09 July 2014

Where’s the Outrage? Jesus Knows!

I first heard the news as I arrived at work one Summer morning. One of our regular customers was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was in his thirties, a husband and father of three. In a moment he was gone from this world.

I worked at a tire shop in a small Texas town in the early 80’s. It was one of those towns where you knew everyone, including most of the customers that frequented our shop. But to be honest, Clark’s death meant little to me. I knew of many car and motorcycle accidents over the years and it was just another unfortunate incident. Sure, I knew who the guy was, we sold him tires and fixed his flats. But we hadn’t exactly shared a beer together. I was there to work and earn a paycheck. So, not a lot of empathy. At least until Mr. Benson walked in.

Apparently, Mr. Benson had just heard the news about Clark’s death upon arriving at our shop. He was noticeably upset. He deliberately paced back and forth in one of our open bays, staring at the floor and making statements out of sheer outrage. He passionately expressed thoughts like; “how could a father of three young children take a chance like that?”. “Those boys will need their father, what will they do now?”. “This was a senseless and unnecessary accident”. “I can’t believe he is dead”. On and on he raged without any attempt to conceal how he felt.

In my early twenties I was hard-hearted and lacking the sensitivities to take in the full tragedy. But his anger got my attention. And just how he so effectively expressed his outrage at the whole tragedy stunned me. He was really mad. It shook me up. I was not used to seeing such raw emotion wrapped up in passion like that.

I will always be grateful to Mr. Benson. I couldn’t see the gravity of Clark’s death without his outrage. Thanks to Mr. Benson, Clark’s death became a loss for me too, for all of us in the shop that day. We were now thinking of his family more and what that loss would mean to his wife and children. The story was now hitting us all on a personal level.

Remembering this story makes me wonder what has happened to healthy sense of outrage in America. An appropriate sense of anger. This world certainly doesn’t lack subject matter, there are plenty of issues to really mad about.

The Holy Word of God calls us to “Be angry, and do not sin.” In our culture however we have put the emphasis on the “do not sin” part while ignoring the “be angry” part. Not a psycho or murderous anger, but a righteous anger at a world that falls deeper into depravity.

Mr. Benson didn’t lash out at those around him. He didn’t lobby congress to outlaw motorcycles. He didn’t demonize everyone who would ride a motorcycle. He didn’t threaten to burn down a motorcycle dealership. No, he just expressed his anger and didn’t hide it from those around him. That was his gift to all present that day. He made us contemplate the very weight of tragedy, and what that tragedy meant. Only outrage could have accomplished this.

Perhaps the law that allows abortion would be overturned if enough outrage were expressed. Though some has been expressed over the years, we mostly hear contrived moral arguments. Nothing wrong with that, it just doesn’t always pierce the heart. I wonder how much would change if we had just one passionately indignant leader who could stir hearts along with good old-fashioned reasoning. Instead, religious, political and intellectual arguments are quietly, even stoically made.

If someone in our society expressed themselves with the level of anger and indignation that Jesus did with the money changers in the Temple of God, they might be put in a straight jacket. Or even the outrage Jesus expressed towards the religious leaders of his day.

Anger, even for the right reasons is simply not tolerated in our culture. And this may be the beginning or the impetus for the deepest form of apathy. Which alone may explain why so many of our seemingly insurmountable problems that plague this country never get addressed. Immigration comes to mind. The need to change the tax code. Our National debt, our trade deficit, etc. It seems that those who run our country only know how to argue and to entrench themselves in their own ideals, whether it actually helps the country or not. And usually not.

Maybe Congress would feel more compelled to find a way to make much-needed changes in our country if we the people could somehow channel our outrage appropriately, without violence or harm to neighbor. Because the moment we hurt others or destroy property, we have abandoned the Golden Rule. Even so, maybe they would just turn a deaf ear. Or just maybe they would finally feel compelled to work together and do something.

Anger is the one emotion that is so easily be abused, yet so much-needed. Especially in an increasingly apathetic society. But we would rather have passivity and niceness than effective indignation. Most don’t want to make waves. And somehow we’ve been convinced that we should conceal our stronger emotions.

No one in the tire shop that day questioned Mr. Benson’s anger, his words or his tirade. It was remarkably appropriate. Almost like poetry in the form of outrage. Beautifully displayed outrage. Much needed outrage.

What do you think? Do you believe harmless anger and indignation has a place in our society today?