally includes college campuses and all incidents in which a gun was fired, regardless of whether anybody was killed or injured.
No wonder this is starting to feel commonplace. Whatever we can do as a society to limit easy access to firearms and ammunition seems like a moral necessity to me. However, no laws or policies are going to be able to address the root causes of our increasingly angry society. Our government can curb access to guns, yes, but no civic power stretches to the soul level of her people. The government can’t tell us what we’re so angry about; much less answer the question, “What shall we do with our anger?”
When I was a young kid, I vowed that I would never lose control of my anger. I had witnessed the destructive power of a few out of control adults and made a promise to never go there. It worked for a while. But, by the time I had turned 20 years old, I recognized that putting a cork in it was not a sustainable way to manage my feelings of anger.
With some good coaching and spiritual advice, I learned to put my feelings of outrage into two categories: just and unjust angers. Unjust anger simply needed to be released and let go. Justified anger, however, needed to be clarified, purified and embraced. Justified, righteous anger is a powerful energy for good in the world. It relies on a holy dissatisfaction with things that are not yet as they are supposed to be.
At the beginning of the 40-day journey of Lent, I recognize in Jesus a pathway to manage our modern American feelings of anger. Jesus was not shy about expressing moral outrage at the Jerusalem temple where making money had taken precedent over making prayers. He was mad about the right things. And in the culmination of his life’s work, Jesus became a sacrifice - the target of divine just anger - to allow the rest of us to be free of what we deserve. One of the severe beauties of the cross is visible at the moment when Jesus let his anger go.* To the ignorant religious leaders oversaw his crucifixion, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Jesus allowed his anger at his accusers to be transformed into a life giving stream of forgiveness. If you’ve been looking for a miracle, here it is!
Remembering every step of Jesus’ journey is what the next 40 days is about. We need to turn and behold his example. Something miraculous could happen even for people like us as a result!
Peace to you along the way,
*The words, “let his anger go” are easy to type, but so difficult to practice. Next week’s post will consider some practical ways that could help us less-than-fully-divine humans let go of the anger brewing inside ourselves.