The Multiplication of Rage

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fire-orange-emergency-burning.jpgYou know how muscles get stronger, right? It’s by being broken down. Stressing muscles causes micro-tears that allow for growth.

This seems a very appropriate analogy for life right now. I am going through a time of great spiritual…let’s call it development. “Reorientation” and “upheaval” both sound good, but they aren’t really accurate. Basically, I feel like I’m looking at a stressful situation (my life) and beginning to consider not just how to handle it but whether I’m making it worse by my own spiritual-emotional habits.

I meet weekly with a wonderful pair of women for faith sharing. We’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. It’s been a weekly occasion for mind-blowing, in beautiful but sometimes very challenging ways.

“How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace would multiply as long as there are people to receive it?”

The thing is, what Nouwen says of love, forgiveness, joy and peace is equally true of judgment, resentment, anger and intolerance. And when I say intolerance, I’m not referring to the common topics associated with that word these days, although it applies there, too. No, what I’m talking about is tolerance for irritation. For having our convenience thwarted. You know. The car that’s driving too slowly in front of you. The school district’s decisions about scheduled days off and weather days. The incompetent cashier or the inconveniently-timed software update.

Every January and every Lent, I spend a fair amount of time discerning how best to grow as a human being in these fresh seasons. Yet nearly every year, I get a few weeks in and discover that I’m off-course, or at least, not digging deep enough.

pexels-photo.jpgI’m angry these days. So very angry, all the time. Angry about big things, but finding that it gushes down into far too many of the little ones, too. Eroding my capacity for tolerance for hassles, for kindness to people who inconvenience me. Even my capacity to love.
I’m hardly alone. This essay came through my Facebook feed last week; the resonance of it left me speechless. The first few “top comments” prove the author’s point.

And I realized that I had to turn off the radio in the car again—not just for a few days, but for the duration of Lent. There’s no silence, no peace in my heart; I feel this frantic, well, franticness (to materialize a word) to fill every moment of blank mental space with stimulus, with information. We are desperate in the modern world, and we don’t even know what it is we’re desperate for.

I think it’s rest. A rest we can never find, because we’re strung so tight, the slightest little whisper of a breeze makes us vibrate. Silence feels like a threat, like walking on eggshells through a room where a very colicky baby has just fallen asleep after hours of constant screaming. We’re longing for rest, and also authentic connection. I mean, what else is the draw of talk radio, podcasts, and social media if not to feel like someone is talking to us? Accompanying us in our minor pilgrimages across town?

Yet the only way to get to a place of rest is to sit down, shut up, and shut down, and we have to go through silence to get there.

I’ve had the radio off for two weeks now. Not just off news radio, but off. And still, it’s hard. I thought it would get easier after a week’s withdrawal, but it hasn’t. I feel the pressure in my chest, in my brain, begging for relief.

We all know when we’re strung tight, we can’t roll with the punches; we have no give in our strings. We just snap. It’s no wonder I’m angry. Sure, there are plenty of things, legitimate outrages. But I can see how easy it would be to let anger and negativity crowd out every good thing about my life. Anger feeds on itself and grows bigger, more all-encompassing. As Nouwen said, they multiply as long as there are people to receive them.

I’d rather take his solution and multiply kindness and forgiveness.

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But dang, it’s hard to make that shift. We’re wound so tight toward rage, the force is nearly impossible to resist. You try to turn toward the light and the dark pulls you right back.

But we didn’t get here all at once. It’s been coming a long time, and we’ve encouraged it. I know I have. So I have to commit to seeking the light, again and again and again and again, until it at last feels like my home territory.

I’m writing stream-of-consciousness late at night, following choir practice when my brain is revved up and won’t shut down so I can sleep. (Ironic, given the topic, I know.) The danger in opening myself up like this is that people will judge and/or try to tell me exactly what I SHOULD do, which is not at all useful. (In case you missed the hint: please don’t! I don’t need more negativity in my world, and neither do you.) I’m not putting these reflections out as a cry for help or an invitation for judgment—quite the opposite. I think I’m expressing something that is a universal wound of modern life, in the hope that it will resonate, and help others to set sail on their own, desperately-needed journeys of the spirit.

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If You’re Not Outraged…

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Photo by Samovaari, via Flickr

We’ve been angry a lot this calendar year. Last calendar year, too, truth be told. The world seems made for making us angry right now.

But it came to a head in the last week, and in one of those convergences that can only be a sign of the Holy Spirit at work, for three days every single thing that happened served to put a neon flashing light on the message: THIS IS NOT OKAY. Even the weekend’s Scriptures.

It’s not that there isn’t reason to be angry. And as many people note, even Jesus got angry, knocking over tables in the Temple when he saw it being misused.

The trouble is, at some point, we start clinging to anger—we start looking for reasons to be angry, to the point that we become unable to accept with grace any thwarting of our own convenience, any deviation from our own vision of how things should be. And let’s be honest: there’s a whole heck of a lot about the world that is Not How It Should Be.

The convergence of messaging challenges me…my whole family, really…to figure out how to confront the Things That Aren’t How They Ought To Be without making anger an idol enshrined in our hearts.

I haven’t figured that part out yet. It’s the start of a new journey.

Road Rage And Other Rage

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Photo by Tony Fischer Photography, via Flickr

Three times in recent weeks, I have drawn the ire of other drivers. It’s enough to make me soul-search whether the problem really is me.

The first time, I’d turned the engine off at a long light and the car behind me wasn’t happy with the extra second it took me to get moving forward when the light did finally change. No brief tap of the horn for her; no, she expressed her displeasure with a protracted blare and then tailgated me for the next mile. I got a speeding ticket on that stretch of road a few years ago, so I always keep my speed under control there…but I admit I took great pleasure in doing so that afternoon.

The second time, I was preparing to turn left off a two-lane highway. I’d started to lean left when I realized the oncoming car was close and moving fast, so I decided it would be safer to wait. The pickup behind me leaned on his horn….and held it…the entire time the car was approaching and passing. I thought that was beyond obnoxious, so I deliberately waited an extra second to turn, just to make the point. Which caused him to continue holding the horn the entire time I turned left, and for about a tenth of a mile after he roared on down the highway.

The third time, I had a car full of kids, not all of them mine, and I exited the interstate to find the left-turn lane unusually backed up. After about four minutes I realized the sensor was malfunctioning and we weren’t going to get a green light at all. Waiting wasn’t an option. I had to take the carpool kids home and get back to our house before Julianna’s bus. The solution was to pull into the right-turn lane instead and find a place to turn around somewhere down the street.

I couldn’t see around the traffic behind me, so I poked my nose out far enough to give me a sight line. And then I stopped, because there was a car flying up the ramp. I let him get past and then pulled out behind him.

As he sat waiting to turn right, he fisted me a predictable middle finger. And then, apparently deciding my lack of reaction meant I hadn’t seen it, he did it again.

All this has me evaluating my own habit of assuming the worst of other drivers. We all think whatever speed we’re driving is the right one, whether it’s below, at or over the speed limit. If someone wants to go faster they’re obviously bad drivers in far too much of a hurry. If someone’s going slower than we want to go, they’re obviously bad drivers who shouldn’t be on the road at all. When I’m running late I blame everyone else for holding me up—how dare they?–even though, hello, it’s my lateness that’s causing my stress. It’s no one’s fault, and more importantly no one’s problem, but my own.

It’s so easy to let little things get under our skin. Too often, too many of us (myself included) walk around with a general sense of rage at a constant simmer, just looking for an excuse to erupt…and in some cases, for an excuse to pick a fight. (Facebook, I’m looking at you.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a snarky, provocative comment on Facebook, thinking it’s my God-given right to opine, and teeter on the edge of “submit” for agonizing seconds before selecting all and deleting.

There are times—like this week—that seem to overflow with irritations and inconveniences. They challenge my resolve to “treasure” the good and brush off the bad. So maybe it’s a good thing to get honked at and flipped the finger occasionally. Because the jarring overreaction it represents reminds me what’s at stake.