Written by Don Walter
Minute with Don
Over the final months of 2016 we suffered through what was perhaps the most rancorous, divisive political season in recent memory. For the most part, there remains a mood of division and alienation across our nation—both in and out of politics.
The overriding feature of most political conversation has been a spirit of anger bordering on rage, and it has grown to near epidemic proportions.
My reading and observations over the years have taught me some things about anger. Generally it is rooted in fear, pain, and frustration. Today’s world affords abundant opportunities to generate such feelings. If nothing else, the swiftness of change, which outpaces our ability to adapt and cope, causes more than enough fear and frustration for most. Add to this the resulting sting that accompanies a sense of being left behind, excluded, or abandoned, and we have a fertile breeding ground for profound, systemic anger.
Workers can feel like the rules keep changing and the scoreboard is hidden. Hard work and loyalty don’t seem to matter as much as profits and dividends. Young people find themselves in debt for college degrees that don’t result in jobs with salaries sufficient to service their loans.
Human instinct seems to tell us that someone else is responsible for our problems, and history indicates that the prime target of such bitterness is often those who are different from us. These may be persons of another race, who don’t speak our language, worship differently (or not at all), or embrace other political beliefs. And with every new addition to this diversity, such feelings of resentment grow. Fear, pain, and frustration reach the saturation point, and intensify one’s feelings of anger.
Such a belief process, allowed to run unbridled, becomes a plague—a cultural autoimmune disease that assures mutual destruction.
So how is this the church’s problem? We preach and teach a lot about love. Surely, if the world around us would simply heed our message, this anger thing would go away. But maybe that’s the problem.
Author/educator Terry C. Muck tells of a letter written by a man who lived next door to a Christian with whom he had a casual friendship. The non-Christian’s wife died suddenly, and the bereaved man was devastated. This is part of a letter he later wrote:
“I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. And after the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I did not walk alone. My neighbor—afraid for me, I guess—stayed with me all night. He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally arose over the river; he came over to me and said, ‘Let’s go get some breakfast.’
“I go to church now. My neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.”1
If love were the inevitable outcome of religious experience, our Lord would not command His followers to do it. The true love that God calls us to is always an action, and more often than not it comes at a cost that requires a personal sacrifice of our time, energy, or ego. Such love is a powerful healing force that, as St. John said, “drives out fear” (I John 4:18 NIV).
In these days of continued bitterness, we as the Body of Christ can no longer afford not to love each other and those around us. The command to love is ultimately self-enforcing. Much like the speed limit sign on an icy mountain road—we ignore it at our own peril.
We can continue to let unfettered anger rule and finally destroy us, or we can renew our commitment to love one another. We who follow Christ have been presented with a tremendous opportunity. We can choose to treat this spirit of disharmony as someone else’s problem, or we can walk with our neighbors beside the river, and in so doing be what Christ has called us to be—His presence in a world seriously in need of His love.
Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefit USA for the Church of the Nazarene.
1Terry C. Muck, Those Other Religions in Your Neighborhood (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 150–51.