“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” James Baldwin 1964
The Rage in Me
I see myself in the above picture. I know this emotion all too well. I’ve felt it boil up in my soul on many occasions in my 3 decades on this earth. I remember feeling it at age 16. I was leaving a summer landscaping job and was pulled over by a sheriff. The sheriff claimed that he pulled me over because I was swerving. (I hadn’t been swerving) He questioned my presence in the neighborhood. He asked if I had drugs or weapons in the car. He asked me to get out the car. He slammed me on the hood of the car. He frisked and searched me. The questioning turned into screaming. “I know you have drugs in this car”, he yelled as he searched my vehicle for 10 minutes and found ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
I felt it when I attended the same college that the famous Greensboro Four had attended decades prior. I went to the mall with a friend to pick up a girl he was dating from work. We were waiting outside of the store she worked in when we were approached by a couple security guards who told us we couldn’t “loiter” in the mall. We looked around and saw larger crowds of white people who were around our age….who had been standing in the same place longer than us…who were no wear close to as “well-dressed” as we were. (There goes our “respectability” logics down the drain) They were not being told to move at all. We asked the security gaurds, “why aren’t you asking them to move?” It escalated. They called the actual police to come escort us out of the mall. 3 well dressed, unarmed, college students were walked out of a packed mall by 5 to 7 security guard as if we were terrorist. Frustrated, embarrassed, and angry we went to the parking lot and waited for his friend to come out to the car. As we pulled up to let her get in, 4 to 5 the policemen ran towards the car with guns drawn yelling to the top their lungs……I felt “it” that day in a MAJOR WAY!!
I felt it when I was pulled over and questioned about my activity and the possible presence of drugs, guns, and stolen musical equipment in my car a couple months ago. I felt it over the Trayvon Marting, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, & Jordan Davis tragedies! And yes, I felt it this past Saturday as news came in about a policemen killing a college bound unarmed teen named Michael Brown in St Louis.
I felt RAGE!!! But is it healthy to feel rage? Is it sin? Does rage disqualify me from being a reconciler? Am I overreacting? Will this occasional emotion do long term damage to my physical and spiritual health? Have I morphed into the “angry black man” that I said I would never be? Does rage have any redemptive qualities? These are questions I’ve asked myself time and time again.
To answer these questions I run to the throne of Grace. I wrestle in solitude, in prayer, and in safe community spaces with friends who understand. I spend time in the Gospels to get an “HD” view of Christ. As a follower of Jesus, he is my lens for EVERYTHING. (At least that is my aim) If Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Supreme Reconciler who “through the blood of his cross reconciled ALL THINGS to himself ”, then certainly within His life and words there are answers. Were there moments during Christ’s earthly tent when rage or anger were a vital component for His mission.
I believe the answer to that question is YES! Its hard to imagine the version of Jesus that many have been taught showing rage or anger. If we are not frequently encountering Jesus through the scriptures we run the risk of “reshaping Him into our own image”. An unfiltered look at Him in the Gospel(s) shows us he is “no tame lion”! He’s tender and tough, comforting and confrontational, loving and just, a uniter and a divider, a servant and a warrior. He preaches soul jarring hard truths but still cries tears of solidarity and empathy in our weakness and pain. Consequently I believe, the Gospels show that His desire for reconciliation brought him to a place of rage at least twice. When I use the word rage…I don’t mean uncontrolled unrighteous outbursts of violence. Its clear that the “wrath of man does not and cannot produce the righteousness and justice of God.” When I use the word rage I am talking about a fire in the soul that hates injustice because it loves God and people. I’m talking about a holy frustration and anger that results in actions that seek to highlight and undo oppression.
The Righteous Rage of Christ
Just days before Jesus was unjustly executed, He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in what some have argued was at least in part a “peaceful protest” against empire, occupation, and vain religion. Certainly, the meaning of what we call “Palm Sunday” has many layers….both religious and political implications. It’s believed that at the same time Jesus was riding in on a donkey in the presence of the poor on the east side of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate and Roman soldiers entered in from the west in an “imperial procession”. Was this a coincidental choice for Jesus or was he sending an intentional message about the Kingdom of God. In their book, “The Last Week” Michael J. Borg and John Crossan say “Jesus procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus procession embodied the alternate vision, the kingdom of God.” After the procession we find Jesus entering into the temple. In a moment of unbelievable righteous RAGE, Jesus the reconciler both highlighted & undid injustice.
“15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” Mark 11:15-18
Here we find “God in the flesh” kicking, screaming, pushing over tables, physically & forcefully escorting oppressors out of the temple, and blocking folks from entering. This is no tame moment! What physical, emotional, and spiritual exertion Jesus demonstrated in this moment. When he finished “cleaning house” he lifted up His voice. His words reveal the source of His anger and zeal. “My house is designated as a house of PRAYER…..for ALL THE NATIONS!”
Most evangelical readings of this verse will highlight the “house of prayer” portion but overlook the phrase, “FOR THE NATIONS” ! In Christ’s heart was a deep love and passion for His image-bearers to encounter the Grace of His Father through worshipful intimate prayer. His desire was for this encounter to create a beloved community characterized by unity and love between people from ALL NATIONS of the earth. His longing for the Kingdom to usher in vertical and horizontal reconciliation on earth as it is in heaven evoked His rage! The unjust and exploitative practices of the money-changers were in direct contrast to the heart of Yahweh. The clearing of the temple was like a prequel to the veil of the temple being ripped in half after His death on the cross. Jesus was tearing the “veil” of economic oppression & misrepresentation of His Father’s heart. I imagine that some “moderate”, “neutral”, and “pious Jews” pulled Jesus to the side afterwards and said, “But Jesus, there are way more horrible things being done in other parts of the Roman Empire. Shouldn’t you be grateful that the Romans let you guys at least practice your religion? (As if speaking against injustice equals ingratitude) What about what’s happening to Christians in Iraq? Surely they have it worse, right?” But Jesus would not be derailed from His righteous rage. How can one be outraged about injustice half way around the globe and not be outraged when it is half way around the block or in their own nation?”
Social Justice: The New “Rage”
If you are doing social justice work, mercy ministry, or “racial” reconciliation because its “trendy” please reconsider. We are a people heavily influenced by trends. What’s cool? What’s sexy ?What’s the buzz word right now? In some circles racial reconciliation & justice is the new “RAGE”. It’s really cool to blog, tweet, and post instagram pics of you doing work with “po folks”. I am frustrated with many of those who say they want reconciliation. Who say they want justice. Who say they want unity. When things go down like what is happening in Fergusson they duck and hide. Some won’t engage. Wating for the “facts”. Others say they would get involved but the “people seem so mad”. Real reconcilers must learn how to sit with people in solidarity as they deal with anger. They realize that they must walk with the people in the midst of deep conflict. Jesus teaches us that you can’t run from rage and be a reconciler. In many ways you must embrace it. Even if you don’t understand it…there are times you must practice what Drew Hart calls a “counterintuitive solidarity”. For my white brothers & sisters, please understand that your “racial intuition” (if you will) has been severely infected by growing up in a society where black and brown life is believed to have less value. For those who assume that “neutral-ness” equal “holiness”, are you sure your neutrality isn’t the fruit of a neutered love for people and a weak desire for justice? You can cloak it with “Jesus wasn’t political” rhetoric, (which isn’t really true by the way) but it may be possible that you are simply apathetic and indifferent to the issues of race that plague our country. The late Abraham Joshua Heschell once said:
“There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an exception, becoming the rule, and in turn being accepted.”
Piercing silence. Shrieking indifference. Paralyzing apathy. Willful ignorance. Skillful avoidance. Immoral neutrality.
The heart of God is grieved!
People of color who immediately identify with the stories of Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, the classroom to prison pipeline, separate and unequal education, the new jim crow, workplace microaggressions, racial profiling, wealth and income inequality, and a LONG LONG LONG list of ongoing injustices must channel our rage by God’s Spirit to do justice. We must learn to discern the thin line between righteous indignation and self-righteousness irritation. We ALL are called to model Jesus who refused to allow the flow of his love to be “tribalized” or barricaded by socio-political constructs. He loved and sought to liberate the oppressed and the oppressors. But in loving the oppressors, He refused to offer a cheap grace that skipped over calling them to comprehensive repentance.
I’m learning that sometimes a lack of anger is a sign of a callous heart, void of compassion. True love produces anger at times. By God’s grace I will no longer tell folks “I’m not mad” to maintain some heir of super spirituality. The most Spirit-filled and God-surrendered Human to ever live on earth felt anger. How dare I discount it as always being the fruit of carnality in my heart of others. Yes, I confess that in the last few days I have felt both anger and sadness. Its extremely disheartening but not surprising that some are more disgusted by the damage & loss of property as a result of rioting in #Ferguson than they are about the brutal killing of an 18 year old who “allegedly” was only jaywalking after stealing a pack of cigars. As a follower of Christ I obviously don’t condone rioting. (“Be angry, but sin not”) However, we must not skip over the context of injustice, marginalization, & racial profiling that helped create the deep hurt, anger, & frustration.
In my anger there is hope that one day “blackness” will not be viewed as a threat, a sign of inferiority, or as an indicator of criminality. My hope is that a black, brown, or lower class life will be understood to have the same value and dignity that a white middle class life has. At the end of it all, I find myself prostrate before the Living God in awe of His Son who bore the sins of the world in His body. The innocent, true, and “Just One” died for the unjust that we may be brought to God!
Justice for #MikeBrown
Reconcilation in #Ferguson and as far as the curse of racism, division, and injustice is found…for the Glory of Jesus of Nazareth.