Friday, November 10, 2017

From Anger to Action

Toddlers are a glimpse into our own unfiltered behavior. They haven't learned how to behave and hide their true feelings from society, so they act the way they feel like acting. When a toddler loses his kite in the wind and sees it sail into a tree, he loses his mind. He falls on the ground, kicking and screaming, he wails at the sky as if the gods have conspired to torment him, he pays no attention to his own ability to walk over to the dangling string and regain control of the kite. When a toddler is over-tired, the smallest thing can set him off into a rage nightmare. His guards are down and the injustice he feels over bedtimes or candy are coming pouring from a volcano of raw emotion. But he doesn't actually do anything to make himself more likely to get what he wants.

There is a lot to be angry about these days. If you watch the news, or read twitter for three seconds, you can work yourself up into a frothing mess. It is inescapable how many wrongs need to be righted and how many systems need to be totally destroyed and rebuilt. It is infuriating how hypocritical those on the "religious right" can be, and how blind they are to it. If I allow myself to think about it for too long, I become a furious mess. But I don't actually do anything about it.

I watched a sermon on YouTube by a pastor out of New York named Carl Lentz in which he talked about how too many people are "angryvists" and not many are activists. That struck me. How many times am I angry, righteously angry, but content to do absolutely nothing? As if being angry about the state of the world is somehow going to do something. Anger is a largely useless emotion. It is a primitive reaction in the most ancient parts of our brains to stimuli we find at odds with our desired method of survival. We get most angry when we are most stressed. Like a toddler who is over-tired, we are more prone to erupt when we feel distressed. When we are overcome with anxiety, we aren't ourselves. Anxiety causes stress, and stress makes us more irritable. When we are irritable, a tweet from a politician we don't like can set us ablaze. When we are stressed, we can watch a report about racial injustice and spew venom for twenty minutes about how miserable the hearts of the people in power must be to allow this to go unchecked, then we sit back down and check out another show on Netflix. We don't do anything about it.

What's at the core of your stress? What is causing you to be irritable? It's more important to know why you are irritable than it is to know what is irritating you. If you give an over-tired three year old what he is yelling about, he will only get irritated about something else. Even if the problem that you think is so irritating gets solved, you will only get irritated about something else.

One of the most common sources of anxiety is fear of the unknown. It's why half of the scary movies in the world take place under water or in space. We don't know much about sharks, so they terrify us. We don't know what we would do if aliens were real, so we freak out at alien movies. If we are truly honest, we don't know a whole lot. When we lie in our beds alone with our thoughts and the darkness and the uncaring ceiling, we really feel like we might be wrong about everything we think we know. The entire field of epistemology exists precisely to show us exactly how little we can be sure we actually know. Our ignorance of the future, of what is going to happen tomorrow, of whether it's all going to be ok--these are the sources of our anxiety.

The opposite of anxiety is confidence. Confidence is attractive because we want to be associated with someone who isn't as anxious and insecure as we are. Confidence leads to action while anxiety leads to stress. When you can manage your stress enough to funnel your disgust about the state of the world into action to end the injustice you see, you are operating from a confidence in something outside of yourself. We can't be confident in and of ourselves. We need something to be confident in so we can act.

One of the most famous activists--a man whose anger was proved righteous in his action--was Martin Luther King, Jr. He didn't just talk about injustice, he didn't yell and scream about hypocrites, and he didn't just send tweets with a hashtag that aligned him with the "good guys." He went out and did something. He stood on the steps of the Alabama State Capital building on March 25, 1965, and delivered a speech entitled Our God is Marching On. You should read it. He ended the speech with the key to his confidence. Dr. King gives us and his listeners that day a glimpse at how he overcame anxiety based in ignorance about the future and leapt into activism driven by confidence. He asks over and over "How long?" and answers it "Not long!" followed by a reason he is confident his cause will be victorious. He was confident in his belief that "no lie can live forever," and that "the moral arc of the universe is long, but  it bends towards justice." Dr. King believed those statements enough, he could be confident and funnel his emotion into action.

We can be confident in the same things. We can be confident God is ahead of us, drawing us and the world forward. God is for our progress as we move the world towards justice. We can't sit and be anxious, shouting and making more enemies that friends. We have to base our knowledge on the belief our God is marching us toward justice, and then act accordingly. We won't ever fully know anything. In his letter to a group of Jesus followers in the ancient city of Corinth, the apostle Paul--at the end of a brilliant rant about the power of Love--reminds us we only see a dim reflection of reality, but one day we will see face-to-face. We will know in the way in which we are fully known. Your fear about the future is a sign of your lack of confidence if how fully you are known. My angry tweets I thankfully delete more than I send are a sign of my lack of confidence. My rants about the hypocrites in politics are exercises in insecurity.

When he asks "How long will Justice be crucified and Truth bear it?" Dr. King confidently answers, "not long." Let's move beyond anger and into action. Let's move beyond ignorance and into confidence. Let's manage our stress, speak truth into our anxiety, and share the confidence we have with Love. Because Love is the anchor, the bedrock, the foundation. Love is the thing behind the thing behind the thing. Love is the motivator and the engine of all things. Love is creating and building and moving us all towards the Lover of our souls. 

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.