Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Anger on trial

The sermon in church on Sunday was from Matthew 5, part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus talks about anger. He seems to equate anger with murder. What Jesus is doing in this section of the SOM is upping the ante. You have heard… he says again and again as he goes through some of the Ten Commandments… but I tell you, and then he does tell us how we are breaking those commandments more easily than we thought. I say, he says, that if you are angry, if you insult, if you call someone a demeaning name it is just as serious as murder. Well, wait a minute, how can that be. We are angry sometimes, and we call someone an Idiot! sometimes and we talk about others disrespectfully sometimes and that IS not the same as murder! Right. And as the preacher helpfully explained the form of the word Jesus was using implied a continuing state of anger. No restraint. No powering down. An explosive anger that is out of control and does its damage. To the angered and those he is angry at.

I was thinking as the preacher was preaching about the verdict handed down in a Jacksonville court the day before. A jury could not decide whether a young man's death by gunshot was murder or committed in an act of self defense. The judge declared a mistrial. The young man was African-American as were the other three young men in the car parked outside a convenience store. They had stopped to buy gum.  Another car pulled up driven by a 47 year old white man who was on his way to a hotel with his fiancé after attending his son's wedding. As his fiancé got out of the car to go into the store to buy some wine he said he hated that "thug music", referring to the loud rap coming from the car next to him. While in the store his fiancé heard gunshots and when she came out the four young black men were speeding away in their car as her fiancé was continuing to fire at it, 12 shots in all. Three of the shots hit one 17 year old. He died. The man and his fiancé did not know that at the time although they heard about it on the news later.  They drove on to their hotel, ordered pizza, slept and drove to their southern Florida home the next day. The police showed up at their home the day after the shooting because a witness had written down their license plate number.

The preacher pointed out that anger is closely associated with fear, and unchecked, anger often leads to violence. He said, in order to justify our anger we often disrespect those who are the objects of our anger. Like Jesus said, we insult them, we call them Idiots or Thugs, or other words. In our minds they are less than we are and already at fault and their faults justify our anger. A sustained anger. An unrestrained anger. I hate that (their) thug music. People become thugs in our minds, or jerks, or other words but the point is they deserve our contempt, our anger.

The prejudice of the man in the car led to an escalating confrontation that resulted in the death of a young man. The man said he was afraid for his life. He claimed he saw a weapon in the young man's hand although no other witness saw one and the police said there was no evidence of any weapons in the young men's vehicle. It was like the man's fear of the people he thought they were had conjured up a weapon in his mind.

Jesus went on to say that we should do what we can to defuse anger, to curb it, to reign it in. Goes without saying we need to work on our fears, too, most of which are imagined rather than real. The preacher had some good suggestions for dealing with our anger. I was thinking how different things might have been if that man in the car with the loaded 9mm in his glove compartment could have heard this sermon. One young man might have lived to celebrate his 19th birthday on Sunday.