Appealing to What in Us?


Yesterday, for reasons of my own, I reread several of my own Palm Sunday sermons. In the course of remembering what I had written and said years ago and where I was in life back then in hope for better understanding of where I am in life now, I came upon the following two paragraphs that opened my Palm Sunday sermon in 2010.

We are living in a season of anger that is already exceeding danger levels. Decades ago, we spoke of anger as though it were a liquid that could be “bottled up” inside us. We thought we needed to express our anger to “get it out” of our systems so it would not blow up, boil over inside us, or poison our temperaments. Since those days, we have learned that the more people practice anger, the angrier they become. We can actually train ourselves to become easily enraged, which, of course, can have quite detrimental effects upon our blood pressure, our work, our sleep, and our personal relationships as well.

Angry people do not think straight, as one man recently confessed to, he says, his shame and fear. He is the younger man in the now infamous video of two men in Columbus, Ohio bullying an older man with Parkinson’s disease, and he now admits he was completely out of control and says he will never go to a political rally again. For him, that decision might be wise, but neither politics nor religion necessarily fuels rage. Playing to anger, stirring it up in crowds, is a choice by politicians or religious leaders that deliberately targets enemies and keeps demonizing them so that the enraged followers no longer feel the need to treat those others so demonized as fellow human beings.

What I saw and heard in our national life back in 2010 has intensified into the out-of-control rage of Americans in 2016. Fear and anger feed each other, and together they are consuming us.

A little further into my old sermon, the observation continued:

Yes, we are living in a time of anger when the method of operation is to distort the opponent and then attack the distortion with as much fury as possible. Our air waves are polluted with hyped up rage, with racism and other forms of bigotry, and with contagious fear of “them” — the demonized groups who supposedly threaten our way of life. In such a climate, neighbors, friends, and family members can become enemies, and some people become angry in general because anger has become their dominant emotion and most ready response to life’s situations. And it starts young. Our schools are explosive with it. So, if we find ourselves always or very often angry, that condition may be our point of greatest need for spiritual healing.

In this post, I am describing, not prescribing. We have become angry people, and I say “we” because I feel the anger in myself and experience its effects upon my mood and demeanor. So I raise two questions:

What do we practice in our daily living (on Facebook and elsewhere) and feed in ourselves?

And, to what feelings do our chosen political and religious leaders (meaning the ones we listen to) appeal in us?

For anyone wondering how I included our chosen religious leaders and groups as well as our chosen political leaders, I’ll include this from the sermon:

Whenever the churches wish to demonize their enemies, drive out those who differ, or demand power and privilege in the society, they must hide the real Jesus from sight, because he will not serve such purposes. They must fabricate a different Christ, then call him Jesus.

The Servant of the LORD is able to be a teacher because he is “one who is taught” by God. As Christ’s church together, we are called to be people taught by God. Are we afraid in these times? Certainly, there are substantial reasons for fear these days, but in the way of Jesus, we learn to meet our own fears with trust in God and concern for each other, and we do not exploit the fears of others to turn them into an angry mob. Let us remember, that God loves also the people we fear, which does not mean God is necessarily pleased with their behavior (or ours, for that matter), but it does mean we have no authorization from Jesus Christ to dehumanize them so we can attack them or hate them with a self-satisfied conscience.

Are we feeding our own fears and anger? Facebook and other so-called social media provide ready feeding troughs for just such unhealthful food, and both television and radio provide plenty of takeout junk food for the soul. What feelings do we practice? And how do we practice looking upon other people, what names do we call them, what generalizations do we make about them?  Do we speak of them as though they were less than we ourselves are or even less than human?

The Shadow Rising


I’m interrupting my series on simplism because I’ve been hearing and reading so much foolishness and downright filth on what passes today for TV news and on Facebook. None of it is new, but it’s still dangerous because it influences us. Nothing evil, by which I mean harmful and corrupting, ever goes away but keeps resurfacing in slightly new forms to trouble the world again. I’m reminded of something Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf says in a chapter of The Lord of the Rings called “The Shadow of the Past”: “Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.”

Just this morning, I have read comments asserting that Hitler gave refuge to Jews and didn’t hate them but only opposed Zionism. Another asked why there are even Muslims in the United States to be put into detention camps. Another came from a shopkeeper who apparently thinks people mind that he salutes the flag, says “God bless America” and “Merry Christmas,” and appreciates the service rendered by police officers and firefighters. Doing any of those things he imagines to be “politically incorrect” could be in itself pleasant, affirming of the good, and harmless, but when laced with belligerence turns mean and ugly.

“God bless America” doesn’t have to be belligerent but can be our particular homeland part of, “God bless the world, all its people, and all its non-human creatures as well.” “Merry Christmas” doesn’t have to be shouted or snarled in people’s faces but can be said as a cheerful well-wish in the same spirit as Tiny Tim’s, “God bless us, everyone.” Saluting the flag can be an act of respect and personal commitment to the common welfare of the nation; it need not be bellicose and arrogant toward other nations and peoples. Appreciating the stressful, often dangerous and sometimes heroic service of police officers and firefighters does not exclude seeking to end the abuses of police power and the racism much too frequent and sometimes deeply ingrained. Indeed, caring about the quality of police work is necessary to respecting its service.

It’s easy to mock political correctness when it gets pushed to silly extremes, although I would caution against too quickly assuming that what sounds strange is therefore silly without trying to understand what the issue might be and where harm might lie. Much, however, of what gets scorned as “PC” is really respectful of people who have been denied respect in our society. People get testy when others don’t laugh at their jokes which were considered funny fifty years ago and are still commonplace as in-group humor in like-minded and like-prejudiced gatherings.

Politically, we are living in a season of self-serving attempts to make frustrated and fearful people dangerously angry, and it’s working. Economic hard times always breed resentment and suspicion of unpopular minorities, and we are still living in an economically hard time for many. Shouting at each other online isn’t helping, and now people are shouting at each other in public places, and the rage is escalating. Mocking each other isn’t helping, either.

The shadow is rising among us. We greatly need to stop looking at each other as enemies. We really are in this thing together, this thing called life. We don’t have to agree with each other, but understanding and respect would go a long way toward bringing us back into the light together.