Pat Conover: Anger at Injustice

Anger at Injustice

Pat Conover
Sermon for Seekers

[begin with: I Corinthians 1:18-31]

Micah 6:9-16: These are the verses following the lectionary selected verses. I picked them because they are relevant to the theme of this sermon, but also to make the point that these kinds of verses are often left out, I think, because they deal with anger.

Would you like a contemporary version. How do you feel about E. Coli. It comes from fecal matter and it infects our meat supply enough to kill 500 people in the United States every year, a lot of them children. Well, I met Nancy Donoly on Friday and heard about how she lost her beautiful three year old to contaminated meat in a hamburger she cooked for him. Every one of those deaths can be prevented. How do you feel about the meat packers that have joined the fight to weaken regulations and their enforcement, who argue that 500 people a year should be seen as just another cost of doing business.

Well, I want you to know that I hear a lot of stories like this in my work and they make me mad.

Matthew 5:1-11: Exegesis: 1 of 3 records of Jesus sayings that have been called the Beatitudes. That is a nice spiritual sounding name and the Matthew version has certainly been spiritualized.

Instead, I want to read you the Beatitudes as found in the sixth chapter of Luke. I’m going to read 3 of the Congratulations and Damns in parallel.

Congratulations you poor! God’s domain belongs to you.
Damn you rich! You already have your consolation.
Congratulations, you hungry! You will have a feast.
Damn you who are well fed now! You will know hunger.
Congratulations, you who weep now! You will laugh.
Damn you who laugh now! You will learn to weep and grieve.

That’s better. When I’m feeling mad I’m glad to know that Jesus was mad too.

Now, I’ve got a question for you to answer in your mind. Do you get MAD at injustice sometimes. I’m not talking about disapproval of injustice. I’m not talking about commitment to resist injustice. I’m talking about feelings.

[Pause…Share about feeling MAD.]

  • in my body – noticed when settling back into work- sports discipline about making your anger work for you. – Capitol Hill requires constraint so people can talk to each other at points of deep disagreement. I deeply support the discipline that makes democracy not only possible but workable. We cannot have transformative conversation by giving in to hostility. But the discipline of holding it in, has its costs. It makes it easier to slide into uncaring cynicism or settle for the esthetics of doing your work well. But just about every day I hear something, or read something that makes me mad. So I thought I would share an example.

Read the East St. Louis story from Savage Inequalities.

Racial hostility and poverty is only one kind of awful injustice. How do you feel about ritual circumcision of women so they wont distract men with their lust? How do you feel about predatory psychiatric hospitals literally hijacking defenseless seniors to get Medicare payments? How do you feel about Congress giving into the homophobia of Robert Dornan and throwing 1000 workers out of the military for becoming HIV positive and then denying them medical benefits? How do you feel about parents being thrown out of work because they want some unpaid leave to bond with their new children or stay home with a child having an asthma attack. How do you feel about wearing clothes sewn in sweatshops by people making a dollar an hour and glad to have the work?

Now the problem with a lot of unexpressed anger is that it is likely to lead to alienation.

I talked a little about distress settling into my body. I want to talk about four kinds of alienation I’m carrying. It may help you understand why I’m not very friendly sometimes.

  1. I feel alienated from the United States. I am part of the United States and that makes me complicit in all the ugly things being done to the children of East St. Louis. I can never do enough to make up for the corporate sin I share. I do not like being guilty. For any of you who think good intentions gets you over the issue of corporate guilt I invite you back to your inner work.
  2. I feel alienated from Seekers. We are doing some very good things, both individually and collectively, and Seekers helps me remember where God is in our story. I love Seekers very much and yet there are so many things that remind me of our complicity in privilege and advantage.
  3. I feel alienated from my family. I have a terrific family. In Trish I have a partner who cares deeply about justice and models generosity. But I confess I want the best for my family. I am intent on giving Samantha every opportunity possible and I want to protect her from the dangers of this world in so far as I’m able. I am delighted to live in a nice house in a very nice neighborhood. I am pleased that Susanna can have a car to drive at 16. I am pleased that Patrick can assume that he will be able to go to college. I am not planning to change and I also know that such a commitment creates unbridgeable distance from those who are unsafe and who are denied opportunities.
  4. And yes, I feel alienated from myself. I have a generous supply of self-esteem. I know I’m loved. I have the joy of knowing I am following God’s calling in my life in many ways. But there is always more that I could do that I am not doing. I tell myself I’m being strategic and that is true. But I also know that part of my strategy is self-protection so that I can hold onto my self-assigned parts in the designs I plan out.

Well, I’ve come up with a slogan for this sermon. Christianity is about being angry without becoming alienated.

There is no simple spiritual trick or insight to get past this point. Christianity is about caring enough, feeling enough, to be willing to go the cross, both as an individual and as a community.

It is about self-esteem, and strong families, and deep community, and fearless political action and about knowing that none of that is enough.

There have been a few times that I’ve cared enough to take some deep risks. A few things I’ve done that had more risk in them that I realized. Anyhow, I’ve been pretty badly broken a few times and I know it can happen again.

So, I’m looking for some company. I want Seekers to be more than just a good Christian community, more than being on the cutting edge of an ecclesiastical experiment, more than modeling caring and commitment, more than supporting creativity in individuals and in our common worship. I’m looking for some people who are mad enough to be a little scared. Mad about the way they have been hurt. Mad about other people getting hurt. Mad about complicity in hurting others.

I’m looking for some company because it is hard to get over alienation by yourself. Caring helps. Confession helps. Commitment helps. Acting helps more. But loving each other at the hardest points is what matters most. And we can’t get our loving really straight unless we let our caring and our risking run loose.

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