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Learning to transcend anger in an angry world

Our neighbor, George, recently commented that he seems to be seeing and hearing more angry people than he could ever remember. I agree. From rising accounts of road rage to angry passengers on the airlines to domestic violence we have seen anger increase to aggression and then, at times, to violence.

Even in our present presidential election debates we are experiencing no-holds-barred, scorched-earth campaigns. Is it possible that this type of campaign, when the final vote has been counted, will leave us with a very bitter divide among American people even greater than what now exists? A large number of Americans on both sides have put their faith in a candidate they feel will give them prosperity, security and make America great. Some are going to lose. I just hope it's not the nation we love. How will the losing side deal with their anger? How will the winning side handle their victory?

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Where does anger come from? Sometimes it comes from a righteous indignation where we feel that we need to stand up for justice in our society. For example, why should children go to bed hungry when there is plenty of food to feed all of God's people? Jesus showed that type of anger when he "cleansed the temple" (Luke 19:45) of people who would fleece the religious faithful of their hard-earned resources.

On the other hand there is a lot of negative anger found in our Holy Scriptures, from a jealous Cain killing his brother Abel over an offering to God (Genesis 4:3ff), to the paranoid Herod killing the innocent children in Bethlehem (Matthew 2), to the religious professionals plotting to kill Jesus out of jealously or fear (Matthew 26:3ff).

Where does anger or aggression come from? The Letter of James in the Christian New Testament offers some advice: "Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? ... You covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts" (NRSV 4:1, 4:2). The scary part of anger is that it often gives us the power to retaliate against someone or some group of people, thus causing even more problems.

Anger leading to aggression can come from a desire to achieve control over others or to help us feel more powerful in order to intimidate others. We have seen many church congregations torn apart due to the struggle over power and control. In studies it has been found that angry people often have come from angry families and anger as an answer to problems can be passed from generation to generation. Anger that leads to aggression that in turn leads to murder (like some forms of radical religion) needs to be stopped while at the same time we need to find solutions instead of simply retaliation. Sometimes personal or social needs that are unmet lead people not only to get frustrated and angry but also to try to find some way to show or demonstrate their outrage. This has been true of people who live in our cities who lack jobs, education and opportunity often because of race.

What are some of the solutions to anger?

We need to learn how to transcend anger. The Apostle Paul encourages us to be "agents of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18) and Jesus challenges us to be "peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9), not simply peace lovers who are part of the solution not part of the problem.

Let me offer some suggestions in regard to anger. Responding to anger with our own anger can often create more problems, so use your God-given reason to decide if this situation is worth creating more animosity. Try to understand why the other person is angry without being angry yourself. "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me" simply means that we work for or value peace more than we value anger or hatred. Seek some form of common ground where honest discussion can take place to build up rather than tear down. Remind yourself that you don't always need to retaliate (although you might want to). Draw upon your inner peace. Being indifferent to those who seem to irritate us can often help diffuse a bad situation. My neighbor George adds, "take a step back and breathe."

Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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