Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
– Ephesians 4:28b
On February 26, 2023, I attended church.
The only one masked, the service was at a neighborhood Baptist church I had attended several years ago. A relatively humble structure, I was looking forward to basking that Sunday morning in the warm glow of the high yellow glass windows that lined the sanctuary. They were gone.
How close is the anger-hate connection? When Jesus overturned the moneychanger tables in the temple he was full of righteous indignation; a holy anger, if you will, anger at the sacrilege he hated to see take place there. Righteous anger and hatred of evil. They go together. When do they separate or go their own ways, or would that be never? What about the evil in anger?
Not being from the South, here I raise my voice, and gentile Georgians think it’s anger; but it’s not, it’s drama. Personally, I’m not prone to anger, but thinking back to when I last might have been angry, even mildly. It was about a month ago, waiting in a Greek restaurant. But I wasn’t angry, I was irate. I told the clerk that I no longer wanted the order, that I wanted my money back, and that I was irate. She did her best to placate things, and I thanked her calmly and left.
When I was a young man, I worked one brief season at Robinsons in Beverly Hills. I remember trying to calm down a hysterical woman returning something at the register. My manager came up to me and said, She’s irate, I’ll handle it. He then worked his guest service magic while I was left to ponder the higher level of interaction that was underway due to that single word: irate.
Of course, irate isn’t just angry, it’s very angry. As so, it calls for special measures. Ironically, irate people are upset that they have been driven to the point of ire. In other words, they may not have been angry in any sense when they walked in the door; quite conversely, I was very pleasant when I was in the restaurant. My favorite food, Mediterranean, a rather intellectual chat with a man who was likely a returned soldier as he knew Serbia well enough to comment on its cuisine, and an elderly man who chatted with me about why I had an SLR camera around my neck, he and his wife were curious. I was far from irate or even mildly angry. What happened?
There was no one ahead of me when I ordered. I was feeling good enough to tip the cashier over $3 for an order under $20. All she had to do was ring me up. Then the madness started.
A cougher came in. I was masked and rather sedentary. He was masked and all over the place. Coughing on everything and around everyone. Not a gentle cough, but a deep, throaty, I’m-carrying-something-and-it-won’t-let-go kind of cough. Incessant. He was sick. I tried standing off to one side, he took that as a challenge and weaseled his way around to me eventually. Meanwhile, no food. He ordered boxes of pastries, was tended to hand and foot, coughing and ordering, and being bagged and rung up. While I waited. And waited. Well over twenty minutes? Ordered when there was no one there. No word on it. Nothing. Invisible. That is, until irate.
I told the cashier I changed my mind. She had to call her boss to walk her through how to return a purchase. The cougher roamed and did his thing. But suddenly pleasing me became the main activity, if for no other reason than to get me out. I didn’t create a scene. Just emphatically told the cashier that I was irate, in need of instant resolution. After some spinning wheels and phone commands, it came. I left, vowed to never return, it was that awful an experience. And I won’t.
And yes, there was hate. I didn’t hate the cashier or the cooks who bungled the order. I wish I could say that I only hated the dread experience. But that would be lying. I hated the cougher. I hated the power he had over the situation that turned my pleasant afternoon into a nightmare. I hated the insolence he had to move about freely, masked, as if the world would just have to endure. I hated his sneakiness, his way of ensuring he connected with everyone despising him. Because he knew what he was doing. He was stirring a pot. Pushing all the buttons. However one might phrase it, he was being evil. Deliberately. Possessively. I hated him. His very being.
Was I hating evil? Not that it ever came to mind. It isn’t even until now as I write these passages that I have given thought to hating someone. I’m a lover, not a hater. Yet, there I was, hating the loss of a tasty meal I had my hopes on, all the wasted time I had spent there waiting to no avail, and that I had been driven to ire. It was wrong for me to hate someone because they provoked me to anger. God wants to show me that they are not the problem, I am, despite their behavior. He died for that cougher. I’m to strive to love him in spite of his rebellious nature.
I don’t take lightly to anger creeping into my life. It comes, as it must to us all. But, being of Irish and Italian descent, I have had to work in my life to ensure anger takes its rightful place, that being not over me. It has worked, with the grace of God. It seems, once you recognize it, and the Word of God that says to keep it at bay, obedience leads to habit, which leads to lifestyle. Nonetheless, there is the root of it. I hated him for making me irate, causing me to hate myself for letting anger creep in the way it did and causing me to adjust my behavior. Yet, staying calm and composed to protect myself. I was able to walk away from my anger moment. What about perpetual anger?
The pastor is a young man, quite a pleasure to be around, bright and erudite. He wants to do the right thing. He plays the drums for the worship team, then gives a sermon. His style is conversational, open, friendly, but firm. The congregation lets out a subdued, occasional amen or two here or there over the course of at least an hour. There are less than 40 people spread throughout. He gets an amen out of me when he makes a reference to contemporary idolatries. But there’s one pivotal moment in his discourse that jumped out at me that afternoon.
Not leaning political, or bashing any specific group, somewhere in the middle of the sermon, the pastor makes a definitive reinforcing statement connected to the need to sustain, for winning a culture war. Then, and only then, a brief series of loud connected grunts and groans and amens. None before that moment, none thereafter. I wondered what had happened at that moment. And then I realized.
The message fed the church’s anger. Finally. It was the Fox News moment they were all paying for. It was why they were in church, in this particular church. They didn’t need it all the time. They just needed that one swift Sunday kick at The Other to reassure themselves that their anger is justified. Hey, it’s fed by the pastor. And all Hell break loose if these warriors weren’t going to go back to their televisions thankful for the angry opportunity to worship a God of culture wars on Sunday. Despite the fact that Jesus embraced his God-given culture, and expects us to do the same.