This is a post in a series of reflections for the Black Lives Matter movement. To read other reflections, please go to the Black Lives Matter page.
“My Anger, God’s Righteous Indignation” is a podcast of Willie Jennings’ (Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Africana Studies, and Religious Studies at Yale; ordained Baptist minister) response to the death of George Floyd. Jennings shares his thoughts and gives insight into the current situation in America. Below, you can find the critical reflections of the summer interns on this podcast.
If you would like to listen to the podcast yourself click here.
I found today’s discussion and reading to have been interesting and revealing for me. Instead of looking at racism and the current events involving it from a human lens, I began looking at it from a more spiritual perspective. I never really took the time to “How does God feel about this.” I just assumed that of course God would be displeased, his own sons and daughters are fighting, killing and are unable to treat each other with basic levels of respect. Since I never reflected further on racism from a religious standpoint I didn’t realize how God’s displeasure and indignation could, and should, resonate within me and all followers of Christ.
The point about the correlation between hope and anger was something I’ve never realized before, but makes perfect logical sense. In order to want change you first have to be displeased with some part of the present situation. I guess hope is channeling that anger into a more positive outlet and perspective. I think anger without hope and optimism turns dark and spiteful. The statement that God’s indignation was more of anger + hope was very profound. We shouldn’t just settle for the world as it is but instead always be striving to improve and change, but without anger and passion, change doesn’t happen. Change occurs when radicals and trailblazers find courage to persevere and fight for the change that they want. This courage and strength is often rooted in passion for change and anger with the current ways.
The other point about how our current society has become very passive rang pretty true in me. It often feels like there are 2 extremes. On one side you have the majority of society who are content with living their own life and on the other the so called “social justice warriors” that often come across as overly aggressive and angry. I think because the SJWs come across so aggressive it almost turns off the rest of society from caring and contributing to change.
Also, it seems that the only time the rest of society ever speaks up about these issues is through virtue signaling or mob mentality. For example, cancel culture has become such a big part of social media and it almost seems like every day a new person is being “cancelled”. I never really understood the whole movement as it seemed really negative and harsh. It seems like people just jump to conclusions, label someone as racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. based off a few tweets from like 10 years ago and end up ruining a person’s lives. This doesn’t seem like the proper way to enact genuine change in society, it just scares everyone into avoiding discussing or voicing their opinions on any political or social issues. Isn’t the proper way to create change educating these individuals in a civilized manner? My belief on racists, sexists etc.. is that they are more victims of their environment then they are innately horrible people and should be treated as such.
From the time that I wrote my first reflection on the current situation to now, my perspective and feelings on this movement have changed significantly. After further educating myself, and reflecting on the article with the other interns, some things just made more sense, and it evoked a sense of calling inside of me. It motivated me not to simply want change, but to desperately, and impatiently want it.
Out of the all parts that resonated and stuck with me in the article, the man’s explanation to the use of violence really opened my eyes to the truth, and the reason behind it. My ignorance, and my sheltered life have made me believe that violence in any way should never be an option. What I understand now, is that some violence can be justifiable, especially if the group of people who use it have been victims of unjustifiable violence for centuries. They need a voice, and they have the right to release their pent up anger. A few other things that stuck out to me was how God is the only one who can give and take life. To think that there are people who believe that they can simply destroy life, is utterly monstrous. I was also moved by his statement that explained that other races can understand what they are feeling just by sharing that anger and by sharing that hope.
On the topic of what I’ve reflected on after reading the passage and having a discussion with the others, I have many thoughts on how racism is still very relevant, yet hidden in way, and why we can’t change how people think so easily. When I think about when slavery was abolished, and they got rid of segregation, as much as it was very important in their history, the only thing that they were able to do, was put laws in place. They were not able to change the toxic mindsets of people, and that is why racism is still so relevant. It’s so difficult to change how people think, especially if they were encouraged to think that way since they were born.
Also, I thought that the part that Simon explained about hope was very interesting. Hope that seeks change, is what we’re after at the moment, and that’s why it ties in directly with anger. Right now, we’re not optimistic, instead we are brimming with shared anger for change, and that is keeping us hopeful and away from hatred.
My last paragraph will touch upon the topics of anger, and indifference. Ever since I started high school, I felt the need to find a calling in my life, and to feel motivated. Personally, I didn’t know how to recognize it, but when you explained that our callings are tied in with what moves us and makes us angry, I realized that it wouldn’t be so hard to find after all. About our anger, I already knew that indifference was much worse than anger, and it made me reflect on why I’m sometimes so indifferent, but also why my generation feels the same way as well. A few things came to mind, firstly, we are very narcissistic, and we’re so wrapped up in ourselves, that we don’t care for what happens around us. Most of us are privileged, and have never really had to fight for something because it depended on our lives. Plus, all that my generation does is live their lives in front of a screen. When all we do is stay at home, scrolling through social media, we never get to see or experience the troubles of this world first hand. We don’t care until we are victims of something that is happening, and it is very unfortunate, but something we need to change.
When I first read the podcast transcript and read when Willie Jennings said “If you have hope, if you wish to be disciplined by hope right now, you need anger, it is the engine that drives hope”, I was at first confused and I didn’t see the relationship between these two contrasting emotions. When I think of hope, I think of yearning for a bright future and prosperity; hope is something related to God’s grace and brings out the best in people. In contrast, anger is often perceived as a negative emotion in which something wrong evokes this unfavourable reaction. Upon first reading I had trouble understanding how such a positive and uplifting motion could be driven by a negative and destructive emotion like anger. After our discussion, I realized that what I was really envisioning was optimism, not hope. Hope is the feeling and desire for a certain expectation or things to happen, it ultimately leads to change.
To be angry means we have deep feelings for something, as anger ultimately comes from something we love. Maybe anger is a sign of love and shows how much we truly care about certain issues. Maybe anger is what you need for hope as it shows our desire for a better outcome and causes us to act out in ways that we feel will help bring upon that change. Maybe we need anger for hope because it is the engine that drives change amongst us. As I reread that quote by Willie Jennings I now understand and can truly connect to what his message is. When I look at the riots and protests across the world, I now see them in a new light. Before I was confused and appalled that so much destruction was the first reaction felt by millions of people. But now as I reflect on anger and hope, maybe this anger displayed is a final plea by those suffering for hope and meaningful change. They have been oppressed for centuries and have only resorted to this because of the years of ignorance and silence displayed by those around them. I pray that this anger evokes a reaction from those in power and drives hope within them so we can truly strive and lead to meaningful change.
When I heard about the connection between hope and anger, I was confused, but it reminded me of this one time in this episode in Avatar: the last air bender a person talks about how there’s different perspectives to everything and that Fire isn’t the center of destruction and hatred, but that Fire means life and can create life. So I thought of another meaning to what he meant by “anger”. I thought as if people were angry not at each other but angry for each other as in fighting for each other giving hope to others to join the cause. Another thing is that I learned from other people is that anger isn’t a bad thing, and you shouldn’t let others trample you and anger from time to time to show how you really feel.
What is hope? Before today, I thought of hope in the sense of being positive, or looking towards positive things. But, as we discussed, that’s not what hope is – that’s optimism. I think it was these initial thoughts that lead me to not understanding why the discipline of hope requires anger.
As we discussed today, Christian hope is very different. The hope that we’re talking about is hope that seeks change. Today’s discussion made me think a lot about the society we live in, and how hard it is to have that hope that seeks change. I feel like the society we live in conditions us to be indifferent. Everything is about yourself. Society tells us: you must focus on yourself, you don’t have time to think about others, and you can’t make change happen. Like Simon said, I think that a lot of the time, we think we’re too busy with our own lives, and we’re usually faced with “don’t be so angry, just chill out” from others, when we do get fired up about something. We have the initial anger but our hearts aren’t moved. As I think about my own life and why things are this way, I think about how the experiences I’ve had and the general tone of being success-driven by society, have shaped me. I think being surrounded by people who just don’t seem to care has spread like a wildfire to others.
Our discussion also reminded me of our post-college bible study from last week. We talked about Jonah and his indifference, and how indifference is like poison to our lives, sucking away joy, passion, and love. When I think about what emotions and factors drive me, it’s a mix of the desire to help others, finding what I’m happy doing, and fear of not being able to find something stable so I can sustain myself in the future. I think that today’s study helped me see where God might be leading me. We’re called to be a prophetic community and to call out the truth when no one else will. I think we’re meant to become a unique voice in this world. It may often be a very lonely voice, like a voice in the wilderness, but I think that if we continue to think about how we feel, and become moved by it, we can really be that loud voice that brings change. I hope that we (I) can get past the barrier of refusing to take hold of anger, and use this opportunity to really become that unique voice for change in this world.
I do think that most of our generation is indifferent, and if they aren’t, a lot of them are fuelled by hatred, which discourages other people from associating with them as well as reduces their ability to actually impact others. For example, the feminist movement has many people who would probably be passionate, but to identify as a feminist and constantly be talking about it gets others to assume you hate men, assume you are rude, and dismiss you without listening to what you’re saying. Although I am weary of the temporary nature of social media trends, I think the reason it’s having such a big impact is that everyone is finally acting passionate about something, and it’s become acceptable. I hope that this attitude can continue and bleed into other issues like the environment, poverty, discrimination and injustice towards Indigenous people, and changing the education system.
I was pretty surprised when Rev Jennings talked about anger being necessary for hope. I had always seen hope and anger separately, however now I can see how the protests have brought hope because it shows how people have this shared anger. I think the reason that I, personally, don’t feel as much anger towards these issues is that I feel like I can’t do anything about it. As a young person who has not that much money and basically no power, I feel like I can only do so much to impact the world, and there’s just so many horrible things that even if I could help change one, the world would still suck. Things that are changing I’m happy for, but I feel as though I have no part in the change. The small amount of money I donated is exactly that, small, and I feel as though that’s all I can do.
This article made me realize how ingrained racism is in our lives. Our neighborhoods are the way they are because of racism, and if the places we live are defined by racism, then racism defines so many other things starting with our education. If you don’t get a quality education when you’re young, which is based off of where you live, then you won’t have as many opportunities when you’re older to do what you want. Racism has then reached into the future of people growing up in those neighborhoods. On top of that the police are more afraid of people than concerned for them, so there is no one to protect them. What can I do to change any of that? I think that is why I eventually run out of anger and give into indifference.
The two main things that stuck out for me after reading the podcast was: How to approach this situation as a Christian, and the idea of rebuilding society from the ground up.
Before reading the podcast, and even before listening to the vigil on Saturday, I had not really thought about how God plays into all of this. When they talked about God’s anger, this was a pretty unfamiliar concept to me. While you can definitely see God’s “angry side” more clearly in the old testament, it seems like in the new testament, his anger is not as apparent. I think due to this, I associate God with love, forgiveness, and safety. However, after reading this podcast I realized that God can also be angry, not because he hates us but because he loves us. I feel angry at many of the racist white American citizens, not because I hate them per se but because of how their actions really frustrate me. In a similar way, I am sure God is watching from above, frustrated with many of my own actions, he doesn’t hate me, but is made because he knows I can do better than that. I also believe if these citizens are educated, they can realize the wrong in their ways. This leads to the next point that stood out which is how we must rebuild society from the ground up.
Like the podcast says, “geography is a racial matter”, and how the current society is built (especially in the United States) is an implicit way of oppressing the African American peoples. If you look at the poorest neighbourhoods in America, vs. the wealthiest communities, there is a clear difference in who is occupying what. And when an African American is in a place where they aren’t “supposed to be” it usually ends up escalating in some manner. I believe that there must be a massive police reform before any real change happens. There must be more training in the discipline of discharging firearms, complete retraining of police, and a stricter selection policy on who can become a police officer, (prohibiting those who are power hungry from becoming an officer). Even when we look at racism and geography from a wider scope, it is rampant in our world. Not only within a country but between countries. This may not be 100% accurate, but this is my theory of why people are racist: (because it just doesn’t make sense to me how someone can hate someone just for the colour of their skin.) racist people are those who have little understanding of those on the “other side”, often feeling threatened that by giving them more rights, they will begin to lose something of theirs, whether that be jobs, money, power, etc. Racists often take this “us” vs “them” mentality. And to be honest, I do not see a world without racism until far in to the future, perhaps in a time and place where people of all different colours live together, and have a shared culture. I kinda envision a community like the GTA, where various kinds of people live together. While it may not be perfect right now, I think as time goes on, and a shared culture is embedded into the hearts of the people, there will one day be a time where we don’t see people by the colour of their skin.
I kinda got side tracked, but during our discussion, it did kinda surprise me that while I do know that all these things happening in the states are horrible, I don’t really feel angry or enraged, which is pretty sad to admit. To be honest, I don’t think i’ve ever really felt any emotions from seeing things on the news, it’s almost as if what’s happening on the news is happening in a different world from me.
After this discussion, I think I have a different perspective on the current context. When I read the very beginning of the reading where it talked about the deaths of those black people I felt really shocked and really didn’t understand how those things can happen. I don’t understand how people can feel that they had the right to take someone else’s life just based on the colour of their skin. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It makes me feel disgusted that people have such viewpoints. An interesting point/reminder that I read about was that God is the only one that gives life and is the only one who has the right to take life.
When I read the passage, I didn’t really understand the connection between hope and anger. I thought that hope brought positivity and anger brought destruction, but I think I was mistaking hope for optimism and anger for hate. But you need anger to have hope. I think anger is the driving force that gives you passion to want to make things change and the change is what you hope for. This anger is connected to the righteous indignation of God. This anger must be because of the destruction of life and it must be shared. If it is not shared and only one person has it then it doesn’t change anything. I wrote in my past reflection that I was sad to see all the anger people have, but now I think I understand it more. The anger is necessary. The hate however is not. I hope that this thing that is going on is because people actually care not because it is easy since so many people are taking part in it. I hope people actually care enough to want to continue to make change once it is over.
Another interesting point that I thought about is how we see police. I think it is very wrong that whenever there is a police around, the instant reaction is fear, even if you know you didn’t do anything wrong. I just think that it is so wrong that the people that are supposed to protect you are people that make you afraid. Even if not all police intend on doing this, it is just the image that has been painted for police. Maybe this fear has to do with their authority and keeping things in control, but I think that making everyone afraid will keep things in control. People should respect the authority of the police but not be afraid of them. I highly doubt that the fearful image of the police will ever go away, but I think it’s very wrong.
The last thing is that it’s so hard to hold onto anger. In this society, everything is just moving so quickly and with the fast pace of life a lot of the anger is temporary. It is forgotten very quickly, but so many things need change. When the question of: Do you get angry? Or what makes you angry? Was asked, I really couldn’t remember the last time I was angry and wanted a change made. Now that I think of it, recently I have been angry that people don’t care enough. This anger though, is not about any worldly issues, but about my own personal life. For that, I feel a bit selfish. The time before that, I was angry at all the things that people do that destroy the environment. I don’t think that I have been very exposed to social justice issues and I am trying to formulate an opinion.
As I mentioned in the discussion, I reflected a lot on the second half of the podcast where Willie Jennings talked about the three things that must be done. First, to take hold of the anger and have hope. Secondly, to address the shape of communities and lastly, to rethink the formation of the police officers. I thought about how there needed to be a lot of people who share this anger and hope in order to see change, otherwise nothing would come out of this.
I believe I was so interested in this part of the podcast because I never felt like there was anything that could be done. Often, when I felt anger, I did not feel hope because I felt helpless and powerless over social issues that couldn’t be solved by one person. After the discussion, I realize that it was because I felt that anger was not shared. It is definitely shareable, and there are a lot of different groups and organizations that focus on various problems in our world like world hunger, poverty, climate change, etc. However, it does not feel as though the majority of our society are there to support these groups and work together towards making concrete changes. It is as if only a small percentage of the population really cares and is engaging in the steps towards changing our future, and because the people around me seem so indifferent to these issues, it felt like my anger was not shared. When I felt this anger was only felt by me, it made me feel as though I shouldn’t bother worrying about it either because no one else is; just to focus on yourself. And truthfully, I have not done anything about the things I was angry about; my anger has just turned into indifference.
The end of the discussion was about our church’s mission to be a prophetic community, to be the lonely voice of truth in a society of indifference and ignorance. The first thing I thought about was the 52 Hertz whale and how sad it is to be lonely, but then I thought about Jesus and how lonely it truly is to be that one voice. I remember sermons or bible studies talking about how lonely Jesus must have felt in his days of ministry when there were so many people trying to oppress this voice. I thought about how it really is our mission to live in God’s image, that we need to be like him and spread hope? Bring change? Share the gospel? Serve and love one another? I feel as though it is any and all of these things. While I was reading the podcast, I was actually struggling to understand the part where Jennings said Jesus stands between anger and hatred, but now I really understand when he says that it is not hatred that anger should point to, but change.
Maybe our church community, along with those who we are standing for and beside, is enough. The people who are fighting for change right now and those who are supporting it, maybe these are enough people who share that same anger and hope that we could actually bring change this time. Perhaps the next step is to simply act – and if we are referring to Willie Jennings’ steps, we should start to change our communities and the police unions. But people are already starting to initiate changes with police unions. Which, I feel like for the first time, is a breath of fresh air that wow, maybe things are actually changing.
This is a post in a series of reflections for the Black Lives Matter movement. To read other reflections, please go to the Black Lives Matter page.