I was angry last Sunday—or, more accurately, I was angry most of last week. By Sunday morning I was in pretty good shape, anger wise; but, all week the anger distracted my sermon preparation.
Finally, I decided to quit fighting it and just go with the flow and see what happened. I hope it worked.
My anger, you probably already have guessed, was triggered by the responses to the tragic occurrence in Charlottesville, Virginia on the previous weekend. A protest rally turned bad, with counter protests and (some say) some government incompetence. Some showed up with guns and clubs and baseball bats, itching for a fight.
And all over a statue. Actually, it wasn’t about the statue. It was about what the statue represents, which is a story that’s over 150 years old. It’s history. Learn from it. And the statue could be—could be—useful in teaching in such a way that maybe we could avoid repeating history (like we’re doing in our squabbles over statues).
Anyway, while the events in Charlottesville are bad enough, they’re not the direct source of my anger. My anger stemmed from the denial of accountability that was rampant from all sides (some isolated individual responses on all sides notwithstanding).
In the first place, the climate that nurtures that kind of gratuitous rage and violence has been a long time in developing. A long time! And, aside from a few isolated voices from time-to-time, not many efforts have been made to slow the eruption of that adversarial culture that breeds hatred and intolerance of differences. Indeed, there are some elements that appear gleeful in their incitement of the hostility.
But, denial is the modus operandi for a significant population from all sides. It’s “their fault.” Or, "It all started when he hit me back!" Each side noted that the other side brought guns and bats and clubs, while overlooking their own side’s arsenal. Each side compared their evil with other side’s evil and rationalized their own with, “It’s not as bad as theirs.”
Aside from some fringe hate groups that seem to relish the tumult, virtually nobody admits to being a racist or a white supremacist; nobody admits hate; nobody admits complicity (either by overt action or consenting silence—or simply by benefitting from a dysfunctional system) in the formation of the aforementioned adversarial culture that foments the hatred.
And so we just move from one violent tragedy to another, while the general response is to deny complicity (directly or indirectly) and to blame everybody else. And efforts to reconcile are either ignored or outright rejected as radical left/right, etc.
And so, I just couldn’t not be angry at what we’ve become: primitive savages that don’t want justice or reconciliation. We want to control everybody else and make them like us. George Orwell got it only half right. Big Brother is emerging; but, he is neither Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, left or right. He is just a general, non-partisan climate of indiscriminate hate.
As I worked on Sunday’s sermon, I struggled with the Lectionary—all four readings. Finally the reading from the Hebrew Scripture spoke to me, and led my spirit back to a sense of hope.
On Sunday morning, I shared my anger with the congregation. Then I moved with them through the story of Joseph:
1. He remained humble. He was second in power in all Egypt; but, he didn’t use that power to lord it over his brothers who had betrayed him and sold him into slavery. He didn’t claim anything absolute for himself; in fact, he told his brothers, “You didn’t send me here; God brought me here so that lives could be saved.” Until we can move through this cultural obsession with being right, and can be humble enough to admit, "I might be wrong (and truly mean it)," we will continue as is. Humility is the starting place.
2. He demonstrated “love of enemies” which Christ would later endorse, and which St. Paul would confirm.
3. He took initiative to reconcile, even though he was the one who was wronged! Talk about humility!
4. He set a standard we Disciples, 3500 years later, would adopt as our identity statement: “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”
5. He refused to be discouraged. Wrongly accused and imprisoned, he remained faithful.
6. He listened to God. Prayer unites us and aligns us with the will and the vision of God.
I hope it worked. I had found in the Scriptural story of Joseph a way to move through my anger, rather than act it out. I hope the congregation heard that. I hope we all can hear that, and can begin to move through this demonic insanity toward reconciliation.
That’s the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,