This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Likely a rhetorical question for the psalmist but I want to let that question stand for a moment. I can clearly remember a time when I was at my grandma’s apartment probably in junior high or younger. A few of my relatives were together and we were watching TV. As we flipped through channels we came across Much Music or MTV and there was music video for some metal band like Slayer. It was heavy, hard music and the video was of a large group of people in a cage and they were raging within it; shaking, rocking the cage as the music played. I can remember my uncle saying something like, “See the rebellion of this generation.” What he did not do was ask why were they raging, against what or who were they raging? This is not a question to justify actions because there is little we can do well when gripped by anger but the question should give us pause and help us to think of the internal and external environment that nurtures anger. John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath can be read at least in part as a meditation on the origins and complexities of anger. The story begins in Oklahoma at the start of the Great Depression. The Joad family attempts to hold on to their farm but as conditions worsen they become allured to the promise of land and work in California. As they travel across the American southwest towards California they begin to see how deep and widespread the hardships are for other Americans. Then as they draw closer to the promised land of California some of the family members begin to wonder whether there will be enough work for everyone. And sure enough arriving in California they are greeted by multitudes, waves of other families who were hoping for work and a new life. Steinbeck presents the mounting desperation of those who are scrambling for any type of work they can find. He describes the wealthy farms and businesses who were able to profit off of these people. He paints a picture of the hostility that the locals showed towards these foreigners who threaten to take their jobs. These migrant people were pressed on all sides. The locals fought the migrants out of fear and anger for losing what little they had. The migrants fought to under bid each other to secure what little work there was. Steinbeck writes, “The roads were crowded with men ravenous for work, murderous for work. And the companies, the banks worked at their own doom and they did not know it. The fields were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads. . . . The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line. And money that might have gone to wages went for gas, for guns, for agents and spies, for blacklists, for drilling. On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. And the anger began to ferment.” More recently Brian McLaren describes an interview with a man from South Africa who is lamenting the ongoing and relentless economic inequalities in his country. He says in the conversation with McLaren, “I was home the other night after you spoke and picked up Das Kapital by Marx. I hadn't read it in over twenty years. Your lecture made me realize that we have to think about economics again. Marx's prescription was faulty, but at least he diagnosed a problem: the exploited and excluded poor won't abide their marginalization forever. We escaped a bloody revolution in 1994 when we peacefully dismantled apartheid. But if we can't dismantle the inequity of our current economic system, we will have an explosion of violence that nobody can imagine. The
sheets will run red. I feel it. I feel it when I walk in the slums. Its like a volcano, ready to explode - the anger of the poor, the hopelessness of the poor.” And now this past week we heard of the insurance giant AIG who received billions in government bailout money and then turned around gave almost millions of dollars in additional bonuses to the employees responsible for their financial downfall. With great justification the U.S. population has reacted with outrage. Many of the AIG employees now live with personal security guards for fear of what the people’s anger has threatened to unleash. We all share this anger to some degree. On perhaps the most immature level I felt it when Chantal and I were visiting my parents in Arizona. We went out for supper one night and I saw big shiny pick-up truck with all sorts of chrome additions and it was parked diagonally taking up three parking spots so that no one could park next to it. This sight made me angry. This gesture was rude, arrogant, and selfish. Much of the anger in our lives is actually quite understandable. I am not interested in trying to label some anger as righteous and other anger as personal. I think most feelings of anger work on a continuum from anger motivated by compassion and justice to anger motivated by fear and envy. It is not one or the other but someplace along that line. I am also not so much interested in us getting rid of anger because I think that many of us particularly in the Mennonite church actually express too little anger perhaps because of anger’s association with violence. Anger is not violence and anger is not a sin. The Psalmist clearly defines that for us saying that in your anger do not sin. Much of the Psalms and many parts of the Bible include expressions of anger. So far I have probably not told or helped you much. Anger still remains with us as a harmful presence in marriages, families, work places and within ourselves. We still find ourselves somewhere between having anger influence how we view people (man that guys is lazy) and make decisions (that woman doesn’t deserve a break) or being consumed by it when all we see is red and destruction seems to lie in its wake. Biblically and theologically I believe we are called not to repress our anger but to express it in the appropriate context. It is interesting to note that the nations who rage in the psalm we read speak about breaking chains and throwing off shackles. What the nations seem to want is liberation, freedom. But attaining freedom is a tricky task. The psalmist tells us that the nations rage and conspire so that they might stand alone, independently, freely. They desire to break any and all chains. In the 1990s there was a popular band called Rage Against the Machine and their lyrics sought to throw off anything that seemed to confine our society. We need to ask these expressions to what end is their anger directed. There still seems to exist a popular illusion that it is possible to live apart from any systems, structures, orders. But this is an illusion. People are beginning to see that bands like Rage Against the Machine and other forms of protest are doing very little to really break structures of inequality. Rage Against the Machine denounces corporate greed and yet remains marketed within that system. Some who have been involved with protests say that there is always an agenda behind every protest; that there is attempt towards grasping power behind every attempt to overthrow power. This does not make the concerns of these groups invalid rather we need to ask how anger can be expressed meaningfully so that change is possible. From the rage and independence of the nations our passage this morning then moves quickly from the earth to the heavens stating that the one enthroned above laughs.
The Psalmist moves completely out of the order of the world and into a heavenly order. The Lord has anointed one who rules over all the earth. The response of this anointed one is to laugh and also . . . to be angry. The one who is different than, other than the ordering of the world mocks the futility of the nations’ rage but is also angry at the injustice of it, at the profanity that it has become. And what is the response of God’s anger? To what end is it directed? The following line tells us is that the anointed one is actually the son of God. It is the anointed one, the messiah, who will bring freedom. But how will freedom be established? In the most disturbing lines of the Psalm we read that the anointed one will break the nations with a rod of iron and dash them to pieces like pottery. The anger and rage released for this world’s purposes must be broken. We might wonder if the anger that the West showed towards the threat of terrorists was revisited itself upon us in our current crisis. We attempted preserve and defend what we thought was the way of freedom while in fact we were defending a system where a few had the power to exploit, even terrorize, many. There is a place for anger in our world but it must be severed from selfishness, envy, fear or vengeance. If there is to be such a thing as righteous anger it must flow from one place and that is worship. Time again the psalmist begins in anger, Lord why are you so far away!? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble!? How long will you forget me!? You have shaken the land and torn it up . . . now mend it! And perhaps most famously from Psalm 22 My God, my God why have you forsaken!? This anger is not connected first with action or response it is connected to prayer it is absorbed into worship. In worship we find out that perhaps our anger also angers God and so leads us to change and action or perhaps we find out that our anger is appropriate and that we need to be patient for it to pass or we may find out that our anger is in fact selfish and needs to be overcome. The psalmist begins this process by being honest with God. In the presence of God there is no hiding what you think and feel and so you would serve yourself well by expressing honestly any anger you feel. The psalmist then sets his anger in a larger context. He speaks of the faith of his ancestors. He acknowledges his sin and weaknesses. He pleads for God to deliver him. He affirms the nature of God. They who seek the Lord will praise him. And the psalmist even hints at times that this life as it is will not be the end. The one who sits enthroned in heaven will one day finally break the order of this world and establish eternally God’s Kingdom. In this way anger becomes more spacious, less anxious and consuming and holy patience is allowed to work on our hearts. We allow anger to participate in God’s order until we find that indeed we are not angry anymore but filled, passionate, spirited to work in love. This is the sort of transformation that Tom Joad experiences in The Grapes of Wrath. The family’s and indeed the country’s situation spirals downward throughout the novel. Tensions and anger increase as work and pay decrease. The Joad family’s friend Casy, an old preacher, who travelled with them started to organize some workers to try and strike so that they can hold out for a liveable wage. Farm owners caught wind of this and begin to hunt those organizing strikes. One night Tom finds Casy who is trying lead
a group of migrant workers in a strike. A group of men come and surround them and eventually kill Casy. Tom losses control of himself becomes enraged and kills one of those men in return. The pure reality of his anger that culminated in that moment lashed out in death against that man. In fear of the trouble that he would bring to his family Tom goes into hiding. His family is still able to bring him food but he no longer interacts with the outside world, the world structured in anger and violence. Tom’s hiding spot acts like a monk’s cell as he is forced into a type of reflective patience thinking about what is going on around him. As he says later to his mother, “you get thinkin’ a lot when you ain’t movin’ aourn.” Towards the end of the book Tom’s mother brings him some food and she is invited into his small den. Tom begins to articulate to her a vision of how the people could restore their quality of life and work together again. Tom’s mother warns him that this will be dangerous and he might end up like Casy did. Tom does not claim to know all the details of what should unfold but knows that his life needs to be offered in the service of another order. The words and actions of the unorthodox preacher Casy and the circumstances of the world around him began to form a type of litany in the den where he stayed. He knew that his life was now in the order of the people not of power. His anger was transformed into liturgy, a higher ordering. In the climax of the conversation Tom’s mother is concerned about him going off on his own. She asks how she will know whether he is okay or not, alive or dead. Tom laughs uneasily and says, “Well, maybe its like Casy says, a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big on – an’ then – ” Then what, Tom’s mother asks. “Then it don’ matter. Then I’ll be aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be ever’where – wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be the way guys yell when they’re mad an – I’ll be the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build – why, I’ll be there.” Tom’s anger was transformed so that his life now became a part of a new order. This is the vision of Psalm 2. There is an anointed one of God, a child of God, already enthroned in this new world. This Kingdom is achieved not through the immature or violent outburst of anger but through entering into communion with God and neighbour. So why do the nations rage? We do we rage? Our anger can lead us to control and violence. Instead, in our anger we should not sin. Like Tom may we find ourselves drawn or even forced outside the world that fuels our anger so that in patience God would transform us to be love in the midst of those things we once hated. That we might be peace in the midst of all that rages. That the anointed one of God would be rule in our hearts and to the end of the earth. Amen.
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