When I need to boil something on the stove, like pasta, I almost always overfill the pot. It’s not overly full when I place the pot on the burner. But, by the time I’ve turned up the heat and added the pasta, the water almost always boils over the top, creating a hot, steaming mess.
Likewise, I’ve been known to over-fill my coffee cup, or other beverages, all the way to the very top, thinking I can miraculously carry and drink it without spillage. I assume you know how that turns out.
The point? If you overfill the container, at boiling point, the contents spill. Or, even the slightest of bumps to the over-filled coffee cup inevitably leads to spillage, and potential burns.
Or, similarly, have you ever over-reacted in anger, losing your temper for something fairly insignificant? Ever looked back and wondered why you “boiled” over?
Maybe your internal “pot” was too full – filled to the tippy top. Maybe you were carrying so much pent-up anger, it didn’t take much for hot, boiling spillage to come pouring out. A small offense – a stubbed toe, a simple misunderstanding, too much traffic, etc. – may be all that’s needed for your inner storehouse of rage to explode.
The pot boils over.
What happens to all that pent-up anger when the precipitating event isn’t small? If you’re not sure, turn on the evening news. Or, depending where you live, drive down town.
In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed angry, armed protests on the steps of state capitals; protestors angrily demanding their rights and the end of government imposed/required “social distancing.” In recent days (and nights), in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, protests have erupted into violent riots, leading to further death, widespread destruction, and deepening societal divides.
I would argue both are symptoms of the same: an over-abundance of pre-existent, seething anger, now turned to full-blown rage.
Have you ever experienced rage? Did you say or do anything in the heat of rage you might not have otherwise?
The crowds protesting government restrictions are expressing long-held anger for what they perceive to be government interference, and fears of losing their vision of what America should be.
The more recent rioting crowds are expressing long-held anger at the discriminatory injustices experienced by African Americans, since before the founding of our nation.
The issue is the same: anger, brought to the boiling point, spilling over.
Obviously there are differences. One set of protestors are primarily white, the other black. One group is visibly armed, sometimes displaying political biases, and even racism. Though armed, and outrageous, one set of protests has been largely non-destructive and nonviolent, whereas more recent riots have been destructive and deadly.
Here is another difference. The mostly white, gun-toting protestors believe they are powerful, and are demanding their supposed rights. The mostly black rioters, are reacting from a place of prolonged powerlessness and injustice.
The issue, in both cases, is anger. I would argue, an accompanying issue is fear. Sometimes fear is hidden; masked by bluster and bravado, shrouded by displays of force. But, there is fear, nevertheless. What would a white, armed protester fear? Loss of THEIR America. What would a black rioter fear? In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his famous “I have a Dream” speech,
“We’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.”
Perhaps, black rioters fear America will never be a safe or fair place to be black.
Anger and fear: hot boiling pots, spilling over into our city streets. Which came first, the fear or the anger, the chicken or the egg? Who knows? The pot is boiling over, and people are getting burned.
My point here is not to take sides, though I clearly have one. I think the recent protests against government “stay in place” orders and objections to wearing facemasks in public are ridiculous, ludicrous, and offensive, when our leaders are striving to do their job, following the advice of experts, and working to protect us all. Though I abhor the violence and destruction of recent nights, and do not condone it, I am admittedly far more sympathetic to the African American community, who has endured far too much injustice for far too long.
As I recently tweeted,
“Cause and effect. A spark starts a wildfire. The wildfire burns out of control. It started with a spark and flammable conditions. Focus on the cause. Who started the fire? What created the conditions?”Tweet
As a Christian and a pastor, my point IS to remind the Church and my fellow Christians to be the Church! My point is this: The work of the Church and every Christian is the ongoing establishment of the Kingdom of God in an obviously broken, boiling world.
Too often, our work – as the Church – to bring about a better world has been weak, misguided and ineffectual. Too often, we’ve been complicit in the very structures, values and belief systems that are at the root of our society’s greatest ills. Too often, we – the Church – have been too content with meaningless church programming; to comfort, coddle, and entertain ourselves, while the world around us burns. Too often, we’ve made the Church a safe, cozy cocoon; a comfortable place to hide from the supposedly terrible, dangerous, evil world around us.
There are two questions every church and every Christian must ask and be ready to answer:
- To whom does the Church belong?
- For whom does the Church exist?
Obviously, the Church is Christ’s, and exists for the sake of the world. That is obvious, isn’t it? The Church does NOT belong to us. The Church is NOT for us. Yet, that’s how most churches function.
If the Church belongs to Christ, and the Church exists for the world, our clear purpose, with Christ’s help, is the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Every other church activity is at least secondary, if not entirely irrelevant.
Our job, as the Church, is the establishment of an alternative Kingdom, where…
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearlingtogether; and a little child will lead them…They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9, CEB)
We remember Jesus’ instructions to pray, saying “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And if we pray for earth to be more like heaven, are we not also duty bound to act like it, work for it?
We remember Jesus’ parable of a great banquet, where shockingly unexpected guests – those normally treated as unwanted outcasts – are treated as guests of honor, and everyone is given equal seating, equal honor, and equal access to the feast.
We remember the Apostle Paul’s words that “Christ is our peace… With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.” (Ephesians 2:14, CEB). And, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, CEB)
As Christians, our job is not to sit back, judge “those people,” and offer commentary on the world’s ills, many of which are currently on graphic display. Our job is to BE the Church: to roll up our sleeves, to serve, to speak, to sacrifice, to activate, to do whatever we can or must to make earth more and more and more like heaven.Tweet
Our job is to love. Our job is love in action.
In the words of Henri Nouwen,
“You are Christian only so long as you constantly pose critical questions to the society you live in, so long as you emphasize the need of conversion both for yourself and for the world, so long as you in no way let yourself become established in the situation of the world, so long as you stay unsatisfied with the status quo and keep saying that a new world is yet to come. You are Christian only when you believe you have a role to play in the realization of the new kingdom, and when you urge everyone you meet with holy unrest to make haste so that the promise might soon be fulfilled. So long as you live as a Christian you keep looking for a new order, a new structure, a new life.”
Our nation is a boiling pot of rage, spilling over in terrible, hurtful ways. The question is NOT, “Why is the pot boiling over?” The questions for us, the Church, are,
“How do WE clean up this boiling mess?”
“How can WE keep the pot from refilling, again?”
“How do WE turn down the heat?”
“How can WE lead the world in the way of Christ’s love?”
“How can WE create a better feast, for all?”
3 thoughts on “When anger reaches the boiling point.”
Vance: Thanks for this powerful and practical witness to the truth of where we are and the hope of who the Church is called to be. Preach it, Brother! Amen!! Jim Harnish
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Thank you Vance. I am so sickened and disheartened by all that is going on. What actions can I/we take to help in this desperate situation? I know there aren’t easy answers but what small and big steps can we take? Has our denomination developed plans or strategies?
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I think begins by becoming educated on the issues. I’m amazed how many uninformed comments I see and hear. As I know you know, the issues are deep and complex. Second, I think it is speaking out, lending out voices in support. Third, I think it is about intentional dialogue and relationship building – I think we were starting to do a good job at this at First Coral Springs. Fourth, I think it’s about voting the right people into office, at every level. Fifth, I think it is about tangible efforts to make a real difference – as you did for your entire teaching career!
Our hands a bit tied by Covid-19, for the moment. But, I’m working on some ideas for the future.