James, Living in This World, The Inner Landscape

I Got Mad

S-WILSON-WEST-large(Thinking about Proper 20B, particularly James 3:13-4:3,7-8a)

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. (James 4:1-2a, NRSV)

It's been a week of poster children for bad behavior in public, hasn't it? I almost hate to think what's coming next. Don't like the way the election turned out? Yell at the President. Don't like who got the award? Take the microphone away from her!

Don't have what you want? Knock the next guy over to get it.

Oh, America.

We have so much liberty and so little sense.

I'm planning a program for youth group in a couple of weeks that I've titled "Live Facebook." My idea is to have the high schoolers use newsprint to create a mock Facebook page that we will use as a tool for group-building. Their first question: are you going to look at our Facebook pages? They don't want grown-ups to see–well, I'll be cautious and kind here, maybe they don't want grown-ups to see what their *friends* write on their walls.

I'm not sure whether to find it discouraging or something of a relief that people in the first century needed as much cautioning as we do against anti-social behavior. I'd like to think we've progressed until I hear about movies that try to convince women that traditional systems are not oppressive, or I see the President's image combined with that of Heath Ledger's Joker pinned to a telephone pole in the town where I'm working.

As reported in numerous places, among the signs at the 9/12 protest was the caption "Communist Czars." I didn't have to double major in history to know that the Czars and the Communists were not on the same team. 

Unsportsmanlike_serena_090913_mn When we become angry that he has what I want or she gets what I need, when we drop into that place that reason never knew, the den of that primal yen for supremacy that I won't even credit to animals because it is SO human, we do things we ought not do. We say things we ought not say. We lose control. We grab the microphone. We threaten the line judge. We point a finger and shout.

Or we may just get mad and turn it on ourselves.

My daddy used to say not to say "mad," to say "angry." But it is madness, that boiling inside us, the madness that drives us to act against others, possession by the primitive within us, the terrified, the hungry, the desperate. And despite our efforts to evolve and to individuate and to mature and to improve, those parts of us never quite burn away. 

Every one of us needs the reminder that we are one moment's self-control away from a word or an action we might regret. Perhaps that makes it easier to forgive Joe or Kanye or Serena. I hope it makes it easier to forgive ourselves. But that forgiveness doesn't need to come as acceptance of the bad behavior.

The James passage ends this way:

Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.

How we do that may be different for each of us. On this Monday morning, I'm going outside. I think I could use a cleansing dose of fresh air and sunshine. I could use a little physical toil–there is weeding to do–as I come out of the den I created for myself over the past few days.

Yes, I've been in that place myself. I managed to keep it quiet, or to share it with people who could help me understand it. I brought it into consciousness. I had trouble giving it over to prayer. Sometimes we need other people to do that, I find, and they must have, because it got better. I'm trying to understand the message in my powerful reaction to something that isn't really about me. I'm trying to work through it by seeking a better understanding of what God wants for and from me. I'm trying to draw near, or nearer, anyway.


The image of Joe Wilson and Kanye West came from HuffingtonPost, and the Serena Williams picture from ABC.com.

8 thoughts on “I Got Mad”

  1. “She MADE me angry, your Honor, and that’s why I HAD to hit her!”
    That’s what I hear in all of this. “I have no responsibility for my actions because so-and-so MADE ME ANGRY!”
    That is the excuse a child uses when hitting a sibling. It has no place in grown-up relationships.

  2. Great post, Songbird. I have found it necessary to turn off the media in the past week. Right now it seems better to live in ignorance than to live in anger and frustration.
    During “prayers for the people” in yesterday’s church service, one of our members requested a prayer that we all remember that God gave us one mouth but two ears and for us to listen to one another w/ compassion.

  3. “I’m trying to understand the message in my powerful reaction to something that isn’t really about me.”
    Great stuff. I had such a hissy fit 2 weeks ago to the day that I thought a bomb had gone off in my head. Turns out it wasn’t about me at all. But I had to get mad to understand that.

  4. in my line of work I see what happens when people are mad and act before they think. In the long run, they have to have other sort out the mess they’ve created for themselves and for others. Sometimes it is even a woman who has been badly beaten by her husband or partner. It might be neighbours who have had a dispute. It even be someone who has acted in a criminal manner and is not only paying for it with a jail term but, after they come out of jail they later find they can’t get a job or access to housing and the list goes on. The worst is when we read about people who have been ‘mad’ that someone looked at them the wrong way in a night club, stepped on their toe or not paid them enough respect so end up loosing their life in a fight that ends with someone taking a knife out. Too many times in the UK it is innocent bystanders that loose their lives when someone else gets mad.
    Thank you for your post. It’s a reminder that I constantly need as I always get ‘mad’ on the over crowded, hot and smelly tube!

  5. It is all just so disheartening, isn’t it? What on earth happened to civility? When such public figures lose control, and then somehow have people leaping to their defense, it somehow justifies the behavior. There is no justification, none. The signs at that “tea rally” made my stomach churn, literally. What are we becoming as a nation? Oh, it makes me so very sad.

  6. This is really good stuff/ God stuff. You are right on the money. Thanks for sharing your reflections with us.

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