Fear is the pathway to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda, addressing young Anakin Skywalker, who later becomes Darth Vader.
Like the stealthiness of a tornado in the night, each additional word that came out of his mouth did so with significantly increased volume and passion. What moments before was a healthy, robust discussion somehow hit a nerve with this participant such that now he was yelling at all those gathered. And as is often the case, others became defensive and began to refute the accusations at the same decibel and with matched passion.
In describing this experience to a wise mentor she replied, “Anger seems to be all the rage these days!” That made me both laugh and wonder about how anger became such a quick default position for so many of us.
Anger of course is a part of the human condition. Yet it is also clear there are healthy and unhealthy ways of expressing anger. For example Paul writing to the Ephesians instructs, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26.) An interesting jux position between anger and sin. The classic definition of sin – in a word – is separation. As such Paul seems to be suggesting that anger is appropriate but not if it causes a severing of relationships. As he goes on, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4: 31-32)
Theologian Richard Rohr suggests, “Welcome the anger. It’s hard to do, but for some reason, when we name it, feel it, and welcome it, transformation can begin.” (Seven Pathways To Wisdom) Rohr clearly sees a value in anger, but with the stated rationale that the expression of anger is to lead to greater transformation. Healthy anger, echoing Paul, is not expressed to create division but rather to bring forth real change for all.
The reality is anger is not the issue. Anger is a natural human emotion. The issue is how anger is being manifested. If anger is being reactively expressed in a demeaning, dismissive, destructive, weaponizing manner it is not healthy. On the other hand, if as we read in the letter from James, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:18) then there is a much higher possibility that anger will be non-reactionary and more likely to bring forth transformation.
There is no shortage of things in our lives and in the world that frankly warrant our anger. May we find ways to express our anger not with rage, but rather with a desire for real change. As a portion of a favorite blessing of the Franciscans offers, “May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of all people that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.”