St Bride's: Sermons

Be Angry!

Be Angry!

Traian Dorz

Anger is a very interesting human emotion - and an emotion that I suspect most of us, from childhood, were taught to regard as A Bad Thing. Certainly, when I was growing up, the classic response to the fury of a raging toddler was, "Temper, temper!"

And it is certainly the case that anger can be both destructive and damaging in its effects. Many years ago I worked under a senior clergy colleague who had no control over his temper whatsoever. Indeed his complete inability to manage his anger caused so much damage that I ended up spending a good deal of my time visiting its victims in his wake, in an attempt to repair the appalling havoc and hurt that he caused. Whenever the mood took him, and at the slightest provocation, he would just let rip - and whichever poor soul happened to be within firing range would get it with both barrels.

Now that was bad enough in itself; but what was even worse was hearing him justify his behaviour by citing a book he had read that was all about how important it was to express one's anger. He would quote it enthusiastically, oblivious to the fact that he was systematically disabling, and destroying the self-confidence, of a number of the people around him. Because from his point of view, if he felt better after a jolly good rant, that was justification enough for his conduct - and if other people found his behaviour difficult, that must be their problem and not his.

Anger can be incredibly destructive. And when the anger expressed is disproportionate in its degree, or irrational in its basis, that is usually a sure sign that the true reason for the outburst is not in fact the particular incident that triggered it (which might have been quite trivial) - but something much deeper that is going on under the surface. And when you find yourself on the receiving end of that kind of anger, it can be very hard to know how to deal with it. And alongside that, feelings of anger and feelings of hurt can sometimes get very tangled up. I have known individuals who express their hurt by being angry, and those who express their anger by being hurt. It all depends upon which of the two we find it easier to access. But that kind of confusion can make life quite complicated at times.

And anger can be self-destructive, as well as damaging to others. Within Buddhist tradition, the Buddha is quoted as having said: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a red hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

But I want to suggest to you this morning that anger is by no means always a bad thing. Indeed, our capacity to experience anger is closely linked to our ability to feel anything at all at a deep level. It may seem like stating the glaringly obvious, but we do not get angry about things that do not matter to us. On the contrary, if we feel angry about something, then that is a very clear signal that there is something going on in the situation that is of immense importance to us.

Think about an occasion on which you have felt really angry. Perhaps it was when you saw someone you loved, or someone who was vulnerable, treated unfairly or unjustly - in which case, your anger was a by-product of your love, and concern for that human being. Or because something that you know to be of great value is being put at risk - in which case, perhaps others need to be alerted to a truth that they have previously failed to recognise. Or perhaps it was because you yourself felt misunderstood, or misrepresented - in which case that may have plugged into similar experiences you have had in the past, alerting you to the fact that you are still carrying with you a burden of resentment, or isolation, or lack of self-worth, which you really do need to attend to. Or most challenging of all, perhaps the reason for your anger is because someone has spotted a truth about you that you find very uncomfortable, and do your best to keep hidden, even from yourself.

If you ever find yourself experiencing anger - particularly if it is extreme or disproportionate, it is always worth taking a moment to ask yourself why it is that this issue matters so very much to you. What is really going on?

Because the really interesting thing about anger is that when channelled appropriately, it has the potential to become a positive rather than a destructive force. Because anger can fire people into action. Anger can get things done. Anger can inspire ordinary human beings, who would otherwise be perfectly content with their quiet and comfortable existences, to get out there and do something, simply because something has to be done. It had the power to inspire Bob Geldof to raise millions for starving Africans through Live Aid; it had the power to inspire one of my college contemporaries, when she was working overseas, to transform the terrible way in which hospital patients suffering from mental illness were being treated in that country. She was so appalled by what she saw that she stormed her way into the office of the Head of State, demanded to know what he was going to do about it - and persisted until he took action.

Which is why the passage from Ephesians that we heard as our second reading this morning gets it absolutely right when it states something that might otherwise seem rather strange and perplexing: 'Be angry - Be angry! - but do not sin!' In other words, anger in and of itself is not the problem. A feeling of anger is simply a sign that something important is going on, which has engaged us powerfully and emotionally. What matters is what we choose to do with it. Do we respond with a self-indulgent and ultimately self-defeating tirade of verbal, or even physical violence, which may give us a fleeting moment of satisfaction, but which leaves nothing but devastation in its wake? Or are we able to channel that emotional energy constructively and creatively, to change that situation, or relationship, or institution, in a positive way? 'Be angry - but do not sin.'

That is, of course, much more easily said than done. But we must always remember that, simply by accepting that our Christian discipleship requires that of us - we have already made a start on that journey.

Traian Dorz was a Rumanian Orthodox evangelist who was the victim of terrible persecution for his Christian faith during the Communist era, and who was kept under house arrest for many years. He was renowned for his courage, but also for his honesty. During one of his darkest hours, he wrote this:

I have not yet reached the shore where there is no hatred;
the clouds of unjust struggles have not yet passed.
The scars of wounds endured have not yet closed;
warm trust in man lies totally dead.
From the springs of forgetting I have not drunk wisdom;
weary memories still poison me.
From the glades of forgiveness I am still distant;
from the sanctuary of refuge I am a great way separated.
Lord, bring me the clear dawn of other days;
May all painful shadows depart from me.
Let me look with tender emotion upon the scars of my wounds,
and with meek goodness upon the faces of my enemies.
Bring me the dawn whilst the way is so long,
but do not hinder my striving until I reach the shore.

Be angry - but do not sin!

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