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The Path of Anger

Peter said to them, ‘you yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but G-d has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection…

…Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that G-d shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who loves G-d and does what is right is acceptable. You know the message that has been sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus the Christ—he is for all people.

Acts 10: 28-36

 

We have a neighbor who lives up the street from us (and thankfully not any closer), and who, apparently, hates dogs and their owners. I encounter him on occasions when I’m taking Keira for an evening walk. The man stands in his yard, garden hose in hand, furiously spraying down the sidewalk and tree belt in front of his house. Whenever I see him I take the dog into the street and around his fiefdom for several reasons. I’m not interested in getting soaking wet (he isn’t inclined to ease up on the trigger) and he is always screaming the same thing, about how he has me on video tape letting my dog violate the sanctity of his estate (I’m not doing justice to his colorful turn of phrase).

Now, as it happens, I come from people who pick up after their dogs. Kitty and I do, at any rate. We travel well prepared and feel that it is a neighborly obligation to remove the evidence of our passing. In addition to this, ours is a dog of regular habits and practices. She has, on our usual route, a small selection of venues where she is comfortable doing what she needs to do. This neighbor’s house is not on the list. So the likelihood that Mr. Garden Hose has us on videotape doing much other than walking past his yard is pretty much zero.

Mr. Garden Hose is an angry man. Not in the sense of a momentary and targeted flash of anger, but in the sense of a diffuse and un-sourced core of vitriolic rage. He lives angry. I don’t know anything about his life, but I can easily sense this in the way he lashes out over such a minor frustration, the way he stubbornly refuses rationality in favor of a paranoid narrative of violation, the way he insists on his view of things despite being wrong on every detail save one – I am a man walking a dog. Mr. Garden Hose is not alone however.

We live together in a world filled with his relatives. The free-floating anxiety grows more palpable by the day. Anxious, scared, and angry, so many people find themselves looking for targets against which they may vent. Some of them we label “terrorists” when their venting results in violence against us, or people with whom we are sympathetic. But many such people merely end up picking a category of human being against whom they may rail, and in whose lap they may drop all the world’s perceived ills. They paint with a broad brush, assign blame to a whole race, or religion, culture, or gender, and often advocate for the destruction of those thus burdened by their enmity. It is becoming the American Way, and it is a sickness.

Anger can be a blessing. It can spur us to confront injustice. It can keep us on our toes by inviting us to look at the roots of our own reactions. But anger can be remarkably destructive when it is generalized and used to punish others without conscience, context, or consideration. It is an insidious contributor to many of the worst aspects of our faith communities. It is dehumanizing. Such anger, all too easily and simplistically fueled, gives rise to Charlie Hebdo, ISIS, and Trayvon Martin alike. There is only one way to stop its spread. That’s for each of us to examine its role in our own lives.

 

 

“Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”

Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

 

“The opposite of anger is not calmness, its empathy.”

Mehmet Oz