Nothing New Here

It happened again. I think this is the third time over about five or six years.

I was in my second chance diner, the place I go when my favorite diner is closed. I had finished my readings and devotions and I was ready to begin writing some poetry. A man approached my table.

This happens a lot. I have finally lived in the area enough that people know who I am, and that I appear to be someone who is staying. 12 years this month. Not a native, never that, but part of the landscape. And I have served my little part time church now for about six years, so the word’s out on that.

I can tell when some one approaches me what is going on. Some folks just want to know about me or my church. A few have concerns they want to talk over with a pastor because they don’t have a church. I evidently seem safe because that happens a lot. And then, every now and again, someone is angry at me.

“You’re that gay-loving pastor.” he said.

I should see this coming. He and a three other men were at the table behind me, talking sexuality and in particular the vileness of gays and lesbians. I heard my name mentioned. That’s never good, when you hear people talking behind your back.

I can remember the first time it happened. Five or six years ago. I was taken aback. Not at the statement, but at the sheer anger of it. It was palpable. Never mind that it was a public place (another diner). I was shocked then and handled it haltingly.

But I have become more comfortable with it. And this morning I hardly flinched. The guys’ buddies hung by the counter. An audience. It was like a bad movie.

“I am.” I said. “Come. Sit. Have a cup of coffee and I will tell you biblically how I got there.”

Completely defused him. He did not take me up on my offer, but he just said “Gay’s are an abomination.” and walked off. But his ending statement lacked the anger of his first. You could tell he was just looking for a way not to have the conversation, but who cares? The anger had been defused.

This is not about what we think or believe about Gays. That’s another conversation. It is about anger.

I am not a very controversial figure. In fact, I am pretty mild. I have my beliefs. I have my reasons. I am not a crusader in any sense. I am about as low key and tolerant as they come, even interested in differences between people and cultures and faith. I love to know how others got where they are and share how I got where I am. So when someone like me, mild mannered and quiet, can generate anger….

It is part of our culture today. Anger at everything. Every difference is a fight. A throw down. One harsh words turns into a firefight. And that is what I am writing about, not about what you or I or anyone else thinks about Gays, but our culture of anger.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we got here. I want to understand the path. I can see some of the landmarks, the people and periods that advanced the anger. I understand how some anger is real, but much of it is used as a device to control others. You see that in culture, in politics, in (sadly, so sadly) religion.

The problem is, constantly fed, anger gets out of control. People get hurt. And then those that stirred it up throw up their hands and say “I didn’t mean for THAT to happen.” They only fed the beast, poked the beast, made sure the beast was always riled up. But it’s not their fault.

At some point, we need to realize it’s all of our fault. We can confront with anger or confront with honest conversation. We can discuss or dismiss. We can listen. If we listen with confidence in our stance, then listening does not hurt us. If our confidence is not strong, then maybe we can listen and learn. Either way, the mere act of listening defuses. It is an act of respect.

We can choose to see differences as just that. We can choose to not make it personal, or to make it personal. It rarely starts personal, by the way, but it becomes that way.

Anger scares me. I will be honest. The reasons go back to my father’s alcoholism and things that happened fifteen years or so ago. I was pretty damaged by it all and so it scares me. I know, first hand, what happens when it gets out of control. I know, first hand, the damage that anger as a weapon can cause.

And I have seen what it does to a culture. To a people. It ends the unity that makes us strong. It crushes people and generations and whole swaths of community. No one, and I mean no one, wins when anger is applied as a weapon.

Anger breeds anger. The hurt from anger breeds more anger.

Fortunately, kindness breeds kindness too. That has been been a hard lesson for me to learn because of my own experience. Learning to turn back the anger with kind words rather than escalated anger is a skill. It’s not part of our culture any more. It’s not even (for many) part of our faiths any more.

We are having to learn it anew.

Not everyone of course. We all know lots of kind people. Gentle people. But it is their kindness that makes them stand out because anger is so prevalent now. Anger is considered normal. Even something to admire and perpetuate.

But if we want to save our selves as a people, as communities, as a nation and world, in our families and faith communities, kindness, not anger is the only way. Anger destroys. Kindness lifts.

I didn’t change the guy’s mind. But no one got hurt, physically or emotionally. His cronies were a little disappointed, I think. No spectacle. A simple conversation. A tiny step, that defusing. But that’s how it happens. Rain comes in small droplets. Enough of them happen and the rivers overflow.

Nothing new here. Just a bit of a rant to get it out so I can get on with my day.

Off my soapbox. The episode killed my poetic mood. And you got this instead. Have a good day. Be kind to someone you don’t like today. It’s fun in a scary way.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

7 comments

  1. If only there were a few more like you and like Jon Katz, who know how to respond to angry people. It’s not easy but if we are to survive as an evolved species, it’s the only way. Anger scares me too. For a very, very long time I had a customer contact job, front line. I went to work every day with fear in my heart and that is no way to exist. I had a lot of personal anger too, for a long time but fortunately realized that it was eating me alive. Therapy helped me to release it and it was a weight lifted. It’s usually people on the sidelines who stir it up and it apparently feeds some need in them. I think of Romans at their infamous games. We haven’t come far from there, have we?

  2. He came looking for a fight, to justify that anger (which is almost always fueled by fear) and he got a compassionate invitation to understand that anger he might not have been ready then to look at his own anger- but the seed has been planted. Thank you for the reminder to keep planting seeds.

  3. Not a rant at all – rather deep insights you shared from an unexpected challenge (which you handled with poise and kindness). A lesson in how kindness can be used to slow the momentum of destruction that seems to be consuming SO many hearts and souls. No, not a rant at all Tom ~ rather a call to each of us to do whatever we can whenever we can for the cause of kindness – thank you as always….

  4. I am afraid most mature ,evolving people can relate to both ends of that event. It seems that it might be easy to be the angry one. In the long run most of us figure out that that anger was a sickness that tried to ruin us. Survival and empathy .You did well, and good.

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