The events in Connecticut today made me think about anger and its consequences. I posted my thoughts on my blog, martythurber.com, and I’ll post some here as well.
After watching the news about the tragedy in Connecticut, I took some time to think about why this senseless act impacted my household so many miles away from the Newtown community. Earlier this week, there was a shooting in a mall in Oregon. I heard about it, thought about it, and went on. It barely made a dent in my week. But tonight, my emotions are much more involved in the sad drama of this day.
Maybe it’s because it was a large group of sweet, totally innocent kids. And what did the adults do to deserve anything like this? Nothing, of course. There are dozens of reasons why this is so tragic and painful. The more I think about it, the more I think about my responsibility in all this. I had nothing directly to do with the events today. No more than you. We are all non-involved with this story, it seems. And yet we still feel the pain as if we are somehow involved.
Feeling this way makes me search my heart. What will it will take to make things better? I cry out for the Lord to return soon. That is the ultimate answer. His return promises an end to all kinds of savagery. Yet, we are still here—in a world that cries out for us to do something, improve something, stand up for something.
All around the country, people are asking similar questions. People should ask the questions, face the facts, make the changes. But what about me personally? What can I do? After more than 30 years in ministry, one thing keeps coming back to me: teach others how to properly deal with their anger without sinning. The most misunderstood, often denied, and fantastically abused emotion is anger. I often say it is one letter removed from danger (just put a d in front of it).
There are reports that this young man was emotionless in his violence. I don’t believe that. He may have kept his emotions hidden, but they propelled him nonetheless. Most of us can’t imagine becoming anywhere near as angry as this young man must have been. But we do experience anger, and we do have methods for dissipating it. Some methods are healthy and productive, but some are not. It is the discussion of anger, its management and dissipation, that interests me most. Why are so many people angry? Why do they toss it out at others like hand grenades? Can we help people manage their anger?
Do we have the tools and the courage to help people face this emotion?
Are we willing to take the risks involved to work with angry people—not judging them but redeeming them?
When I became a pastor, I was unprepared for the amount of anger I would see in the church community and eventually in myself. It was a shock to find religious people capable of so much anger. It forced me to face the potential for anger in my own heart. As the mask of religiousness fell away and in my ministry the realities of broken lives opened up to me, I became convinced that we desperately need honest conversations about how we really feel and who we really are.
We get angry for lots of reasons—some good, some not. But what made us angry in the first place? And what will we do with it? Those are the questions that must be asked. The answers to those questions are closer to the heart of what will make our communities better places. What can we do? We can examine and take responsibility for our own hearts. We can realize that how we handle our emotions affects others. And learning to handle them well can make a huge difference in others. And from there, we might just be the person who prevents such tragedies as took place today. Most likely we will never know that we had such an influence. Life is like that. But that is how we can be responsible. We can respond. We are able to respond.
We are responsible—to live a kind life, to be honest with our emotions and to take them to God, asking Him to guide us in how to use our emotions for a better world here and now, then and there.
As we long for Jesus to come back, we can patiently spread the news of a loving God and a devoted friend in Christ. We can do it in word. We must do it in word. But we must do it in action as well. I pray that we will act with great Christlikeness, knowing that this very thing will make a difference as nothing else can. There are too many clenched fists in the world. May we be the open hands, the embracing arms, the ones most willing to make a difference, no matter how small, how invisible. It is the only thing I believe will make a difference on days like today.