This Sunday we light the Second Advent candle, that of peace. And peace is always contextual, isn’t it? The stolid German household of my youth contrasted with my friend’s effusive Italian home. “Why do you all shout at each other?” I once asked him. “What? We are not shouting.”
In contrast to the peace we seek, the peace that passes all understanding, the peace of Christ, our surrounding culture has opted for the right to be outraged as a signature emotion of today. Doug McPheters shared a fine article on this from the WSJ by Lance Morrow, formerly of Time.
“A healthy society reserves its outrage for special occasions: Pearl Harbor, say, or the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four girls. But in the 21st century, special occasions –like mass shootings and other random eruptions of the id—occur regularly. They have turned outrage into a ragged, all-purpose national reflex, with the side effects of disgust and despair.”
And we can’t say, “Well, if it wasn’t only for those people…” because both the left and the right practice the same lack of proportionality. Prevailing tribalisms render discussion and dialogue into shooting from the hip. Then the rise of social media makes outrage profitable because the spectacle of an endless public brawl attracts people. That is, it attracts first, before it repels us.
Morrow helpfully writes, “Cable news draws pictures in crayons, in bold primary colors that turn politics into cartoons….Outrage is reductive, easy to understand. It is an idiom of childhood –a throwback even to the terrible twos.” We get angry because life isn’t simple. Oh, my, really?
The older I get, the more I reserve outrage and anger for the rarest occasions. This despite me persuading myself my being mad is “righteous indignation” and “they have it coming.” We can feast on anger, and more of us do so over less than I can recall at any point in my lifetime. But the more we feast on anger’s satisfactions, the more likely we become a skeleton at that feast.
Angry white men, feeling like victims, elect angry political leaders to vent on their behalf rather than creating policy or teaching virtues like public service. Angry women react to the unshaven degrading beastliness that is Harvey Weinstein and all men are suspected of “toxic masculinity.”
I like this: “Outrage seems strenuous, but in truth it is a lazy habit—fatuous, spontaneous, and naïve. Organizing a lynch mob is easier–with a sure, immediate and dramatic reward—than holding a fair trial…Outrage presents itself as an assertion of conscience but in practice it mostly bypasses conscience and judgment, going straight to self-righteous rage, by way of self-pity.”
It can feel like society is exhausting itself, wasting its passion on tantrums. We hope to offer an alternative at church. Not that we never get mad. We do sometimes. But we have also bypassed the chance to get and stay angry over recent events. That is what I mean when I tell others about the dignity I see in you. It first attracted me here and keeps me here today: the church practicing a disciplined peace. We reserve outrage for when it is appropriate. We’ll test that appropriate moment by remaining accountable to each other to discern it together as one.