The Anger and Outrage

We’ve devoted space here on The Beard to the subject of outrage, to the increasing acceptance of wasted or misplaced emotion boiling over and making no tangible difference whatsoever. But since it’s still a major part of our modern social reality, and it seems like it’ll continue to be, there’s still something to be said when this outrage modifies, or even directs, the major events we witness.

I do my own share, of course. I like to believe it’s all righteous anger. In some cases, it is. I’m angry that Kim Davis is some twisted Christian anti-hero. I’m angry that I still get comments on my recent gun article that are tragically misinformed and, in some cases, so unintelligent that it’s legitimately scary. I’m angry that “all lives matter” is a thing. Still.

These, I like to believe, are examples of righteous anger, upset born from witnessing injustice toward and hatred for beings of worth. But I’m also guilty of indulging my own form of worthless outrage, outrage done for its own sake. I get riled up by what certain politicians say, even when I know they’re saying it to get a rise. Or maybe they actually believe the stupid thing they’re saying; either way, it’s predictable, boring even at this point, and it’s not something I should spend energy hating.[^1]

But this isn’t the real problem. I can parse out these moments of faux upset and make myself think carefully about why I’m mad when Mike Huckabee is a moron. He’s a moron; why be mad when he acts like it? The real issue is when my legitimate anger bleeds beyond the boundaries of righteousness and becomes a caricature of itself. Anger, in that situation, is the singular tool that I let take over and run the entire machine.

You can make progress that way, but it’s unsustainable. Emotionally, it’s draining. Intellectually, it’s unstable. Spiritually, it’s dangerous. Anger has to transition at some point. And really, it can’t be the initial driver anyway. Righteous anger has to arise from love first; it’s not righteous otherwise. Love for what matters is the origin for our rage when what matters is threatened. If we do not love, our reaction will be indifference. Really, that’s what makes faux outrage so terrible; it’s indifference masked as emotion, aimed at something to elicit personal gain. All this is to say that starting from a place of love is threatened by not returning to love.

What does that mean practically? It means that even the most righteous of causes can be corrupted by our outrage over harm to those causes, over ill-will others have for them. Instead, we must harness our outrage and employ it as a catalyst to spark the engine that sets us moving. If we do not, that spark can become a fire beyond our control. The righteousness of anger can only be marked by its fruits, by how we put it aside in favor of working for the betterment of who or what we felt anger for.

So I get to be angry that Kim Davis thinks that her brand of faith trumps the inclusive nature of God. I get to be angry that a bunch of people agree with her. That anger can spur me to think and act in ways that address the issue. But if I don’t let that anger recede back into the love for the humanity of others from which it comes, then I can’t live or act in ways that express that love. And if I’m not doing that, I’m no better than the crowd, waving cardboard crosses and rallying around their collective, beloved fear.

[^1]: I mean, I’m gonna do it though.

Encountering Homelessness

Check out the rest of Logan's series on friendship.

Working at Network Coffeehouse, the goal is to be friendly. Christians being friendly; that’s what Network is. That’s what we do.

Sounds pretty simple, but oddly this makes answering questions about what you do a little challenging. The never-ending question that follows after I’ve explained this is, “Do you have success getting people off the street?” or “What do you do to help people get off the street?” or “How many people get off the street there?”

People want to hear about goals and a narrative of meeting those goals. Numbers tell a surface-level story that is easily accessed, digested, and understood.[^1] Goals and mission statements are a narrative about what an organization will do. It’s a pitch. We then act within that story to conform to the pre-constructed narrative.

But Network is about encounter. Narrative—our attempt to construct meaning—only occurs after encounter has already taken place.[^2] John Hicks, the guy who founded Network, says, “We are friends with real-life poor people.” Friendship takes encountering another person and opening yourself up enough to be encountered by someone else.

The second part, opening your heart to another, is the really hard part. Ryan Taylor, the co-director of Network, has been saying for a few months that a major part of coming to Network as staff or a volunteer is encountering the beggar within you. When you serve the poor, especially at a place like Network where the distracting varnish of goals and pre-set narrative is nonexistent, you will encounter parts of yourself you otherwise try to ignore: racism, prejudice, anger, sadness, loss, loneliness. Every shift I run at Network I meet myself at my very best and my most callous, passionless worst—sometimes in the exact same interaction.

In a nutshell, I found myself saying this at a professional networking event last night. Let me tell you, people looked at me like I was a crazy person. This, too, reveals our poverty. Our unwillingness or inability to encounter a person beyond a narrow narrative constrained by success and failure is a kind of societal violence we participate in without even thinking about it. We minimize each other and ourselves when we fail to encounter each other fully.

Pay attention. It’s the only currency that matters.

  • [^1]: Kierkegaard calls this “glittering externality.”
  • [^2]: Narrative often (always?) functions as a way to gain power over our experiences or the experiences and actions of others.