Tuesday, October 09, 2018

When Anger and Fear Run the Show

I have had my mind changed so many times in my life that I have lost count. And most of those times, my mind was changed by someone dropping a truth bomb that opened my eyes to a new way of looking at things.

I remember one such conversation, must have been twenty or twenty-five years ago, with a good friend who also happened to be very conservative. He taught me something I've never forgotten.

I told him, "I don't understand how you can be a conservative Republican and also a Christian."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, I believe followers of Jesus are supposed to work for the common good, help people in need, feed the hungry and all that. So I don't see how you can vote for politicians who don't want to do those things."

"Okay, I see what you're saying," he replied. "But actually I also believe followers of Jesus are supposed to help those in need, feed the hungry and all that. Yes. I'm with you."

And here he paused and gave me a look that let me know he was about to truth-bomb me. I braced for impact.

"I just don't think it's the government's job to do that. See, I believe that job is done most effectively by individuals, churches, and non-profits. And that's why I'm a 'smaller government' guy, actually. If the government is smaller, we have lower taxes, and if we have lower taxes, it frees up more of my money to use in order to help people in need more effectively."

And here I remember the distinct feeling of understanding something I had actually never thought about before. It was a pretty cool feeling, to be honest. I truly understood my friend's perspective, and could appreciate how he saw things.

We both wanted to work for "the common good." The only point of disagreement was how much of a role the government should play in doing that work. He was conservative, which means he thought that role should be smaller, whereas I was a progressive, which means I thought the role should be more significant. And so we could actually have a rational and respectful conversation about where along the spectrum of governmental involvement would be best for our community, our state, our nation.

Now, I share the story of that conversation in order to say this: We're not there any more.

If we persist in viewing politics as an ongoing conversation about how much government involvement is good for the people of our communities, our states, our nation, then we are kidding ourselves. That's not what we are doing any more.

The foundational political spectrum used to be from right to left, from conservative to progressive. It isn't that these days. Far from it.

The foundational political spectrum is from fear and anger on one end to rationality and respect on the other. And just lately it feels like the "fear and anger" end of the scale is leaning dangerously.

Fear and anger are powerful, and spread easily. There is a way in which fear and anger can be good things, but the movie "Inside Out" taught us nothing if not what a disaster it is when fear and anger are running the show. And is there any doubt that fear and anger are running the show these days?

Fear and anger manifest in malicious, jeering tirades in public.
Fear and anger manifest in horrific insults hurled thoughtlessly at others.
Fear and anger manifest in broken friendships and family members who no longer speak to one another.
Fear and anger manifest in a zero sum game of "us" and "them" thinking, in which there are clear winners and losers and as long as you are a winner then everything is fine.
Fear and anger are being modeled daily for us by our elected leaders in appalling, immature displays.

And ultimately fear and anger run out of ways to manifest that are not physically violent, and reach a tipping point. How close are we?

And we are all being infected by it. As a pastor, I sense that people are generally exhausted. So much energy is being consumed by the fear and anger all around us that it leaves nothing for anything else. Even the really good stuff that we know is really good and we ought to be doing but just don't have the mental, spiritual, or physical energy to do it.

This is not intended as a partisan post. No one has exclusive access to fear and anger in this bizarre season we live in. I hope nobody reads it from one "side" or another. I am legitimately worried that we are headed somewhere none of us want to be, and nobody has the energy to stop it.

With a truth bomb of his own, Abraham Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

It is to this day one of the most amazing political speeches in history. I still believe Lincoln's ideas are possible, in spite of everything. "Yes. Yes I'm sure I do," he told himself encouragingly.

There is an antidote to the infection. A sure-fire cure for what ails us. And we all know what it includes:

Honesty. Integrity. Compassion. Humility. Rationality. Respect. Grace. Love.

May God grant us the energy to resist the anger and the fear and advocate instead for these.

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