Righteous Anger: Cymbal or Symbol

We are half way through March, and I can’t remember a day this year that I have not have read about another shooting in Columbus every time I open the local newspaper or turn on the local news.  Gun violence in upscale malls and communities of color, hate crimes against my sisters and brothers who are Asian Americans,  the pain of illness and aging my family members are going through!  I’m mad and I don’t know what to do with my anger.

The violence became more personal this morning when a beloved Asian American sister and friend invited our church staff to a prayer vigil tomorrow to pray for an end to the fear and violence against Asian Americans.  And yes I am angry at Donald Trump and those who cannot see or refuse to see the harm they are doing.   I know I need to love them and forgive them, but this crap lies squarely at Trump’s feet for his racist speeches about the pandemic and China.  Forgive 70 x 7?  He’s gone way over that total years ago, and I feel helpless about letting that anger eat at me!

But I don’t know what to do with the anger that would be constructive.  I want the temple-table turning-over Jesus right now, not the “love your enemies” one. And yet that same Jesus says “put away your swords” to those who would protect him, who forgives his executioners and their ignorance.  It’s too much.  I can’t love like that, and I’m ashamed to admit it.  If I cannot be part of the solution I am part of the problem.  If I can’t confess my white privilege and witness against the systemic racism in our country “I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13) instead of a symbol for love and justice.

I’m so longing for Easter but know we are a long way from the empty tomb, and the path that leads there goes through Gethsemane and the place of the skull.  Isn’t there a short cut, a way around the passion and suffering, a way to avoid the mess and the command to take up a cross and follow Jesus?

I know the answer to that question.  So I just keep praying to the source of all being to “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days1” and for the faith and strength

“To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the un-rightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star.2

  1. “The Impossible Dream,” Mitch Leigh and Joe Darian
  2. “God of Grace and God of Glory,” Harry Emerson Fosdick

Grounded Guerrillas of Grace

“To wed guerrilla with grace suggests that the truer cause is God’s kingdom. Since the ‘principalities and powers’ are never completely ‘out there,’ but also stomp and rumble around ‘within,’ a significant piece of the life to be reclaimed or liberated is the prayer himself or herself. In an unavoidable way the struggle begins—and begins again and again and again—with choosing sides. Choose one side and you’re a conformist; choose another and you’re a guerrilla!”
You may be surprised to know that those words were not written about the current struggle for the soul of our nation, and yet they seem as fresh as new mown hay on this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday 2020. I had not read those words for over 30 years, and reconnecting with them recently is like embracing an old friend. They are from a book of prayers entitled “Guerrillas of Grace” by Rev. Ted Loder and were published in 1981. A friend blessed me with a new copy of the book this week and as soon as I opened it I knew it was a gift from God.

My soul is weary with despair over worldly and personal concerns to the point that I am questioning the foundations of my faith again. I’ve been down that road before, and Loder’s “old” book reminded me again that while much has changed in the last 40 years, the struggle with evil in its multitude of forms is still the same as it was for Amos, Jesus, Paul, Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Dr. King. As it was in the first century Roman Empire these words from Ephesians 6 still ring true in the 21st century” “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the world rulers of this present darkness…”

Even before I began rereading Loder’s book I was reminded of a song that inspired my meek guerrillaness back in the decade that Loder was compiling these prayers. I remember preaching a sermon in those days on the David and Goliath story, one that I have been drawn too as one who has always been of very small stature. I’ve since distanced myself from it because of its reliance on violence to resolve conflict, but all that aside the song it led me too was one that says:

“To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lay peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To fight the unbeatable foe
To reach the unreachable star.” (“The Impossible Dream,” by Joe Darion and Mitchell Leigh)

I have certainly not lived up to that impossible dream, and I understand that none of us will ever fully conquer the principalities and powers of evil without or within ourselves in this life. That’s why we will always need guerrillas of grace to journey with us and share the power that strengthens hearts and minds arms that are too weary of the world’s woes with prayer that is in Loder’s words attentive, open, imaginative/playful, intentional, personal and corporate.

As one who lives with ambivalence as a staple of my existence I am challenged by Loder’s statement that “Ambivalence generates resistance. It is hard to get carried away when we’re hanging on tightly to the familiar.” I am also an impatient prayer. I want results yesterday if not sooner, and Loder cautions that being a guerrilla of grace “may mean being carried away as a stoker on a slow freighter.” One of my chores as an adolescent was putting coal in the stoker that fed our home’s furnace. (Yes, I am That Old!) It was a daily thankless and never-ending chore, putting coal in and taking the “clinkers” of unburned waste out of the furnace; but if I failed to do it our whole family would have been cold, pipes would freeze and life would have been dire.

I’m rambling, but I do rejoice that Loder has re-stoked my spiritual furnace with just the introduction to his book. I look forward to getting reacquainted with the prayers that follow; and I want to close by sharing the first prayer in the book, entitled “Ground Me in Your Grace.”

“Eternal One,
Silence, from whom my words come;
Questioner, from whom my questions arise;
Lover, from whom all my loves are hints;
Disturber, in whom alone I find my rest;
Mystery, in whose depths I find healing and myself;
Enfold me now in your presence;
Restore to me your peace;
Renew me through your power;
And ground me in your grace.”