Tag Archives: enemies


All the delicious anger

This week, I was invited to be angry. That happens almost every week, but this week I had an unusually large smörgåsbord of options to be angry at— Ashley Madison cheaters, hackers who exposed the Ashley Madison cheaters, Josh Duggar, Jared Fogel, police gun violence, criminal gun violence, abortion/Planned Parenthood, anything to do with Donald Trump, anything to do with Hillary Clinton.

Now many of those causes are important, and many of you are probably angry about them; some of you are probably angry at me for not being angrier. A popular saying nowadays is, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Personally, that saying reminds me of Despereaux, failing mouse school for being too brave, and his teacher imploring him, “There are so many wonderful things in life to be afraid of, if you just learn how scary they are!”

That is to say, maybe I am paying attention, but I choose peace over anger for reasons of my own. Maybe I feel that nothing good comes of the anger. Maybe I have seen too many souls I loved whose anger filled them up like bitter poison. Maybe I am simply following the advice of God.

The case for anger

I believe that much of the anger-seeking in our society is motivated from a good place, namely, a wish to identify what is wrong with our world and to fix it. Our society has big problems and it feels wrong to be complacent about them. Keeping ourselves educated is important. All of that is true, but none of it requires anger. Passion for injustice has taken many forms throughout history. Only recently have we begun to mistake non-angry responses for indifference.

In fact, other emotional responses may be better suited to positive action. (Quiet steely resolve comes to mind.) Contrary to our paradigm, anger by itself accomplishes little. We may raise awareness, but that only helps if unawareness is the problem (see “cigarettes cause cancer”, circa 1950). Yet we apply the salve of “awareness” to a vast array of unsuitable ailments as though it were a magic cure-all. Everyone remembers the ubiquitous “Kony 2012” campaign of a few years back. How much awareness was raised? How much outrage was generated? Yet what, if anything, was accomplished? In April this year, Relevant Magazine posted an editorial: “I Feel Like Kony Won.” Unless Kony follows American Twitter accounts, did he even know we were fighting? It’s almost as though ranting to like-minded friends on Facebook is not an effective means of toppling a hostile foreign dictator.

The cost of anger

Meanwhile, we are paying an enormous price— both individually and collectively— for our “take no prisoners” mindset.

Once we see that anger is not the only possible response to injustice, it becomes clear that our anger is something we are choosing. We meditate on topics that anger us, we listen to radio programs for facts that confirm our views and stoke our anger, our social media feeds are peppered with our angry shouting. All of this requires a large investment of our most precious and limited resource: our time. As with any limited resource, whenever we invest time to purchase that satisfying hit of righteous indignation, something else is being sacrificed. A recent XKCD cartoon showed a wife calling her husband (working on his computer) to bed. “I can’t,” he responds, “This is important.” “What?” she asks, and he responds, “Someone is wrong on the Internet.” Solomon never envisioned the Internet, but his 3000 year old advice still rings true: “A fool multiplies words… Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” Social media addiction is a real phenomenon whose cost is only beginning to come clear. How many of us are literally staying at the keyboard and sacrificing relationship in a way that is nothing to laugh about?

Apart from time spent, cultivating anger has a more pernicious personal cost. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” says the scripture. The brain is like a muscle: the parts we exercise become stronger. Who we are is literally the sum of the daily choices we make. When we train ourselves to anger, that response becomes more easily available to us. As the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Words can hurt, and carelessly wielded, anger is a hammer with enormous destructive power. I know. I have been the angry shouting guy, I have been the guy who finally lost it and lashed out, and I have been the guy at anger management group, learning tools to turn it around. But how much better off would I be if I had never walked so far down that road in the first place? When James warns that “the tongue is a restless evil full of deadly poison”, I do not think it is a tongue full of gentle, gracious words he has in mind.

We are paying a cost as a society as well. Think about this: when we take time from our spouse and kids to invest in the anonymous stranger, being honest, are we there for his or her welfare? Or are we just after the adrenaline rush? When our interactions with each other become a form of video game, we have strayed far from the path marked out by Christ when he commanded, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Like all the bible’s commands, this one is offered as much for self-preservation as for its ability to please God. When we are working toward the collective good, by definition we all benefit, yet a battlefield is not a place where working toward the collective good is possible. And a battlefield is what our society becomes when we make contemptuous statements about each other’s motives, when we belittle and dismiss one another. We all are made in the image of God, and Christ died for us all. We would do well to remember that before we say to our brother, “Raca! (that is, ‘You fool!’)”

A better way

Despite the deep-­seated problems we face, there is still hope. It wasn’t always this way. The issues that stir our passions can motivate us in many ways that result in an outpouring of love and renewal and healing. When Mother Teresa’s heart was moved on behalf of India’s untouchables, she could have done all the things that come so naturally to us now: berating Indian society for their callousness, attacking from the outside, raising awareness among other westerners who already shared her worldview. Instead, she took up a rag in love, and personally began washing out sores. She took up those with broken bodies, and laid them in soft beds to show them kindness and mercy before they died. She took up her own personal cross and carried it all the way to her own personal Calvary. And as a result of her actions, the fragrance of a new, less callous worldview began to infuse that place until all of Indian society had caught the scent.

We have quite recently known how to do that here in America too. We have had our Malcolm Xs, it is true, but we have also had our Martin Luther Kings. Confronting a certain set of gross injustices, we were offered one vision, informed by worldly wisdom, of transforming American society into a battlefield; and we were offered another vision, informed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, of sacrificially drawing America out of darkness into light. It was the latter vision we embraced. It was the latter vision that transformed us. I have heard it said that Dr. King’s vision was too weak, that its changes did not last. But has not the loss of our positive transformation coincided with our descent into a society polarized against itself? If the prescription now proffered is hatred of our enemies, then that medicine is the very agent that is causing our disease.

There is a way for us to turn back. There is a way for us to return to the upward path. It is not the easy path: the “click-tivism” of signing an outraged petition costs us nearly nothing, but quite likely, it also accomplishes nearly nothing. It is not the natural path: sacrificial service to our enemies does not trigger any adrenaline rush. But if we are to be spared, we must leave the path we are on. “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath,” warns the scripture, “it tends only to evil.”

There are a lot of causes in the world; this week was example enough of that. We do care about them, and we should; they are important. They are worthy of our best, but our best cannot emerge from our anger. Our best can only emerge when we are seeking one another’s good in love.

Hotel Europa Belfast, before and after

Three things we must learn from 50,000 casualties in Belfast

Ten days ago, I was standing in front of the most bombed hotel in the world. It’s the Hotel Europa in Belfast, center of “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland that, from 1968-1998, killed or injured more than 50,000 people.

As we drove around the city, our tour guide showed us 200-year-old buildings still scarred with shrapnel damage. She spoke about her three most formative decades, living in fear. All of that changed with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. “Now,” she said, “we have real nightlife here in town center. Bit late for my generation o’ course, but I do love leadin’ tours now. We used to have terrorists; now we have tourists.”

What changed? Significantly, not much. We saw neighborhoods where most houses were flying the Irish flag, and others all flying the Union Jack. So then how was peace made after 30 years of strife? To me, the more our tour guide spoke, the more it sounded like all the Christian parties involved had simply started applying the teachings of Christ: forgiveness, togetherness, acceptance. It is a lesson that we in America would do well to heed.


You’ve heard the U2 song. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” invokes the memory of a peaceful protest march shattered when British soldiers spontaneously opened fire on unarmed Irish civilians, killing 14. It’s a stirring anthem. I have heard it used to score a call-to-action video, juxtaposing images of the massacre against the evocative words. There’s just one problem with that. Far from glorifying the events or calling for continued violent resistance, the song’s only point is to deplore the violence on all sides. “How long?” the lyrics ask, “How long must we sing this song?”

In early live performances, the natural emotional responses were so strong, the tendency to misunderstand was so prevalent, that the band had to fall all over themselves to underline its passivist message. “This is not a rebel song,” was an oft-repeated introduction. They soon began planting a white flag at center stage while performing. Why was it so difficult for people to understand it as a song, not of reliving our grievances, but of laying down our grievances? Because the teachings of Jesus that inspired the song are not natural. They are supernatural. “You have heard it said: love your friends and hate your enemies. But I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… No greater love has a man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” Christ proved that in his willingness to lay down his own life, invoked in the song’s final lyrics: “Claim the victory Jesus won…on [a] Sunday, bloody Sunday.”

What happened in Northern Ireland was not that there were suddenly no more wrongs to avenge. It was not that perfect agreement was achieved. It was not that one side “won”. People simply decided that 30 years of blowing each other up hadn’t solved anything; that maybe it would be worth trying to coexist and work together for a change. They decided, in effect, that Jesus’ advice might be right.


The one substantive change in Northern Irish society described as we drove though those flag-flying neighborhoods was this: strong laws have been put in place to prevent discrimination and foster integration in public life. In the past, discrimination was a primary engine of conflict. Now, schools mix Catholic and Protestant children in classrooms. Workplaces must report detailed demographics to show they are practicing equal opportunity. The result? Former enemies are getting to know each other.

The lamb shall lie down with the lion, says scripture. Togetherness has enormous power; the great humanitarian travesties of our time are all rooted in artificial divisions & separations that give animosity its power. There was always an awful lot of bad-mouthing “the others” before any real violence broke out.

Absent real firsthand knowledge of “the other”, any manner of falsehoods about them can take root and flourish. This can happen so long as we won’t trouble to know them, even if they live right next door. God’s example to us is exactly the opposite; even the very name of Jesus— Emmanuel— means “God with us.” Matthew 18 teaches that the only path to healing division is, sit down face to face and talk to each other. Christ’s final recorded prayer was for unity, his deepest grief as he overlooked Jerusalem was that he could not gather them all to himself, and the portrait of heaven in Revelations consists of great host from every nation, all together as one and praising God.

Bringing it to America

In America today, we are being taught to hate one another. Messages in all of our political media, left and right, reinforce the teachings that “they are not like us,” that they want to destroy the things we value, that there can be no common ground between us and them. Many of us believe those messages, but our country’s last, best hope may be this: that deep down inside, some part of us still knows otherwise. Deep down inside, we cannot wholly reject the fact that we work every day alongside people who are aren’t like us, and we do so  in peace and mutual respect, despite what the popular narratives say. Even in states of deepest red and blue, a landslide majority is only 70/30. We have “the other” all around us, and every day we are partnering with them to serve tables and erect skyscrapers and type computer code.

The truth is, what unites us is stronger than what divides us. For proof that this truth is still true, we have only to shut off the television, shut off the radio, shut off the computer, and open our eyes to look around. Far from trying to destroy what we hold dear, “the others” are mostly just doing what we are doing: raising kids, paying bills, pursuing happiness. If you’ve heard different, I challenge you this: do what Jesus did. Find one. Go near. Sit down. Take a little time and get to know. Find a common goal and work towards it together. Go running or fishing, make quilts, play chess.

If we would all do that, in the end, it wouldn’t take long before we all would realize that “the other” isn’t nearly so bad, or so easy to hate, as we thought.

Jesus and Internet trolls

What Internet trolls have in common with Jesus

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Internet trolls.

Whether righteously piling on to destroy someone’s life for 10 seconds of Twitter thoughtlessness (à la Justine Sacco) or going after a 17-year-old softball player because you don’t like her dad (à la Gabby Schilling), the inhuman viciousness of it all is a little hard to reconcile with our supposedly progressive 21st century.

So, I was very interested to discover that, in Britain recently, some actual justice was done: to wit, in two cases at least, the casual act of gang-terrorizing a stranger with threats of rape and death resulted in actual jail time. And I began to wonder whether we couldn’t do that here in America. My nerd-brain immediately thought, “First Amendment problems! Ah, but direct threats of violence are not protected speech.” Then my social-justice-brain wondered if such laws might be subject to abuse. And my practical-brain wondered how you would ever muster enough social appetite for the cost and effort of prosecuting such crimes.

If your attempt to witness for Christ comes out like hate speech, you are doing it wrong.

And then, in the saddest moment of my day, it dawned upon my faith-brain that a lot of self-proclaimed Christians would probably be against it. As a Christian, when I think of a woman like Adria Richards, whose home address was tweeted alongside photos of a mutilated corpse, I think of John 8. (Spoiler alert: Jesus is the one who protects her from the mob that wants her dead). But in certain “Christian” circles nowadays, wave around a term like “feminist” or “liberal”, and how many of us become more like the pharisees of that story than like Christ? If online excoriation is the 21st century answer to stones at the town gate, how many of us are sinless enough to throw one? I have actually seen a Christian website decrying the possible passage of hate speech legislation, lest it become illegal to verbally abuse a homosexual with Leviticus 20:13 or an unbeliever with Revelations 21:8. Lost in that very self-serving position, however, is this: if your attempt to witness for Christ comes out like hate speech, you are doing it wrong. It may be that the only thing Jesus has in common with an Internet troll, is us.

In the end, I abandoned my contemplations of legal action in defense of basic humanity on-line. For one thing, it is pretty clearly outside my personal control. I think it is open to debate whether it is even “Christian”; in the words of Christ, “If you are uncivil online to punish someone for incivility, how are you any better?” (Matthew 5:46-47). I believe that, one day, real solutions will be found, to take away the “dissociative imagination” that lets the trolls thrive in blissful ignorance of the real lives being destroyed.

In the meantime, the best course for a Christian in the whole cultural cyberwar may be to take the naïve advice of our savior: to mourn with those who mourn, to bind up the broken-hearted, to look inside our hearts and there find love for our enemies, to look at those who persecute us and keep them uppermost in our prayers.